ET Was Made in 5 Weeks, and Other Facts Revealed in New Xbox Documentary

Creator Howard Scott Warshaw smoked pot on his first day of work at Atari, and more revealed in just-released Atari: Game Over film.

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Howard Scott Warshaw
Howard Scott Warshaw

THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS ABOUT ATARI: GAME OVER

The Xbox-produced documentary, Atari: Game Over, is now available to watch for free across Xbox and PC. It offers an in-depth look at the failed movie tie-in game E.T., and the situation surrounding Atari's demise in the early 1980s, culminating with the successful New Mexico landfill excavation earlier this year.

Directed by X-Men and The Avengers writer Zak Penn, Game Over is a fascinating film that features interviews with Atari executives such as founder Nolan Bushnell, as well as E.T. creator Howard Scott Warshaw, among many others.

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I wasn't alive during the Atari 2600 heyday, the focus of the film, but Penn does a great job telling Atari's story without it ever coming across as a boring history lesson. It's also a very human story, as it follows Warshaw's rise and fall from prominence, in the context of the failings of E.T.

The film bounces back and forth between telling Atari's history and putting an end to the mystery of whether or not Atari did in fact bury thousands of games in a New Mexico landfill in September 1983. The film ends with the dump's excavation in April this year, which we already know was fruitful.

Game Over also includes some fascinating facts about E.T. and the culture of Atari at the time. Here's some of what I found most interesting.

  • Warhsaw smoked pot on his first day of work at Atari.
  • Atari had a party atmosphere in those days; the saying was: "We take fun intravenously."
  • Bushnell would throw keg parties for employees, with lots of women, if they met quotas.
  • Atari 2600 games were normally made in 5-6 months, but Warshaw built E.T. in five weeks to ensure it was out by Christmas of 1983.
  • A developer station was installed at Warshaw's home so he could work on the game around the clock.
  • E.T. film director Steven Spielberg met with Warshaw and approved his pitch for the game. Spielberg even played the final version of the game before its release, and approved it. He called Warshaw a "genius."
  • After bouncing around jobs, Warshaw is now a psychotherapist and says he's enjoying life.
  • Copies of E.T. actually only represented 10 percent of the total number of games buried in the New Mexico landfill.

Game Over is an excellent film and worthy of your time--and it's only about an hour long. It's so much more than a simple story about games buried in a landfill. You can watch Game Over today for free on Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC through video.xbox.com.

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