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Excavation of infamous Atari landfill on hold due to environmental concerns

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

State officials have put a hold on a filmmaker's plans to excavate the notorious New Mexico landfill said to contain thousands of copies of the video game E.T., a commercial and critical bomb blamed for the mid-1980s console gaming collapse.

According to The Alamagordo Daily News, In February, the New Mexico Environment Department told the two companies behind the dig, to be the subject of a documentary, that the waste excavation plan they submitted was too generic and to file revisions addressing specific concerns. A department spokesman said that no revision was received as of March 17, so the state will not let the dig proceed.

The Associated Press quoted an executive producer with Lightbox Interactive, one of the companies behind the project, as saying the dig hasn't been stopped and that a solid waste management consultant the company had hired was in the process of addressing state officials' concerns.

Polygon has reached out to the other company involved with the film, Fuel Entertainment, for additional comment, and to ask if the dig will begin on schedule.

E.T., a video-game adaptation of the 1982 movie for the Atari 2600, is widely regarded as one of the worst games ever made. Atari, the dominant console maker in North America at the time, is said to have paid $25 million for the rights to the blockbuster film and hurried out a dud that, along with another poor adaptation of Pac-Man, left the company with millions of unsold cartridges.

While Atari at the time officially denied it, the story persists that Atari had thousands of unsold Pac-Man and E.T. cartridges buried at the Alamagordo dump, a story symbolizing the fast rise and swift failure of console gaming's first boom. That said, Atari did use a warehouse in El Paso, Texas, and did have surplus stock crushed and buried at Alamogordo, about 90 minutes north of there.

After going dormant for three years, console gaming in North America returned to life when Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System there in 1986.

The Alamagordo Daily News said a 2004 study of the landfill in question found elevated levels of "22 compounds of concern," and the state asked the EPA to take it over as a so-called Superfund site. The dump was closed in the late 1980s.

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