Niagara Gazette

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April 26, 2014

Diggers begin quest to unearth Atari's E.T.

Niagara Gazette — ALAMOGORDO, N.M. — A construction crew is digging through several feet of dirt and trash in a New Mexico landfill to reach what they believe is a giant cache of cartridges from what some call the worst video game ever made.

About 200 of residents and game enthusiasts gathered early Saturday in southeastern New Mexico to watch backhoes and bulldozers dig through the concrete-covered landfill in search of up to a million discarded copies of "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" that the game's maker wanted to hide forever.

But strong winds that kicked up massive clouds of dust mingled with garbage led some to leave the Alamogordo site.

Among the watchers was Armando Ortega, a city official who back in 1983 got a tip from a landfill employee about the massive dump of games.

"It was pitch dark here that night, but we came with our flashlights and found dozens of games," he said. They braved the darkness, coyotes and snakes of the desert landfill and had to sneak past the security guard. But it paid off.

He says they found dozens of crushed cartridges that they took home and were still playable in their game consoles.

The game and its contribution to the demise of Atari have been the source of fascination for video game enthusiasts for 30 years. The search for the cartridges will be featured in an upcoming documentary about the biggest video game company of the early '80s.

Xbox Entertainment Studios is one of the companies developing the film, which is expected to be released later this year on Microsoft's Xbox game consoles.

Whether — and most importantly, why — Atari decided to bury thousands or millions of copies of the failed game is part of the urban legend and much speculation on Internet blog posts and forums.

Kristen Keller, a spokeswoman at Atari, said "nobody here has any idea what that's about." The company has no "corporate knowledge" about the Alamogordo burial. Atari has changed hands many times over the years, and Keller said, "We're just watching like everybody else."

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