How does this sound to you? A four-part gaming series with a competition held at each release. If you can locate all five of the clues hidden within the game and the DC comic packaged with it, and if you have your contest entry mailed soon enough, you earn the right to be one of fifty competitors vying for a solid gold prize, specific to each game, valued at around $25,000. Sounds pretty nifty, eh? The catch: The console is the dying PlayStation One, the games are in the Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen franchise, the only way to catch wind of the third is to be a member of the Official Sony Fan Club, and the fourth never makes it past the planning stage. Still sound nifty?
Well, in 1982, such an event began. The then-not-even-thoughts Olsen twins were not involved, nor was the then-not-even-in-the-gaming-industry Sony. Instead, the series was called “Swordquest“, and it was for the aging Atari 2600, then well on its way out.
To counteract the ailment of age, Atari programmer Tod Fyre conjured up this brilliant contest to earn back gamers’ interest. The Adventure series (proposed sequels to the hit game Adventure; later changed to Swordquest) was to encompass four separate games over less than a handful of years. The games were to be called EarthWorld, FireWorld, WaterWorld, and AirWorld—each game representing one of the four basic elements of the cosmos.
To trigger the clues found within the retail version of EarthWorld, one had to find the correct items to place within the correct rooms. There was no set pattern in the way you’d do this; one clue might require one item in one room, another might require two items in one room, a third might require multiple items in multiple rooms. All in all, EarthWorld proved to be the most difficult game of the Swordquest saga, for all following games had a set pattern to their rooms, in an effort to make each easier to win than the original so more people would enter the contest.
The rooms of EarthWorld were fashioned in a circular pattern to mimic the twelve signs of the Zodiac. Within each room were four exits: the top leading to the previous sign of the Zodiac, the bottom leading to the next, the left going up four signs, and the right doing down four signs. For example, the left exit of the Aries room led to Sagittarius, and the right exit led to Leo.
The EarthWorld competition went off without a hitch on May 2, 1983. The seven finalists (weeded out from the original fifty via paragraphs written on why the participants liked their chosen game) met at the Atari headquarters in Sunnydale, CA. Each had their own television, Atari 2600 console unit (arranged in a circular pattern around a large, pentangle-shaped zodiac design floor), and specially programmed championship edition of EarthWorld. To the rear of each contestant was seated a judge, whose purpose was to follow their given contestant during the ninety minute time limit, through all eleven levels of play. The first gamers to complete the eleventh level would be declared winner; however, if the time limit expired, the player furthest along would be deemed champ.
An announcer boomed “Gentlemen, start your joysticks,” and the race was on. Matthew Balasa of Michigan pulled ahead immediately with not a player on his tail. Soon after, another Michigan native caught up, one Stephen Bell. Bell traded this first place with other race leader Steven Dousse of Louisiana for the tail end of the competition, with Bell conquering the eleventh level a mere forty-six minutes into the game, and was declared winner.
Steven Bell’s prize for winning the EarthWorld competition was a solid gold Talisman speckled with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and other precious gems. When he got home, Bell sold his prize to a coin dealer for $15,000, $10,000 less than its stated value. The medallion has since been melted down, the likes of which probably never to be seen again.
This concludes Part One of our ongoing Swordquest coverage. Be sure to take a sip next month when we learn more of the series’ second game, FireWorld, its Chalice of Light, and maybe answer the inevitable question: How do the Olsen Twins factor into all of this? You won’t want to miss it!