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Historic Atari E.T. New Mexico dig set to proceed

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A much-delayed excavation of the probable New Mexico landfill site containing thousands of unsold copies of Atari game E.T. is set to proceed.

The New Mexico Environmental Protection Division Solid Waste Bureau had put a hold on the proposed dig, citing vaguely worded application forms and potential chemical hazards from aging waste. But the dig, sponsored by Microsoft and Lightbox Entertainment, has been given the go-ahead.

Last year, Xbox Entertainment Studios, the 125-person studio founded to create "true interactive content" beyond video games for the Xbox brand announced plans to film an original documentary series about video game culture, with the E.T. excavation a centerpiece of the Lightbox-produced show.

A Microsoft spokesperson told local newspaper Alamogordo News that company is "finalizing plans as we speak."

E.T. is often credited as the worst game ever made, a quick turnaround license created at the height of Atari era "shovelware." Stories of truckloads of cartridges being buried in the desert near Alamogordo have been circulating for years. E.T.'s failure is widely viewed as the end of the Atari home console era, replaced a few years later by the rise of Nintendo's NES.

The episode will be directed by filmmaker and writer Zak Penn, whose credits include Incident at Loch Ness, The Avengers alongside Joss Whedon and X-Men: The Last Stand.

"When [Lightbox] approached me about this story, I knew it would be something important and fascinating," said Penn, at the time of the announcement. "I wasn't expecting to be handed the opportunity to uncover one of the most controversial mysteries of gaming lore."

The excavation team still have some red tape to negotiate, before digging can begin. The New Mexico waste authority requires five days notice before work can start, and the dig must be handled by an appropriately certified organization.