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The Mysteries of Atari's SwordQuest Series
by Stephen Hlavaty

Swordquest: 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."

Since 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." ( 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."

The contest 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:

"1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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."

Portions 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.

"DP: 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 them?

Rideout: 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."

Rideout 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 eighties!

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