James Schweitzer interview

By Scott Stilphen

James was one of the finalists of Atari's SwordQuest EarthWorld contest, and was kind enough to share his experiences and photos of the event.


Q: What are your recollections of the contest?

James Schweitzer: It's been nearly 20 years, but I remember a little.  I was the only one under 18, so I got to bring my parents along. I also needed to get an excuse to miss two days of school.  After my first cross-country plane flight, Atari put us up in nice hotel and took us out to dinner.  Almost forgot that they met us at the airport in a limo.  The next day, I kind of remember a group breakfast at headquarters and then a tour.  I remember a development lab with equipment from some of their competitors and a rough prototype of some of their new computers (maybe an Atari 1200XL).  There was a game room where you didn't need quarters to play.

Eventually we had the actual 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.  I didn't do very well and really didn't pay attention to the award ceremony.  I perked up when they gave each of us a $50 gift certificate to the company store.  I got Centipede and an Atari mug.  At some point they bought us tickets to a theme part (Great America?) and we spent some time there.  Kind of spotty, but memories are fading.

I dug my certificate out a couple of months ago to prove to the techno kids I manage that I can geek with the best of them.  I may have some other stuff in the garage, but it'll take a while to dig it out.

James’ EarthWorld certificate

Q: How many (numerical) clues did you uncover in the game?

James Schweitzer: Three or four.  I just guessed at "Talisman" and got lucky.  Truthfully, I found the first four clues in the comic book before I found them in the game.  I didn't find them all until one of the contestants (I forget which) sent a solution later. 

Q: Were all the prizes there (displayed)?  

James Schweitzer: I only remember the Talisman. 

Q: How many clues did you find in the contest version?

James Schweitzer: None.  I remember a sheet of clues they gave us to work through the game.  I probably would have done significantly better if I knew the Zodiac.  I'll put the clue sheet on my search list. 

Q: Did you keep in touch with any of the other contestants?

James Schweitzer: Back then the only communication was mail, phone, and some BBS's.  I have most everyone's address, but again, it is either hidden in the garage or lost.  I remember the guy that won was from West Virginia and recently lost his job.  I'll see what else I can find.  Somewhere I have their names and addresses.  It's just a matter of finding all of it.

Q: How did the other contestants treat you then, being that you were the youngest? 

James Schweitzer: I was treated very well, both by the fellow contestants and the people at Atari.  My parents probably felt the most out of place being somewhat older than everyone else.  They liked the trip to California.  The earthquake was a bit scary (night before the contest).

Q: What did your folks think about you getting into the finals?

James Schweitzer: My parents were very happy about me getting into the finals.  They still brag about it.  They took a lot of pictures and I'm hopeful they can dig them up.

Winner Steven Bell holding Talisman – picture courtesy of Video Games

Q: How did you and the others react when Steven won? 

James Schweitzer: I think everyone was happy Steven won.  He needed it the most.  I'd be interested to find out what happened to the rest of the people.  We range from mid-thirties to over fifty now.

I found a promotional calendar pyramid.  There are three nested with various statements.  The pyramids fold out flat.  The pyramids nest inside of each other.  Jan-April on top, May-Aug in the middle, and Sept-Dec on the inside plus a note.  They were decorations at the contest.  I think we stripped the room bare when it was over.

Promotional SwordQuest calendar pyramids

The following photos are James’ personal photos, which he was kind enough to scan in:

Finalists posing in front of Atari's Consumer Computer Division building at 1196 Borregas Ave building in Sunnyvale, CA.


For comparison, here's photos of the same sign as it looked during Atari Corp.'s time (LEFT), and in 2020 (RIGHT).


Players receive instructions prior to contest


Contest underway!


Players posing in center of contest area


Close-up of game station


For more information, check out our SwordQuest Archive of Adventure and Revisited articles.

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