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Thread: Why did ET on the Atari 2600 have to be finished so early (Sept 1) to be ready by Christmas?

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    Strawberry (Level 2)
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    Default Why did ET on the Atari 2600 have to be finished so early (Sept 1) to be ready by Christmas?

    As many of us know, ET on the Atari 2600 was rushed, because the programmer was given from only late July to September 1, 1982 to code the game. But if the game didn’t have to be out until early December 1982, why did they need three months’ time between the game’s completion and release? For that matter, why was there such a big gap in most games of that era between completion and release?

    I know that carts take longer to manufacture than disks, but I would think that Howard Scott Warshaw could have gotten at least to the end of September to finish the game. I would think that a month (I.e. from about November 1) would have been enough manufacturing time but maybe they wanted to make sure that they could fill all of the game’s demand by Christmas.

    Perhaps they preferred a rushed, mediocre (although HSW did a damn good job considering the time constraints) game that would sell a lot in December 1982 to one where fewer copies were available in ‘82 or an ‘83 release entirely?
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    They manufactured something like four million copies, which is a massive amount, and I really couldn't say if one month would've been enough to manufacture that many.

    There's also this from the Hardcore Gaming 101 article: "Under Warner Brothers, Atari forced retailers to buy old 1970s games if they wanted to buy new hits from Atari like Asteroids and E.T. They also forced retailers to buy mass quantities of games in advance, so that Atari could fudge their financial statements."

    If they were selling things in advance and trying to have things done by certain points in time for tax purposes, that might also explain why September 1 was the cutoff.

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    they needed time to dig the mass grave in New Mexico for all the carts thatd be dumped there on December 26th

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    It's more than just manufacturing. They had timetables for shipping, advertising, the works. The execs also didn't care about game quality. Ray Kassar recall view games like bath towels.
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    Didn't Atari make a promise to Spielberg to have it out by Christmas?
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    Quote Originally Posted by RARusk View Post
    Didn't Atari make a promise to Spielberg to have it out by Christmas?
    He requested Howard Scott Warshaw make the game, I don't think he cared when they released it. Warshaw designed the game in the theme of the movie, but Spielberg didn't like it, felt it should be a Pac-Man clone. Warshaw went with his approach, and later figured Steven was likely right. I'm not sure if the short design window was the main issue. Howard tried to make a game that probably wasn't possible on that hardware.
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    Quote Originally Posted by gbpxl View Post
    they needed time to dig the mass grave in New Mexico for all the carts thatd be dumped there on December 26th
    I realize you're joking around, but just so we don't go inadvertently spreading any misinformation, the burial in New Mexico didn't happen until September 26, 1983. Retailers obviously didn't expect to move every last copy by Christmas, so there was some time before they started shipping mass quantities of unsold stock back to Atari. And then it took Atari some time to figure out what to do with it all (since it wasn't just E.T. but a variety of overproduced games). They were destroying games for months prior to dumping mass amounts in that specific landfill.

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    That never made sense to me. Why not simply reuse the boards for new games? There was nothing wrong with thr PCBs, and they could have gone the cheap route and used eproms on said recycled boards. Dumping everything like that was, and still is, so wasteful economically and environmentally.
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    E.T. wasn't bad. The stupid pits you fall into just entering a screen aside, it was different and fresh. No fighting, needing to search rather than plow through a level-all things that were taking the VCS beyond expectations. Look at "Raiders of the Lost Ark"-there was nothing like it for the system and it was dang cool. Except if you didn't have a manual like I did, you were screwed. Big thanks to Joystik magazine for a walk through!

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    Quote Originally Posted by megasdkirby View Post
    Why not simply reuse the boards for new games?
    The market was crashing, and demand for home console games was severely declining. Just between E.T., Pac-Man, and Asteroids alone, they had around 10 million unsold games, so even if they converted them into new games, there would probably still be massive amounts that went unsold. But I do wish they had come up with a more environmental solution. Or just not had the hubris to manufacture so many to begin with. Wasn't it Pac-Man where they manufactured more copies of the game than the number of sold 2600 systems? Their print runs were sheer stupidity.

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    Quote Originally Posted by WelcomeToTheNextLevel View Post
    I would think that a month (I.e. from about November 1) would have been enough manufacturing time
    I think maybe manufacturing (and getting a new product to market in general) takes a lot longer than most people realize.
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    The game ROM chips are not just off the shelf components that are the same between cartridges. That means there wasn't someone in a factory ready to push a button and make carts the day the coding was done.

    From the code, the ET mask ROM had to be engineered, tested, manufactured, then shipped to wherever the cartridges were to be assembled. I don't have exact numbers, but the lead time on this process is said to be lengthy (several weeks to months). I think the lead time on ET was likely shorter than the average Atari game up to this point.


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