Swordquest: The Legend of Tall Promises
Video games come and go. Every week there are new titles to play and old titles to erase from your hard drive to make room for new properties.
It’s very rare that a game becomes so popular that it sticks in the mind for more than a few months, but there are some games whom’s legend is even better than their gameplay.
Atari’s E.T. the Extraterrestrial comes to mind, which so bad it caused the video game market to crash, or Super Mario, which many believe saved the market from said collapse.
The legend of a particular video game has always piqued my interest, not because of it’s amazing gameplay or it’s astounding graphics. This game interests me because of it’s amazing prizes.
In the 1980's, Atari released a series of games under the franchise name Swordquest. Swordquest was a series of four games all based on the four basic elements: Earthworld, Fireworld, Waterworld, and the unreleased Airworld were all released with the intention of being part of a massive multimedia contest.
By reading comic books, playing the associated games, and gaining placements in live tournaments, you could win fabulous prizes, not t-shirts or video game soundtracks, actual real life treasures all adding up to $150,000, or about $385,000 in today’s money.
Ok, consider my interest piqued Atari.
Earthworld was the first game released in the Swordquest line in October of 1982. By moving through rooms based on the 12 zodiac symbols and placing specific items in each, you would receive a pair of numbers flashing on screen. These numbers would correspond to panels on pages of the included comic books in which you could find a secret word hidden in the landscape.
12 rooms, 12 panels, and 12 words but only 5 words are the correct answers. Using another clue in the book you could eliminate 7 words to get the correct answers. When completed, 10 people were invited to play a special version of Earthworld and challenged to complete it in under 90 minutes.
Winner Stephen Bell, an unemployed 20 year old from Detroit took home the grand prize, the Talisman of Penultimate Truth, a solid gold pendant with diamonds and other precious stones valued at $25,000.
This was the promise Swordquest delivered, a chance to compete in a game of adventure, action, and logic for a chance of fame and riches.
Fireworld attracted even more players when it released in January of 1983. The rules were relatively the same and brought in 73 entries which were culled down to 50. When Michael Rideout won the competition, he was awarded with The Chalice of Light, a platinum and gold jewel encrusted cup valued at, again, $25,000.
Waterworld had a limited release in February of 1984, but not much information is known about its competition. The video game crash of 1983 took its toll and the Swordquest competition had to be cancelled.
Atari, however, was under contractual obligation to run the competition for Waterworld and according to an interview with Atari Historian Curt Vendel, the Crown was awarded,
“They held a very quiet, non-public contest with the 10 people who solved the Waterworld contest. The crown was awarded to the third prize winner.”
Said crown was, again, gold, encrusted with jewels, valued $25,000.
Swordquest ended prematurely. The final game in the series, Airworld, was never finished and never sold, as such the story of Swordquest was left unfinished.
The final treasure, The Philosopher’s Stone, would have been a white jade stone inside a gold jewel encrusted box valued again at $25,000.
Had all games been completed and released to the public, all previous winning contestants would have been invited to take part in a final competition.
The prize for the final competition? A chance at winning a silver sword with a jewel encrusted gold handle valued at $50,000.
The final competition’s details have never been made public, but one can imagine it would have combined the maps of all four previous games, included the same comic book clues as the previous titles all under a short time limit.
The sword and philosopher’s stone have been said to have been destroyed by the original creators of them, but some rumors say the sword was held by the buyer of Atari during the video game crash.
Personally I would have loved to enter this competition. Don’t get me wrong, million dollar eSports prize pools are nice, but the chance to win ACTUAL TREASURE?! Kind of hard to pass that up.
Would you have entered the Swordquest competition? Would you enter a competition like this today? Do you have a mysterious Crown lying around somewhere in your attic? Let us know in the comments.