This week, Zero Punctuation reviews the worst game ever.
Has the dry period gotten longer and more obnoxious this year, or is it just me, getting longer and more obnoxious? No fucking hurry, publishers. You just keep putting in more of that shiny graphics you like, I’ll just sit here eating my own skin. I needed a better long-term solution than padding the weeks out with retro and indie games, so I’d like to announce a new occasional series, in which we look back over major events from gaming history and consider the important lessons of those events that absolutely nobody fucking learned. I even made a special jingle for it:
Let's all laugh at an industry that never learns anything, tee, hee, hee.
Zero Punctuation’s occasional guide to
retarded special moments in gaming history
Being self-evidently a patron of internet video reviewers, you are probably used to hearing the words “worst game ever”. Personally I dislike the phrase, because my first response is always: “Really? Did it cause the crash of the entire western games industry? No? Well, then E.T. for the Atari 2600 remains the worst game ever.”
E.T. : The Extraneous Testicle
But as I considered this video, I realized I’d never personally played E.T. because they didn’t make controllers small enough to be held by the tail of a newly created sperm. So I downloaded an emulated version. Naughty Yahtzee! I was intrigued to know what the hell kind of game would be considered to be “particularly bad” for a wood-paneled console that had more joystick ports than on-screen pixel capacity and sounded like a vuvuzela attached to an elephant dying of flatulence.
Well, if it was at all possible to make something approximating a good game on such a console, you probably didn’t do it with the adventures of an incomplete rotary telephone farting around a meadow, constantly falling into pits because he stepped on a darkened section of floor, or stepped vaguely near a darkened section of floor, or climbed out of a pit and spawned on top of a darkened section of floor, or because a baby cried somewhere on Planet Earth. Your health is constantly ticking down, like you contracted pit rabies, until you die, at which point a small child runs in and kicks you in the stomach till you wake up, ensuring there is no escape from AstroTurf hell.
Still, it’s not all bad. When you are running away from an enemy, the combined footstep sound effects can be used to create a funky boom box beat. So it’s at least equally as fun as rhythmically banging your head on a wall.
Honestly though, the game itself is virtually irrelevant in the face of what was going on around it; it did not cost 125 million fucking dollars to make pixels fart at a green wall. Atari had to license the movie rights for a start, and was so confident the game would be a hit that they threw $20 mill at that alone, most of which was later used to mop up Steven Spielberg’s tears. Furthermore, Atari wanted the game done by September 1st, to be ready for the ever-lucrative Christmas sales, but development only began at the end of July. And even for a game that would take up less memory than a plain text document of every positive thing anyone would ever say about it, this was a bit on the tight side.
So under that kind of pressure those mewling little shits on Christmas morning should have been grateful that the result didn’t melt the console into hot slag and set fire to the tree. But mewl those shits did. And out of 4 million cartridges pridefully manufactured by Atari after they closed their eyes and stuck their fingers in their ears, about 3.5 million came back unsold or returned. It was then proposed that the remainder be buried in a New Mexico landfill, where they would congeal together into a vast life form called Atarilla, that they could harness with a saddle of bone and leather and use to avenge themselves upon an uncaring world. But eventually the project was scaled back to just digging the landfill and forgetting about it.
The massive losses plunged Atari into a nosedive and the console industry in the west crashed shortly thereafter. But it’s not fair to put that entirely on E.T.! E.T. was just the little brown top hat being worn by the all singing, all dancing shit show that the market had become. You see, Atari were of a mind that giving game designers credit for the games made about as much sense as crediting the office carpet or venetian blinds. And a bunch of designers disagreed and split off to form Activision. Essentially this blew the starting whistle for third party development, flooding the market with badly made derivative garbage by inexperienced companies. The enormous let-down of such a hugely anticipated game as E.T. merely caused the scales to fall from the eyes of the buying public. “Hey, all these overpriced bleepy games with pixels the size of Post-it notes are actually kind of shit.” Yes, seems obvious to us, but cut them some slack, it was the 80s. They still thought Bananarama was good.
Home PCs held on by falling back on the whole "capable of solving all the world’s problems" thing, but game consoles were so tainted in the eyes of the fickle public, that when Nintendo called their machine an “entertainment system” rather than a game console, it sold fucking gangbusters. For you see, the public are fickle, but not particularly smart. I wonder how much culture would differ if Atari hadn’t fucked up, if a Japanese company hadn’t grabbed the American console market and practically raised a generation. Maybe there wouldn’t have been an anime boom in the 90s, maybe there wouldn’t now be all these fat thirty-year-olds arguing over who best embodies the word “waifu”.
The lessons nobody learned:
Now, the importance of retaining control of game publishing is a lesson that today’s big corporations have taken to heart. They’ve taken it to heart so hard that it punched right through the fucking sternum. It’s the democratic indie platforms like mobile gaming and Steam that now suffer from floods of derivatives. Let’s not even speculate on how many Flappy Birds have taken to the air. But in terms of lessons learned from E.T. specifically, well, you tell me: do modern game companies ever overspend on overhyped games that disappoint the buying public? And how's the bear-shitting-in-the-woods index these days?
You know, the parallel I find most interesting is between the launch of the NES and the Xbone, as both position themselves as general “entertainment systems” to excuse some perceived stigma attached to being solely a games console. The difference is, after launch Nintendo threw the cover off and went, “Fooled you, it is a games console!” Whereas Microsoft threw the cover off and went, “Fooled you, it’s shit!”
- Engages in Tetchiness: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I dread to think how bad the game adaption of Mac & Me would’ve been (googles hastily)
- Just in: bears shitting in woods index down 2 points