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Classic Games (Games) Games

E.T. Found In New Mexico Landfill 179

Posted by Soulskill
from the nuke-it-from-orbit dept.
skipkent sends this news from Kotaku: "One of the most infamous urban legends in video games has turned out to be true. Digging in Alamogordo, New Mexico today, excavators discovered cartridges for the critically-panned Atari game E.T., buried in a landfill way back in 1983 after Atari couldn't figure out what else to do with their unsold copies. For decades, legend had it that Atari put millions of E.T. cartridges in the ground, though some skeptics have wondered whether such an extraordinary event actually happened. Last year, Alamogordo officials finally approved an excavation of the infamous landfill, and plans kicked into motion two weeks ago, with Microsoft partnering up with a documentary team to dig into the dirt and film the results. Today, it's official. They've found E.T.'s home—though it's unclear whether there are really millions or even thousands of copies down there."
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E.T. Found In New Mexico Landfill

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  • by n1ywb (555767) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @06:03PM (#46849877) Homepage Journal
    Put 'em back in the landfill where they belong. Or better yet in an incincerator.
    • ET's not that bad. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by rsilvergun (571051) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @06:24PM (#46850015)
      It's really not. I had it as a kid and enjoyed it. It could have used another 3 months polish (there's a rom hack floating around that does just that) and you _really_ have to read the instructions to play, but as a kid used to nothing more complex than Space Invaders I loved it. There were multiple screens (a big deal back then) and several different gameplay elements (also a big deal). I suppose it doesn't hurt that I bought it on clearance post crash, but I was so young it didn't occur to me that $5 bucks wasn't much money for a game.
      • by The Snowman (116231) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @07:33PM (#46850261) Homepage

        It's really not. I had it as a kid and enjoyed it. It could have used another 3 months polish (there's a rom hack floating around that does just that) and you _really_ have to read the instructions to play, but as a kid used to nothing more complex than Space Invaders I loved it. There were multiple screens (a big deal back then) and several different gameplay elements (also a big deal). I suppose it doesn't hurt that I bought it on clearance post crash, but I was so young it didn't occur to me that $5 bucks wasn't much money for a game.

        Randomly getting stuck in a pit with no way out was fun? Or every screen being identical? Yeah I know 1983 graphics were not great but damn, at least make them different colors or something. Even at four or five years old I knew that game was a bucket of fail.

        • Not completely anyway :). At four or five you're gonna have a hard time with ET. It's surprisingly complex, especially for an Atari 2600 game. The only things that are comparable are Raiders of the Lost Ark and Solaris (and Solaris doesn't count, it's a 16k cartridge, the larges the 2600 ever had) :)
          • by The Snowman (116231) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @12:38AM (#46851325) Homepage

            Not completely anyway :). At four or five you're gonna have a hard time with ET. It's surprisingly complex, especially for an Atari 2600 game. The only things that are comparable are Raiders of the Lost Ark and Solaris (and Solaris doesn't count, it's a 16k cartridge, the larges the 2600 ever had) :)

            I remember Solaris even if vaguely. That was a tough game. I remember you would have to conquer solar systems and move to others which were progressively more difficult. I remember that after a certain point the controls were all reversed: at that young age I was done, I kept screwing up when I got that far. My older brother was able to keep going but that was still a tough game -- but not dumb bugs like ET which was basically unfinished.

            Raiders of the Lost Ark was also tough. If I remember correctly you had to solve a bunch of puzzles and collect artifacts all before nightfall when the door to the city closed and you were stuck with lethal enemies. I remember the tsetse flies being one-touch lethal. I never could beat that game either.

          • Solaris (and Solaris doesn't count, it's a 16k cartridge, the larges the 2600 ever

            "Solaris is hot and Midnight Magic's Mean"

          • (and Solaris doesn't count, it's a 16k cartridge, the larges the 2600 ever had) :)

            Actually Fatal Run was 32K and the Brazilian trivia game Mega Boy was 64K.

        • by Wycliffe (116160)

          Randomly getting stuck in a pit with no way out was fun? Or every screen being identical?

          Are you sure you are not talking about pitfall? I never did figure out that game. It was a giant loop
          where you jumped over pits, etc... but didn't seem to have any objective or ending.

        • by Belial6 (794905) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @12:55AM (#46851359)
          The fact that you were not good at the game doesn't mean it sucked. I never found a pit that I couldn't get out of in that game. The game was better than 80% of the 2600 games made. It got panned so badly because it was too complex for most 2600 game players. As rsilvergun pointed out, you actually had to read the manual.

          To make matters worse, the 'hard core' gamers that might have appreciated the game had moved on to the C64/Apple II where they already had 2 Ultima games to compare E.T. to.

          Then the final nail in the coffin was the level of hype put on the game due to the movie left people completely let down.
      • by antdude (79039) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @08:07PM (#46850401) Homepage Journal

        When I was a callow ant, I got this game for Christmas from my parents IIRC. I was all :) to get this game because I enjoyed the movie in the theater. I never understood how to play it like most people. My older friend did and told me how. It wasn't too bad. Not a great game. There are worse games like these: http://www.deafsparrow.com/201... [deafsparrow.com] ...

      • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @08:26PM (#46850475) Homepage Journal
        and you _really_ have to read the instructions to play No kidding! Once upon a time, having a $50 Atari 2600, the only game I had was asteroids. At a yard sale, I picked up E.T. for $1, though it had no instruction manual. I played that for way way way too many hours, thinking I needed some secret hidden one last piece to the phone. Of course I never found it, the atari broke and I sold that E.T. cartridge at a yard sale for $1. Fast forward 25 years I pick up a 2600 in a nice clean original box, along with E.T. and several other games with nice clean boxes and instruction booklets. I took it all home and I broke open the E.T. instructions. All that time I wasted... there was no one more piece to the phone, I always got them all! You just had to go back to the very spot E.T. landed at the beginning of the game and press the button. I beat the game in 5 minutes.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Speaking as someone who solved the game without the instructions; I can say with certitude that it was the most godawful thing I have ever played. If this thing had a budget of a few hundred dollars, I wouldn't have minded, but the rights alone COST $25 MILLION DOLLARS. To put this in perspective the budget of the E.T. Film was 10.5 Million Dollars.

        • by mikael (484) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @09:25PM (#46850679)

          The game was incredibly hyped up - every game magazine was talking about it as if the messiah was about to return. One of the problems was that the cartridge box art was way ahead of what the console systems could do. On every game, everyone expected the graphics to really look like the box art. Then you'd find the game levels were usually a black rectangle surrounded by colored walls with a few obstacles and some scrolling.

          • The game was incredibly hyped up

            So it was in the spirit of the movie in one way, then. I absolutely refused to see it when it came out because I was already sick of hearing about it.

            I don't think I saw it till around 95 or 96. I was working away, there was a long weekend and absolutely sod all else on the TV.

          • by Quirkz (1206400)

            Every Atari game had fancy box art. None of the games looked remotely like the boxes. Nobody who owned more than one Atari game would have had an issue with the game's look.

      • by dmomo (256005) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @09:32PM (#46850703) Homepage

        I liked the game too as a kid. It had its shortcomings which by the way are all addressed here. ET is no longer an awful game:

        http://www.neocomputer.org/pro... [neocomputer.org]

    • Re:Why, God, why? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by radiumsoup (741987) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @06:27PM (#46850045)

      not that there's much use for them now, to be sure - but as a kid, this was one of those games I spent hours and hours and hours on trying to beat... I had always thought it was me not being able to figure it out (I had no way of knowing otherwise, really) and only now am I aware, because of articles like these, that it was practically unbeatable due to its shoddy planning. As for the quality, it was what it was, and it wasn't really any worse than the other games available for the 2600 at the time, so I didn't really know the difference. I liked it because it made me think about strategy in ways I hadn't otherwise yet learned at 8 years old, it taught me planning because I mapped out on paper some of the puzzle piece locations so I could try and find a pattern (sorta like D&D, even though I was never allowed to play that), and most of all because it certainly taught me patience beyond my years. I look back fondly at the E.T. game - not for the gameplay, but for what I learned as a young gamer because of what I now know are its flaws.

      But yes, now that they're there in the ground, no real reason to dig them up - they're not going to be worth anything and all it really does is waste time and money to verify an "urban legend". Big whoop.

      • Re:Why, God, why? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Kjella (173770) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @07:19PM (#46850203) Homepage

        As for the quality, it was what it was, and it wasn't really any worse than the other games available for the 2600 at the time, so I didn't really know the difference. I liked it because it made me think about strategy in ways I hadn't otherwise yet learned at 8 years old, it taught me planning because I mapped out on paper some of the puzzle piece locations so I could try and find a pattern (sorta like D&D, even though I was never allowed to play that), and most of all because it certainly taught me patience beyond my years. I look back fondly at the E.T. game - not for the gameplay, but for what I learned as a young gamer because of what I now know are its flaws.

        You forgot the most important lesson, sometimes no matter what you do or think you could have done differently you're fucked because you're set up to fail. That's important to remember when the project you're on fails miserably and the crap rolls downhill, of course assuming you weren't the screw-up.

        • by gmhowell (26755)

          You forgot the most important lesson, sometimes no matter what you do or think you could have done differently you're fucked because you're set up to fail. That's important to remember when the project you're on fails miserably and the crap rolls downhill, of course assuming you weren't the screw-up.

          Ahh, so they had to bury/destroy the game because it was imparting a life lesson that was dangerous to expose the hoi polloi to.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        not that there's much use for them now, to be sure - but as a kid, this was one of those games I spent hours and hours and hours on trying to beat... I had always thought it was me not being able to figure it out (I had no way of knowing otherwise, really) and only now am I aware, because of articles like these, that it was practically unbeatable due to its shoddy planning.

        I bought the game new (on sale, natch) at Kay-Bee toys as a child, and beat it in about three days. I was not then nor am I now an amazingly apt gamer.

        You didn't read the instructions. Shame on you.

        I knew how to beat Raiders and after literally hundreds of tries I never managed to parachute into the hole beneath the tree branch. I'd say E.T. was easier than Raiders.

        • by Belial6 (794905)
          I am amazed at the number of people that claim the game was unbeatable. As you say, it wasn't that hard. And, contrary to the urban myth, there were no pits that couldn't be gotten out of.

          Raiders (which I did beat) was easily the most complex game ever made for the 2600. I can't image how bad the people who couldn't beat E.T. would think Raiders was.
          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Raiders (which I did beat) was easily the most complex game ever made for the 2600.

            Well, if memory serves me, Star Raiders was a bit more complex. But IMO, it was easier. At least, to feel like I'd accomplished something. Another game I got on sale. Probably shoulda kept all that crap.

    • Re:Why, God, why? (Score:5, Informative)

      by greg1104 (461138) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Saturday April 26, 2014 @07:42PM (#46850301) Homepage

      Well, first they tried to get the cartridges to levitate themselves out, but they kept falling back to the bottom of the landfill.

    • Re:Why, God, why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @10:44PM (#46850905)

      E.T. wasn't as bad a game as it is now made out to be. It was bad, ok, but not that show piece of "worst game of all times" it's made out to be now. It just had a lot pushing against it.

      1) Hype. The game was hyped like ... I have no idea if there has ever been anything hyped like that in contemporary history so younger... wait! SPORE! Yes, that about does it. No, not even close. Spore was hyped as the next best thing in computer gaming, the game to end all other games and whatnot... E.T. was worse. Way worse. It was like THE GAME for the 2600 would be coming, the ultimate pinnacle of computer gaming. If you won't have it, you'd be a NOTHING, your friends would not talk to you anymore, your dog would pack and leave ... you get the idea. The only thing they possibly didn't promise that this game would do is cure cancer. Nothing can possibly live up to such a standard, not today and by no means a game in that time and age back then.

      2) Game-after-movie. Now, today games modeled after movies are usually rather well done. Most of the time, ok. Franchise holders don't want to tarnish their name with a bad game, knowing that their main audience for the movies is usually the same that buys the game, and the experience a movie goer has with the game that follows it may well be a deciding factor in the success of your sequel. Not so back then. Even until way into the 90s, games after movies were a surefire way to simply KNOW that they would suck donkey balls. There simply were never any good games modeled after movies. They were usually quick cash grabs that relies only on the movie title to sell. Also, considering that game budgets were tiny compared to today, the setback for the name already meant that for the game itself you only had a few pennies left. Usually games-after-movies were some kind of generic nondescript ripoff of an old idea with the movie hero somehow pasted into it. Often just by name only ("and this here is Rambo. He is. No, really. He has a bandana, see? Yeah, that white pixel that follows his head... somewhat...")

      3) Rushed production. That game was rushed. Badly. The movie was out, the negotiations for the rights dragged on and the game needed to hit the shelves NOW or the hype about E.T. might lose steam before it's in. Nobody cares about a game for a movie of a year ago. And back then, movie and game were not being developed alongside each other, the game didn't even get designed until after the movie was halfway successful.

      4) The big console crunch. While E.T. is usually one of the things blamed for the collapse of the video game market in 83, I dare say that it was less the game and more Atari buying its own hype. It seems they honestly believed that not only would everyone who owns a 2600 buy E.T., they even went as far as assuming that they'd sell 2600 units like hotcakes and that everyone would want at least one E.T. unit.

      5) Complexity. When you play the game, you almost instantly get the impression that you're dealing with a very complex, very elaborate and very "rich" game. Soon after you notice that it has the depth of a wading pool, hiding behind an unnecessarily cryptic interface. After a while you simply can't shake the feeling that this game was supposed to be a LOT more but corners had to be cut. to the point where that square the game should be became a circle, so to speak. The gameplay hints at a lot more depth than there actually is, that the game's designer had a lot more planned for you, but time constraints and of course the limited ability of the console didn't let him deliver that promise.

      In the end, what you have is a "could have been" title. It shows a lot of promise, actually, it also promises a lot, but it simply cannot keep that promise in the end. If anything, E.T. is a load of broken promises.

      Of course, this leads to some heavy disappointment. When you expect a so-so game, E.T. would probably have delivered. When compared to other 2600 games, it's not really that bad a dud. It's a dud, no doubt

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      Put 'em back in the landfill where they belong. Or better yet in an incincerator.

      What? You didn't recognize the guy digging in the hole? (Hint: He's a very famous movie director!)

      Sheesh, when was the last time you went to the movies? I thought it was rather obvious the depths at which Hollywood is reaching these days for script fodder.

      (especially for sequels we're all dying for.)

  • WTF are they digging this up for?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 26, 2014 @06:13PM (#46849945)

    Considering you spent most of the game stuck in a pit, they were just returned to their natural habitat.

  • by pla (258480) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @06:14PM (#46849949) Journal
    An "urban legend" refers to something that sounds true, but may or may not actually have happened (though usually not, and when actually real, usually they blend several unrelated events into one narrative). It usually has a moralistic component to it, where somehow the naughty teenagers or the careless company or what-have-you gets their just desserts.

    By contrast, the burial of ET in the desert meets none of those criteria. Atari dumped millions of cartridges in the New Mexico desert to dispose of them, we have an abundance of documentation from the era that it really happened, and the only "moral" to the story involves not expecting your developers to cover your $12M bet with their own asses in the month before Christmas.

    Otherwise - Very cool, to see these recovered. Now they can properly recycle them as eWaste, rather than just letting them slowly leach lead into the ground.
    • by huskerdoo (186982)

      In its time the ET Landfill was an urban legend simply because the Internet wasn't commonplace. The "abundance of documentation" was hard to come by for a kid in rural Washington in the late 80s. Because of this, I had to stick to my sources that were available to me, that being the cousin of a friend of a best friend's older cousin who lived in the southwest somewhere a few years ago.

    • by RyoShin (610051)

      I don't know about recycling--if there really are that many cartridges, you could make some chic video game partitions or something out of them, assuming the only thing physically wrong with them is having some dirt/dust.

    • by Billly Gates (198444) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @07:31PM (#46850251) Journal

      Atari denied it.

      When prompted key Atari figures would not comment and the lead programmer said there is no way we would have done that.

      Locals say otherwise.

      I was interested and there maybe more gems there (like ET was a gem) like the experimental controller that never hit the market, documents, and other materials. Centipede was found there too. It looks like they just cleared a whole warehouse and dumped it.

      So yes this qualifies as an urban legend.

  • by theodp (442580) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @06:18PM (#46849977)

    ...Windows ME [wikipedia.org] and Vista [wikipedia.org]? :-)

  • E.T. Needs Your Help! [staticflickr.com]

  • by linebackn (131821) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @06:36PM (#46850079)

    What you won't see in their documentary is the part where after digging the big hole, they accidentally fall in, and can't get the heck out!

    • by mysidia (191772)

      where after digging the big hole, they accidentally fall in, and can't get the heck out!

      That part had to be censored due to copyright/licensing issues

  • by MindPrison (864299) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @06:46PM (#46850105) Journal
    I'd expect to see 1000's of eBay sellers offering E.T. *Rare* vintage Atari game from now on, Seller location: New Mexico....kind of like all those phones that people tried to sell with "Flappy Bird" installed.
  • Considering that the AVGN just did a movie based on this legend, I wonder what his reaction will be?
  • E.T Hype Fest (Score:5, Insightful)

    by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @07:01PM (#46850153) Homepage Journal

    As a kid in early 80's, I remember the unprecedented media onslaught around E.T., which was a harbinger for things to come.
    They had cross over promotions for everything from Reese's Pieces, McDonald's Happy Meals, Breakfast Cereals, Lunch Boxes and Underoos.
    While watching Scooby-Doo and other afternoon cartoons, then it seemed nearly every other ad on TV was either a tailer for ET or ET related.

    And then... the big day came, the Movie came out and with bated breath I waited in one of the longest lines ever at the theatre for what was surely the greatest movie ever made. Only to find myself half asleep in a dark movie theatre waiting desperately for the most boring piece of sappy ass garbage to end so I could go home.

    And that day in 1982, a 10 year old boy became jaded and cynical.
    It was truly a "Drink your Ovaltine" moment.

  • I went there in 2006 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by huskerdoo (186982) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @07:10PM (#46850179) Homepage

    My wife and I were driving across the USA in late 2006 (the last day of 2006 even). I accidentally/intentionally routed us about 400 miles out of our way to pay a visit to the landfill. I had found the address on the net. We got there and I couldn't quite find it, then realized all the suburban build up was probably blocking it. Sure enough, behind the Sonic was the remains of the landfill. My (patient) wife stayed at the Sonic while I spent a couple hours wandering around the landfill site. She didn't have the same level of excitement about it that I did.

    I found bits of trash, but no Atari cartridges. I took a lot of photos and video that I need to get online. (now 7 years later). I have one there though:
    http://www.humanclock.com/news... [humanclock.com]

    After we got back home to Portland I put up a blurb about it on my website. The very next day I received an email from a guy in Brazil who excitedly wrote: "WOW! YOU ACTUALLY WENT THERE!" I showed the email to my wife and said: "Look honey, I am not alone!"

  • Being serious here, are there legit copies that exist out in the real world or is this it? If there are others, leave these in the ground. They will be rotted beyond belief at this point. There is really nothing to be gained in that case.

    I'm all for digging up the 'only copy in existence' to stick in a museum, but i dont think that is what is going on here.

    • Yes, some idiots (one being me) actually bought the game and have the cartridges. They're by far not rare, you can get them fairly cheaply on e-bay (compared to a few REALLY rare ancient games they're practically thrown at you 'til you surrender).

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @08:21PM (#46850459)

    My mom threw away my old Atari 2600 console in the late 1980's along with a dozen cartridges. If anyone wants to mount an expedition to recover it, I can tell you approximately where it's buried. Oh, and there were some umm... magazines with it that I used to keep under my bed, you can keep the 2600, but I'd like to have the magazines back for educational purposes --I haven't finished reading the articles.

    • You realize that the ... "articles" have more wrinkles now in reality than they could possibly have in the magazines, yes?

    • My own Atari cartridges have been floating in the Pacific garbage patch for 30 years. If you find my Combat cartridge floating around you can keep that one.
  • trapped (Score:4, Informative)

    by v1 (525388) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @08:23PM (#46850463) Homepage Journal

    Tina Amini, deputy editor at gaming website Kotaku, said the game tanked because "it was practically broken." A recurring flaw, she said, was that the character of the game, the beloved extraterrestrial, would fall into traps that were almost impossible to escape and would appear constantly and unpredictably.

    THAT

    My parents never bought me a game console, but a few of my friends had them, and I had two friends with 2600's that had that cart. I recall trying to play it, and yes, immense frustration. You'd walk around on a 2d map with a grid of rooms, and random rooms would be trapped. I could spend 10 minutes trying to levitate out of a trap. My friends usually had better luck, because they'd been playing it so much more, but even they would average several attempts to get out of a single trap. I can see why peope would return the game. Ten minutes of that and the cart came out and something else went in.

    iirc, the trick was to let go of the levitate button AND hit the only correct exit direction, at precisely the moment you emerged from the hole. Otherwise, you'd fall right back in. (I never did really get the timing down, I only got out on rare occasion, I think due to luck) After a few attempts, you'd be out of energy. I think elliot would magically stop by with a handful of reeces pieces or whatever, at a cost of your score, but all that did was extend the frustration. It was impossible to beat the game without both a good memory and escaping several traps. If you had difficulty with the (random) map, you could easily have to deal with dozens of trapped rooms.

    Imagine climging up a ladder and just as you peek your head over the roof edge someone is swinging a shovel at you. You have a split second to dodge the shovel and pull them off the roof or you're falling. Now repeat that 15-20 times. That was 90% of the game.

  • He's self-resurecting.

  • by newsdee (629448) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @08:49PM (#46850551) Homepage Journal

    This story reminds me of this guy who has fixed the game by ROM hacking: http://www.neocomputer.org/pro... [neocomputer.org]
    Quite an interesting read if you're familiar with (or wondered about) Atari or assembly programming.

  • by jdavidb (449077) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @09:14PM (#46850645) Homepage Journal
    This should've been billed as: "Worst video game ever made, recovered with Microsoft sponsorship."
  • a museum buried in a landfill.
  • "Famous" and "infamous" don't mean the same thing. Look them up. There's nothing "infamous" about this landfill or the legend. Please quit misusing this word.
  • Back in 1983, your games didn't "Phone Home".

  • He's gonna take you back to the past
    To play the shitty games that suck ass
    He'd rather have a buffallo
    Take a diarrhea dump in his ear
    He'd rather eat the rotten asshole
    Of a road killed skunk and down it with beer
    He's the angriest gamer you've ever heard
    He's the Angry Nintendo Nerd
    He's the Angry Atari Sega Nerd
    He's the Angry Video Game Nerd

    When you turn on the TV
    Make sure it's tuned to channel three
    He's got a nerdy shirt and a pocket pouch
    Although I've never seen him write anything down
    He's got a powerglove an

  • 30 years later and nothing has really happened inside that landfill, just a pile of toxic shit in a gigantic hole. One of tens of thousands.

    THAT is the real tragedy here. We just throw shit in holes and move on.

  • Am I the only one who read that headline and whose first thought was that they were talking about the remains of a real extraterrestrial from the supposed flying saucer crash in New Mexico in the 1950's? Maybe I should turn in my geek card. (BTW, I knew about the ET game cartridges in the land fill but I hadn't paid that much attention to the story so it didn't register that way at first.)

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      If I didnt already know they were doing the dig, I would have thought the same, that or " is it april 1st already?"
  • linked to in the main article (Yes, I actually read the article) seems to of been incorrect, it doesn't appear that the excavators had to break through any concrete (the article doesn't mention any, nor do the photographs appear to show any), However the NYT article about the dumping specifically states:

    "The company has dumped 14 truckloads of discarded game cartridges and other computer equipment at the city landfill in Alamogordo, N.M. Guards kept reporters and spectators away from the area yester

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