ALAMOGORDO, NM — When a film crew, excavation crew, and dozens of fans and journalists turned up at a decades-old New Mexico desert dump Saturday, no one was sure what to expect. The public hoped to confirm a story that made its way into gaming legend: that Atari had thousands, perhaps millions, ET (and maybe other) cartridges in this particular dump in 1983 at the height of the Video Game Crash.
While the excavation crew was digging in the layer of the 1983 landfill, Ars had the opportunity to ET programmer Howard Scott Warshaw, who walked around and talked to fans and press. Warshaw famously claimed the legend of ET patron burials was fake. Today, he is a licensed psychotherapist in California and says he strives to help people in high-tech circles solve their problems.
Perhaps that big picture of the industry will help him understand the legends of ET in perspective. “It would be quite strange to think so ET really was the downfall of the industry and that as a programmer I could topple a billion dollar industry in five weeks. But I also have a degree in economics,” Warshaw told Ars yesterday.
Ars also spoke with producer Jonathan Chinn, who will be behind the upcoming Atari documentary featuring scenes from the landfill excavation. Fuel Entertainment and Xbox Entertainment Studios have been planning the movie for about a year now, and the two studios expect to release it sometime later this year.
“We were a bit skeptical at first, we’re not huge gamers, but as we started doing some research and looking at it and talking to people, we quickly realized that this is a really fascinating story and actually an important one. story for the gaming industry,” Chinn told Ars.
Then, after about three hours of digging in a partially excavated section of the landfill, a few members of the excavation crew came out with incredibly well-preserved Atari paraphernalia. The legend was confirmed.
The well used to be filled with epic proportions of Atari game cartridges and Atari controllers, and ET wasn’t the only game there. An archaeologist working in the pit said there would be no viable way of estimating how many cartridges had been dumped, as the pit the crew was allowed to dig was very small compared to the likely size of the trench that Atari had dumped. go inside.
As the wind picked up and the dust thickened, the crew continued digging, spreading the debris so the archaeologists and film crew could see what was down there. Ars spoke to Joe Lewandowski, a garbage collector in the Alamogordo area who first saw the abandoned patterns in 1983.
Four years ago, when Lewandowski started getting calls from NYU professors and the Discovery Channel, he tried to move the location of the Atari dump. Lewandowski quickly became an important resource in pinpointing the most likely place where the documentary filmmakers at Fuel and Microsoft might find buried Atari cartridges. “I’ve talked to people about it over the years, because it would come up,” Lewandowski told us at the dig site. “And so you say you’re from Alamogordo and you know, they forget the atomic bomb, but they remember Atari.”
Ars also spoke with archaeologist Andrew Reinhard, who was allowed to enter the excavation area and is part of the team responsible for cataloging and photographing the dump’s contents. “We found lots and lots and lots of Atari games. Not just just Atari games, but you know ET games that were rumored to be there. We found some other games like Pac man, Miss Pac-Man, Pele’s football, Yar’s revenge, Basketball, Centipede-a lot of Centipedea lot of Warlords.”
For now, whatever is salvaged from the pit will go to the city of Alamogordo, with Fuel and Microsoft being allocated “250 cartridges or 10 percent of found cartridges, whichever is greater” for their documentary.
While the legend has been confirmed, rest assured that the rumors and whispers about Atari and its history will not leave the public consciousness. For a look at the real meaning behind this huge myth, check out Ars’ “Digging up the meaning from the rubble of an excavated Atari landfill.”