Desert dig uncovers huge Atari games dump
- 28 April 2014
- From the section Technology
Video game archaeologists have found a cache of Atari games that were buried in the New Mexico desert 30 years ago.
Before now reports Atari had dumped millions of game cartridges were widely believed to be an urban myth.
But a three-hour dig at a landfill site turned up many Atari cartridges, including copies of the game ET: The Extra Terrestrial.
Atari made millions of copies of the ET game, but it sold poorly and helped to contribute to the demise of the firm.
"For a lot of people, it's something that they've wondered about and it's been rumoured and talked about for 30 years, and they just want an answer," said Zak Penn, director of a documentary being made about the search for the site and its uncovering.
The documentary, produced by Lightbox, is being prepared for Microsoft's Xbox TV channel.
Atari was thought to have dumped truckloads of unsold games in the landfill site on the outskirts of Alamogordo in 1983 as the company was winding down.
The game maker's descent from its position as the dominant force in home gaming in the late 1970s and early 1980s was swift and has been partly blamed on the gamble it took on making a game of Steven Spielberg's 1982 hit film ET.
The game was made from scratch in five weeks for the Atari 2600 console. Even before the game was finished Atari, committed huge amounts of money and resources to it and produced millions of copies when it was done.
The ET game has been described as one of the worst ever created. Its challenging game play and poor graphics put people off buying it and left Atari with huge amounts of unsold inventory.
The search to see if the rumours about the dump were true was given new life by the efforts of one unnamed game enthusiast who did the detective work to narrow down its location.
Red tape surrounding the uncovering of the landfill site held up the start of the dig but once permission was granted excavations began on 26 April.
Three hours of digging with a backhoe uncovered significant amounts of Atari 2600 game cartridges - many of which were still in their original packaging.
Only a limited amount of material could be retrieved from the dump because the dig was only allowed access for one day. The local authority of Alamogordo ordered the dig site to be refilled on 27 April.