Mysteries of Atari's SwordQuest Series
by Stephen Hlavaty
Earthworld, Fireworld, Waterworld and Airworld
In its true essence, the idea of the Swordquest game series is a great one. Released
by Atari for the 2600, Swordquest was a large scale of contests that consisted
of 4 games that would each crown a champion, with a grand finale with all four
champions vying for a grand prize.
The four games began with what was
originally known as "Adventure II". Atari was looking for a sequel to
its popular "Adventure" game. In 1982, Swordquest: Earthworld was released
for the Atari 2600. As was the same for the other games, the grand prize for Earthworld
was valued at $25,000. The specific prize for this game was a talisman. "The
Talisman was made of 18K solid gold, studded with 12 diamonds and the birthstones
of the twelve zodiac signs."
The second game in the set of four was
Swordquest: Fireworld. This game was released in 1983 for the Atari 2600 as well.
The specific prize for the winner of this game was a chalice. "It's made
of platinum and gold, studded with 65 diamonds in addition to rubies, sapphires,
pearls, citrines, and green jade."
The third game, Swordquest: Waterworld
was originally only going to be sold through the Atari Club to members only. This
contest was cancelled after the game was released in 1983 and therefore, the game
was sold and bought quite easily on the open market. The prize, which was going
to be given away, was a crown. "The Crown was made of gold, encrusted with
diamonds, rubies, sapphires, green tourmalines and aquamarines."
the entire contest and series of Swordquest games were scrapped in 1983, the fourth
game, Airworld, was never released. "According to designer Frye, Airworld
was only 20% complete, but playable." (http://www.digitpress.com/index.htm)
The prize that was planned with Airworld was large piece of white jade. "The
Philosopher's Stone was a large piece of white jade encased in an 18K gold box
featuring emeralds, rubies, diamonds, and citrines."
itself was an original concept by Atari and it listed specific rules when you
bought the game. In particular, the rules for Earthworld were as follows:
Your success in the play of this new Atari video adventure game depends on your
ability to progress through the Earthworld Kingdom. Proper progress will uncover
"number clues" on the screen that lead to "word clues"
in the DC booklet which accompanies your cartridge. Part of the analysis and
reasoning required in this contest will involve your making correct choices among
these clues... specifically, while there are ten "word clues", only
five are correct. One more clue, found in the DC booklet will be of help in
determining which "word clues" are the correct ones.
Clearly print those five "word clues" you believe to be the correct
ones on the EarthWorld Contest Entry Form provided as part of the leaflet and,
together with your name and complete address, mail your completed Entry Form in
time for receipt by March 15, 1983 to: Atari "EarthWorld Contest." P.O.
Box 8900, Westport, CT 06888.
Everyone's entry will be individually graded for correct answers. If you have
determined and furnished one or more of the correct "word clues," your
entry will be acknowledge with an OFFICIAL ATARI SWORDQUEST CHALLENGE CERTIFICATE
OF MERIT which will be "rated" according to a different skill designation
for 1-2 correct answers, 3-4 correct answers, or all 5 correct answers.
Entrants who supply all five correct "word clues" will compete in a
play-off to determine the winner of the Grand Prize for the EarthWorld Contest.
The play-off will be held at Atari's headquarters in Sunnyvale, California. Atari
will pay for the travel expense of the play-off contestants, consisting of roundtrip
airfare to San Francisco from the airport nearest the contestant's home-originating
city, ground transportation to Sunnyvale, two nights' lodging near Atari's headquarters,
transfers, and meals.
In the likely event that more than 50 entrants provide all five correct "word
clues", tying contestants will be required to complete a statement dealing
with what they like about the Atari EarthWorld game as a tie-breaker basis for
the judges' determination of the 50 winners of play-off trips to California. Tie-breaking
statement-completion entries will be judged on the basis of originality, sincerity,
and aptness of though. Duplicate prizes will be awarded in the event of further
ties. This tie-breaker contest shall be administered to qualifying contestants
by mail following the March 15, 1983 deadline for receipt of EarthWorld entries.
Any play-off trip winner under the age of 18 will be entitled to an additional
roundtrip plane ticket at Atari's expense, to enable his/her accompaniment by
one parent or legal guardian.
The play-off to be held at Atari's headquarters will consist of a time-measured
skill competition among the field of finalists to play and solve a new special-edition
Atari adventure game, similar in nature to the original EarthWorld game, which
has been prepared exclusively for purpose of the play-off. The first contestant
to furnish this new game's correct answers shall be declared the winner of the
EarthWorld Contest's Grand Prize; a special, one-of-a-kind EarthWorld Medallion,
forged from valuable metals, inlaid with sparkling gems, designed and created
for Atari by Franklin Mint at a cost of $25,000.
Following the conclusion of all four separate contest segments, the respective
Grand Prize Winners will be invited back to Atari headquarters (at Atari's expense)
to complete against one another in a Grand Finale Contest to determine the SWORDQUEST
CHALLENGE National Championship. Again, a new special-edition Atari adventure
game will be simultaneously provided for these players to solve on a time-measured
skill basis. The first contestant to furnish the new game's correct answers shall
win a jeweled Sword prize, also exclusively fashioned for Atari by Franklin Mint
at a cost of $50,000."
of rule #1, highlighted in bold above, contain some very interesting statements,
which basically breaks this whole process for the game down. The way the games
worked was that there were number clues in the game. You would then take those
number clues and refer to your DC Comic book that was provided with the game.
These comic books would hint at word clues. These word clues would be what you
would have to enter to win the contest and attempt to win the grand prize. These
comic books were extremely vital, obviously, to the player's success. Another
interesting aspect about finding the clues, which Atari even states, some of the
clues are not valid. You have to work out which ones are the correct ones and
which ones are the fakes.
As for the contests, the first was for Earthworld
and was won by Steven Bell. He won the talisman and a small sword. He "he
supposedly had it melted down for cash, except for the sword." It was rumored
that he melted down the sword for money for school. In an interesting interview,
one of the contestants, James Schweitzer, spoke about what he remembered from
the first ever contest. "The monitors (TV's at the time) were setup in a
circle with a 2600 fired up with the game. Atari had someone sitting behind each
of us taking notes." Jim was the only contestant under the age of 18 at the
time and says that they were all happy to see Bell win it because he deserved
it the most.
An extremely in-depth interview was conducted a few years
back with the winner of the Swordquest: Fireworld contest, Michael Rideout. He
revealed some very interesting information regarding different parts of the contest.
For example, they played custom versions of the game, created by Atari for the
event specifically. Rideout noted that he thought the game was easier than the
original. He also noted that the custom versions of the game were not allowed
to be taken home at the end of the contest. He also settled the issue of whether
or not all of the prizes were created by Atari.
As far as the prizes go, we know that Atari awarded the Talisman and the Chalice.
Do you know if the other prizes exist or were they made to order as Atari needed
They did exist. All of the prizes were on display and well guarded at the Fireworld
contest. The Philosopher's Stone really took my breath away. All of the pictures
showed it with the cover on but they had the cover off at the contest and the
actual stone was this large chunk of white jade."
was then, along with Steven Bell, automatically in line to challenge the winners
of the Waterworld and Airworld contests for the grand prize, a $50,000 sword.
Rideout reveals that since the Waterworld contest was cancelled and the Airworld
game was never released, he and Bell were sent checks for $15,000. The finalists
for Waterworld were sent a significantly smaller amount, which he remembered to
be around $2,000 each.
When Rideout was asked if he still had his chalice
or not, he said he did, locked away in a safety deposit box at his bank. He had
not had it appraised and is paranoid about getting it appraised. He also said
that he believes that it wasn't and still isn't worth the $25,000 that Atari claimed
it to be worth. He also confirmed that he heard Bell melted down his Talisman
and only saved a small part of it. He also says that he is not sure what Atari
did with the other prizes that were never rewarded. It is possible that Rideout's
chalice is the only remaining prize from this contest.
Again, the concept
behind the Swordquest games for Atari was fantastic. Unfortunately, the actual
game play of Swordquest and the decline of the video game market at the time led
to the contest and game's demise. The stories behind the prizes and contests are
all very interesting and still leave many questions unanswered. Is there a copy
of Airworld floating around somewhere? What happened to the jade stone and the
crown prizes? Unfortunately, we may never know. What we do know is that Atari
came up with one of the most original ideas in video game history in the early
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