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The E.T. Arcade Game


Shaggy the Atarian
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For a while now, the site System16 has had a small listing under unknown games for an E.T. arcade game. Sometimes he posts a source to where the info comes from but not in this case. All the note says is:

 

Quote

Notes : ET apparently ran on similar anti-aliasing hardware to Return Of The Jedi.
You wandered around dodging NASA badguys and collecting the pieces to "Phone Home".

The claim of it running on RotJ's hardware isn't too strange given how long development took on the arcade side (regardless the desire to rush from Warner brass) that probably wouldn't have launched until late '83 at best. RotJ wasn't released until 1984 but the hardware would have been designed in '82/83. It's possible that early on in RotJ's development someone was taking a crack at using that with E.T..  The description makes it sound like a playable build existed but there's so little out there it's hard to say if it's just hearsay.

 

There's also this listing at Arcade-History although it's extremely bare bones and no source is given on why they put 1984 for a copyright.

 

I also once came across a claim that 4x4 pinball originally started out as E.T. but I can't find that source either right now. Perhaps it was my imagination :P 

 

I'd be curious to hear more, if anything else is out there but most searching just turns up the 2600 version and landfills.

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I can contribute a few small pieces of information here that might at least help with better understanding the context and timing of it all.

 

Because while it may seem crazy to the uninformed general public that Atari would make another E.T. game when the first one “failed”, all is not as it seems.

 

1) E.T. was a huge hit in the theaters and continued to be released in foreign markets and countries from June of 1982 (here in the states) through 1983 and 1984 and even re-released again here theatrically.

 

2) The infamous perceived “failure” of the game is of course inaccurate and exaggerated. It was one of Atari’s biggest hits and sold millions of copies. They simply over-produced it, as they did with many other titles. And even so, the infamous New Mexico dumping story didn’t take place until much later anyhow.

 

So, E.T. for the first year or so was a very valuable and lucrative I.P. for Atari. They made the 2600 game and they made the Atari 400/800 computer game. So the idea of them working on an arcade game isn’t non sensical at all. If anything, it is quite logical.

 

3) Atari had a great track record with arcade operators during that time period. The games they were releasing during this time period looked great and earned well. With E.T. fever on high and abundant everywhere in the world, an arcade game would certainly have been successful.

 

 

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4 minutes ago, Supergun said:

2) The infamous perceived “failure” of the game is of course inaccurate and exaggerated. It was one of Atari’s biggest hits and sold millions of copies. They simply over-produced it, as they did with many other titles. And even so, the infamous New Mexico dumping story didn’t take place until much later anyhow.

I think there was an expectation that people would be clamoring so much for an E.T. game they would buy millions of new 2600s to play it.   But that didn't really happen.  Video game sales were weaker than expected all around for the Christmas 82 season,  probably the first sign of trouble in the industry.

 

So the media distorted it from "failed to meet extremely optimistic sales expectations",  to "it failed to sell".  And then it didn't just fail to sell, it "single-handedly destroyed the videog ame industry". 

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Yeah, I personally get all that context but many out there familiar with the 2600 E.T. story certainly don't.

 

IMO, it made perfect sense for them to have done an arcade & pinball machine (particularly a licensed pin) thanks to their market dominance at the time, it's just that the dev process certainly couldn't take a few weeks. It was kind of surprising that they were working on any pinball machines in '83 like 4x4 and Neutron Star, given that the division had effectively closed after they did Superman in '79. 

 

Assuming that the System16 description is accurate, then it sounds like the game would have played kind of like Sega's Congo Bongo with scrolling(I also say that because RotJ was pretty much Zaxxon). Atari was working on an isometric platformer/action game in Gremlins in those days but at least there is footage of that; Makes me wonder if there is any connection between Gremlins and E.T. (starting off as E.T. then turning into Gremlins, then getting canned, maybe?)

 

 

Thanks for that info @schuwalker, I knew I'd read somewhere about E.T. being planned for a pin but must have got my info crossed. Here's a link to BMX where it does mention the E.T. connection in case anyone cares.

 

As for the bad media perception, that can be blamed on EGM's Seanbaby who wrote an internet article in '98 or so with the "top 10 worst video games of all time" and with E.T. at the top. Thanks to the internet still being new with few other articles to dispute such a thing at the time, that became gospel to the masses. :/

Edited by Shaggy the Atarian
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On 5/12/2022 at 2:10 PM, ColecoGamer said:

Do screenshots or video clips exist of this alleged ET arcade game? I’m curious about how it looked and played.

Not that I have ever seen. However, I did get in contact with some ex-Atari arcade staff and have discovered a little bit more.

 

First, Michael Albaugh, who worked at Atari's arcade division from 1976-2000 states in this interview that E.T. pinball did in fact start life as 4x4. He also states that Robin Ziegler was the principle programmer on both the video and pinball versions of E.T. Lyle Rains is also mentioned, although I believe his involvement came from the hardware side and not the software. There doesn't seem to be much info on Robin out there, although I believe this is him as this article mentions that he worked at Atari.

 

Second, I've been communicating with Dennis Harper who was the principle designer for Return of the Jedi and programmer on many other Atari arcade games (Toobin', Hydra, Primal Rage, etc.). He first mentioned to me that Robin was the programmer on E.T. arcade but he also confirmed that the game was operating on the "Pixie" hardware board that Lyle Rains created and was used for ROTJ. At least here's what he said: "I seem to also recall that Robin's ET was running on Pixie. At least, it had a very similar look."

 

This Pixie board was a total pain to develop for as Dennis explained to me in an email, using a memory saving technique called "pixel averaging" that saved the memory but ended up requiring weeks/months of work to figure out and if an artist changed anything, they had to start all over again on that sprite. 

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 5/11/2022 at 9:04 AM, Supergun said:

I can contribute a few small pieces of information here that might at least help with better understanding the context and timing of it all.

 

Because while it may seem crazy to the uninformed general public that Atari would make another E.T. game when the first one “failed”, all is not as it seems.

 

1) E.T. was a huge hit in the theaters and continued to be released in foreign markets and countries from June of 1982 (here in the states) through 1983 and 1984 and even re-released again here theatrically.

 

2) The infamous perceived “failure” of the game is of course inaccurate and exaggerated. It was one of Atari’s biggest hits and sold millions of copies. They simply over-produced it, as they did with many other titles. And even so, the infamous New Mexico dumping story didn’t take place until much later anyhow.

 

So, E.T. for the first year or so was a very valuable and lucrative I.P. for Atari. They made the 2600 game and they made the Atari 400/800 computer game. So the idea of them working on an arcade game isn’t non sensical at all. If anything, it is quite logical.

 

3) Atari had a great track record with arcade operators during that time period. The games they were releasing during this time period looked great and earned well. With E.T. fever on high and abundant everywhere in the world, an arcade game would certainly have been successful.

 

 

Also a arcade game where you sit in a bicycle or do any number of things would probably of done great. Universal Studios had a ET the ride from the 80s into 2018 or so.

 

Also yes the game wasn't known to be great in the day, but it wasn't this huge bomb, every body had a copy, so people didn't just return it 100% of time, believe it or not that was an option in 82, et did help change this in store? To where your stuck with game if don't ? like

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On 6/12/2022 at 5:46 PM, Crimefighter said:

The Atari 4x4 prototype pinball can be played at the Las Vegas Pinfall Museum.

Ah, I must have missed it the last time I was there - granted they might not have had it then as I visited in 2019. Perhaps I'll find the time to hit them up when I'm in Vegas in a couple of weeks

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  • 3 months later...
On 5/11/2022 at 10:22 AM, Shaggy the Atarian said:

 

 

Assuming that the System16 description is accurate, then it sounds like the game would have played kind of like Sega's Congo Bongo with scrolling(I also say that because RotJ was pretty much Zaxxon). Atari was working on an isometric platformer/action game in Gremlins in those days but at least there is footage of that; Makes me wonder if there is any connection between Gremlins and E.T. (starting off as E.T. then turning into Gremlins, then getting canned, maybe?)

On 5/12/2022 at 4:14 PM, ColecoGamer said:

That Gremlins prototype footage looks fun. The game appears to be complete or near-complete. It’s a shame Atari canned the project.

 

Sadly it was far from done. I actually did a video looking at the entire history of the Gremlins game. 

 

https://player.vimeo.com/video/391056948

 

I may actually very, very briefly mention the ET arcade game in here. I havent had time to go back to dig into ET though.

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