By Scott Stilphen
Last updated 9-16-2020
The SwordQuest Challenge was conceived solely by Tod R. Frye, and originally was called the Adventure Series. It encompasses 4 separate games: EarthWorld, FireWorld, WaterWorld, and AirWorld, which each game having its own contest. The prizes were valued at $25,000 (although the first 2 were worth a bit less at the time they were awarded).
Prizes: EarthWorld Talisman; FireWorld Chalice; WaterWorld Crown; AirWorld Philosopher’s Stone; Sword of Ultimate Sorcery
The Talisman was made of 18K solid gold and studded with 12 diamonds and the birthstones of the 12 zodiac signs.
The Chalice was made of platinum and gold and adorned with rubies, sapphires, diamonds, pearls, citrines and green jade.
The Crown was made of gold and encrusted with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, green tourmalines, and aquamarines.
The Philosopher's Stone was a large piece of white jade, encased in an 18K gold box featuring emeralds, rubies, diamonds, and citrines.
The Sword of Ultimate Sorcery was a silver blade with an 18K gold handle that was loaded with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires.
Actual photos of the Talisman, Chalice, and Sword of Ultimate Sorcery
The series was to culminate in 1984 with the winner from each of the 4 contests facing off for the grand prize: the $50,000 SwordQuest Sword. From Howard Scott Warshaw:
|“Steve Wright and I were driving back from a brainstorming session in Monterey. Warner had just bought D.C. Comics and we were going back-and-forth talking about getting a comic book series tie-in with D.C. Tod Frye did all the designs, with the four elements and how to tie everything together, which added up to about $200k worth of code! It was a cool concept, but early on though I felt that it wouldn’t come together the way we imagined.”|
From Tod Frye:
|"Howard and Steve did have some ideas about using DC comics in conjunction with carts, but the Franklin Mint / DC Comics / Atari games 'triad' was conceived by me. The whole story line of mystic systems and 'grail quest' were solely conceived by me."|
The following information comes from Keith Smith's The Golden Age Arcade Historian website and is an excerpt of an interview with D.C. artist Roy Thomas in Alter Ego #100:
|"Then came Swordquest. Gerry Conway and I came up again and huddled with a couple of Atari’s engineers. The company had this general idea for a series of four interconnected games under the banner 'Swordquest', with a grand prize they’d promote to help sell it. A sword was to be buried somewhere in the United States, and the person who found it – working from clues that were to be imbedded in the games themselves – would get a
considerable amount of money. This was based on a similar gimmick that we were told had recently been used by a book company, with clues hidden in some picture book; that had sent people scrambling all over the country in search of a buried treasure. Gerry and I immediately came up with the idea that the four games should be based on the four classical 'elements' – earth, air, fire, and water. It was basically a rather effete sword and sorcery comic – Atari wouldn’t have
wanted any real blood-and-guts – and George Perez was assigned to pencil the accompanying comics, which would again be printed in a pocket size. Gerry and I split the work on this one, but I forget exactly who wrote what.
Only thing is, as I recall, before we did the fourth comic, a real problem arose with the earlier treasure hunt thing. We were told there were lawsuits in the case of the earlier book because some overeager people hunting for the treasure were digging up people’s lawns and demolishing property. So Atari pulled the plug on the Swordquest game before it got completed. Well, the comic book was a lot better than the game anyway."
This info contradicts just about everything we know about the contest, from the origins to Atari's plans for it. I certainly can't imagine Atari actually burying a $50,000 sword somewhere, and why would they? The plan was for the winners of each contest to play against each other in a final contest to determine who would win the sword. Also, Atari didn't drop the contest to avoid any potential lawsuits in regards to burying the sword, but rather because the crash forced Warner Communications to sell Atari, and the new owner (Jack Tramiel) wanted nothing to do with honoring the contest, or with video games in general.
Each game represented one of the 4 Symbols of Astrology:
Earth (directed will - energy radiating out from the center; action)
Fire (physical - force that holds the atoms together; practical applications; consolidation)
Water (intellect; the energy that shapes the pattern of things to come; communication)
Air (soul, emotions; power of the unconscious mind; connecting to the source; reception).
Atari hired marketing firm Amrein Marketing Associates, Ltd. to handle the SwordQuest contest. All contest entry forms were to be mailed to P.O. Box 8902, Westport, CT 06888. The series was heavily promoted by Atari, and the first game, EarthWorld, was released in October 1982.
Announcement from an Atari 1981 Canadian brochure
A.N.A.L.O.G. announcement, January 1982
Atari Age announcement, May/June 1982
A.N.A.L.O.G. announcement, September 1982
Famed comic artist George Perez created this original artwork for the cover of the Sept/Oct 1982 V1N3 issue of Atari Age.
Atari Age founder and editor Steve Morgenstern was in possession of this, and after his passing it was
auctioned off on Ebay on April 12th, 2014 for $2,672, which ironically, is the same as the CX number for AirWorld.
Atari Age official announcement, from the Sept/Oct 1982 V1N3 issue. Note that T-shirts for all 4 games are shown.
1983 "ATARI GAME CATALOG: YOUR TICKET TO THE ATARI STARS” Rev A catalog entries.
1982 “A GUIDE TO THE ATARI STARS" Rev F catalog entries. Note early artwork for WaterWorld.
Electronic Games blurb, November 1982; announcement, December 1982
JoyStik announcement, November 1982
Electronic Games blurb, 1983 Buyer's Guide issue.
Electronic Games Certificate of Merit, January 1982. Ironic, since the only reviews EG did were in their 1984 Software Encyclopedia.
Magazine ad. First shown in the January 1983 issue of both Electronic Games and Video Games.
Close-up of boxes from above ad. Note the different artwork for WaterWorld and AirWorld.
Atari store display
Atari dealer display
Atari contest poster
This episode of Bob Sarlatte's American Hot Stuff briefly covers SwordQuest EarthWorld.
Article in the February 1983 issue of
about Atari's press conference
at the NY Waldorf-Astoria hotel to announce the SwordQuest contest.
Vidiot blurb, February/March 1983
Programmed by Dan Hitchens
Early comic cover art by George Pérez
† The game was coded by Dan Hitchens, under the design direction of Tod Frye, and was released October 1982.
† The band of the sky in which the planets move is called the Zodiac, which is divided into 12 Signs (each sign represents a specific energy pattern or mode of expression, and contains 30 degrees, or 1/12th of a circle). Together they comprise the 4 basic Elements, and each act in ways, or modes. Each group of 3 Signs of the same element is called a Triplicity, and each group of 4 Signs of the same mode is called a Quadruplicity. The game is based upon these Signs, and the rooms are laid out in a circular pattern for this reason.
† Going left 1 room is equivalent to going up 4 rooms (clockwise on the Zodiac “wheel”); going right 1 room is equivalent to going down 4 rooms (counter-clockwise). Michael Rideout noticed that by using the left and right exits, you can see how the layout also incorporates the Triplicity groups:
Taurus – Virgo – Capricorn denote Earth
Aries – Leo – Sagittarius denote Fire
Cancer – Scorpio – Pisces denote Water
Gemini – Libra – Aquarius denote Air.
The comic book further illustrates the significance of the Zodiac. Each Zodiac “room” has a corresponding House (there are 12 Houses in Astrology, and each House has a planet which is its natural ruler), and the main characters eventually cross paths with all the rulers of each House.
† It’s possible to run through all the different waterfalls (in Leo) without stopping.
† There are invisible “lines” running vertically down the screen that (when crossed) trigger the next waterfall, or the entrance to the zodiac room. Notice that the waterfalls slowly move to the left. If you let one (the first one is the most difficult since there’s little room to maneuver) of them pass w/o triggering the next line, it will eventually wrap-around the screen!
† The deadline for entering the contest was March 15, 1983. Atari CED Product Manager Joel Oberman claimed more than half a million EarthWorld cartridges were sold in the U.S., and of those, only 1% - 5,000 - were semi-finalists; according to Robert Ruiz Jr., over 4,000 entered the contest. Of those, only 8 had the correct solution - "QUEST IN TOWER TALISMAN FOUND". Here is the list of the finalists, along with their ages and then-locations:
Matthew Balasa, 21, Bayshore, MI
Steven Bell, 20, MI (either St. Clair or St. Clair Shores) - the eventual winner
Jacquie Custer, 30, Arleta, CA
Stephen Perry Doussa, 18, Arabi, LA - absent from contest?
Douglas Ferry, 18, Chalmette, LA
John D. Hoffman, 30, Waterloo, NY - absent from contest?
Thomas J. Neill (or Heil?), 32, Clairton, PA
James Schweitzer, 16, No. Charleston, SC
† At least 7, possibly 8, special edition “championship” carts were made. The championship was held on May 2, 1983 at Atari’s headquarters in Sunnyvale, CA. The contest had a 90-minute time limit. Steven Bell finished the game in 46 minutes, 49.4 seconds.
† Here's an interview with finalist James Schweitzer.
† It was long believed the PAL version was the same “Special Edition” version used for the contest, since it was mentioned that the contest version comprised 11 “levels” of play. This is not the case. John-Michael Battaglia, who was a writer at Atari, kept a copy of the EarthWorld Playoff Contest Rules, along with programmer Dan Hitchen's handwritten notes for the solution to the contest version, and made them available on his website. John-Michael Battaglia had this to say about the SwordQuest contest:
|"I was a Senior Copywriter at Atari in the early days of the video game industry. I wrote instruction manuals and packaging copy for several Atari 2600 and Atari 5200 video games. I also worked on special projects, like the Atari Swordquest Challenge, around the same time that I was writing the manual for WaterWorld, one of the games in the four-part SwordQuest series.
For one of the four playoff competitions in the Atari SwordQuest Challenge, I had all of two days to come up with a way to allow a half-dozen contestants to compete in a race to get through all the levels of EarthWorld, a brute-force adventure game that had required gamers to spend weeks of their lives trying to figure out the astronomical permutations regarding which 16 magical objects needed to go into which 12 rooms of the Zodiac at various points in their quest for a magical sword. Atari had sold over 500,000 of these games in a gigantic cross promotion involving DC Comics and the Franklin Mint, and, without clues to guide them through the adventure, only 7 people managed to get themselves invited to participate in the quarter-final playoff tournament. The playoff winner would walk off with a $25,000 prize, as well as earn a chance to compete in the final SwordQuest Challenge for a jewel-encrusted sword worth $50,000.
Since all the rooms in Earthworld were named after the houses of the Zodiac, I wrote a series of arcane clues that directed the keenest reader among the contestants where to place the correct magical objects and race to victory within less than two hours. Essentially, I provided word-clues with an astrological theme to blend aspects of the game's key elements in the context of a puzzle based on the game's theme. As the participants later acknowledged, the arcane word-clues added a twist that elevated the original design of the game to a more entertaining level, while also making it possible for someone to actually solve the game/puzzle in time for the luncheon award ceremonies. I got a nice memo of appreciation from the product manager for making the playoff competition a success, and the whole episode was written up in Atari Life, the Atari employee newsletter.
Of course, while it is not possible to play the limited edition playoff game that was programmed exclusively for the playoff, anyone wishing to try their luck deciphering the arcane clues can do so now by first getting very familiar with both the list of magical objects and the signs of the Zodiac. Your eye-hand coordination won't be tested like it was in the original game play, but at least you might have some fun trying to figure out what magical objects go into what astrological houses, based on the Earthworld play-off word-clues that I wrote for the playoff. Just don't expect a jewel-encrusted sword to be waiting for you if you succeed!
The playoff winner navigated through the puzzle in less than an hour, leaving us all plenty of time to enjoy the luncheon ceremony that followed. How well can you do?"
† Here's a copy of the memo from Joel Oberman to John-Michael Battaglia, dated May 3, 1983.
† Here's a copy of the Atari Life magazine article. Note that Stephen Perry Doussa isn't listed as one of the finalists, but that John Hoffman is! Thomas Neill's last name is also spelled as "Heil" and Steven Bell's hometown as St. Clair Shore.
† John-Michael Battaglia was also in possession of a one-of-a-kind SwordQuest EarthWorld Sears-style manual, as well as a SwordQuest EarthWorld playoff contest prototype (see below). It's unknown what happened to it after his passing.
† It's long been rumored Steven Bell had the Medallion melted down for money, although this has never been confirmed with Steven. The SwordQuest FireWorld winner, Michael Rideout had this to say about it in an interview:
|"My understanding was that he had the Talisman melted down and sold to a coin dealer or something. He did keep part of it. There was a little sword on the Talisman that he kept but the rest was melted down and he used the money for other things like school. I remember going out with him and some others after the FireWorld contest and I think he said he got something like $15,000 for it. Remember that he kept the sword, which was made of white gold, and also that gold was dropping in price at that time."|
EarthWorld contest solution
PAL end label
PAL version notes
† Although the boxes and labels have a 1982 copyright date on them, it would seem the PAL version wasn't released until 1985 at the earliest. In the Winter 1983 issue of (London-based) TV Gamer (pg. 12, 14), the Club News section twice states the first two SwordQuest Games are not available, and even mentions a representative from Atari told the magazine "they're not the best adventure games they've designed." Truer words have never been spoken.
In the September 1984 issue of TV Gamer (pg. 64), someone again asked if the SwordQuest games would be released there. There was no comic book, poster, contest entry form, or contest sticker on the box, as the contest was only promoted in the U.S. (this is likely why the game's solution is different). Atari Bénélux (who were the subsidiary of Atari located the Netherlands) promised there would be a contest when they released the games, but that never happened. The Dutch manual supplement from Atari Benelux apparently has a 1983 copyright on it.
† Did you know the PAL version has a different solution? Instead of getting numerical clues that refer to panels in the comic book, you simply get a number from 1 to 11. Luc Pycke obtained a fax from Atari Bénélux (who obtained it from Atari International) containing the solution, which was supposedly hand-written by Dan Hitchens. The solution does have a few errors - #5 and #10 were incorrect. The correct solution appears below, along with a copy of the fax.
† The inventory bar/strip actually extends to the very bottom of the screen, unlike the NTSC version. Also, each clue gives a bit more of the EarthWorld “fan fare” (as mentioned in the manual), rather than different tunes for each, as in the NTSC version.
† It’s interesting to note that there are only 11 levels, since the game is based around the 12 Zodiac symbols. Perhaps there is a yet-unfound 12th clue?
EarthWorld PAL solution
Hand-written EarthWorld PAL solution note
Video Games review, January 1983
Electronic Games Q&A, February 1983; Electronic Fun letter, June 1983
Electronic Games reviews, 1984 Software Encyclopedia issue. It's amazing how often EG's opinions changed within a year's time.
Atari Age EarthWorld contest finalists article, from the May/June 1983 V2N1 issue.
Atari Age EarthWorld winner announcements article, from the July/Aug 1983 V2N2 issue.
Video Games article, August 1983
Close-up picture of the Atari Zodiac Mandala
Photo of EarthWorld contest finalists from Atari Life, V2N10
Videogaming Illustrated article, September 1983
Certificate of Merit
Certificate of Merit letters
EarthWorld playoff contest prototype
SwordQuest "pyramid" calendars. Photo courtesy of James Schweitzer.
Rare EarthWorld T-shirt, only available through Atari Age. Artwork by George Pérez.
Programmed by Tod Frye
Hi-rez image of cover art.
Early comic cover art by George Pérez. Click HERE for the complete comic, uninked!
Release info from the Jan/Feb 1983 N1N5 issue of Atari Age.
† The game is based on the Tree of Life, which is found in the Jewish Kabbalah. The Kabbalah is based on 4 worlds, and has 10 "spheres" or "levels" called the Sephiroth. The 4 worlds are as follows:
Atziluth (Kether & Daath): The World of Origination
Briah (Chesed, Geburah & Tiphareth): The World of Creation
Yetzirah (Chokmah & Yesod): The World of Formation
Assiah (Binah, Netzach, Hod & Malkuth): The World of Expression
† It’s possible to “warp” up into adjacent rooms. In some rooms corner warping can be used to also go left, right, and down. Was this by design or a glitch? In room E, sometimes when trying to warp to room G you will reappear on the other side of the room instead. You can also get stuck on the walls in this room when trying to do corner warps.
† The doors in room E are affected by what items are placed inside. While the B doorway is always open, and holding the chalice opens all doors (including J), the following doors are opened with these objects:
F – Dagger
D – Warrior’s Sword
H – Amulet
G – Oil Lamp
C – Ring
I – Cloak of Invisibility
† Pictures of the FireWorld contest were found by Clive Young in 1999 and appeared in issue #58 of the 2600 Connection newsletter. They can be found Pictures.
† The clues don’t have to be found in order. The meaning of the clue numbers is unknown, but it’s possible that being they were simply numbered from 00 to 09 meant that there were 10 word clues to find in the comic book.
† In the Salamanders skill test (room J), your “line” character gets longer each time you are hit.
† When you find a clue, occasionally a block (cursor) will appear in the inventory. To get rid of it, go in a treasure room and place your cursor over it and “drop” it, otherwise you won’t be able to carry 6 objects.
† Normally you have 8 chances to finish some skill tests (all but the Snakes and Dragons). Each time you fail, you’ll hear a “miss” sound. With the Goblins test though, you only get 7. Notice that when you first start the test you’ll hear a “miss”. There’s also a way to hear 9 “miss” sounds with the Goblins test– at power up, wait until you see the screen showing your character and then start the game. If the very first test you do is the Goblins, you’ll actually hear 2 “miss” sounds at the start, instead of 1.
† There are numerous glitches that appear with the skill tests. With the Snakes test, you may be stuck on the screen when you start (your character won’t appear) or when you kill all of them (and the screen doesn’t change); with the Flamedragons, you may see a “bolt” of fire shooting up from the bottom when you start; with the Salamanders and Firebirds, the bottom border may disappear as you are hit. All tests seem to suffer from poor sprite-collision detection (ex. a goblin or knife may slip past you and not be counted as a miss).
† Luc Pycke programmed a Commodore 64 version of FireWorld, back in 1983! Unfortunately, programming was never completed.
PAL version notes
† As with the PAL EarthWorld, there was no comic book, poster, contest entry form, or contest sticker on the box.
† Did you know the PAL version of FireWorld has a different solution? The solution below was also obtained by Luc Pycke.
† The PAL FireWorld box is also slightly different from the NTSC version – “SwordQuest ” appears in solid white lettering, with “FireWorld” in large letters underneath it.
† It is believed the PAL version is actually the “Special Edition” version used for the contest, although it was later discovered this did not hold true for EarthWorld.
† The inventory “block” glitch is more prevalent in this version. Clearing the block creates another rope item, which will appear in the room. You can actually create enough ropes to have 6 in your inventory and one in each room!
The Tree of Life glyph
Room layout, using Russ Perry Jr.’s solution
FireWorld NTSC solution
FireWorld PAL solution
† There were 73 total finalists - according to the winner, Atari had a “run-off” whereby they sent everyone a piece of paper with some questions, and the finalists had to write in so many words or less what they liked about the game. Out of those entries, the judges picked 50 contestants.
† At least 50 “championship” carts were made.
† The deadline for entering the contest was July 15, 1983. All the finalists were to be flown to Atari to compete in November of 1983, but the contest didn’t take place until January of 1984. The reason for the delay is unknown.
† The winner was Michael S. Rideout of Aiken, SC, who finished the game in 50 minutes. An interview with Rideout can be found HERE.
† According to Michael Rideout, the only person he knew who found all 10 game clues in FireWorld was Charles Compton (the winner of Imagic's Riddle of the Sphinx contest).
† Contest runner-up Rick Davidson owns what's likely the only contest cartridge in existence! Here's his story on his contest experiences and how he obtained the cartridge:
|"I'm afraid there is not lot I can tell you that you have
not already read in other interviews, except maybe about the great buffets
and dinners and tours that Atari treated us to. I think those things
would not be of much interest to anyone but the other 49 finalists and the
few friends and family that were allowed to be with us there. Most
of their contact info and my copy of the clues and other keepsakes and
photos from the contest are buried in storage under 30 years of other
stuff. But again, I would love to get those clues and any
contact info of the other players that I can.
The cart I have is from the playoff. I don't want this to sound like 'sour grapes' or anything like that, because I really was quite satisfied with the outcome of the playoff and all the tours and banquets. At that time in my life, it was the trip of a lifetime. I never expected to win going into it. I think I ended up with the cart because my umpire felt sorry for me. I finished getting all of the onscreen numbers before Michael did, but my umpire told me I had one of them out of order and that I needed to go through them again in the right order. I told him that was no problem, because it looked like i had plenty of time to re-do them and still finish inside the time limit. I was about 5 minutes away from getting them in the right order when they announced Michael as the winner. On my way out my umpire came up to me and said, "Here. You should have won"."
Atari Age ad, January/February 1983 V1N5 issue.
Atari Age FireWorld contest finalists article, September/October 1983 V2N3 issue.
Atari Age FireWorld winner announcement article, March/April 1984 V2N5 issue.
Certificate of Merit
PAL end label
FireWorld contest cart
2800 “Japanese” box
SwordQuest FireWorld flyer from the Netherlands.
SwordQuest FireWorld sticker from the Netherlands.
Rare FireWorld T-shirt, only available through Atari Age. Artwork by George Pérez.
Packaging artwork by Warren Chang.
Cover of SwordQuest WaterWorld comic.
Cover of SwordQuest WaterWorld hint book.
Hi-rez image of cover art.
Rare promotional artwork by Terry Hoff.
Concept artwork by Warren Chang.
Concept artwork by Warren Chang.
Early comic cover art by George Pérez
Videogaming Illustrated news blurb from the April 1983 issue.
Release info from the Sept/Oct 1983 V2N3 issue of Atari Age.
† The game is based on the Kundalini Chakra. Go HERE to learn more about this, and to see a chart showing the 7 Chakras, and how it relates to the room layout.
† The game was supposed to be released by June 1983 but wasn't until October 1983, and then was only available through Atari Age.
† The original contest entry deadline was December 15, 1983, but was extended to April 15, 1984. WaterWorld was by far the easiest to solve and the only game to include a separate a hint book.
† According to an interview with FireWorld winner Michael Rideout:
|“They (Atari) chose the finalists although if I remember correctly, they reduced the number to 15 instead of 50. This caused a lot of people to get upset. This was right at the time Atari was sold and everything went into limbo. I don't think the Crown was ever awarded…”.|
† A PAL version was never released.
† Atari cancelled the contest before a winner was declared, although an ex-felon by the name of Curt Vendel believes Atari held a "non-public, semi-secret" playoff, but offered no proof to back up this claim, other than saying that, by law, Atari had to follow through with the WaterWorld contest because the game was publicly sold and players had submitted correct answers. Given Vendel's past feloneous history, not to mention his track record of sabotaging shows, forging emails, and erasing posts, anything he states as "fact" should be questioned.
If someone won a $25,000 crown, we would have heard about it before now, either from the person who won it or someone who knows them. Also, the SwordQuest Challenge was a nationally-advertised contest. Vendel's claim that the WaterWorld contest had to be completed for the sole reason the game was released and people submitted entries for it doesn't ring true because the contest was comprised of FOUR games. Each game's contest was part of reaching the overall contest- to win the sword! Why else would Atari have paid off the winners of the EarthWorld and FireWorld contests if they legally didn't have to (because AirWorld was never released)?
From Michael Rideout:
|"When Atari discontinued the contests, Steven and I each received compensatory checks for $15,000, and the 15(?) WaterWorld qualifiers each received compensatory checks for $2,000(?). I'm not positive about the number of WaterWorld qualifiers, but I believe it was 15 (see the next paragraph). I'm also not sure if the $2,000 figure is correct; it may have been $3,000 or even $5,000. All of my notes and documents related to Swordquest are stashed in a box somewhere, and it was over ten years ago, so my memory is a bit hazy."|
If Atari indeed had some "super secret" playoff, what of Rideout's claim of Atari paying off the WaterWorld finalists? If Atari paid off the 10 finalists at least $2,000 each, that would be nearly as much as what the Crown was valued at! But no WaterWorld finalists (or anyone else associated with the SwordQuest) contest have come forward to corroborate Vendel's version of events, and until someone does, this is just another unfounded rumor of his.
† The following are letters that Russ Perry Jr. received from Atari during the time of the WaterWorld contest:
May 14, 1984
Dear Mr. Perry:
As the independent judging agency for the ATARI SWORDQUEST CHALLENGE Program, we are delighted to inform you that your entry in the "WaterWorld" Contest has been officially graded and found to contain all four correct "word-clue" answers. In fact, your entry was one of the total 45 submissions received in this contest segment which supplied the four right words.
Because the number of contestants who provided the four correct "word clues" exceeds 10 (as stipulated in the Official Rules ... please see photocopy attached), we are proceeding to the contest tie-breaker procedure described in Rule #5. This letter represents your personal invitation and only notification of participation eligibility in the WaterWorld tie-breaker contest. No other correspondence or telephone exchange may be entered into, and no responsibility can be assumed for lost, misdirected or late mail.
Therefore, we direct your attention to the "statement-completion form" which accompanies this letter, calling for your own response to the starter-line "What I like about the Atari WaterWorld video adventure game is...". Your reply may be written long-hand or printed (clearly in ink) or typed on the form provided, and should not exceed in length the lined-spaces indicated on this one-sided sheet.
Your statement-completion form should be sent via first class mail to the address indicated thereon and must be postmarked no later than June 15, 1984. All on-time tie-breaker entries will be held, unopened, until the first week of July when each shall be individually judged "on the basis of originality, sincerity and aptness of thought". The decisions of the judges shall be final. All entries become the property of Atari, Inc. and cannot be returned.
Winner notification shall be effected no later than August 1, 1984; subsequent to such notification, personnel from Atari shall be in contact with the tie-breaker winners concerning timing and travel arrangements for the play-off trip to California.. leading to the WaterWorld Crown which is to be awarded as this contest segment's Grand Prize.
Congratulations on having reached this advanced stage of the WaterWorld segment of the ATARI SWORDQUEST CHALLENGE!
Sincerely, James R. Amrein, President
Amrein Marketing Associates, Ltd.,
45 Weston Road, Westport, CT 06880, USA (203) 226-2836
August 7, 1985
Dear Mr. Perry:
Atari was sold to new owners last summer and, with the attendant changes in personnel and future plans, we literally found ourselves at a point where there was such a program as the SWORDQUEST CONTEST.
Not only did this situation take a while to correct, but then the lawyers had to resolve who was now responsible for the contest prizes (the new owners or the old owners).
A very conscientious and industrious attorney for Atari has the matter in hand now and wants to resolve this matter in the very near future.
I wish there was more we could tell you now, but our firm's role was simply to judge the entries. Prize payments are the sponsor's responsibility, and we found ourselves mid-stream in judging without a sponsor if you will.
Thank you for your patience ... it's not been forgotten and is nearing resolution, and you'll hear from Atari on this sometime shortly.
Sincerely, James R. Amrein, President
Amrein Marketing Associates, Ltd.
May 30, 1986
Dear Mr. Perry:
As you may know, Atari, Inc. sometime ago disposed of its computer and video game business, with the result that the SWORDQUEST promotion, originally conceived almost four years ago, no longer has value. A plan for resolution of the SWORDQUEST Contest has been reached with the firm which bought out Atari, Inc.
Our agency served the original program as its independent judging agency, and we regret to inform you that your statement-completion entry in the "WaterWorld" tie-breaker was not one of the winning submissions.
Thank you for your patience and your participation.
Sincerely, James R. Amrein, President
Amrein Marketing Associates, Ltd.
Atari Age ad, from the Sept/Oct 1983 V2N3 issue. Note the background art is mirrored, and the box shown has earlier artwork!
Atari Age Club letter for upcoming WaterWorld release.
Electronic Fun letter, January 1984
Rare WaterWorld T-shirt, only available through Atari Age. Artwork by George Pérez.
Programmed by Tod Frye
Rare artwork by Warren Chang for AirWorld. Note the Philosopher’s Stone just under the rider’s left arm
Rare promotional artwork by Terry Hoff for the Philosopher’s Stone.
Early comic cover art by George Pérez.
† The game is based on the Chinese I Ching (the “Book of Changes” - go HERE for more information). It consists of “tribars” – sets of 3 bars that can be either whole or split – and there are 64 different tribar combinations, called hexagrams. The gameplay in AirWorld was based on a 64-bit game language that determined the player’s speed, enemy A.I., and other factors.
† The above artwork supposedly came from Brian Ballestri, who was an editor for the internal Atari company newsletter, Atari Life.
† A copy of Atari's internal product assembly list for AirWorld can be found HERE.
† According to Tod Frye, he was only about 20% done with the game, but was pulled off the project to do the 2600 version of Xevious. Soon after, the entire SwordQuest project was cancelled. Here are some of his comments:
From a letter in the March/April 1997 issue of the 2600 Connection newsletter regarding a fake AirWorld game, Russ Perry Jr. mentioned he talked with Tod Frye, who stated the AirWorld kernel was only 20% complete when he was pulled off the project to do Xevious.
“AirWorld did get started, and I was digging it, but I got asked to port Xevious to the 2600 after 2 other programmers gave up on it.
AirWorld prototypes never reached the playable stage. In the game, there was a screen where one flies about, and then centers on a hexagram on the horizon. One then flies into the hexagram, which zooms to fill the screen, and then plays one of 64 scenarios - one per hexagram. I would be really surprised if it were even possible to find the code for the initial AirWorld prototypes.”
“AirWorld was based on the I Ching. As far as I got, it was never fully playable. But I was psyched to be doing it. One flew around in a (sort of) first-person flying scenario with 64 hexagrams on the horizon, dodging some stuff in the air, and picking some other stuff. When you picked up a certain token, you entered the 'in hexagram' phase, where you locked on a hexagram of your choice on the horizon, and it zoomed up to fill the screen, where you played one of 64 simple games (the 64 simple games never got finished, too ambitious).”
Tod also posted on an online Atari forum, under a fake name, a few months prior (in April of 2002) and had this to say:
|"After numerous mailings let this be the final word on the subject. There were 2 AirWorld prototypes created back in the heyday of the development phaze. I don't know what happened to one of them, it probably got lost in management or something. But one definitely made it out of Atari development and into the black market along with a disgruntled project manager (Keith Richards, I believe). I can remember the developers raving over it and how starkly different and interesting the play was, it was a dramatic departure from its three predecessors, with an ending to shock even the most avid SwordQuest gamers. The intricacies of the game were never completed, however the game was fully functional from beginning to end, and nothing like what most people would believe to be a traditional SwordQuest sequel. Among the striking differences was that instead of the multicolor sword which splashes across the screen with the first three games, this version used a multicolor man on a flying horse. The differences only started there, but it the whole design was to bring the entire SwordQuest series full circle in a dramatic conclusion. Heh, too bad it was never released. Good luck finding the protos as well; rumor has it the one that left at Atari was destroyed a long time ago."|
In 2018 Tod was interviewed by Arcade Attack and had this to say:
|"What I intended for AirWorld was a, if at all possible, a game with emergent gameplay where there were these 6 lines in a hexagram which is composed of 2 trigrams of 3 each and it's all part of this very sophisticated and ancient mythological system from China. And I intended to put together a game and start it. I had my hexagram on the screen. There's a lot more to it then that. And I was spending my time looking at the I Ching and trying to come up with a way where I could derive the rules for gameplay from the hexagram, and have each of the 64 gameplay screens be unique and related to the yin and yang lines in the hexagram, and if at all possible related somehow to the mythological meaning of the hexagram and the I Ching itself. It was really ambitious. In some ways it would be like, if you start this stuff thinking, here I have hexagrams with yin and yang lines. How about if I do a thing where, look at Taz, which was done by Steve Woita, which is a very row-based game, where you have bunches of rows were objects are moving horizontally and you have the player which can jump between the rows. So I was going there, and I was going, so what if I do a thing where your object on a yin line is one you want to pick up, and an object on a yang line is one you want to avoid. And then, find some other set of rules which they use to decide whether they want to track you or dodge you, whether they go fast or slow, whether they bounce at the edges of the screen or whether they wrap around the edges of the screen. I was trying to work out a logical grid of generated gameplay, and it was a lot of thinking. It was actually very ambitious."|
† According to former Atari programmer John Seghers, he remembers seeing Tod Frye testing out AirWorld, and confirms the room structure (layout) was based off of the I Ching (possibly 8 rooms, each representing a different tribar?). The game screen he saw was a first-person flying perspective of your character flying over a landscape – he believes it was suppose to be Torr on the flying horse (as depicted in the above artwork). Howard Scott Warshaw also confirmed the I Ching was the basis for the game during his presentation at the 1997 Electronicon show.
† The final comic book in the series was rumored to have been at least written and story-boarded – possibly even completed, or very close to it. There was once talk of DC completing the book series and releasing it as a graphic novel, but this never came to pass. Whatever artwork still exists is currently “lost” within DC Comics’ vaults. I asked DC artist George Pérez about this HERE:
|“No, there was no "AirWorld" story ever written or drawn. The whole SwordQuest project was terminated by Atari before we could even start on the art. Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, the original writers of the comics, may have worked out some sort of plot synopsis dealing in the generalities of that final chapter for Atari approval, but it never got to plot form.“|
† Was a T-shirt designed for AirWorld? The Atari Age articles from the Sept/Oct 1982 V1N3 and Jan/Feb 1983 N1N5 issues suggests all the shirts were done at that point, although only the artwork for EarthWorld and FireWorld were shown.
† An excerpt from an interview with Michael Rideout states:
|“When I was in the FireWorld contest, there was a group of people that had been in EarthWorld, that said to me "Now, if Atari ever comes to you, make sure you don't agree to anything about canceling the contest." I guess they had a suspicion that Atari might try to do that. After a while, I got a letter from Atari stating that they wanted to cancel the contest. They offered Steven and myself $15,000 each to agree and they offered a smaller amount, maybe like $2,000 to each of the finalists for WaterWorld. I think the reason Steven and I got more than everyone else was because as winners of the first two contests, we had a definite chance of winning the Sword. Everyone involved had to agree or else the contest would continue. I tried to call Steven and some of the other people from the contest to see what they were going to do but I couldn't get in touch with anyone. I talked it over with my father and decided to accept the offer, figuring that someone else would decline. “|
† In 7/09 I asked James R. Amrein what he recalled about the contest. His comments:
|“An Atari attorney named Angelo Pisani stepped up to take responsibility for attending to prize awards due contestants, and that was the last we knew of the Swordquest matter, our firm's judging responsibilities having been fulfilled.
If you can find Angelo, you may very well be on to the final chapter in this.
Other client-side names that date back to that time in Sunnyvale included Marketing Director Jewel Savadelis, a fellow in Marketing with some involvement in Swordquest named Steve Bengston, and a Marketing Dept. promotion type name Ralph Giuffre ... Ralph moved on to Activision and later an area of Disney in Burbank and then I lost him. I believe he's an alum of Santa Clara so it's conceivable its Alumni Relations area would have current contact info for him."
† It has long been rumored that the SwordQuest Sword (and possibly the other prizes) ended up in the hands of Jack Tramiel. The source of this incorrect information was Curt Vendel (who else), who falsely claimed credit for it in this 4-13-98 RGVC newsgroup post. This was first mentioned in the October 15th, 1997 (V1N1) issue of Jaguar Explorer Online ("Useless Fact O' The Month: Remember the $50,000 grand prize sword for the SwordQuest contest Atari was running? Well that sword is hanging over the mantle of Jack Tramiel's fireplace."), and later in the Jan/Feb 1998 (#45) issue of the 2600 Connection newsletter ("Curt at www.atari.nu stated he knows an ex-Atari programmer that worked on Unix for the TT030s who is personal friends with Jack. This person has been to Jack's home on many occasions and has described a large, solid gold sword with a FUJI symbol on it."). The only artwork to depict the sword having the Atari logo on it was on both the Challenge EarthWorld poster/contest entry form and the EarthWorld pamphlet. All the other artwork is identical to the only known photograph of the sword (from the FireWorld contest). It's possible the Atari symbol is only on one side of the handle. There are also those who claim to have recently spoken with either Jack Tramiel or his son, Leonard, with both claiming Jack did not have it. While Jack may not have had it by that point, neither Jack or Leonard confirmed nor denied that he ever had it, and any claims that Warner kept the prizes during the transfer of ownership of Atari to Tramiel are completely unsubstantiated rumors. The current belief is the sword still remains with the Tramiel family, along with the WaterWorld and AirWorld prizes. Hopefully one day the truth will come out, and with it, full disclosure of what happened to the remaining 3 prizes.
† One of the SwordQuest FireWorld contest finalists was Robert Ruiz Jr. He wrote a letter that was published in the April 1985 issue of
Electronic Games, urging people to contact Atari and pressure them to complete the contest. As it turns out, he was the person who sued Atari when they cancelled the contest. Another letter of his appeared in the May 1984 issue of
Computer Fun, offering copies of the EarthWorld solution (his phone # and address were listed, but the # is no longer valid). Robert Ruiz Jr. thanks Steve Doussa, Jackie Custer, Steve Bell, Tom Neill, and Matt Balasa (all of them EarthWorld finalists) for helping him put his EarthWorld package together.
Not everyone who ordered his solution received it (most notably, Russ Perry Jr.). One of those who did, Anthony Sandridge, was kind enough to send copies. It includes 6 pages of maps and notes for solving EarthWorld, and a
2-page letter dated 7-7-84 and signed by Ruiz. Consequently, Anthony also mentioned that Ruiz also offered solutions for FireWorld and WaterWorld, which he ordered as well, but never received them. Another person who wrote Ruiz was Dan Amrich, who received not only the same 2-page letter, but
7 pages of maps and notes for solving FireWorld, as well as another 2-page hand-written letter (dated
9-27-84) on his "Adventurer's Club" letterhead, where he mentions the future plans for his club:
● The Progression
● Tips on different video and computer games
● The "Gamer's Choice" Contest
● Phase II: the Club's official magazine
As far as we know, none of his future plans ever materialized.
Electronic Games 4/85 letter
Computer Fun 5/84 letter
† To date, no one is sure who actually solved the NTSC versions of EarthWorld and FireWorld. Was it done by Robert Ruiz Jr. and 5 other players through brute force trial-and-error? Or was the solution “leaked” out by either the programmers or an associate (as was done for the PAL versions). There was never a formal announcement from Atari. If anyone has any information concerning this, please email me.
† Fake Atari historian and ex-felon Curt Vendel once claimed in the March/April 1997 issue of the 2600 Connection newsletter that he found a prototype copy of AirWorld. He said it came in a shopping bag full of VCS ROM chips and prototype boards. One chip was labeled AirWorld and according to him, it was a "strange looking chip. It's not even an EPROM. It's something odd." He compared the game to the other 3 SwordQuest games and said it appeared "different", and then went on to describe Fireworld ("Most of the challenges involve going against birds and flying knives, and each room has what appears to be cloud looking objects."). He then took it to renowned Atari experts like Leonard Herman and John Hardie, who immediately recognized it as nothing more than a FireWorld ROM chip.
† Jeremy Jones attempted to perpetrate the biggest SwordQuest scam to date, several times to sell off a fake AirWorld prototype. It was first mentioned in the May/June 2000 issue of 2600 Connection that Jones had listed it on Ebay and then removed it 2 days later. He later posted on on the Atari Nexus site, trying to sell it on there, without success. In August 2002 he again tried to sell it, this time posting on Atariage. Here are the fake screenshots he created, along with the fake cart:
Below are 2 replies from Tod Frye, who helped to prove these pictures were fake:
|“All bogus. AirWorld was started, but never completed. The screens shown on his (Jones’) website are variants of the FireWorld concepts. This website is completely bunk. So sayeth me, who knows.“|
“That AirWorld cart I saw? Screenshots look like EarthWorld, with some modifications to the graphics data. This would not be all that hard for a moderately competent 'hacker' to do. Just find the data tables in ROM, and patch them. So, what the heck. Those screen shots were almost definitely from a modified EarthWorld.“
The truth is, the fake screenshots were not from a hacked ROM but rather a Photoshop creation using a combination of EarthWorld screenshots, original artwork, and even a character from a different game (the horse on the title screen is actually the Nazgul from Parker Brothers' Lord of the Rings game). Also, the inventory objects are too detailed for the system’s hardware, and (on close inspection) the player’s character reveals a green background pixel from the original EarthWorld screen the character was taken from.
† Everyone knows both the games and the contest failed to deliver on what was promised. The games were not fun to play and - with the exception of WaterWorld - proved too hard to solve within the timeframe of the contest. The comic books were really all one needed to obtain the correct clues and enter the contest. Atari also failed to release all the games within the 1-year timeframe they originally stated - between Fall 1982 and Fall 1983 as stated on the EarthWorld contest entry form. Although EarthWorld and FireWorld were released within 6 months of each other (October 1982 and February 1983 respectively), WaterWorld wasn't available until October 1983 (it was supposed to be released in June), and only as an Atari Age exclusive. The contest playoff for WaterWorld was also delayed, most likely because the game was much easier to solve and more people entered the contest. By the time Warner sold Atari (in July 1984) the WaterWorld contest still hadn't been held and AirWorld was far from being finished. Later that same year, copies of WaterWorld were available in discount bins for only a few dollars.
† Perhaps some homebrew programmer(s) will take up the challenge of fixing the games (particularly EarthWorld and FireWorld), making them more playable and the solutions more logical. The games could have been connected to the comics more accurately, perhaps by putting objects in rooms as shown in the comics. More action sequences could be added, such as one for every room. Lastly, some sort of ending screen could be created for completing the games.
† The Angry Video Game Nerd, James D. Rolfe, devoted an episode to the SwordQuest contest, featuring some of the photos from this article:
† This article was intended as a companion to Walton C. Gibson and Keita Iida's incredible SwordQuest Archive of Adventure webpage that featured Russ Perry Jr.'s SwordQuest solution articles, which originally appeared in the 2600 Connection newsletter and were revamped by Lafe Travis. Special thanks to Russ Perry Jr., Luc Pycke, James Schweitzer, George Pérez, John Hardie, Tod Frye, Howard Scott Warshaw, John-Michael Battaglia, James Amrein, Anthony Sandridge, and Dan Amrich.
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