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The Story Behind the Worst Computer Game In History (bbc.com) 157

An anonymous reader writes with this story at the BBC about the famously bad video game based on Steven Spielberg's ET, a game "considered to be one of the worst of all time," and on which some have blamed the collapse of then-powerhouse Atari. The game's sole programmer, Howard Scott Warshaw, explains how it was that what must have sounded at the time like a sure thing turned into a disaster.
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The Story Behind the Worst Computer Game In History

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  • Atari: Game Over (Score:5, Informative)

    by Guillermito ( 187510 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @04:25AM (#51565209) Homepage
    There is a documentary on the subject that is worth watching. Atari: Game Over http://www.imdb.com/title/tt37... [imdb.com] It's available on Netflix
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Looks like Vimeo too. I saw this doc.. it was quite excellent.

    • Re:Atari: Game Over (Score:5, Informative)

      by tommeke100 ( 755660 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @08:48AM (#51565873)
      Also, they clearly say in the Documentary that it really wasn't ET that killed the 2600. It was just the arrival of better consoles and computers.
  • by justcauseisjustthat ( 1150803 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @04:44AM (#51565241)
    It's amazing to think about how small that game is and how one person wrote it. You look at a modern game and there are teams of designers, developers, writers, etc. I love technology.
    • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @05:17AM (#51565349) Journal
      That is what I like about the old systems: it certainly was feasible to develop an awesome game all by yourself. Even doing the artwork was doable if you're not an artist; making great pixel art takes artistic skill but pixels are forgiving enough to let anyone make something passable. I wrote a few C64 games for fun back in the days, and one of them even ended up being published (a horse riding game I wrote for our riding academy's 150th anniversary). It wasn't very good but in terms of complexity and performance it was comparable to some of the big titles out there. Just me, (literally) in my mum's basement.

      Some modern titles credit hundreds of people, but developing something on your own seems possible today. These days there are a lot of free-ish tools, engines and resources available that a few years ago were out of reach of hobbyists. Still, you're not going to get anything good in 8k and 5 weeks...
      • by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @06:49AM (#51565555)

        It's definitely feasible to write a game completely by yourself (I'm currently doing it), but you have to be somewhat creative to mask any of your deficiencies with a game design suited to your particular talents. For instance, if art isn't your strongest suit, you can make a highly stylized game that isn't quite as art-intensive, perhaps even working that into an advantage with an aesthetic that's abstract, or generates visuals programmatically. One thing that's changed over the years is improvements of both language, language tools, and game design & art tools - those all combine into a real game development force multiplier, allowing me to do so much more than I was able to do twenty years ago.

        I've also worked on games that required a team of 100+ people years to make, not to mention a bunch of games in the middle ground on everything from handhelds to consoles to PCs. I have to say, it's pretty interesting to have worked on both extremes in terms of size and scope. They're both a lot of fun to work on, but for rather different reasons. The sheer amount of work that goes into the largest of modern AAA videogames is probably well beyond what most people even imagine.

        Even so, nothing but respect for those early devs who wrote (mostly) amazing games with such unbelievable constraints in time and memory/capabilities in hardware. Those guys helped to instill my love of videogames, and are the reason I became a professional game dev myself.

      • Lots of Flash games are orders of magnitude more complex than ET, in terms of story, game engine, and graphics, and are developed by one or two people. You have a lot more cycles to play with now, you can either burn them on development environments that make people more efficient, or on the game itself. AAA titles opt for the latter path, but they're not the only way that you can go. There are a load of systems where making something like Pac Man or Tetris is possible in a day or two for someone with no
        • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

          "There are a load of systems where making something like Pac Man or Tetris is possible in a day or two for someone with no prior programming experience."

          I really doubt that. There's a lot more to those games than the artwork, there's a hell of a lot of logic under the hood that no novice is going to replicate at all, never mind in a day or two. Unless the IDE comes with some pre-packaged logic designed for these games already.

          • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @10:51AM (#51566795) Journal
            Let's take Tetris as an example. Shapes need to rotate, which you need to implement via a state machine (lots of game development kits have built-in DSLs for state machines, but this one is very simple). You need to make the shapes advance down, but that's just integer addition in a loop. Collision detection is just a matter of trying the advance and seeing if any of the blocks would hit. Then you just need to check if there are any full lines. I'd probably implement this by having a per-line counter that I added to when I stopped a shape, but even a naive loop-of-loops would be fast enough on a vaguely modern computer, even in a purely interpreted language. If you're happy with the blocks being filled rectangles, then the core data structure is just a two-dimensional array.

            So, with the current grid being grid[width][height] and the current shape being shape[4][4] (true for a block there, false if there's no block), we have:

            Collision detection is just a nested loop, i,j both from 0 to 4. If grid[x+i][y+j] && shape[i][j], then we've collided. If we get to the end of the loop with no collision, then we haven't. Requires basic understanding of loops and of arrays and the basics of logical operations.

            Left and right arrow keys just increment / decrement x, run collision detection, undo if we collided or if the shape is off the edge (detecting the edge of the shape is simpler than collision detection, but we can just provide the left and right edge widths with the shapes).

            For each shape, have an array of 4 rotations. Up arrow key just increments a counter, replace current image with current_shape[counter %4], run collision detection, undo if we collided.

            Basic game play is just start at (width/2 - 2),0, each second we increment y, run collision detection. If we've collided, check if we've made any new lines and delete them (just shift all of the blocks down - simple loop will do this). Then start a new block. If it has collided on initial insertion, then the player has lost.

            There's a little bit more than that for keeping scores, but that's the core logic of Tetris. With a game development kit that lets you put sprites on the screen tied to simple data structures, it's very easy.

            • by Teancum ( 67324 )

              What amazes me about Tetris is that it wasn't developed much earlier. You are correct that it is a simple game, but it originally came out at a time when computer graphics permitted far more complex games, thus it was even then seen as something of a throwback to earlier video game concepts.

              The "Brick-out" or "Break-out" game, on the other hand, is an example of the very early games. As a matter of fact, the Apple I computer was originally designed with the specific goal of being able to write Brick-out i

            • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

              Yes, tetris is relatively simple for an experienced programmer. Now try explaining all the above to someone who doesn't even know what "programming language" means and get them to implement it. Good luck,

      • Some modern games are worked on by hundreds, a handful, but far more are written by single people and small teams. With all the game engines and game development platforms (see Unity) it is easier than ever for a single person or small team to make a game.

      • > That is what I like about the old systems: it certainly was feasible to develop an awesome game all by yourself

        Beyond that, the system itself was entirely accessible. Books like Mapping the Atari and C64 let you have complete, direct, access to the hardware with a single POKE. I remember reading through the former when something caught my eye... one POKE later all the glyphs were upside down. I have no idea why someone put this into the hardware, but there it was.

        The closest we've come since then is Hy

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo&world3,net> on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @08:53AM (#51565895) Homepage

      It's amazing just how much they managed to get out of that primitive system, and how its limitations shaped the games. Games like Pitfall really pushed it.

      The Atari 2600 had 1MHz, 8 bit CPU and a mere 128 bytes of RAM. Games had to reduce the amount of volatile data they stored to fit into that, often using a single seed number to procedurally generate levels, for example. ROM was nominally maximum 4kb, but most games had to fit into 2kb for cost reasons. You can fit every 2600 game ever made onto a couple of floppy disks.

      The graphics and sound hardware were incredibly basic too. The system was designed to play Pong and not much else, so every other game was basically a massive hack. The CPU spent most of its time helping the graphics hardware generate the screen image, leaving little time left over for running the actual game.

      To make a great game you not only had to really understand and abuse the hardware, you had to be good at hiding its limitations. The swinging rope in Pitfall is a great example of something the system was never, ever designed to do but which added something really unique to the game and made it seem to escape from the limitations of it's origins as a Pong playing machine.

      • by kriston ( 7886 )

        The book "Racing the Beam" by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost is a great and detailed book about the technology exploited by ActiVision and some others.

        David Crane's (ActiVision) line of iOS apps provides an animated tutorial on the concepts used to program the 2600.

        The first step is to "create a kernel." You had to "race the beam" of the television. Every game was completely different. It is amazing.

      • ... Games had to reduce the amount of volatile data they stored to fit into that, often using a single seed number to procedurally generate levels, for example. ...

        Did the 2600 have a clock, as in 'clock time from boot-up'?

        Even with millisecond precision, no one could beat it. I used it all the time to seed procedurally generated game maps and other graphics or sound when programming games in BASIC back in 1985-8.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          There was no clock. You could use some of your 128 bytes of memory to count frames manually I suppose.

    • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @02:25PM (#51568807)
      I have a hard time believing that they would spend $21 million for the rights and $5 million for advertising, but only pay 1 guy for 5 weeks to actually implement the game! Sounds like the world's worst case of inverted priorities, totally driven by marketing greed rather than logic.
  • by jpatters ( 883 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @04:46AM (#51565245)

    The premise here is flawed.

    While it's a pretty bad game, E.T. is not even the worst game on the VCS platform let alone the worst game ever made. Pac-Man is arguably worse on the platform, and there are numerous third party games that are way worse than anything Atari released. "Sorcerer" by Mythicon really sets the benchmark for how bad a game can be in my opinion. E.T. is at least 100 times better than that piece of crapola.

    • by VValdo ( 10446 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @05:33AM (#51565393)

      Pac-Man is arguably worse on the platform

      I actually came across a homebrew reboot [youtube.com] of what could have been accomplished with an 8k cartridge back in the day.

      After you watch that demo, check out what the original 2600 pacman creator, Todd Fry, had to say about it [youtube.com].

      W

      • by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @07:32AM (#51565663) Homepage

        I actually came across a homebrew reboot [youtube.com] of what could have been accomplished with an 8k cartridge back in the day.

        If back in the days you had easy access to a more powerful machine with a good set of crafting tools (editor, assembler) and tools to help you test (emulators), access to possibility to test multiple iteration of your code on the actual hardware (cheap flashcards), and plenty of time (it's hobbyist's).

        All that in addition to plenty of knowledge (we're in a post demo-scene period. Plenty of knowledge, known tricks, etc. in addition of all the details that the hobbyist has learned about the platform).

        I'm not saying that this a minor feat to manage to cram such a game into a 8k cart.

        I'm just reminding that back then, developers where mostly working on *paper*.
        Tools and experience is not substitute for talent, but they supplement the talent quite nicely.

        • I believe Atari used a VAX to develop 2600 games with a cross assembler, then downloaded the code to dev 2600 carts.
          • I believe Atari used a VAX to develop 2600 games with a cross assembler, then downloaded the code to dev 2600 carts.

            Which was *definitely* not as common and cheap as a mid- to high- end PC desktop, an emulator and a cheap Asian flash card.

            In the interview Warshaw mentionned that in order to maximize his dev time, he had the copany to setup development equipment at home "within 5 minute reach from his bed", which back then was quite a feat (unlike nowadays, where it would basically be: "plug the laptop's charger nearby the bed").

        • by sad_ ( 7868 )

          so true, you should see the stuff people are making on the c64 these days, boggles the mind.

        • True

          I actually came across a homebrew reboot [youtube.com] of what could have been accomplished with an 8k cartridge back in the day.

          If back in the days you had easy access to a more powerful machine with a good set of crafting tools (editor, assembler) and tools to help you test (emulators), access to possibility to test multiple iteration of your code on the actual hardware (cheap flashcards), and plenty of time (it's hobbyist's).

          All that in addition to plenty of knowledge (we're in a post demo-scene period. Plenty of knowledge, known tricks, etc. in addition of all the details that the hobbyist has learned about the platform).

          I'm not saying that this a minor feat to manage to cram such a game into a 8k cart.

          I'm just reminding that back then, developers where mostly working on *paper*.
          Tools and experience is not substitute for talent, but they supplement the talent quite nicely.

          Commander Data: Cloaking devices of that era leaked in the high gamma radio range.

      • I've always thought that the reason the 2600 port of the game was so crappy (as well as the one for Ms. Pac-Man) was to keep them from killing kids' desire to still put quarters in the arcade machines.

        And there is nothing in that demo or what I'm reading as the ingenuine-ness of the original programmer, there, that makes me think otherwise, now, frankly.

      • by kriston ( 7886 )

        While Pac-Man was horrible, the Ms. Pac-Man sequel cartridge was exceptionally good, and it was produced a very short time after Pac-Man was.

    • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @06:54AM (#51565565) Journal
      Last time there was a Slashdot article about the game, someone posted a link to someone who had fixed most of the bugs. Most of them were to do with the collision detection regions being subtly different from the drawn regions, so you'd step near a hole and fall in. With them fixed, it wasn't a bad game. If Atari had waited another week, they'd probably have had something good - just not in time for the Christmas buying season.
      • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @11:11AM (#51566999) Homepage Journal

        Most of them were to do with the collision detection regions being subtly different from the drawn regions, so you'd step near a hole and fall in.

        The edge of a hole is usually weak, so it's expected to give way. It's realistic physics, that - and it'd take 67,000 lines of code and 37kb of XML these days.

        Back in my day, we didn't have physics. We had to make do with philosophy - if we were lucky.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        The issue with collision detection in ET was that the perspective was odd. The 8 bit Zelda games actually use the same perspective. It's basically bird's eye, straight down, except that the characters are drawn as if they were side on. You might think of it like tokens in a board game, where each token has an image of the thing it represents shown from the side, but you look directly down on it to determine position on the game board.

        In ET that means that whenever any part of ET touches a pit he falls into

      • by antdude ( 79039 )

        It's funny history repeats itself with companies pushing to Christmas deadline these days. :(

    • by clickclickdrone ( 964164 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @07:18AM (#51565621)
      Indeed. Not only is it not as bad as people point out, it actually introduced many firsts such as a title screen. It was also not responsible for Atari crashing. There were many other things going on, this was just a symptom of an overall problem. There is an absurd amount of disinformation around both this and the 'buried carts' story which just seem to get repeated ad-nauseam.
      • by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @08:51AM (#51565885)

        The big piece of evidence is that when the cartridges were dug up - there were very few E.T. games among them. The great ET coverup never happened, this was just a bankrupt company that trashed it's worthless left-over stock supply in a dump. There were all sorts of different ATARI games there, ET was just one among many. It was never as bad a seller as it was made out to be.

        ATARI, as executives from the time will tell you now - had been dying for ages before ET came out, at most it was the last straw, ATARI's death was the result of a long chain of bad decisions that left the company unable to adapt to a changing market, bad decisions made over a period of several years.

        And most of the blame belongs with Warner, this is the classic problem with having some big megacorp own your company - when what it does stops being profitable - they shut it down, the fact that it was the fastest growing company in history 2 years earlier and that there's somewhere on the upside of 4 billion dollars in your bank account because of it doesn't matter.
        ATARI made at least 4 billion in nett profit for warner before it's demise, and once showed a loss of 350 million. That's not bankrupt, that's just one bad year. Surely 4 billion should have been worth saying "Lets take half of that and invest it in inventing the next game-changer - even if we fail we're still 2 billion up".

      • A title screen wasn't anything new, all the games I made (early 80's TRS-80 color) had title screens as did most of everyone else's. Not sure why the 2600 didn't have them.
        • by gauauu ( 649169 )

          A title screen wasn't anything new, all the games I made (early 80's TRS-80 color) had title screens as did most of everyone else's. Not sure why the 2600 didn't have them.

          Mainly because of ROM space restraints. Putting in a nice title graphic could quickly use up your precious ROM space. More ROM space required more ROM chips, which, when the atari first game out, were somewhat expensive per-unit, so Atari made less profit off of each cartridge (and/or had to charge more). . Particularly if you got above the 4K limit, which meant you had to introduce extra circuitry in the cartridge to handle bank switching, which would raise the price further.

          By later in the atari's life,

    • Atari bet the farm on ET. That is what makes it special in terms of bad games.

      The truth is the farm was already in deep trouble. They lost nearly $400 million dollars by failing to sell 4 million copies of a game at $20 a pop?

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      For all it's flaws, Pac-Man was at least playable. It's collision detection was good enough that you didn't seem to lose by coin toss.

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

      ET mostly gets the title these days because its release was such a famous fiasco.

      Until fairly recently, what was generally agreed to be the worst Atari game ever, and quite possibly the worst in history, was a game called Custer's Revenge [kotaku.com]. Not only was the gameplay pretty cruddy, but the idea behind it was just repellent. The object was to kill as many "Indians" as possible and rape their women. Not even kidding. It was made by a porn producer.

      Even by the standards of cultural sensitivity in the late 19

      • While the game was repellent, not a single Indian is killed in Custer's Revenge.

        The game consists entirely of a cowboy character trying to move from the left side of the screen to the right, dodging falling arrows to reach the "goal". Once there, you mash a button.

        That's it as far as gameplay is concerned.

  • by Stormwatch ( 703920 ) <rodrigogirao@hot ... minus physicist> on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @05:01AM (#51565297) Homepage

    There is a hacked version of ET that fixes most of the annoying design issues, check here [neocomputer.org] -- or even play online. [virtualatari.org]

    Another major issue is, you really need to RTFM. [atariage.com] It's not a very intuitive game.

    • Another major issue is, you really need to RTFM. It's not a very intuitive game.

      It's no worse than Raiders of the Lost Ark yet many people consider that to be one of their favorite Atari games, while E.T. is considered to be the worst. I had both games. I beat E.T. in a day or two. I never could get the timing right on parachuting into the cliff hole under the tree on Raiders. E.T. was criticized for being unlike the movie, but it's ten times more like the movie than Raiders.

      E.T. was simply not as bad as people remember.

      • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
        Agreed... I saw the movie people are discussing a few posts above; the problem is that it was over-hyped and then just "meh," which made people pretty upset with it. It was rushed, it had bugs, but as bad as it may have been, it was hardly "one of the worst."
      • by tburkhol ( 121842 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @09:21AM (#51566077)

        E.T. was simply not as bad as people remember.

        You have to admit, though, that "24 year-old programmer destroys billion-dollar company with worst video game ever" is a fantastic story. I doubt many of the people supporting the narrative have even seen an Atari 2600. It hardly matters how much of "Atari: Game Over" is truth, hyperbole, or flat out fiction, any more than "Wargames."

        Atari only invested five person-weeks of effort into ET: it was not a big production. They lost something like $30M on E.T. (most of it marketing and the $20-25M fee to license E.T.), but most of the stories will mention Atari's $300+M quarterly loss when they talk about ET. And no one's going to suggest that the real reason ET lost so much money was some executive's decision to pay Spielberg $25M. The truth is boring, though, and always has been. Much better to tell an implausible story supported by conflating and exaggerating data.

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          In some ways the take away lesson is that the best people are easiest to exploit.

          Think about it. This guy's life was derailed by his feeling of personal responsibility for the consequences of his work. Granted, he shouldn't have agreed to designing and programming a game in five weeks when it normally took six months, but he was only twenty-four years old. People don't give inexperienced 24 year-olds 30 million dollars to spend because you don't expect someone like that to have the maturity to say "no".

          • ... People don't give inexperienced 24 year-olds 30 million dollars to spend because you don't expect someone like that to have the maturity to say "no". ...

            So, $35M for rights, and $20-30M for Marketing.

            I wonder how much money above his salary (overtime, bonus) that he was paid to attempt the impossible. HE did not have control of the ~$50M. Oh no. He was just tasked with creating the product. He slaved on it for every conscious moment during those few weeks.

            8 kB of code people. That's like a 6-page essay (compiled).

            What Genius MBA thought that it was wise to spend less than 0.1% of budget on creating the actual product, and >99.9% of budget on right

            • by Lotana ( 842533 )

              Alas this was always the case with games based on licenses of other media. This is a very good basic summary of why quality is not the priority when making these kind of games: Shovelware [youtube.com]

        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdotNO@SPAMworf.net> on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @01:24PM (#51568233)

          You have to admit, though, that "24 year-old programmer destroys billion-dollar company with worst video game ever" is a fantastic story. I doubt many of the people supporting the narrative have even seen an Atari 2600. It hardly matters how much of "Atari: Game Over" is truth, hyperbole, or flat out fiction, any more than "Wargames."

          Atari only invested five person-weeks of effort into ET: it was not a big production. They lost something like $30M on E.T. (most of it marketing and the $20-25M fee to license E.T.), but most of the stories will mention Atari's $300+M quarterly loss when they talk about ET. And no one's going to suggest that the real reason ET lost so much money was some executive's decision to pay Spielberg $25M. The truth is boring, though, and always has been. Much better to tell an implausible story supported by conflating and exaggerating data.

          Except what's true is the programmer behind ET made multi-million dollar hits. He was specifically chosen for the ET game because his career record for games was basically stunning.

          So he did the best work he could making a game in 5 weeks (which was done by piss-poor management, who overpaid for an ET license as well). Sure in those days you could write a game in 5 weeks, but that's not a lot of time when you toss in a long test cycle (you had to assemble the code, then burn it onto cartridges, which meant testing a build took easily an hour or more) Plus, you didn't have debuggers or other sort of debug capability which made it all the much harder.

          And the hardware itself was really only designed for two games - Pong and Battlezone. Any other game using the hardware was really more of luck than anything - the graphics hardware was designed purely to support Pong and Battlezone.

          ET was also a pretty good seller - for the worlds worst videogame, it certainly moved a lot of units.

          Finally, ET the game required approval from Spielberg - he actually LIKED the game and felt it did justice to the movie. And his approval was required in order to publish.

          • ... And the hardware itself was really only designed for two games - Pong and Battlezone. ...

            I think you mean Tank Wars, not Battlezone.

            Breakout was a nice interweaving of the two capabilities of the hardware. (Moving paddle and collision-detection).

      • by pla ( 258480 )
        It's no worse than Raiders of the Lost Ark yet many people consider that to be one of their favorite Atari games

        Having had both in their heyday, RotLA counted as a far, far better game.

        That said, I wouldn't call ET the worst game ever. It had wonky collision detection, but you could quickly figure it out and adjust accordingly. Not a great game by any stretch, but not as awful as most people say.

        I note, interestingly, that another commenter mentioned that you really needed to read the manual to "ge
  • ET? (Score:5, Funny)

    by jez9999 ( 618189 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @05:15AM (#51565333) Homepage Journal

    I thought they were gonna do a documentary about Depression Quest...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Depression Quest is actually an amazing Game, of a different sort.
      It is very accurate, highly reflective of what its like to struggle with Depression; I went through it; and completed the game, It was remarkably accurate.

  • ....predictions. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mirar ( 264502 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @05:26AM (#51565373) Homepage

    I doubt "one bad game" brought down the industry. I'd say it's

    1) making someone make a game ready to publish in 5 weeks (!!!)
    2) not doing any research on target audience
    3) predicting this game will sell MILLIONS of CONSOLES (not just games) on a saturated market

    I think we need to focus on who made those decisions.
    Not the genius who made a not-too-bad-game in impossible time.

    Because those kind of decisions is what's bringing down companies.
    We want to know how they appear and how we can stop them.

    Hiring a genius that follows orders and does impossible things never brought down a company.

    • 5 weeks was more than enough time for someone back then if they were already "set up" to write games.
      • by Yunzil ( 181064 )

        You know back in those days they didn't just load up a new project in Visual C++ and start coding, right? There were no frameworks, no libraries, no pre-made engines. It had to be done in assembly, and their code had to handle redrawing every scanline so they had to carefully count CPU cycles. All the gameplay logic had to be done during the vertical blanking interval. And they had to fit the whole game in 4K of memory (8K if they were lucky). Oh and you had whole 128 bytes of RAM to play with.

    • Re:....predictions. (Score:4, Informative)

      by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @07:15AM (#51565613)

      I doubt "one bad game" brought down the industry.

      Yes, hallelujah, praise the Lord! Sir or Madam, you are preaching to the choir. I notice a disturbing behavior in industries of all flavors from senior management to "blame a serious business failure, on a single programmer." This is clearly not the real truth. A simple programmer has an Atlas weight of executives on his or her shoulders. What are all those folks doing . . . ?

      My favorite recently was an interview with the new boss of Audi and VW . . . he blamed the whole manipulated emissions scandal on, "a couple of rogue programmers." If he was Pinocchio, his nose would have grown to the size of a Louisville Slugger baseball bat. Oh, wait. Scratch that. Does anyone appreciate the size of a California Redwood?

      I work in the IT industry (although, I am American). The employees in the German auto industry that I work with, complain that they can't scratch their butts without getting three levels of manage approval. A "couple of rogue programmers?" Bullshit. The quality assurance organization in Audi and VW should have flagged this . . . unless it had been approved by a bunch of executives. I say the same thing when a "Rogue Trader" brings down a big bank . . . if the executives had down their jobs, it shouldn't have been possible for a "Rogue Trader" to place the bank in impossible positions.

      I'm thinking, that the same thing happened at Atari. Their executives were not on the ball, and didn't realize that the industry was due for a correction. It's a tough thing for an executive to say that they failed in their job. It is a lot easier to put the blame on a simple, lowly programmer.

      • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
        The problem is that the world is a very complicated place, but people like simple answers... so that's what the press gives them.
      • by Yunzil ( 181064 )

        Their executives were not on the ball

        Well yes. You're talking about a company that once said the game programmers were no more important than the people who put the cartridges in the boxes on the assembly line.

    • by sad_ ( 7868 )

      indeed, you should watch some documentaries, it's clear that ET was just there when it happened but not the cause.
      atari made some very bad calls, some that are simply inexplicable. producing more games then consoles ever sold (what the??) is one of those. The company was losing money fast, and somehow put hope in ET being the hottest and biggest thing of that year to make up for some of that loss. When it didn't, the game was easily blamed for everything that went wrong.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The worst game is Big Rigs.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    • You can easily make your own Yahtzee review just by saying:

      "Fucking Sod rubbish wanker bloody bollocks penis joke branston pickle!"

  • The developer that programmed E.T. should have denied the initial offer. It wasn't a sane business plan. He should have negotiated for something better.

    Insane business plans like this is what gives the job and industry a bad name.

    • Easier said than done. They'd sooner find another programmer than forfeit a Christmas release.
    • The developer that programmed E.T. should have denied the initial offer. It wasn't a sane business plan. He should have negotiated for something better.

      Its pretty clear from TFA that he was a bit star-struck and naive at the time (and, sadly, Speilberg was right - an ET-themed PacMan clone would probably have been a bigger success, and a more achievable target in the time allowed, with tried-and-tested gameplay) so that's partially fair.

      However, its also clear that there were plenty of other mistakes made by Atari over the budget and sales projections (and would have probably fired him if he had objected). The notion that all the established (and totally

  • by Aaron_Pike ( 528044 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @07:47AM (#51565703) Homepage

    I liked it.

    I mean sure, I was eight at the time, but I really did enjoy it. It taught me a surprising amount, too.

    The weird pit collision thing, for example, taught me that video games had different physical rules than real life, and that what I was seeing was less important than what the computer was interpreting.

    Dropping into pits without warning also honed my reflexes. I became good at levitating before I hit the ground.

    The map (in which six screens were arranged as a cube) gave me an intuitive grasp of non-Euclidean geometry, and to adapt to the weirdness and even use it to evade the bad guys. I feel completely prepared if I ever suddenly manifest extra-dimensional mutant powers.

    The ever-declining energy stat taught me efficiency. I got good at allocating my time and resources (and I was good and ready for Gauntlet when it came out a couple years later).

    And, of course, it taught me to be patient. This allowed me to later beat games like Ninja Gaiden, Battletoads, Zelda II, and Demon's Souls. And college.

  • "It's awesome to be credited with single-handedly bringing down a billion-dollar industry with eight kilobytes of code. But the truth is a little more complex."

    With a little more training he could be like Stephen Elop, bringing down Nokia with less than 8kB ASCII memo. Sure, the truth is a little more complex ;)

  • by Kartu ( 1490911 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @08:11AM (#51565755)

    1) Pay Spielgerg 21'000'000$ for the title
    2) Force some nerdy dude into "work, with small breaks to eat/toilet/sleep" mode for 5 weeks. (effectively spending say, 5000$ on game development)
    3) Spend 5'000'000 on marketing campaign

    Later on figure, that #2 didn't work as planned, claim it was nerdy dude's fault.

    Isn't there something very wrong in this picture?

  • Squij was worse (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @08:34AM (#51565823) Journal

    ET was nowhere near the worst game of all time. Squij! (a game for the ZX Spectrum) handily beats it in terms of sheer awfulness. What Squij! lacks is the infamy and the truly epic nature of ET's failure.

    http://www.worldofspectrum.org... [worldofspectrum.org]

    • by Megane ( 129182 )

      Even on the 2600, there were worse games. This might be the worst of the first-party titles, but in no way is it the worst 2600 game of all time, or even "the Worst Computer Game In History". But it might be the most over-published bad game in history, if you don't count 2600 Pac-Man (Atari supposedly manufactured more copies of Pac-Man than consoles to play them on!), which was at least playable. And ET's badness was mostly due to the two-month schedule imposed to get it out for a Christmas release. Most 2

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Kudos for writing a game in 5 weeks (and back in the 80's using assembly, not modern Unity3D game engine).

    The game might have sucked, but it is still a wonderful accomplishment!

    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      2600 games usually took 6 months (still usually by only a single programmer), so this was a very rushed schedule.
  • Call Vince Gilligan. Surely this can be worked into an episode of Better Call Saul somehow.

  • Computer game? how dare you soil all other computer games with those words! It was a console game not a computer game!
  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2016 @12:00PM (#51567509) Homepage

    I had the privilege of witnessing the original Atari implode as an outsider in the 1980's and the new Atari implode as an insider in 2000's.

    The original Atari had no quality standards over third-party developers. So everyone and their grandmother were making bad video games at $30 per cartridge. The last Atari 2600 cartridge I bought was a shark attack game from a photography shop that was truly awful several months before E.T. killed the market. Nintendo changed that by enforcing quality standards and charging a per-cartridge licensing fee to develop for their console.

    I ended up working at the new Atari (Infogrames acquired the intellectual property to Atari when it bought Hasbro Interactive) and become the lead tester responsible for Nintendo GameBoy Advanced and GameCube titles. The new Atari fell into the same trap as the original Atari, buying into the Hollywood convergence trap by licensing expensive properties (*cough* The Matrix *cough*) and producing a title for every game console available. This got them into trouble with Nintendo as the developers ported games from the Playstation 2 without making them unique for the GameCube and Nintendo started rejecting them out of hand. And then the dot com bust ended everything for the new Atari, which is still around today but with smaller ambitions.

  • I can't remember the name of it, but there was a Nintendo strike fighter game that as a first person shooter flight simulator. Each successive level would add two additional boogies to take down. The bug with this game was that if you wedged a tooth pick into the button on the controller and had a "rapid fire" option turned on all you had to do was lean a book against the joystick so that you continued to do flips while firing. If you did that, the boogies would never be able to hit you and you would eventu
  • Part of me wants him to go back and fix those bugs and polish the game proper like.
  • You shot out it's shield (to get at it), while it shot at you.

  • You complaints of a pattern game much more believable when you complain while playing a game your not looking at anymore.

  • I thought this was going to be a story about Undertale, I'm disappointed.

  • That's an impressive personal story to pull out when trying to put your client's own disappointments into perspective.

    Also, super nostalgia for a time when personal computers were exploding onto the scene and anything seemed possible. Beige boxes and polyester wardrobes forever!

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