Readers remember crappy Atari games that weren’t E.T.

Readers remember crappy Atari games that weren’t E.T.

Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

Should’ve Stayed Buried

This Sunday, a production crew working on a documentary for Microsoft’s Xbox TV initiative went ahead and dug up that New Mexico landfill that was thought to be the resting place of a bunch of E.T. for Atari cartridges. As it turns out, yes, there were many copies of E.T. in that landfill, although not as many as the “urban legends” might have led us to believe. Due to the timing of its release—right before the so-called video game crash of 1983—and its association with the Atari graveyard story, E.T. has built up a reputation as one of the worst games of its era. Of course, there were tons of other equally terrible games to come out back then. minya gave us the oft-cited example of Pac-Man for the Atari, and fauxcault elaborated on why it was both a letdown and something of a technical marvel:

The dots that Pac-Man ate were definitely dashes, and in general the 2600 version is reviled for being a piss-poor adaptation of the arcade original, especially compared to the adaptation of Ms. Pac-Mac, which by 2600 standards wasn’t bad.

Part of the problem was the significant downgrade in memory from the arcade version to the 2600 port. The 2600 version used a cheaper cartridge with even less memory than was available for cartridges at the time, and the arcade version had about four times more. The dots became dashes because that way the same sprite could be used for both them and the walls of the maze, using up less of that limited memory.

The problem was exacerbated by the rushed production schedule. Both Pac-Man and E.T. were rushed during development to meet the holiday season the years that they were released for the 2600 (1981 and 1982, respectively). Pac-Man was developed in only four months. E.T. was developed in only six weeks.

Greyhound had some problems with Police Quest, an old adventure game where you had to type specific commands to make your character do anything. And Dirtbike Milksteaks took this talk to the next level, regaling us with tales of text parser debauchery:

I don’t think it speaks to the badness of the game so much as it does to the badness of my sister and me as children, but we used to spend hours typing obscene commands into Hugo’s House Of Horrors. “Break that,” we’d tell Hugo. “Put that in your butthole,” we’d tell Hugo. I know this sounds lonely and sad, but this was around the time that Beavis & Butthead held reign over American culture, and our fandom extended to our daily activities, our boring daily activities. So we’d while away the hours in front of the family Tandy doing dumb shit like telling Hugo to fart really hard because at certain times of day that was all we could do to amuse ourselves. What I took away from all this was that Hugo had a very limited reserve of stock responses to these kinds of commands.

“How very uncouth!” was the response to anything profane.

“Same to you, loser!” was the response for insults.

“You should curb your violent tendencies” was the response to anything, you know, violent.

The problem here is that, if you actually played the game, the first thing Hugo needs to do is break open a Halloween pumpkin, retrieve the key inside, and unlock the titular House of Horrors. On account of the developers anticipating little knuckleheads like my sister and I, you had to word this command very delicately, so as not to trigger a stock response.

Break the pumpkin, Hugo.

“You should curb your violent tendencies.”

Throw the pumpkin against the wall, Hugo.

“You should curb your violent tendencies.”

Kick the pumpkin, Hugo.

“You should curb your violent tendencies.”

Look, Hugo, I’m not trying to be an ass right now, man. I’m trying to help you out here, buddy. You seriously need to break the pumpkin open so you can get the key to the house and unlock the door and go inside. This is serious business we’re conducting here today.

Original Recipe

During the discussion of Escape Goat 2 on yesterday’s episode of The Digest, John Teti applauded this cheeky description of the game on its website: “The only indie game in 2014 not inspired by Dark Souls, with no rogue-like elements or procedural content.” NakedSnake appreciated the jab at de rigueur game design elements but thought the developers might not want to throw shade so quickly:

I love how the publicity material is intended as a slight on the dominant trends in indie games these days by poking fun of the prevalence of randomly generated levels and rogue-like permadeath. And then they say, “Try our game instead. It’s a puzzle platformer with a lot of double jumping!” as if we haven’t seen a million of those come out in the past few years. It is kind of a problem, though. I’m a big fan of independent games generally, because they often have new ideas that the bigger games lack. But it feels like these days we’re seeing an approach that just mixes and matches game elements that have been successful in recent years. It’s like each indie game is just selling itself in the “It’s like Jaws meets Indiana Jones“ Hollywood format. Maybe I’m just playing the wrong games, but I can’t think of an indie game in the past couple years that has really stood out as something new.

Kyle O’Reilly argued that being completely original is really hard, and there’s nothing wrong with putting a new spin on old ideas:

“New” is such a nebulous term that it’s kind of a moving goal post for video games. Games are built around systems (shoot x to y, jump over x to y, walk to x to see y, etc) so it makes sense that a lot independent developers are going to look for new ways to work within those systems as opposed to trying to invent their own completely new systems. Escape Goat isn’t revolutionizing “jump over x to y,” but it’s throwing in minor variables and is well-designed enough to warrant attention in my opinion. I think of it like rock music. Built To Spill didn’t rewrite the book on rock music and follows a similar structure to many bands, but they’re still unique as well as a really good band. Like a damn good band.

Also, what game has ever really stood out to you as something “new”? Even paradigm shifters like Grand Theft Auto III, Minecraft, or DayZ have lots of borrowed elements in them. Really the only new games I can think of were back in gaming’s infancy, when first-person shooters and real-time strategy games were born.

And Merve took the opportunity to point us in the direction of a funny little document that was born out of a Gameological community discussion on this very topic of independent game trends:

This was birthed in the Gameological chatroom: Make Your Own Indie Game!

Pitchin’!

This week, we learned that film and TV studio Lionsgate has hired an executive to help turn its properties into video games. In his write-up of the news, John pitched a hypothetical take on one such potential adaptation, Mad Men. Curmudgahideen had another suggestion:

In my ideal Mad Men game, you would play as Dawn trying to keep Don Draper satisfied and mildly drunk through a frantic day of meetings, long lunches, pitching, infidelity, and sneaking off to the cinema. The reward for winning would be a terse nod from him as he puts on his hat and goes home.

And redmedicine made an addendum:

There has to be at least one Roger Sterling level where, in a Grand Theft Auto-like mission, you drink as much as you possibly can and collect hippies for the orgy at your apartment, all while evading your reformed daughter.

That does it! Thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week. 

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