Written by Joseph Albahari
In 1987, an urban legend was born.
It was reported that 14 trucks of Atari products were taken from a factory in El Paso, Texas to a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
The legend revolved around the failure of one particular game: “ET: The Extraterrestrial.”
Zak Penn, writer of “The Avengers,” was intrigued by this tale and decided to take a crew of diggers to the New Mexico desert in search of the discarded games.
The game was a rush job by the gaming company back in 1982 and was a complete flop despite selling over 1.5 million copies.
The game failed because of its difficulty and design. Two to three million cartridges remained unsold, which cost Atari about $100 million.
Penn is working with Xbox Entertainment Studios to direct the first film in a documentary series that will examine major milestones in technology. The E.T. excavation will be featured in the first film of the series.
In April, crowds of movie and game enthusiasts gathered in the New Mexico desert to see if the legend was true. But thanks to strong winds and desert heat, not many stayed for the duration of the dig. After digging though the trash for hours, they finally found the first cartridge.
“I feel pretty relieved and psyched that they actually got to see something,” Penn said as the rest of the cartridges were being pulled out of the ground.
James Heller, the man who was asked to get rid of the games back in 1987, never thought he would hear about his landfill of cartridges until he was invited to the dig.
“I never heard about it again until June 2013, when I read an article about E.T. being excavated,” James said in an interview with NPR.
The documentary that Penn is directing is still being filmed and will exclusively air on Xbox One. No release date has been announced.