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Atari E.T. games, buried for 31 years, set to surface at last

The world will find out Saturday if millions of game cartridges that Atari disappeared in 1983 after its E.T. title tanked are really in a New Mexico dump. CNET will be there to report.

An original Atari E.T. game cartridge, one of the few that escaped being buried after the title's disastrous release. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

ALAMAGORDO, N.M. -- Has Atari's "corporate shame" really been buried in a municipal waste dump in this small city for the last 31 years?

That's what the world will find out Saturday when a professional excavation crew will dig into Alamagordo's old dump in front of an unknown number of very curious people, and try to find millions of E.T. game cartridges thought to have been buried there in 1983.

The story of the financial and critical disaster of Atari's E.T. game is well known. Rushed to market to try to take advantage of the incredible success of Steven Spielberg's hit movie, the game was a flop with a capital F.

Though it quickly sold more than a million copies, sales dried up just as quickly as would-be players realized that the game was paper thin, with terrible graphics and no depth. And no wonder: it was made in just six weeks, while Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, who had left the company by 1983, told CNET a more reasonable amount of time would have been five months.

Embarrassed by what has been called its Atari did its best to make the remaining games disappear off the face of the Earth. And for decades, it worked: No one knew where they had gone.

But secrets are hard to keep. And now filmmakers from Lightbox and Fuel Entertainment are making a movie about the legend of Atari and the game that nearly made the company bankrupt. Microsoft is on board with plans to distribute the film as part of its Xbox film series.

Starting at around 10:30 a.m. local time (9:30 a.m. PT) Saturday, crews will begin their attempts to dig up the games, and everyone will finally get a chance to see if they really did end up here, as is currently believed. And CNET will be on hand to document the whole thing. So come on back for news of the excavation. And perhaps a new round of reviews of what has often been called one of the worst games ever.