[REVIEW♡] Atari Game Over

On
Monday, 29 June 2015

I will be giving my review of the documentary, “Atari: Game Over” which is available to watch on netflix and xbox videos with a run time of 66 minutes.


This green 8bit blob here is ET!

To give a short summary for those curious and unaware about the E.T. myth, essentially, the release of "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" on Atari 2600 was deemed to be the worst game ever made which resulted in night time burial of millions of cartridges, which Atari found themselves unable to sell and ultimately lead to their demise.


Being born in the 90’s, I am unable to give any first hand experiences and recollections of the 1980's game industry but still, I believe that many of our current generation should take interest towards the history of the industry. Whilst in this modern age, people stay at home and play games on a console or even on mobiles, Atari developed the emergence of home gaming platforms. The success was driven by these coin operated engineers and their thoughtful ideas sparked by the fun and party enriched organisational culture bore fruit to the gaming tropes that have carried onto our current gaming industry.

The documentary begins by explaining the reasoning behind the location set of Alamogordo, New Mexico. The HQ for Atari was based in Silicon Valley. This is due to the urban legend that millions of E.T cartridges were shamelessly dumped into a landfill site as an attempt to get rid of vast amounts of unsellable stock. If this game had to be disposed of through these means, then it sets the premise that this game was simply terrible, which is explored within this documentary.

The documentary pans out a nice direction as those involved begin to lament on their times at Atari, giving the context towards the birth of Atari, which was to sell video games, the noticeable aspect was that the management seemed to be disorganised. People within the office became aware of Atari becoming a success and just gave the instructions “do what you want to do” and this philosophy gave birth to great ideas led to HSW with the success of Yar’s Revenge through the addition of back story, the introduction of easter eggs and acquiring movie rights in order to profit from already successful films.

The success of E.T by Steven Spielberg lead to Atari wanting to create a game that would hit the Christmas market in order to experience high expectations of profit, however the deadline for this game was cut from the usual standard of 6 months, to only 5 weeks.  Howard had the pressure of making a hit game within these 5 weeks within a competitive Christmas market, flooded by consoles. However, alarmingly this quick paced development worth 22 million this was not seen as a major problem and instead seen as a success by Steven Spielberg before launch. Also the method of “do what you want” is fine but still, there seemed to be little amount of figuring out what children wanted, the concept of the pits wasn’t fully grasped by customers as within the film E.T never fell into the pit. Instances such as this furthered the quality gap between the video game and the movie, and the notion of a quick profit became the symbol of their downfall. Which leads me to wonder why Spielberg never questioned this.



The problems for the video game was only revealed after its release. Whilst Howard was initially unaware of its failure, consumers complained about how difficult the game play was, with many falling into the endless trap of being unable to retrieve the necessary items within the given time limits. Whilst the documentary continues to push the legend that this game caused the decline of the industry, the lack of development to the other factors at this time make the documentary seem biased. Whilst the documentary attempts to build context which is essential for those who were unable to witness the decline of the industry, there is little mention of the saturated marketplace with competition such as PC’s and clones appearing, who were stealing their customer base.


The game itself had good ideas and pushed boundaries, however it should be noted and applauded that this game was made within 5 weeks. The feeling after completing a project, people often think back and consider what they would have changed and improved upon and within a short time frame it would have been difficult for Howard to do such things.

The documentary begins to unfairly paint the decline of Atari due to the failure of E.T but much not attention is given to another failure of Pac-Man. The demise of Atari cannot be solely blamed onto E.T but the documentary certainly has to hype up this urban legend to keep the suspense of the excavation, and after the discovery of these cartridges, those involved begin to give explanations and the counter defence of E..T. in which Atari experienced a number of setbacks and was unable to recover within this industry as mentioned previously. The myth is finally solved and debunked, the cartridges were found preserved intact in boxes but it was not seen as a shameful act, instead the dumping was to dispose of warehouse stock. The title of “worst game ever” was attached onto E.T due to the fueling of the rumors that the game was shamefully dumped and it being socially popular to trash E.T.

The documentary was fun to watch as somebody who did not experience this generation of video gaming, as it does help to give explanations of how Atari affected the video game industry and how they became successful, due to Pong and Yar’s revenge. The documentary itself has a wide number of opinions and viewpoints that I felt was refreshing as we can see the case of the dumping through different perspectives. The addition of Howard within this documentary was the key success, without following Howard on this emotional journey the documentary wouldn’t have been as gripping, and his addition also helped to build his wrongly misplaced image of “ruining the industry” as his achievements were recognised and the talk spurred by the excavation taking place helped to make us all question whether the title of “worst game ever” is justified. The downfall of the documentary is that whilst the purpose is to hype up the legend that E.T was in fact the worst game ever, it does not give the viewer the whole picture, and if we were to be given it then it would have simply lead us to believe that Atari faced a similar situation to IBM in which the industry faced changes and Atari was unable to innovate and compete.


From my own perspective, ET was a game with good potential, but with its rushed release it is considered as a flawed game, but unfairly judged as the worst game ever, due to management decisions.



Overall rating: 4/5
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Thank you for reading!
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