the most beguiling, horrible, opposite-of-fun experience I’d ever had

Reader G.M. e-mailed this picture and said, "How the f**k I ever believed that THIS was E.T., I'll never know — but I still played it for hours and hours."

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Atari 2600 Game 

The picture unlocked a memory I haven't thought about in a long time, but wanted to share:

Around 1982 or 1983, before City Walk at Universal Studios was even an idea, there was a big E.T. thing at the top of the hill, by the Whomphoppers and Victoria Station restaurants. Part of it was a giant silver spaceship (just like E.T.'s) that had eight or twelve Atari consoles around a pillar in the middle, all of them playing the E.T. video game.

I was seriously into video games then, and my parents had given me permission to play the E.T. game for like an hour or something while they did whatever parents did at an E.T. exhibit. (Eat lots of Reese's Pieces, I suppose.) I was beside myself with glee … until I played it for about ten minutes. It was the most beguiling, horrible, opposite-of-fun experience I'd ever had. I found my parents and asked if we could leave.

We've all heard the legend of the landfill, and the way I remember it, that's probably where this game belongs, but maybe I'll dig up E.T. on Stella and see if it really is as awful as I remember it.

92 thoughts on “the most beguiling, horrible, opposite-of-fun experience I’d ever had”

  1. Oh wow, that screenshot looks a lot like the Raiders of the Lost Ark for Atari 2600, which I actually enjoyed until it became so cryptic and difficult that it was just ridiculous.

  2. Never played the E.T. game, but for my money the worst NES game I ever encountered was “Silver Surfer” – an effing dreadful hybrid of basic gameplay from “Super Mario Bros” and “Xevious” wherein if the Surfer so much as touched a wall, or was struck by any object he died and your game restarted back at the current level.
    Wow, was it bad…
    Click here for further grisly details…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvnRBywkUZ0

  3. I may be late to this party, but do you really hate us this much Wil? Let me correct, not so much hate as a shared, painful memory THIRTY PLUS YEARS after the event.
    This has sent me back to the game Wizardry, a;; cyan, magenta, and white. To be honest, I never did finish it (much to my lasting regret) because the next door neighbor had Paratroopers on their Apple (with the amber monochrome display). At the time, it was much cooler to shoot off the strings of the paratroopers shoot than to dungeon crawl.
    Till the next time I get to play with you again….ur, um, across a table that is…

  4. I don’t know how easy this would be to get hold of for you, but the UK games magazine games tm has a column every month by the lead programmer, actually come to think he may have been the only programmer and he had about two days to do the entire game.
    This of course still doesn’t excuse the pain experienced while playing it.

  5. The first video game easter egg I ever encountered unintentionally was while playing E.T. on the 2600. I was never able to successfully reproduce the circumstances and my memories of the game and era are largely centered around telling people about the crazy easter egg and not being believed. Seeing those screenshots takes me right back to that place of adolescent futility. I haven’t thought about that easter egg in years, but now prompted by your post and helped by google, I see that my recollections are indeed accurate… The flowerpot turned into a Yar from Yar’s Revenge and flew away instead of just being revived like it was supposed to.
    http://www.digitpress.com/eastereggs/26et.htm

  6. I actually remember liking this game. I loved walking around collecting the little Reese’s pieces, avoiding the FBI and trying to get ET home. Sure, it was tricky in some parts, but it really felt like an accomplishment when I finished it.

  7. Ok, so this probably makes me an idiot but how can a game be beguiling and horrible? Wouldn’t beguiling mean that the game play was alluring and highly attractive and horrible would mean … the opposite?

  8. I’m just going to say “Sinclair Spectrum version of ‘Star Trek'”, because it is apropos in more than one way, and some people will get it, and think of running jokes that died decades ago, and chuckle. It’d take too long and be too boring to explain it to the rest of you.

  9. Zomg. Speaking of beguiling, horrible, opposite-of-fun experiences… ‘Angle One’ is on SyFy right this minute! Alluring and highly attractive… yet so horrible! I will revel in the opposite-of-awesomeness.
    P.S. I’m looking forward to more memories of the future!

  10. It is far worse than you remember actually. It is so awful that it falls squarely on the “So bad that it has gone past “so bad that it is good” and wrapped around to bad again” end of the scale.

  11. It’s not that bad of a game, in fact its quite an adrenaline rush when you’ve called the mothership and are trying to get back to the field before the ship lands, trying to avoid the FBI agent and then hoping the FBI doesn’t show up before the ship lands.
    And for extra fun, call for Elliot before the ship is about to land.
    Read the manual and then play the game on easy.

  12. Dude. I didn’t have this game, but my best friend did. I remember we played it, and we liked the music, and we died.
    And died and died and died and died and died.
    The end.

  13. I also had E.T. second hand without the instructions. I loved it so much, I think I beat it on a daily basis. Back then, I didn’t have other games to compare it to and the way people call it “the worst. game. ever.” will never taint my memory of this game. I loved E.T. the movie, and Reese’s Pieces and this game. I think I was 5.
    Now trying to play Raiders of the Lost Ark without instructions I just failed at horribly.

  14. To be fair, the Swordquest games didn’t have much in the way of instructions. They were really just a “move objects around randomly to find the secret combination to win a contest.”

  15. My sister and I liked that game, but then again, we were young enough to wail in terror while watching the movie in the theater. Both of us are still haunted by the sound E.T. made while walking around in the game…
    chick-chicka chick-chicka chick-chicka chick-chicka and so on ad infinitum.

  16. I laugh-snorted when I saw that screenshot. I’ve got Stella too. I even have the USB proper joystick that you can get online that some retro game fan has manufactured and bundled with Stella… ah, found it:
    http://www.retrothing.com/2010/02/only-a-few-dozen-clear-classic-usb-joysticks-left.html
    Anyways… I haven’t gotten to this one yet on Stella, but my laugh snort was from my inner child, having THE SAME reaction as you did.
    I was an only child, and as a girl, all my friends were girly-girl and didn’t talk about gaming. So I had no idea that this really did suck. I thought I was just doing it wrong.
    Now thanks to the internets and being officially out as a geek, I know what a sucky game looks like… and it is here.
    Oh we’ve come so far. I gotta see if it’s as bad as I remember tonight.

  17. Oh, c’mon, folks, SOME of you must consider yourself hardcore gamers. As in, “yes I had to do a three hour corpse run raid to get my gear back from the planes where I died but dude it was so totally worth it none of this easy mode shiat for me.” I may not be one of those, myself, but you can get to that point with E.T. once you figure the darn thing out. Wandering the scenes with your eyes glued to the little icons at the top so you can find your “call the ship” location. Perfecting the mid-air levitate move (the 80’s version of jump-spin-shoot attacks in FPS’s) so you didn’t lose extra energy when you hit the bottom of the pits. Levitating out of a pit and holding on to the levitation to manuever to the opposite side of the pit so the FBI guy looming there can’t grab you right away. Clever use of the previously-thought- useless arrow icons that let you teleport quickly away from the wandering bad guys.
    The manual was barely helpful, the in-game help was nonexistent, the graphics were fair-to-poor for its time, and it miserably failed the “first 10 minutes of game experience must be awesome” test that most well-designed games rely on today. But once you understood what was going on, the gameplay was actually FUN, and winning on the hard level was an ACCOMPLISHMENT, sort of like taking on Haunted House on its hardest levels.

  18. Actually….
    I liked this game. Yes, really. :-P I still remember falling into those pits when I didn’t mean to and wanting to throw the game out a window, but I liked it, and still remember that Queen of Life, the Universe, and EVERYTHING feeling I had when I beat it. :-D
    I had Swordquest: Fireworld AND Waterworld and those I disliked so much I begged my mom to let me give them away. She never did let me. And I spent way too much time playing them because they were the only games we had I hadn’t beaten yet. *sigh*
    Oh, and I never did, btw. Ahhh, wasted youth.

  19. “we were young enough to wail in terror while watching the movie in the theater.”
    Oh, Lord, SO WAS I.
    I was three and I remember the whole horrible experience VIVIDLY (I should blog about it ;-)).
    Nice to know I’m not the only one.

  20. Can’t someone actually launch a mission to determine if the whole thing about ground up cartridges being under concrete in an Alamogordo, New Mexico landfill is in fact true? This shouldn’t be too hard to prove definitively once and for all. Then again, they’re apparently not going to bother to check if Jimmy Hoffa is really buried in Giants Stadium when the demolish it, so why should they bother with it?

  21. O.M.G. I had completely forgotten about this game until your post. Wow – talk about the Fountain of Youth that Wil referred to earlier… Holy crap that brings back some memories… Now I just need to call my mom and see if she remembers it too……

  22. OMG how timely is this?! I had the following conversation with my 12 year old just a few hours ago:
    Me: When I was your age we had Saturday chores and we couldn’t go outside, watch TV or play video games until they were done.
    Son: uh huh…what video games did you have back then – PONG? No wonder you didn’t mind doing chores.
    Me: I had more than Pong.
    Son: Right. You had an Atari. Woohoo!
    Me: I had a 2600. I had Asteroids and Qbert and ET.
    Son: ET? What’s that?
    Me: It was kinda like a sucky spaced out Pitfall
    Thanks for posting this, now I can show him a picture! =D

  23. Wil,
    Appearances versus realities situations seems to be something that we must experience at all ages. Hopefully we live and learn from those situations as our clocks proceeds.
    FG

  24. While wandering through the Classic Console Freeplay room we found a couple of youngsters playing E.T. A bunch of people were gathered around them, cheering them on as they fell into the pit once…twice…thrice…etc. Lots of laughter (with them) ensued.

  25. I actually have a working 2600, and I have a copy of ET. I don’t have it to play it, I have it so I can truthfully claim to possess a copy of the worst game of all time.
    Don’t do it. For the love of God and all that is holy in the Geek Universe, spare yourself…

  26. Ok, to the girl who said her DAD gave her his old atari and she played the game, you just threw me into a deep depression. Sigh.
    This is almost as bad as when I realized one of the people I was working with was born the same year Back to the Future came out in the theater.
    I remember that game. I remember all I could do was hit a button and make his head go up and down.
    But what do you want for first generation gaming.

  27. ET has to be a candidate for worst video game ever, or at least in the top 10 worst. Nothing could hide the loud sucking sound your console made as soon as the cartridge was inserted. That landfill should be nuked from orbit – just to be sure.

  28. Lmao I never heard of the legend of the landfill (1983). Of course, I was just being born, but I do have an original atari *pong* that still works since 1972 and the atari 5200, which I am not sure if that still works. I never played the ET game, but I really do remember Frogger. Those were the days. Yes everyone *to clearify* I am a girl that loves videos games.

  29. Believe it or not, I played it about one year ago and yes… it’s at least as bad as you remember, propably even worse. If really deserves the title “Worst video-game ever”!

  30. as a kid my mom hated video games, so as my friends got super nintendos and n64s and playstations, i was stuck with what i thought was a lame atari 2600 my dad had from before he got married… we found a used video game store that sold atari cartredges for about a dollar and one day i found E.T. not knowing what it was i bought it because, hey, its E.T.!
    bummer…oh well, i still had asteroids…

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