I am not the man you know as Cool Hand Juke. He is a friend of mine, but I was previously unaware of this site until yesterday when he showed up at my door, mumbling something about “REE-SEES PEE-SEES.” Thrusting these crumpled up pages, stained with blood and feces, into my hands he wandered off into the night. I checked with our portly neighbor if she had any recent interaction with him, but she said he must not be around as her undergarments haven’t been swiped off the clothesline recently.
While we maintain hope our beloved Juke will one day return to us, I have done my best to transcribe his cluttered mass of notes into something comprehensible. Hopefully, those who knew him best will be able to find some clue as to his whereabouts hidden within. If not, then perhaps we are richer for having lost him.
An Unfair Legacy
One cannot discuss the Atari 2600’s E.T. game without mentioning the circumstances around it. While there remains some conjecture and hearsay to this day, I will do my best to recount the events as I have formulated them throughout my research.
For anyone remotely familiar with E.T. the movie, it was the biggest thing ever, even going so far as to serve as a plot point for Alex and Jim on the hit television show Taxi. The little movie about a boy and his alien had truly become a phenomenon, proving a gateway to venues some might consider unnatural.
Having said that, it’s no wonder the people at Atari would try to parlay this good will into a quick cash grab. Of course, the most lucrative way to ensure there was an E.T. cartridge in every kid’s Atari console was to get the game out by Christmas 1982.
The task fell to star Atari developer Howard Scott Warshaw who had previously developed the classic Yars’ Revenge, as well as previous movie tie-in game Raiders Of The Lost Ark. In order to complete the game in the six-week timeline allotted to meet the holiday deadline, Atari set Warshaw up with his own development station in his home. Presumably, he was to begin working on proving the zero theorem after completing the game.
Warshaw accomplished the impossible task and was able to push out a playable game. There’s some conjecture about Spielberg disapproving of an early version and wanting it to be more like Pac-Man, but I have heard conflicting reports on this.
In any case, the game went on to sell nearly two million copies, placing it in the top 10 selling games on the system. Pretty good, eh? It would be if Atari hadn’t over anticipated the game’s success and printed double that amount of cartridges.
Most have heard of the aftermath. Unable to sell the remaining game cartridges, along with a bunch of other unsold games as a result of the Video Game Crash, Atari buried them in the New Mexico desert. In time, this became the biggest urban legend in video game history. Eventually, it was discovered and unearthed in 2014. What they don’t say is what they found buried with the games…
The Game Play
Like many of my generation who grew up with the Nintendo Entertainment System instead of the Atari 2600, I’ve always accepted that E.T. is the worst video game of all time. However, I’ve never really tried to play it. I’ve booted up an emulator of it in years past, but I have never tried to complete the game or learn how it works. In order to label something as terrible, I feel I at least owe it to the material to give it a chance.
Upon booting up the game, the player is greeted what is universally accepted as the best part: the title screen. I’m surprised there weren’t house fires across the U.S. on Christmas Day 1982 due to all the Atari’s being pushed to the limit to show a fairly well-defined looking E.T. along with as good a version of the main theme that the system could muster.
For a system that also houses an A-Team game where the player takes control of a floating head that sort of looks like Mr. T if you squint, this was already a huge accomplishment.
The game is typical for the system. The player walks E.T. around a handful of screens looking for the missing pieces of his phone.
Unfortunately, the parts are hidden in pits that plague the landscape, so the player has to fall into them to figure out where the pieces are. There appears to be a way to gauge which pits have pieces in them, but E.T. seems to fall into random pits, even when he’s nowhere near the edge anyway.
Whether the pit has a piece or not, getting out requires extending E.T.’s neck to float back up. This seems pretty straight-forward, but E.T. is likely to fall back into the pit upon reaching the top. It’s a perfect Sisyphean allegory for the futility of man.
My entire body feels burning and itchy at night. When I was scratching the swelling on my arms, a lump of rotten flesh dropped off. What the hell is happening to me?
In the main style of gameplay, there’s an FBI agent and a Scientist guy who are out to grab E.T. and use him for their anal probe studies. If they grab E.T. they’ll take him to the blue screen, inconveniencing the player, but that’s about it.
The sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, and a voice was screaming…
It was about this time there came a knock at my door. I opened it up, but no one was there. Instead, it was just a beat-up E.T. lunchbox with a note inside.
ALonG with ColLLECting the PhoNE Pieces, E.T. can also find REESES PIECES spread across the ground. I’m not sure if you’ve ever eaten these delightful candies, but they’re fucking delicious. They’re all I can think about some days. I just want more of these little candies. Why won’t they give me more? Perhaps more is required of me?
As for Easter eggs, the player can find a flower in one of the random holes and bring it back to life. If E.T. has collected all the phone pieces when he comes across it, though, he can transform the flower into either Yars, Indiana Jones, or see the developer’s initials. It’s not mind-blowing by any means, but it was probably cooler back in the 80s.
The player only has so long to complete the game, and every movement of E.T. will count down the clock further. Once all of the time is spent, E.T. dies, just as we all will one day soon. Perhaps sooner…
I’ve spent my life in vain pursuit of the unattainable. Whenever I think I am close to clutching the prize it’s always, “Our Princess Is In Another Castle.” What madness is this? Man was not meant to endure.
Funny enough, years later there would be another E.T. game on the PlayStation One. Isn’t that fucking awesome!
Not as awesome as the E.T. ride At Universal Studios. You’re riding a bike through SPACE!
FIND THE SHIP!
Evolution is not finished; reason is not the last word nor the reasoning animal the supreme figure of Nature. As man emerged out of the animal, so out of man the superman emerges.
Indeed, worse games. E.T. very good. Very Very Good.
Poor Juke has had an accident. So may you all…