We often get into vigorous debates about what the “best casino slot online halo69 game of all time” is, but what about the worst game of all time? For decades, that honor has popularly belonged to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, a 1982 game for the Atari 2600 based on the movie of the same name. It was panned at the time for its plot, visuals, and gameplay, and its commercial and quality failures hurt Atari’s brand reputation, and this along with overproduction of this cartridge and others at least partially contributed to a Atari’s decline and a major, multi-year video game industry crash beginning in 1983.
The casino slot online tale of E.T. has been told over the years as a cautionary tale against crunch, having only been made in five weeks. But the real story of ET, its creator, and their relationship with Atari is far deeper than the hole that was dug to house hundreds of copies of the critically-panned game in a New Mexico landfill.
IGN spoke to E.T.’s primary casino slot onlinedeveloper and sole designer Howard Scott Warshaw ahead of the release of his latest book, Once Upon Atari. It’s a cautionary tale of the perils of crunch, the advent of new game design ideas, an industry-shaking crash, and the necessary, inevitable movement of game creation from its formative Wild West years to the much larger, collaborative efforts we see today.
The Lowest, Dirtiest, Grungiest System
“I was in love with casino slot onlinecomputers in my graduate work in college, and I fell out of love with computers at Hewlett Packard where I was drowning in a sea of computational mediocrity, and it was very unsatisfying, and so I used to act out,” Warshaw says. “I used to do some wacky stuff, especially, by HP standards. And one of my coworkers came up to me one day and said, ‘The kind of things you do – they happen all the time where my wife works.’ I said, ‘Oh, where’s that?’ And he said, ‘Atari.’ And that was an interesting moment because it never occurred to me to look at Atari as a place to work.”
After this fateful casino slot online conversation with his friend, Warshaw called up Atari and maneuvered his way into a series of job interviews – and was rejected. But Warshaw wouldn’t take no for an answer. He pushed back, and eventually was hired on probation at a much lower salary than initially discussed.
Upon his arrival in 1981, Warshaw immediately found himself fulfilled in a way he had never experienced before. Not only could he test his mettle on much more complex, sophisticated programming casino slot online challenges than at Hewlett Packard, but Atari also gave him the opportunity to blend his technical, analytical capabilities with the wacky creativity that had made him stand out at his previous job.
“The environment was so free, and so creatively focused, and so accepting that you could be anything, you could do anything, and people only looked at it in terms of, ‘Well, does this inspire something cool to do?’ It was about looking for creative opportunity, which, to me, is the ultimate creative environment, right? Where you don’t have a lot of restrictions, you just have goals. And it’s all about trying to get there in an interesting or innovative way, as opposed to being all about structure, which is the way a lot of environments operate.”
The environment was so free, and so creatively focused, and so accepting that you could be anything, you could do anything.
But over time, Warshaw says, he noticed something wasn’t quite right. While he was having the time of his life, a lot of his colleagues seemed to believe there was a cultural transformation taking place. And with time, Warshaw began to see it too. Atari, he says, was beginning to drift away from the fast-paced, creative environment he fell in love with, instead becoming what he calls more of an “ordinary production environment.”
“Engineers want to be proud of the product they’re producing, they want to innovate, they want to do something strong. Marketing and casino slot online sales people, their whole job is to create sales and generate business and maximize it. And we thought they were a bunch of ridiculous, silly, shortsighted people. And they thought we were a bunch of little entitled babies who didn’t have any sense of dedication or discipline. The truth is, there were a lot of brilliant people at Atari. And we all sort of joined hands and walked right off a cliff, making the best decisions we possibly could. That’s the story of Atari.”
But, at least for a while, Warshaw enjoyed the creative casino slot online freedom he had taken the pay cut for. But he didn’t make things easy on himself. First, he was asked what system at Atari he wanted to work on:
“I didn’t have much of a basis for the casino slot online decision, so I said, ‘What’s the lowest, dirtiest, most grungy system you have to work on? What’s the most difficult one to program?’ And he said, ‘Oh, that’s the 2600.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s where I want to start because I never like moving down. I like to start at the bottom and move up.’”
So Warshaw was assigned to port the arcade game Star Castle to the Atari 2600…and immediately began stirring up trouble:
“The first thing I did with my project was go to my casino slot online boss and say, ‘You know what? This game is going to suck. I don’t want to do this game. This is not the project I want to do.’”
Warshaw presented an alternate casino slot online gameplay idea that he felt was better adapted to the Atari 2600, a machine designed to play Pong-like games in 1977, but stretched far beyond its limits by creative programmers to adapt games – like the cutting edge 1980 vector graphics and physics-based Star Castle. is pitch was accepted, and that game ultimately became Yars’ Revenge, which has since become the best-selling non-licensed game for the Atari 2600, and remains well-regarded to this day. On the strength of Yars’ Revenge, Warshaw was pitched on developing the first movie-to-video game conversion for Atari: Raiders of the Lost Ark. And his work on that made a strong enough impression that in the final days of development, he received a career-changing phone call.
“The person who called me was Ray Kassar, the CEO of Atari at the casino slot online time. My boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, which I don’t get that call very often, but I was sitting in my office putting the final touches on Raiders of the Lost Ark, and in came the phone call. ‘Hey, Howard. This is July 27th. We need E.T. for September 1st. Can you do it?’ I said, ‘Absolutely, I can do it provided we reach the right arrangement.’”
Nothing Like Pac-Man
Not only did Warshaw have to make a casino slot online functional, licensed game for Steven Spielberg in five weeks, but he had to do it almost entirely on his own. No one in the Atari office wanted to help him program it. He did have Jerome Domurat doing most of E.T.’s graphics, and the opening theme was composed for him by Atari’s sound team. But all of the design, all other sounds, some of the graphics, and of course the programming was all Warshaw’s.
The casino slot online reduced timeframe to do all that work was preceded by Warshaw only having three days to get his basic design concept down. That’s because three days from the initial phone call he was scheduled to fly out to LA and present his design to Spielberg.
“When I did present that design I laid it out, and Spielberg listened to the whole thing. And at the end he looked at me and he said, “Couldn’t you do something more like casino slot online Pac-Man?” My whole bottom fell out of me. I couldn’t believe it.
“Spielberg was a big casino slot online gamer, but the truth of it that I knew that I hadn’t communicated to him was that this was a game I could deliver in the timeframe. I didn’t want to say that to him because I didn’t want to come off as desperate, frankly. And so what I did say was, ‘You know, Steven, E.T. is really extraordinary. It’s a special film and I think it needs a special casino slot online game to go with it. And this is a unique design, and this is something that I think lives up to the level of the film and is appropriate to what we’re trying to produce.’ And he agreed with that, and that was good because if he would have said, ‘No, I really wanted Pac-Man.’ I would have had to say to him, ‘We can’t do Pac-Man in this time. We only have five weeks. This is what I can do. Please be okay.’”
When I did present that design, and [Spielberg] looked at me and he said, “Couldn’t you do something more like Pac-Man?”
Pac-Man was off the table, so what was Warshaw pitching to Spielberg? When he sat down to design an E.T. game, he first had to puzzle out what casino slot online genre he was going to make – whatever it was, it had to be simple enough to be made very quickly, but needed to be fun enough to replay and have a broad enough scope to actually be replayable.
Warshaw settled on the idea of a treasure hunt for the phone pieces E.T. assembles during the movie. Once players find all three phone pieces, they then have to find the one spot on the map where they can use the phone to call the spaceship to come get them, and from there must find the landing casino slot online zone. And there are also a number of candies – Reese’s Pieces, rather – scattered about that E.T. can collect, either to help restore his energy as it’s spent by walking around, or to give to Elliot in return for a phone piece. All this must be accomplished while avoiding enemies trying to drag E.T. off to other screens or steal the phone pieces he’s collected so far.
What casino slot online people who weren’t around in the 1980s may not realize is that in some ways, E.T. was actually somewhat groundbreaking for its time. It had an open-ended structure with multiple ways to complete its primary objective, a detailed title screen, an animated cutscene at the end, multiple difficulty settings, replayability, easter eggs, and, yes, impressive graphics. The backgrounds are fairly simple, but the characters themselves are detailed for a time when even having multiple colors on a character was a feat. Another potentially unfamiliar concept to today’s players was the printed manual that shipped with ET, which adequately explains gameplay nuances where the game itself very much doesn’t.
And yet, E.T. was also riddled with flaws. Players often accidentally fell into the pits where the casino slot online phone pieces were stored if just a single pixel of E.T.’s head touched them. Its system of arrows and cube-shaped map were disorienting and difficult to parse for new players who didn’t understand how the areas were connected. It also struggled to convey the emotion people remembered from the film – a hard task indeed for any game made in the 80s.
But even if Warshaw had a few more hours or days to fix the bugs and remove some of its more disorienting casino slot online elements, E.T. still might have fallen short. Because, Warshaw said, what he really needed is rumination time. He needed time to come up with an idea, then walk away from it, mull it over, discuss it, change it, and see it with fresh eyes.
“One of the big problems with E.T. … is that I realized 100% percent of my design casino slot online concept. And if you think about it, ordinarily, realizing 100% of my design concept doesn’t sound like a bad thing. That sounds like a win … But the truth is, if you look at original design concepts versus successful, finished products, frequently, there’s a huge difference. And the difference is that it got better. And that’s what the rumination stuff does. Rumination time allows you to evolve.”
Killing an Industry
While E.T.’s reception certainly wasn’t the only reason for Atari’s downfall, it was a contributing factor. It played a notable casino slot online role in the infamous Video Game Crash of 1983, an event characterized by a flooded software and hardware market alongside decreased consumer trust in video game quality – E.T. had an initial print run of 5 million copies without user testing, and not only did they not sell, they were sometimes returned by irate parents. This glut of games led to the legendary landfill incident. Atari itself underwent significant layoffs, followed by the company being divided and sold off. On paper, Warshaw left before this happened, though he says that’s not how it felt.
“I didn’t really leave it. Atari kind of left me. Because I never would’ve left Atari, but Atari died in front of my casino slot online eyes. And that was probably one of the most devastating losses I’ve ever experienced.”
Warshaw left gaming but eventually returned in 1999, taking a job at 3DO. But by then, the industry had undergone significant shifts. It had grown. Programming a casino slot online game was no longer, as Warshaw puts it, “a work of authorship” and had instead become a much more collaborative experience. While Warshaw recognizes that the new collaborative nature of game development was “perfectly viable,” he says it was less compelling for him personally.
Collaborative work is like an ocean liner in that…you can have very big adventures. But the one thing you can’t do is change direction.
“It’s like the difference between a motor boat and … a fabulous luxury ocean liner. The collaborative work is like an ocean liner in that you can do amazing things on it and you can carry way more stuff and you can have way more casino slot online fun and have very big adventures on an ocean liner. But the one thing you can’t do on an ocean liner is change direction. There’s too much momentum. A motorboat can’t carry as much stuff, but it’s more exciting to drive. And if you suddenly decide, ‘Hey, what’s that? I want to go over there,’ you can do that in a motorboat.
“And that’s the problem … when you have a lot of casino slot online momentum, which nowadays equates into financial momentum, when you have to invest that much in a game, you want to do everything you can to limit your risk. And one thing that limits risk is not changing direction.”
Warshaw adds that while he no longer found making casino slot online games to be as interesting as he once had, he still found the people who made them compelling. He stuck around at 3DO for a few years before working as an engineering manager at a company called Blue Shift, and then transitioned fully out of programming and into his current career in psychotherapy, where he’s had plenty of time to reflect on his time working on games and how the industry has shifted over the years since he spearheaded the so-called “worst game ever made.”
“If you think about it, all of us at Atari, we started casino slot online video games. We didn’t grow up with video games. When we were growing up, I wanted to be a fireman and astronaut. The idea of being someone who makes video games had literally never occurred to me. It was never a dream that I had, which means there was no reality crash for me with it.
“Now, when I returned [to the industry], I was working with a new casino slot online generation of game developers who did grow up with video games. In fact, they grew up with my video game … And there was a reality crash for a lot of them … they were having trouble grocking the dissonance between the idea of what they had fantasized making a video game was going to be, and then having to confront the reality of it, which wasn’t nearly as spectacular or fantastic as the fantasy … But sometimes, you do have moments where it breaks through and it is there. And you release a product and you get to see your product advertised. You get to see it on a shelf … There was a high with getting your game released and out there in the public and knowing, ‘That’s mine. I did that.’”
There was a high with getting your game released and out there in the public and knowing, ‘That’s mine. I did that.’
While most casino slot online people might be sensitive about having a game they worked on referred to as the worst ever made, Warshaw instead has embraced the title. His book, Once Upon Atari, is proudly subtitled “How I Made History By Killing an Industry.” And why shouldn’t Warshaw be proud? After all, he accomplished what he set out to do. He made a functional E.T. game in five weeks that passed quality assurance and met every goal he was given, all while having the creative time of his life. It may not be perfect, but what video game is?
“Players’ opinions are valid. A lot of people really hated the game. I never argue with casino slot online players about opinions. What’s interesting about the phenomenon of ‘worst game ever’ is that there’s a tremendous number of people who like to come up to me and tell me, ‘Ha, E.T. it’s the worst game ever. It’s the worst game ever made. You made the worst game.’
“And what I always like to say to them is, ‘Oh, have you played it?’ And you’d be amazed how often the answer is no. And I don’t really have to say anything else. They tell me how this is the most horrible, horrible casino slot online game. ‘Oh, have you played it?’ ‘Uh, no.” “Uh, okay.’ That frames their opinion right there.
“I prefer when E.T. is known as the worst casino slot online game of all time because I also did Yars’ Revenge. And so as long as E.T. is the worst, I have the greatest range of any game designer in history, and I’m proud of that.”