Deep within the National Museum of American History’s vaults is a battered Atari case containing what’s known as “the worst video game of all time.” The game is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and it was so bad that not even the might of Steven Spielberg could save it. It was so loathsome that all remaining copies were buried deep in the desert. And it was so horrible that it’s blamed for the collapse of the American home video game industry in the early 1980s.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety nine percent, invisible, I'm roman Mars. There are few rules. Everyone should abide by. Bye, have a good life, always carry a book two never get involved in a land war in Asia in always always make friends with people who work in museums. Because there's the museum that everyone else gets to see the exhibit the die Romas. I love them all. Don't get me wrong, but behind the scenes. There's a whole cabinet of wonder that only a few people get to see. If you play your car right: you can get an imitation of the real deal, the museums Museum, full of archives things neatly lined up in drawers with handwritten tax. Behind the scenes, tour of a museum is the greatest wait expand and afternoon Barnard. Why I really enjoyed podcast cider produce. But this Smithsonian Institute in DC and host, by Lizzie Peabody. They beat your stories from the morgue
one hundred and fifty four million treasures in the Smithsonian archives about art science. In history. This is my favorite episode of theirs. It's a story of a video game. People call it the worst video game of all times, based off one of the most popular movies of all time, you're going to I'll, let Lizzie body and insider take it from here. I'm part of a crowd of some four or five hundred people waiting to get into a dump. This is Howard, Scott, Russia. On April twenty sixth, two thousand fourteen, he was part of an unusual seen something like a wildly out of place. Tailgate party people lined up with folding chairs, son hats, beverages in the middle of the New Mexico desert. There was a hot dog. I really was hot, but there was no dessert. It was just desert, oh yeah, how it has a real thing.
Patterns and the open up, and here we go and we're all rushing into the dark, and there is a lot excitement. You know we're on a mission to uncover the truth or not of a very popular urban messed up. The legend goes like this once upon a time in the land called Silicon Valley and American Tech company invented video games that enchanted children and brought billions of dollars, going through its doors. The company was called Atari Atari made many good games until one day in nineteen. Eighty two, it made a bad one: oh really bad, a game. So bad it has been called the worst video game of all time.
The video game with E t, the extra terrestrial according to the myth, it was so bad it put Atari out of business and to hide its shame, Atari buried the unsold game cartridges in the middle of the desert, where they would never ever be found. Did you believe that the myth was true? Did you believe that their for games buried in the desert. I never believed why would a company that strap financially and is really failing and having a lot of trouble staying afloat? Why would they spend extra money to go into the desert and bury a summit, that supposedly is so worthless. They want to throw it away. Make any sense at all right. I mean that just nonsense, so Howard was a sceptic, but others in the crowd. I think they believe They were there because they wanted to see it. They wanted to see it I'm up out of the ground. So there was that there was a girl swell of excitement. You might say
so Howard and the rest of the expected crowd gather around the dump, which is now a dig site? Hundreds of Video games are their wearing all their favorite eating gear, their reporters and even a documentary film. The dig There's these huge machines. It are super aloud and they have these. I am clause and order, excavate equipment, super drills and this giant stuff in there loud machinery is all these piles of dirt that have been brought up and garbage enema detritus, as it was adopted, has decades of dump after six hours ever through three decades worth of trash outcomes and two cartridge: a kind of crushed very damage. Eighty Carteret
In the end, the excavation team unearthed a total of one thousand one hundred and seventy eight Atari game cartridges enough to confirm that Atari head had actually buried its games in a giant desert pit So this time on side door, we explore just how those games wound up in the desert and why popular history blames a tiny pixelate alien for bringing down one of the most influential than game companies of all time long ago before there was playstation or Xbox or even Nintendo? There was Atari It is undoubtedly part of kind of american cultural landscape. If you grew up in the nineteen Haiti's you'd recognised. At symbol immediately. I'm of that generation myself. This is Arthur damage he's the director of the levels and centre.
The study of invention and innovation in the Smithsonian's national. The aim of american history, he explore Not long ago, there was really one kind of video game, arcade game, to play them. You had to put on pants leave your house and go to a shopping, mall bowling alley or bar in the late nineteenth seventies, Atari was the first company to create a smash, hit. Arcade game called pong. They realized pretty quickly that they were onto Think there's amazing stories in the early days of the rest bar owners, calling them up and saying the machines broken and they go in and its broken at all. It is completely jammed up with orders. And they suddenly really little Noah globular. Yes, so People were going out to bars just to play these games. Atari wondered
What if they made a game that people played at home at this time, most people didn't have personal computers. Television was king and Atari saw an opportunity. So in nineteen Ninety seven attention shot you gave me the Tory appears with a game said that any kid can use and Billy, transforms the home playing video game market so did you need to have at home in order to play and Atari game the television. That's it that's all of a sudden tv which had always been passive, entertainment became interactive, that's pretty cool, it's very cool and no one had seen it before the first sort of demos. A video games to play at home people
were utterly confused by what it was well. Adults may have been confused, but kid got it immediately because for such cutting edge technology, Atari was easy to use. There was a simple council that plugged into your tv, and it was controlled by a joystick stick with a single red button on this foundation. Atari build entire digital worlds on screen and four one hundred and ninety nine. Fires, plus twenty dollars per game cartridge. You could have those worlds in your own home video computer system by more gain more fun. Atari took off, they brought the excitement of the arcade into the suburban living room and to do it they hired the world's best program. These guys were geniuses figuring out how to make it
resting games and making fun many of these genius. Programmers were young men right out of college, and one of them was Howard, Scott Worship, our friend from the desert, and he was pretty good at his job. Pretty good my job, my first game that I did for a Tory was yours revenge, but that was the first game. That are actually had a pause while the first floor screen explosion. It was a more elaborate use of sound and people have seen before. There was incredible amount of color. I wanted frenetic action game that demanded attention and I would grab some one right by their cognitive elements and not release them. That's what I was trying to with yours or that yours, revenge transformed Howard into what fans called a game
Even though a tory didn't credits, programmers publicly fans would sleuth out the minds behind their favorite The growing community of american gamers was that passionate. It was the goal the age of Atari by night. One thousand Atari was the fastest growing company in the history of the United States, commanding seventy five percent of home video game market and bringing in more than two billion dollars a year. They produce their own games, but they also licence their name to outside games uppers. Flapping the Atari label on all kinds of third party Games nor the company could keep up. In nineteen eighty one Atari, conquered Hollywood Howard spent eight months working on raiders
the lost ark. The video game strutting around Atari H. Q, pandora and a whip the Daniel Day, Louis of Game, gallery the game sold well so when's even Spielberg made another blockbuster e t. The extra terrestrial in the summer nineteen. Eighty two, it was a no brainer. Of course atari- would make eighty the video game. Here's how Howard remembers it were hurrying out my office and then a call came in and it was the ceo. The Tories, who actually never calls me please. Basically my bosses, bosses bosses, bosses, boss,
The ceo overtired calls twenty five year Old Howard and says we want you to make e t the video game and we needed done by September first now this is joy. Twenty seventh, certainly five weeks and a half day to do the get five weeks and a half day to give you a sense of how insane this is. Video games at the time took six to eight months to create, and this guy is saying, Howard. We need you to create a game for the highest. Grossing blockbuster film of the year in just twenty percent of the time it usually takes. You can do that right and I said to whom absolutely I did. It ever occur to you that it might not be possible with his
They are part of you that acknowledged that, like this might be impossible to be perfectly honest, I dont think it afore occurred to me that it couldn't be done so how it got to work and he worked and he worked out. Rule was group. They had a development system moved into my home, so that no matter where I was, I was no more than two minutes away at any point in time from actually sitting down and doing something on the again and even when he wasn't sitting down eating driving showering, he was working in his head and when he was asleep still working I thought you know what I have to do is turn sleep into an asset. I would we. Until I ran into a problem and then I would go to sleep and I would think ok, maybe if I can just sleep
come up with something they can literally dream up a solution. I thought that would be kind of cool there were sometimes where that happen. So how it all this sounds crazy. Why did they even you to do this. So really good question right. Why would you put someone through something like this right and Oh you know. If you were to ask the executives, they would say So they don't even know what they were asking of. You know they had no concept has been at a tory was completely disconnected from production. According to management e t the video game needed to be in stores by Christmas, or they lose millions of dollars and potential holiday revenue, but Atari and Spielberg taken so long kneeling down a licensing agreement that, by the time they finally did get pen to paper, There is almost no time left to make the game. That never like occurred to any one. This was a case of people believing they could do nothing wrong and myself included
Everybody at Atari thought you know we're on top. No one can touch us. We can do anything and honestly, it seem like they could against all odds. Howard, delivered e t, the video game in just five weeks, I was a hero. There was a huge company meeting at which you know they called me up on stage: hey came through oh yeah Steven Spielberg himself called Howard, a quote sort of viable genius and by Christmas time, five million cartridges of the much anticipated eighteen, a video game stocked the shelves of stores nationwide. So mission accomplished right.
Well, not exactly you're listening the side door, only nine percent invisible produced by the Smithsonian Institute, the pr acts more after this, we often don't think of winter as a time of growth or creation. But if you think about it, it's the perfect time to greet your own website, because your cooped up your thinking about being productive and now square space can help you do it with squares. Bates can take your cool ideas. You ve creative content, your services, goods, and you can turn them into a beautiful website in just a few clicks. Does it because there is to use them
rates are created by world class designers, and then you have the ability to customize the look and feel in the different settings for your own needs. For example, my side, roman Mars, dot com I made with square space. The landing page features a close up me talking to a microphone and asthma, my very handsome beard, but if I should ever shave it, I dont have to wait for my web guy to change the photo. I can do it myself and maybe the next vote. I will feature my soulful eyes on where the pages of also picked out some my favorite episodes of ninety nine percent of visible to share in the audio is convening
We in bed it even on mobile. Try yourself could scarce based outcomes, thus invisible for a free trial, and when you re the launch easy offer code invisible to save ten percent off your first purchase of a website or domain, your local police probably receive a hundred calls a night from broker, alarms and majority the time they have no idea of their false alarms or if they are real, it could be a crime or it could be. You going downstairs for a midnight snack and setting off the motions answer, but simply safe home security is different. If there's a break in simply save as real video to tell please whether there is an actual crime and then they have the evidence to back it up, and they can tell them where the intruder is an what they're doing, and that means please dispatch up to three hundred
He percent faster than for other burglar alarms. You can set it up yourself with no tools needed or they can do it for you and has only fifty cents. A day would know contracts visit, simply safety coms. Last nine nine you get free shipping in a sixty day risk free trial. You got another, lose go now and be sure to go to simply say that complex nine nine. So they know that our show is at you that simply saved outcome. Slash nine nine. Ninety nine percent, invisible supported by better help online counselling. I'm sure you like me, no alot of people on cancelling or are in need of counselling, or maybe even counselling yourself, and when the biggest challenges is
I am not being able to carve out even an hour a week to deal with challenges like stress sleep, grief and relationships with better help. You can connect privately with a councillor through phone and video horse or even text in Chad. Better help offers licence councillors who specialise in issues including depression or anxiety, get help on your own time. Your own pace and at an affordable rate. Ninety nine percent, invisible listeners we'll get ten percent of their first month with discount code, invisible, that's better help, dot com, slash invisible! Why not get help better help, dot com, slash invisible from side door here again is lousy, Peabody, here's where we are its December nineteen. Eighty tail Steven Spielberg soon to be,
classic movie e t. The extra terrestrial is out in theatres and Atari. The american videogame tighten just released the thing. Every kid was waiting for e t, the video game, the video game that lets you. Just in time for Christmas, Howard, Scott Warsaw Tories, star programmer created the game in only five weeks. Spielberg is happy. Atari leadership is happy. Howard is happy. Guess who is not happy eight year old, Jason Christmas morning, thoroughly disappointed this man that side or does not like to disappoint. What is it Revenge on the executive producer, cider, ok, your boss, thanks for the remainder just a kindly said, like a latte or something perhaps more Roma therapy. We brought Jason into the studio because he has some per
then I'll history? With e t when eighty the movie came out, I was eight and eighty was everything I mean there were animals for E T had a ton of them. You know I learned how to draw e t. There was a big deal, so eighty was a huge part of the summer of nineteen. Eighty two Jason was also into Atari. He played everyday your school and when he started seeing ads for eighty the video game, he had really high hopes. Oh my god, I can play the movie. I was gonna, write my bike in the game and may be fly through the air. You know. Maybe I, Christmas morning there it was under the tree e t. The video ran up to my room, opened up the box, pull the game out, stuck it into the sorry turned it on theirs e t on that. First screen it's super exciting, plays a little song. That's you son, it's kind of like the ET signed, but not quite and started playing the game and that
When I realized that something was wrong. The guy It was nothing like the movie. The objective of the game is for e t to collect pieces of a phone so that he can, of course, phone home t t phone. I never finished the game. It was so incredible hard and confusing. It doesn't sound that hard and Jason is older and wiser. Now so we decided to plant. Ok, let's do it. Oh, no I'm nervous I'm super nervous. Ok, are you ready. Are you too isn't landing in his tiny little spatial and now he's in what looks like a forest. It didn't go so well. Oh my God There is a government man coming after me, anything like what
it doing he's just sort of bumping into me. Nothing happens in a game. It's hard to figure out where you're supposed to be going and as you try to navigate the game world keep falling into these pit that are everywhere are adamant. A pit the worst part of the game and their random character is trying to get you a male who's that guy and you might be thinking pay. But what I would say about you talking smack about his game, but he agrees to commit the ultimate of video games to this orient the user, and you have to understand the difference between frustrate. Tremendous orientation, right frustration and a video game is essential right away
your game must frustrate a user, but you should never disorient them how it says that frustration ultimately creates satisfaction. It's a huge motivator and a good game to get better faster, stronger disorientation, on the other hand, is just a minute pit. I fell in another pit, terrible cut back in the winter of nineteen. Eighty two Howard thought everything was peachy because e t, the extra terrible game was selling pretty well, but as soon as the young, Jason or fans of the world started playing, it word got out and sales virtuous.
Dot, leaving unsold eighty games, clogging the shelves of stores and by early nineteen. Eighty three Howard started to hear rumblings people from other parts of the company in suits, as we would often would come working by legendary. Sometimes people look at me. They go. You know how're, you really came through for us. We don't blame you and I'm thinkin, that's nice! You talking about, I didn't know what was happening out there,
what was happening out their millions of unsold games coming back to Atari Games, they banked on selling Atari sold them to a distributor who placed them in stores, but the distributors felt the full right of return, so they could return their stock to Atari right, so all the ones that they didn't sell. The stores gave back to the distributor than the distributor thence returns to Atari as unsolved problem, and so they went belly up. Eighty was a big liability, but its very creation both to an even bigger problem for Atari. The company had made a habit of prioritizing money over quality. Remember how in an attempt to get more games on the market, a toilet outside companies make them well. A lot of those third party games were bad too.
So a Tories name gets associated with some really bad game worries, name, gets associated with some really bad games that nobody really legs and there aren't sewing well, what's more by nineteen. Eighty three programme has had reached the Atari consuls limits for memory and graphics, all the games kind of started to look the same Terry, was in big trouble. So when a Tory went down nineteen eighty three in the eighty for the entire your game industry, tanks in the United States, but it basically wiped out sales of home game sets the history books call it the video game crash of nineteen. Eighty three American video games sales dropped by over ninety percent from nineteen eighty two to nineteen. Eighty, six, no new game systems were introduced and hardly any new games were created at all until the late eighties. That's when japanese companies, Nintendo and sago brought their console
and their famous characters to the United States, but it would be nearly two decades before another American made console would return to the market in any significant way, with Microsoft, Xbox in two thousand one. So there is no question that when you have an economic downturn, you have a catastrophe, A natural disaster there's an effort to put a face on an individual story on you have to have a face right e t became the face of the fall of the video game industry because it was very identifiable and I became the but behind that face on September twenty six nineteen. Eighty three: much like the character in the game. E T fell into its own pet and Alamo Gordo New Mexico, not for any symbolic reason, but because dumping laws were lacks there and Atari needed a cheap way to dispose of its fourteen truckloads of unsold
M cartridges. Eighty, the video game was steam rolled covered in cement and largely forgotten until two thousand fourteen, when those cartridges were exude and one of them found a home here in Washington DC at the National Museum of american history. So it's kind of crunch, it looks crap like. If you tried to play this, it probably wouldn't go well. We have not tried it offers for obvious reasons and Re Smithsonian, museum, specialist, drew or bars took E t out of the collections to show it to me, but it still has decided it still has like sort of a white crusty. Is that Iraq, or what is, is it just gunk thing, just gone Keno? This was in good times about starting up black the parts in your paper instruction manual boxes of this kind of stuff. Drew's role doesn't usually involve collecting objects, but he's again
we're himself a job that I was born with. A control, in my hand, looks like when he heard that a film crew applied for a permit to dig up the fabled attire graveside. He wanted to make sure the museum secured a cartridge, because each video game tells the story of something bigger than its own dirt. Crusted case it's about the rise and fall of the company that pioneered video gaming in America, and although it's not very old, it hints at the digital revolution that followed it's a piece of american history, which is afraid that if I do not now, like probably nobody else would have realised the system because of it. So I built there was like the first time I felt like I had to do something. If not the arbitrary might have been lost.
Parents got worse. I left Atari in nineteen. Eighty four and eventually became a therapist, but he recognizes his role and Atari story and on that day, in the desert, when eighty was pulled from the ground I looked around, I thought this is this is so also because something that I did? You know a few thousand lines of code that I had written over thirty years ago is still generating. All this excitement in that moment I felt tat a tremendous sense of satisfaction and that I had really created something that meant something to a lot of people, and that means something to me, while Atari, never wig
and video games supremacy the culture it created in doors in the fans who bow down before their game gods and stand for hours in the desert to see an old piece of plastic dredged from a dump. A game cartridge now preserved in the Smithsonian's collections once worthless. Now priceless beside door is hosted by Lizzy. Peabody is produced by just O'Neill Jason or fan it Wolf as Caitlin Schaefer, just Sadiq Lirik, Aaj and Canadian insurance Bryant, music by break master cylinder, with support from John Barth Jason Saldana in Genevieve, sponsor at PR acts mixing by direct food. The show is produced by the Smithsonian with support from Pierre acts, the public radio exchange. You can find a show tat s. That EU slash cider
episode of many represent abysmal was pulled together by Chris Brew Bay and me roman Mars. We are directive, ninety one point: seven K, L W in San Francisco and produced on radio row in beautiful, downtown, Oakland California, nine percent of visible as a member of Radio Tokyo from pure acts are fiercely independent, collective of the most innovative shows and all of pod casting find more re utopia that a firm and you can find us. And I m p I gotta work. Radio too.
Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.