When the Personal Computer Museum first discovered Extra Terrestrials, the find itself was enough to send shockwaves through the Atari community. Not only had a previously unknown (but commercially released) title surfaced but it has also been recognized as the only Canadian developed Atari 2600 game. At first, there were many doubters and skeptics. When the pictures first appeared, people noticed that the cart size was unusual and as time marched on even the skeptics were convinced that this was real. A new holy grail had been discovered for the first gaming console that was really popular.
The discovery generated dozens of media stories in October 2011, and in the months that followed the team at the Personal Computer Museum looked for ways to archive the cartridge in order to make it available for the community. The museum obtained a Harmony cartridge and considered modifying a cartridge switcher to archive the ROM, when the original programmer provided a find. Herman Quast had been contacted during the research of the history of the game, and as he lived only 40 minutes away from the museum, he decided to visit. Much to museum curator Syd Bolton's surprise, Herman not only showed up but brought along with him another copy of the cartridge. He dismantled it because it wasn't working on his Atari and the team discovered that there were EPROM's on the inside. This meant that the chip could be placed into an EPROM programmer and have its contents read. Museum volunteer George Yallop carefully did just that and a local high tech firm was able to read the ROM for Syd.
It was a nervous moment when Syd tried the file on Stella, a popular Atari 2600 emulator on a PC. Sure enough, the game started up. The game didn't work quite the same as it does on the real hardware, however, with the collision detection being offset somewhat...further proof that the game was developed in 1983. Museum volunteer Adam White also noticed that this version of the game was somewhat different (there was more sound and the game appeared more polished). Further discussion with the original programmer and producer Peter Banting revealed that the original cartridge that was donated was actually an earlier prototype (called "Version X1" or "eXperimental 1"). Syd tested the extracted ROM file on the Harmony cartridge to confirm that the ROM was not corrupt worked properly and at this point, the idea of producing reproductions became a possibility as a fundraiser.
Partnering with Michael at Good Deal Games, the process of creating the reproductions began. While Michael and his team were busy creating 100 reproduction carts, Syd and Adam took on the task of the rest of the contents. Adam created the box, cartridge label, and cartridge holder while Syd created the manual and special edition DVD. Adam took a high quality scan of the original cartridge label and cleaned it up with Photoshop and also used a tool that turns bitmap files into vector artwork that can be easily resized without any loss of quality. He also painstakingly recreated the logo for Skill Screen Games, the Burlington, Ontario company that originally created the game. Remember, only the cartridge was discovered - the original box and manual have still not been located. There is also still hope that the dies used to create the uniquely shaped cartridges may still be out there as well.
Just before Christmas 2011, Michael shipped the 100 limited copies of Extra Terrestrials to the museum and in early January the process of creating the entire package started. The box has become the most celebrated and most complained about part of the package. To keep costs down, the boxes were printed on the heaviest coated paper stock available but it is still more flimsy than most paperboard boxes. Everyone seems to agree that the boxes look great but aren't quite as sturdy as standard Atari boxes. The cost difference however was vast, so in order to keep the cost at a reasonable $45 (and still provide room for profit to benefit the museum) Adam and Syd decided to go ahead. Adam also created a cartridge holder to be placed inside the box which prevents the cartridge from floating around inside and also provides a little more stablity to the box itself. The only other downside to this entire process was the labor. It took around 30 minutes per package to cut out the box, the cartridge holder, reproduce and label the DVD, fold the manual and glue everything together. There was also time required to pack and post each game and manage communications with the customers. In the end, it's probably closer to 45 minutes per package of labor (even as much as an hour) but everyone agrees that the final package was worth it!
At the end of January the reproductions finally started shipping. Collectors in 9 different countries snapped up the opporunity to own a piece of gaming history. The early adopters got the cartridge, box, manual, and bonus DVD. The DVD includes 5 television interviews, 3 radio interviews, and a media slideshow that includes approximately 40 clippings of media coverage. The disc also includes the ROM file that allows you to play the game on a modern computer using an Atari 2600 emulator such as Stella.
There are 4 confirmed copies of the original game that exist. The first is what we believe is a prototype (the original discovery), the second is the personal copy belonging to programmer Herman Quast, the third is the cartridge that Herman donated to the museum which turns out works fine and was used to create the reproductions. The fourth was donated by museum volunteer Rob Adlers. Rob remembered owning the game many years ago and sold it to a friend. He contacted that friend who agreed to give the cartridge to the museum considering its importance. If you own an original copy of this game (or think you do) please contact us with photos so that we can confirm it.
Today, we still wish to archive the prototype and confirm that the third cartridge the museum has matches the cartridge that was used to create the reproductions. Stella, the most popular Atari 2600 emulator for home computers, has released an update that now supports running the ROM (as of version 3.8.1). Other emulators will likely follow with a similar fix. Extra Terrestrials is not the only older game to suffer from emulator issues.
We know the story of Extra Terrestrials for the Atari 2600 isn't quite over yet. You can buy loose reproduction cartridges
for the game or download the ROM below to play on your computer and be part of history yourself.
While you may download the game for free, please consider a donation to help the efforts of the museum. Buying a cartridge from Good Deal Games also benefits the museum (they are the only licensed manufacturer).