E.T. The Extra Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 was created as a movie tie-in to the popular film of the same name. It was developed in five weeks by Howard Scott Warshaw and released in 1982 several months after the launch of the film. The game experienced great sales, but due to most players not understanding how to play the game, which is explained in the manual, many were returned. Atari didn't earn as much money as they expected, and consequently this game is considered to be one of several factors to Atari's downfall. Alongside the port of Pac-Man for the Atari 2600, it is also a contributing factor to the Video Game Crash of 1983.
As in the film, E.T . crashes on Earth in his spaceship. The object of the game is to guide E.T. around the map searching for three pieces of his phone. There are a total of 7 different screens (ET was one of the first games to have multiple screens that the player could move between). Some screens contain wells. The three pieces of his phone are down the wells, so it's wise to check (though one of ET's powers can show if there's a piece of the phone down there or not). Once the phone has been completed, E.T. can contact his spaceship, but he must be at the landing site before the timer runs out.
- E.T. - The player's character
- HEALTH - This will start off at 9999 when upon landing, and with each step a point is removed. E.T. can eat candy at an appropriate action zone to increase health. If this goes to 0, E.T. will die, though Elliott can revive him. E.T. can be revived a maximum of three times per game, though finding a wilted flower and healing it grants an additional revival for the next round.
- CANDY COUNT - E.T. can hold a maximum of 9 pieces.
- CANDY - A candy piece (Reese's Pieces). There is one on each of the 4 screens with holes. Candy pieces can either be eaten to restore health or given to Elliott for bonus points and phone pieces.
- WELL - E.T. can fall down these to find a piece of his phone.
- ACTION ZONE - Indicates a zone where E.T. can perform an action. The symbol here determines what action E.T. can perform.
- TELEPHONE - E.T.'s telephone. There are three pieces, and a completed phone is shown in the picture.
- COUNTDOWN - Once E.T. has completed his phone and called his spaceship, this timer shows how long until it arrives.
- ENEMY - There are two enemies in the game. The FBI agent (pictured) and the Doctor.
There are 6 screens in E.T.'s map (plus a seventh screen for down wells). The screens are arranged around a cube design, with each one being a face on the cube. The screens are:
- Forest - This is where E.T. lands. There are loads of trees in the background and no holes. This is where the spaceship's landing site is, so it will be the last screen the player is on. The forest scene is the top face of ET's "cube" map.
- Fields - There are four field screens. They will all contain numerous holes, some of which will contain a piece of E.T.'s phone. There is also 1 candy piece per field, and it will re-generate when E.T. leaves and returns to the field. The fields make up the 4 faces on the side of the cubic map.
- Wells - When E.T. falls down a well, this is the screen that represents it (a grey well). The point of view will be side scrolling and not overhead here. E.T. can levitate to get out. The well scenes are not represented on the cube map.
- Washington D.C. - This area is noticeably different to the other scenes. It is blue, and there are three buildings. At the bottom is Elliott's house. At the top right is the Scientist's building, and at the top left is the FBI Agent's building. Using a "Send Back" zone will send all three humans back to their respective buildings. The Washington D.C. scene is at the bottom of E.T.'s Cube map.
Around the map are numerous action zones. When a symbol appears at the top of the screen, it means E.T. is stood in one of 9 action zones. He can either execute an ability here, or must wait in the zone as part of his objective.
A description of each Action Zone with their corresponding co-ordinates on the grid above:
- Arrow Zone (A,1) - The arrows will point in four directions, not just down as shown above. An Arrow Zone permits E.T. to be teleported to the scene that is in the direction of the arrow. For example, an arrow pointing right will move E.T. to the scene accessible from the right of the current one. Sometimes E.T. may be moved into position over a hole.
- Find Phone (B,1) - When this command is executed, the player will be shown which hole in the current screen, if any, contains a piece of E.T.'s phone. There is one of these in each "field" screen. Sometimes there may be more than one piece of the phone on the current scene, and you will have to collect one before the Find Phone action will highlight another.
- Call Elliot (C,1) - This will call Elliot out. Elliot will take all of the candy pieces that E.T. has collected so far. In return, he will award the player bonus points at the end of the game. If E.T. has 9 pieces of candy when Elliot is called, Elliott will not only take them away for points, but he will also give E.T. a piece of the phone and chase away enemies.
- Send Back (A,2) - Executing the action here forces all humans on the screen to be sent back to their respective buildings in Washington D.C.
- Levitate (B,2) - When E.T. is down a well, this action becomes available. It permits E.T. to fly up out of the well.
- Eat Candy (C,2) - When this command is executed, E.T. will eat 1 candy piece in his posession in return for a health boost. You can do this as many times as you want until you run out of candy and have to collect more.
- Call Spaceship (A,3) - When E.T. has all three pieces of his telephone, he can execute this command to call his spaceship. A timer will appear and the spaceship will arrive when it runs out.
- Landing Site (B,3) - This indicates where E.T.'s spaceship will land after it has been called. It is always on the forest scene. You MUST be stood here when the timer runs out or E.T.'s ship will not land. The spaceship will also not land if there are any humans on screen when the timer runs out.
- Grow Flower (C,3) - In one well, you will find a wilted flower, and E.T. can heal it. Healing a flower grants E.T. one extra revive from Elliott in the next round, but they are also part of an Easter egg.
There are two enemies that will pursue E.T. in different skill levels. These are:
- Scientist - Wears a white coat. He will follow E.T. around the map. If he catches E.T., he will take him to the lab and put him in a cage. Once the scientist has put you down, you can walk out again.
- FBI Agent - Wears a brown coat. He also follows E.T., and will steal a piece of the phone when he catches E.T. The phone piece will be returned to one of the holes. If E.T. is not holding any phone pieces, the FBI agent will instead steal all of his candy.
Completing the game
Once the phone is assembled, E.T. can call the spaceship using a "Call Spaceship" zone. E.T. must hurry back to the forest screen and stand in the Landing Site before the time runs out. The spaceship will not land if E.T. is not stood in the landing zone or if there are humans on screen. If E.T. misses his spaceship, he can simply call them again.
The player's final score is determined by how many health points are left at the end of the game. Elliot will then add bonus points for every candy piece given to him using a Call Elliott zone. The game will start again and the points will carry over.
Atari, Inc. anticipated enormous sales for E.T. Indeed, E.T. was the third highest selling Atari 2600 game. However, many found the game difficult and quickly returned it. This led to Atari losing money and is why E.T. is considered to be one of the causes for Atari's downfall.
The game is criticized among many for various gameplay problems, though these are mostly recent. Some common complaints include:
- Unintuitive gameplay - First time players are likely to have no idea what to do and not understand the symbols at all.
- The wells - Many consider the wells in the game frustrating, arguing that they are too easy to fall into and almost impossible to get out of.
- Poor Graphics - Most scenes are green, and so is ET.
- Bad sound effects - Some consider the sound effects to be of poor quality, and have complained that it makes it difficult to work out what is going on.
- Monotonous gameplay - Various players have found that searching every pit in the game for a phone piece is boring.
Atari supposedly buried numerous unsold E.T. cartridges along with other unsold stock in a desert in New Mexico. Howard Scott Warshaw, however, believes that Atari would have been more likely to recycle the cartridges.