Saturday, November 22, 2014

Atari: Game Over Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/atari-game-over-review-2537f7af7c4d#.69abbtzd9

I'm a big sucker for a good documentary, but of course not all of them are created equal. The best ones will focus on the human stories embedded in whatever overarching topic the movie holds. Fortunately, Atari: Game Over does just that.

If you are even a little into video game culture, you have probably heard of the infamous ET game for the Atari 2600 and its reputation for single handedly bringing about the video game crash of the mid 80s. Part of the story is that Atari had so many of these games unsold that they took them out somewhere in the middle of the desert and dumped them in a landfill. For a long time I thought this was an urban legend, just like I thought that Battletoads wasn't a real game. But then news started popping up about a filmmaker who wanted to excavate the landfill where the cartridges apparently resided.

The documentary itself is well structured. It switches back and forth between describing the company culture at Atari at the time, and recounting the search for the location of the cartridges in the last few years. It is a very positive look at the people involved, in particular the game designer who made ET in five weeks. Watching the footage from the day of the excavation makes me wish I had been there to witness the event. It was very emotional for those involved, in particular the game designer.

The best part about it is that it is available for free! Right now it is only available through Xbox Video (don't worry, you can watch it on the web; you just need a Microsoft account) but I suspect that later on it will make its way to other platforms.