E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

Company: Atari
Model #:
Howard Scott Warshaw (Programmer) & Jerome Domurat (Graphics)
Year: 1982
Designed and programmed in only 6 weeks


Known as the game that brought down an empire, E.T. was one of the first signs that there was trouble in paradise at Atari.  Developed in only 6 weeks, E.T. was a complicated puzzle game that frustrated many players with its odd gameplay and frustrating flaws (pits anyone?).  Atari paid $25 million dollars for the rights to E.T. betting that it would be the most popular game of 1982.  In anticipation for the high demand for E.T., Atari manufactured over 5 million carts in time for the Christmas season.  Unfortunately word got out the game was about as much fun to play as Russian roulette and Atari was left with millions of unsold E.T. carts (sales figures were only about 1 to 1.5 million).  Popular belief holds that all these carts were secretly buried in a landfill at Alomogordo New Mexico (along with a few million unsold Pac-Man carts), but this is only half true.  While many E.T. and Pac-Man carts were indeed dumped at Alomogordo, they were actually part of a larger batch of unsold and returned store inventory.  A recent dig at Alomogordo found uncovered not only partially decomposed E.T. cartridges, but many other popular yet over-produced titles for the 2600 and 5200.


E.T. was doomed from the start.  Atari had backed itself into a corner negotiating the rights to E.T. and needed to get the game out by the Christmas buying season.  This gave programmer HSW only six weeks to come up with and program the hit game of the year (no problem, I'll have it on your desk by three).  Given the limited amount of time he had to work with, E.T. turned out quite well, but was not the type of game the public was expecting.  Instead of an action game the public wanted, E.T. was complex adventure game along the lines of HSW's other famous 2600 game Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which the player had to recover pieces of a communications device (the E.T. Phone) hidden in pits scattered throughout several maze-like screens.  To make matters worse getting out of the pits was difficult and buggy, so E.T. would usually fall right back in.  Had this tiny bug been fixed, E.T. might have gotten a warmer reception.


While E.T. is off falling into pits (does anyone remember a pit anywhere in the movie?), he can collect candy pieces (Reeses Pieces) to give to Elliot.  Each Candy piece given to Elliot is worth 770 bonus points (a nice round number), plus if E.T. has nine pieces Elliot will give him a phone piece.  For some strange reason if E.T. collects more than 22 candy pieces he will be penalized energy points (too much sugar maybe?).  According to the manual E.T. can score 1000 points for each extra piece over the limit, unfortunately this doesn't happen as he scores the same 770 points he did before.  Even more astonishing is that the manual states that the energy penalty and bonus points happen after 31 pieces (not 22), this isn't even possible since only 31 pieces appear in the game total! Sounds like someone didn't do their job proofreading the instructions.


E.T. also needs to be careful of the FBI Agent and the Scientist who are running around trying to nab him; if they succeed they will take him back to the lab for a nice probing and steal a phone piece.  But E.T. is not defenseless, he can use his alien powers to perform various actions in certain areas which are indicated in the status bar.  These actions include: Find phone piece (indicates which pit it's in), Call Elliot, Scare away the bad guys, Eat Candy (for energy), Teleport one screen, Phone Home (with all the phone pieces).  E.T. can also levitate out of pits, and run like the wind (seriously!), but all of these actions take energy to perform.  If E.T. runs out of energy Elliot will come and resurrect him up to three times (who knew Elliot could play God?).


During his pit diving expeditions, E.T. may run across a wilted flower at the bottom of a pit. E.T. can use his powers to revive the flower for an extra life.  The flower is actually the key to revealing HSW's initials hidden in the game.  If E.T. retrieves all the phone pieces, gives Elliot 7 candy pieces, and revives a flower on the first level it will turn into a Yar from Yar's Revenge.  After winning the game, do this again, and flower will turn into Indiana Jones from ROTLA!  Win the game again; repeat the same steps and HSW3 will appear in your score after reviving the third flower.

While it may not the best 2600 game of all time, E.T. is certainly an interesting adventure game that deserved a better fate than being the scapegoat for Atari's mismanagement.  Unfortunately E.T. will be forever damned as the game that ruined Atari, sealed in its desert grave for all eternity.



Version Cart Text Description

ET 8-30 EPROM cartridge



Return to 2600 Software