One of the more interesting aspects of the pre-crash era of video games is the curious proliferation of fly-by-night game production houses. Since actually making a game for the retail market was comparatively inexpensive at the time—compared to the million-dollar landscape that a high-profile game can demand now—small companies like Spectravision, Apollo, and Starpath were releasing games alongside the higher-profile publishers such as Atari, Imagic, and Activision. Even companies such as Parker Brothers and 20th Century Fox were involved in the game publishing world. While the smallest companies, such as MenAvision or Commavid, produced games with incredibly small print runs before the industry crashed, game collectors and historians believed they had accounted for all of the released unique North American games by now, roughly 30 years on.
As such, the surprising news that Syd Bolton, curator of the PC Museum in Brantford, Ontario, had come into possession of a previously unknown retail release titled Extra Terrestrials, has come as quite a shock to the Atari gaming community.
Extra Terrestrials was developed by the Canadian company Skill Screen Games, and ended up being their sole creation. The company was a family business, operated by Tom, Peter, and J. Maitland Banting, and the game was manufactured by Telcom Research, a manufacturer of time code generators that Tom Banting was also the president of. The game had no official distribution channels; instead, the Bantings had to take the game door-to-door to individual retailers in early 1984. Peter Banting told Bolton that in the end only a couple hundred copies, at most, were sold to retailers in southern Ontario before the market collapsed and the entire venture ended. The game was designed and programmed by Herman Quast, though Bolton has not yet gotten in touch with him to ask for details about the game’s development.
History aside, the other major question for anyone with my gaming priorities would be: how does the game play? And what’s its point? Bolton has been painstakingly figuring the game out; the Banting family, who first donated the cart to Bolton’s PC Museum, believes the accompanying box and manual were thrown out long ago. So far, Bolton has determined that Extra Terrestrials is a two-player-only game, where one player controls an alien collecting dots, and the other player is a human trying to catch the alien. Bolton explained to the Atariage forums that there are also “invisible walls, and eating the pellets gets you points.” There are also a few different alien sprites available for the player to choose from, including one that pretty clearly rips off the title character’s sprite from the underrated Atari release E.T. The Extraterrestrial.
Bolton recorded a gameplay video and uploaded it to youtube:
Bolton has not yet been able to get the game’s ROM archived; however, he is seeking someone with the equipment in southwestern Ontario to help so that the game could be made available online. For those who are in the area, he intends on having the game playable at the upcoming PC Museum open-houses on October 15 and 22, 2011. Road trip?