Another thing I’m fascinated by is urban legends, especially ones that happen to be about old video games. Of course, one of gaming’s greatest urban legends is the one about how Atari was so embarrassed by the failure of their game adaptation of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, which was supposedly the tipping point that single-handedly crashed the video game industry until the NES, that they buried all their unsold cartridges in the New Mexico desert. Atari: Game Over is a documentary that gives us a look into the rise and fall of the great Atari, while also finally settling the debate of if there is actually anything buried there.
I really liked this film. It has two main storylines that it follows: the story of Howard Scott Warshaw (also known as HSW) and his time as a game designer for Atari that would eventually lead him to creating E.T., and the story of the team of people looking to dig up the infamous Atari landfill. Both stories eventually come together when HSW made a trip to the landfill, which was a perfect conclusion to wrap up the whole thing.
I learned a lot from this film. I had no idea how crazy working at Atari actually was at the time, it seems like a really fun place to be. But what really surprised me was that the guy most well known for creating what was supposedly the worst game of all time actually also created some of the greatest Atari games ever. Yars’ Revenge and Raiders of the Lost Ark were both his creations, and I have found those in list of the best Atari games of all time. It really is a shame that someone who has also made such great games is most well known nowadays as the guy who ruined video games for everyone, it just seems unfair. The film also goes into detail about the game’s development, and how HSW was trying to do things that had never been done before in games, like a 3D world, and he wanted people to build emotional connections with the game’s characters. He wanted to make something that was worthy of being attached to such a masterpiece of a movie that E.T. was. It seems like it had potential to be a really amazing game, but the ludicrous time constraint of five weeks to make a whole game just was not enough. It just goes to show you that you shouldn’t rush out a product that isn’t finished.
Overall, I loved this movie. It gave a great insight into what working at Atari was like, and it was really cool to watch what happened on the day that the Atari burial was finally unearthed. I hope that this film will eventually give Howard Scott Warshaw the place in gaming history that he deserves, not as the destroyer of the gaming industry, but as a programmer who tried his best with what little he was given. If you, like me, are a fan of old video games and might want to learn more about this important part of gaming history, I highly recommend this film. You can find the movie on Netflix and the Xbox Video store.