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April 17, 2015

Movie Review: Atari: Game Over (2014)

When I was a kid, video games made their mark in a huge way. I always loved going to arcades and dumping quarter after quarter into anything from Pac-Man to Gauntlet to Tron to Spy Hunter. Arcade games were found in bowling alleys, convenience stores, laundromats and, of course, stand alone arcades. To have the opportunity to bring these things home was a godsend to a kid like me. The first company to build a system for these games was Atari, and there was a 2600 in thousands of lucky homes. For some reason, Atari died off and was usurped by Nintendo, Sega and other systems. Most of the blame, until now, has been thrown onto one infamous game based on a favorite movie alien.

A legend has floated around for years that after the dismal failure of Atari's E.T. game, they buried millions of copies in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Director Zak Penn decided to investigate this claim, along with the entire story of the rise and fall of Atari. The company started simply enough with Pong. If you don't remember Pong, it was a very simple paddle game that resembled tennis. More games were created with the same simple 8-bit technology, and new designers joined the fold. Howard Scott Warshaw was one of them. He was the creator of the popular Yar's Revenge, which hosted the very first Easter egg in gaming history.

Warshaw and others seemed like they were on a never ending gravy train as more and more games flew off the shelf. One of these games was based on Indiana Jones. After that success, someone decided that a game based on Steven Spielberg's E.T. would be a great addition to the roster with Christmas shopping season around the corner. Warshaw was tasked with designing the game, and he was only given five weeks to complete it. With final approval from Spielberg, which Warshaw requested, E.T. hit shelves, and the results were disastrous.

As we backtrack through the history of Atari, Penn assembles a crew to excavate the landfill that may solve gaming's most well known urban legend. The people and government of Alamogordo are seen in the film discussing the concerns and benefits of such a dig, and as things progress, our questions about this legend are finally answered.

This is a fun and interesting documentary for any gamer or child of the 1980s. I'll admit to having a wonderful childlike feeling as discoveries are made throughout. I would definitely recommend Game Over to anyone. It's a light documentary, and it doesn't lag. It made me want to scroll through eBay to own an Atari again.

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