THE FINAL CHAPTER of one of the weirdest stories in computing history played out last week as 881 Atari game cartridges, exhumed from a landfill in the New Mexico desert, were sold at auction.
The legend told of a massive dump of unsold cartridges for the Atari 2600 buried near the town of Alamagordo, in Breaking Bad country. Most were the tie-in game of ET - The Extra Terrestrial, ranked among the worst games of all time, rushed out to capture the hype despite appalling gameplay and bugs a-go-go.
It seemed a fantastic tale, made even more ridiculous when a group, led by Joe Lewandowski, known as the Indiana Jones of Atari, got permission to exhume the now defunct landfill in an attempt to find out whether the legend was true.
But most amazing of all, and despite all the odds, the team found a cache of the cartridges, along with others including classic titles such as Asteroids and Centipede.
The whole story was documented in Atari: Game Over, directed by Zac Penn, originally commissioned by Microsoft for the defunct Xbox Studios.
Now, following a sale on eBay, the City of Alamagordo announced that it has raised $65,047.78 with a further $16,259.44 going to the Tularosa Basin Historical Society and $26,632.93 on expenses such as postage and digger hire.
The highest individual sale was an ET cartridge that went for $1,535. Over 60 titles were sold in 14 countries. In the US alone, 45 out of 50 states saw a sale.
The filmmakers got 100 copies and 23 went to museums. There's a further 297 cartridges that are being held back for future sale, possibly to tie in with the rumoured sequel movie that has been repeatedly hinted at.
"I'm hoping that, if the second movie ever comes out, I can release some more games," Lewandowski said. "It would increase their value for the city."
Lewandowski said that he intends to appear before the city council later this month to offer recommendations on what the city should do with the money. He told the council: "The $65,000 is yours. You can do what you want with it but I don't want to see it go to pot holes or sewer lines."
Given the city's overwhelming gratitude for a sale that was well in excess of expectations, we suspect that Lewandowski will get his way. µ
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