With their EarthWorld competition now a piece of the past and winner Stephen Bell now $15,000 richer, Atari commenced phase two of their plot to reanimate their critically-conditioned console—the second part of their Swordquest saga, Swordquest: FireWorld.
Swordquest, for those readers either just joining or just deficient in memory, was the spiritual successor to Adventure, one of the most famous titles ever for the Atari 2600. Swordquest was to encompass four separate games, each representing one of the four basic physical elements—earth, fire, water, and air. Following each game’s U.S. release, an elaborate gaming competition was to be held at the Atari headquarters in Sunnydale, California, in which fifty Swordquest wizards would vie for one of four solid gold, jewel-encrusted prizes, valued by Atari at $25,000. The winner of each competition would then square off against one another in a cataclysmic championship bout for the titular $50,000 Sword of Ultimate Sorcery.
FireWorld was conceptually akin to its predecessor. The objective again was to match clues found in the game with those found in the accompanying DC comic book, and then mail a compiled clue list to Atari in hopes of a competition invitation. The game’s clues were uncovered by leaving specific items in specific rooms, and by closely examining the comic book’s panels. Relatively simple, no? The problem was that only six items could be carried at any one time, and to even collect an item in the first place meant engaging in an “action sequence”, in which the player was met with such mentally challenging tasks as not being hit by an enemy, using a little box to catch an enemy, or shooting at an enemy. Once the player had the items in hand, all that was needed for gaming glory was an understanding of the object-to-room pattern, and/or knowledge of the Jewish Kabbalah’s Tree of Life on which the game’s layout was based.
Atari received 73 contest entries from gamers who had “completed” their mundane game, weeded to fifty via the grading of an essay from each gamer detailing what made FireWorld appealing. Only a handful of gamers actually believed what they spewed forth to Atari. The fifty chosen finalists were flown by Atari to Sunnydale in January of 1984, two months after the competition’s originally scheduled date. From there the finalists were driven to a nearby Holiday Inn, where they waited with bated breath for the events of the following day.
Each participant in the FireWorld competition was assigned a television, a riddle sheet that would supposedly help them along the way, and a custom version of the game. Sources involved claim that this version was easier than that of retail, due to a decreased complexity in the item-to-room placement. A mere forty-five minutes into the melee the game was completed by one Michael Rideout, an Atari Club member from Aiken, South Carolina.
Michael Rideout never thought he stood a chance at winning the FireWorld competition. A failure at even qualifying for EarthWorld, Michael had never really “found” any but one of the clues in his home version of FireWorld—he merely scoured the comic book and hoped for the best. During the competition, Michael played just as he did at home, but this time with some success. Using his knowledge of the Kabbalic Tree of Life to help decipher room patterns, Michael Rideout sailed right through the game’s puzzles with relative ease. When Michael stumbled across the final clue, he was shocked beyond his own sense of balance, and Atari almost had to send for him an ambulance.
Michael Rideout’s prize for being the Mack Daddy of FireWorld: The Chalice of Light. Between 7 and 8 inches tall and adorned with rubies, sapphires, diamonds, pearls, citrines, and green jade, the gold and platinum chalice was manufactured by Franklin Mint and was worth about $3,400 less than Atari would have one believe. This piece of video game history currently resides in a South Carolina bank vault, where it will remain unless Michael becomes desperately lacking in funds.
Towards the tail end of his adventure, Michael Rideout was given the following advice by a group of former EarthWorld competitors: “Now, if Atari ever comes to you, make sure that you don’t agree to anything about canceling the contest.”
This concludes Part Two of our ongoing Swordquest coverage. Be sure to take a sip next month as we trudge on to the third game of the Swordquest saga, Swordquest: WaterWorld, and perhaps discover what was meant by the gaming veterans’ prophetic words. Rest assured: You’ll be remiss, if it you miss.