News Column

Atari Collector Isn't Just Playing Around

Jan. 7, 2013

Sue Vorenberg

Back in the digital dark ages of 1982, Atari made a video game that was so bad, so utterly unplayable, that the company wound up burying millions of copies in the New Mexico desert.

It didn't just bury them, though. The company also crushed and flattened the cartridges, then poured a concrete slab on top of them as a bar to looting.

But not all copies of the abomination were destroyed.

In Rick Weis' converted garage in Vancouver, a copy of "E.T.," which many video game experts consider the worst game ever created, remains.

And it's not alone. Weis has the second-largest collection of Atari games and memorabilia in the United States -- and "E.T." is accompanied by many a stinker, he said.

"I never really played 'E.T.' that much," Weis said. "You kept falling into a hole and you were never able to get out of it."

Collecting for 35 years

Weis, a commercial driver, has been collecting games and other items connected to the Atari 2600 console since he got his first system for Christmas in 1977 at the age of 14. And even now, at age 49, he still has a few things left on his wish list.

"I like the system because it's very simple, but it's hard to master," Weis said. "And it's fun to play."

His two favorite games at the moment are "Adventure" and "Pitfall," but he has hundreds of others to choose from.

Sean Robinson, founder of the Vancouver-based Commodore Computer Club, said he's astounded by how many rare items Weis has tracked down.

"I am very impressed with Rick's collection," Robinson said. "So impressed that I built him a website three years ago so he could show off his stuff."

The site, http://ataricollector.com, has a full list of Weis' games and several pictures of items he's collected.

One thing it doesn't show, though, is the promotional sign that hangs from the garage ceiling, advertising the ill-fated "E.T." game.

Worst are worth most

In an odd twist of fate, it's actually the worst things from the classic video console era that have ended up being worth the most.

The pinnacle of Weis' collection is a rare, poorly selling atrocity called "Air Raid," he said.

"The game itself is quite terrible," Weis said. "But there's only three or four boxes known to exist right now, and I have one of them."

What he doesn't have for that game is the instruction manual -- which would have increased its value from $14,000 to $31,000, he said.

"To get that, it would almost complete my collection," Weis said. "I'm missing six items."

The other five things on his wish list are the box and manual for "Karate" (he has the game) and four other cartridges: "Birthday Mania," "Space Chase Monogrammed," "Extra Terrestrials" and "Words Attack."

The guy with the largest collection in the United States? He lives in California. The two are pretty good friends, Weis said.

"His collection is larger because he has 'Extra Terrestrials' and I don't," Weis said.

"Extra Terrestrials," while different from "E.T.," was also never a candidate for a game of the year award -- nor were any of the other games on his covet list, he added.

"Sometimes a really bad game can be worth a lot of money," Weis said. "That's usually why they're worth a lot, because nobody ever bought 'em."

'A real collector'

Robinson said he finds the notion of paying thousands of dollars for a lousy game to be a little crazy, but as a collector himself, he understands the draw to complete the set.

"To spend money on something like 'Air Raid' -- and it really is a horrible game -- and then put it on a shelf, it can be hard to wrap your head around that," Robinson said. "But Rick is a real collector. He's been collecting since he was a kid. And there are literally thousands of Atari collectors like him all over the world."

What Robinson most covets from Weis' collection are his two Atari kiosks. The demonstration shelves, used in stores back when the system was new, are extremely rare.

"There's probably only about a dozen of them out there, and I have two of them," Weis said.

Active player

He plays on one of the kiosks about once a week. Sometimes, his 14-year-old daughter joins him, he added proudly.

His wife and the family's three cats? They aren't nearly as interested, he said.

Wies also collects several other vintage video game systems and cartridges, including Nintendo, Sega and PlayStation.

He continues to be a modern console gamer. In his living room he has an Xbox 360 and a Wii.

"The only system I've never had is the PlayStation 3," he said. "I've just loved playing games, and pretty much everything else about them, since I was very young."



Source: (c)2013 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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