Legendary Atari cartridge dump to be excavated

After producing too many copies of its infamously terrible E.T. game, Atari dumped the unsold inventory in a remote New Mexico landfill. Thirty years on, the local authorities have greenlighted an excavation to see exactly what's down there. [John Bear at The Alamogordo Daily News]



  1. I think that’s the only story to come out of New Mexico other than Greg Jackson-related news for about 8 years.

  2. I remember they dumped a bunch in a dump on the far east side of El Paso as well.  People were digging there for weeks.

  3. Are they expecting the game to have evolved or something? It’ll probably have lost use of its sight, having been buried all that time.

  4. Rob, this whole thing is a non-issue publicity stunt. We already cleared that up in our book “Atari Inc. – Business Is Fun” released last fall, going by direct interviews and actual internal documents.

    There were never thousands of ET games buried in Alamogordo, that’s a myth that sprung up later and was also never once mentioned by the actual press articles of the time. The dump there was simply a clearing out of Atari’s Texas manufacturing plant as it transitioned to automated production methods and a focus on personal computer manufacturing. It had previously been one of the main plants for manufacturing of game cartridges and other hardware, and game manufacturing was being moved overseas to China.

    As part of the transition the unused cartridge stock of a group of titles (not just E.T.), console parts and computer parts were all dumped there in New Mexico. It was covered in detail by the Alamogordo press at the time, and is just such a non-mystery that I’m surprised by all this.

      1. Who is “they?” Again, this is really a non-issue. If there was any “mass dumping” of unsold games (and not just E.T.) that was done in Sunnyvale. 

          1. Ask… Skinner?

            EDIT: I always thought it was odd that an all-bald guy was named Skinner.

      2. Marty happens to be an authority on all things Atari, on a par with Curt Vendel. Who the hell are you? 

    1. Nerds are no different from the rest of the general public in their desire to mythologize certain things and perpetuate urban myths that meet some emotional need. This thing reminds me of the “Al Capone vault” that Rivera sledgehammered into back in 1986; the televised event was hugely hyped with the implication that there might be bodies hidden there, despite the overwhelming unlikelihood that Capone–an incredibly canny crook who wouldn’t even have gone to jail if he’d been just a little bit better at laundering his money–would have done something that stupid. 

      1.  It may be true, but only in nerd-dom is there a cherished sub-culture that takes their own breed of joy in pedantically debunking the myths of the rest of us. 

    2. You say it’s a non-issue, that it’s known what isn’t in the pit. Yet, I suspect that the most interesting things there are what are in the pit! ROMs that were never released, old relics of the manufacturing process. Why dismiss this dig and say it holds no merit?

        1. No, because hard facts and documentation from the period, and the way game production and manufacturing was done at the time say so.

      1. That just shows how out of hand this stuff has gotten. There are no “unreleased ROMs” there, the Texas plant was simply that – an assembly plant. I.E. actual in production products. All the game development was out of Atari’s actual location in Sunnyvale where all the Consumer Division programmers were, and that’s where  any unreleased games (which would be in EPROM format) would be. That’s also where all the lab loaner carts that wind up in collectors’ hands came out of.

  5. E.T. really was an awful, awful game. But it’s totally burned into my mind. Did anyone really know what was going on, what the goal was, what, even, the various elements represented? I wonder if maybe it was some kind of evil sociological experiment. You’ve fallen into a pit, and can’t do shit about it. heheh

    1. I remember it took me years to complete because I would get frustrated and walk away from it often.
      Now that I’m thinking about it, did I ever finish it?

      1. Walks off screen right.  Walks off screen down.   Raises head.   Switches to Pole Position.

    1. Thank you for the link!!! It was incredibly interesting, and the tutorial video it linked to was just pure nostalgia for me! ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-pzdPLfy9Y ) I really did like the ET game, but I had totally forgotten how to play it, the video sure brought back memories (Oh, yeah, you had to search for the light in the well! And I had totally forgotten about the flower in the well, that the manual mentions.) But… I cannot remember if I finished it or not. I think I did, at least the sound seemed familiar… but it was 30 years ago. :( Anyway, running between those two screens for candy… btdt. :)

      And I’m really impressed by the work he put into fixing the game. Major props!!!

  6. I am having some severe flashbacks to reading “Constellation Games” right now.

    I know a guy who might be interested in those, though they are few million years too recent.

  7. I actually owned E.T. for the 2600, and it was as craptacular as everyone says it is. I could only make myself play it for like maybe 60 hours or so….

    1. I had it too, and I don’t remember hating it completely.  It took me a few tries to get out of the pit, but once I figured that trick out, it gave me no more trouble.  I remember liking it less than Raiders of the Lost Ark, until I had to wait (in what felt like real time) for the sun to get to the right point to reveal the Well of the Souls in the map room, or whatever it was.  At that point I really hated Raiders.

      Call me perverse, but I enjoyed E.T. more than, say, Missile Command.  God, that game gave me stress nightmares.

  8. From the wiki:
    It has also been reported that prototypes for the proposed Atari Mindlink controller system were disposed of at the site.

    That’s why it’s worth digging up.. who really knows what’s there?

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