The Ultimate Search for the Ultimate Treasure
April 3, 2006 4:25 PM   Subscribe

In the ancient year 1982, Atari tried an unusual promotion strategy for their SwordQuest series of games. Using clues found in the included comic books, players competed for a chance to win actual jewel-encrusted treasures [geocities link] worth tens of thousands of dollars apiece. The competitions for the first two titles (Earthworld and Fireworld) were held, and the winners took home their gaudy prizes, but then came the infamous console crash. The third contest (Waterworld) was cancelled, the fourth game (Airworld) was never officially produced, the promotion was called off, and to this day, no one knows for certain the fate of the remaining treasures.
posted by Durhey (19 comments total)
Kevin Costner completed the last game.
posted by sharksandwich at 4:30 PM on April 3, 2006

Cache for the Geocities link. Pictures are busted.

Very interesting post, though. Thanks.
posted by interrobang at 4:34 PM on April 3, 2006

I was totally sucked into this promotion - the comicbooks, the 4 game epic, everything. My childhood innocence was shattered upon finding the first game was unplayably bad.
posted by Nelson at 4:37 PM on April 3, 2006

No amount of gold could buy back the time I wasted playing Earthworld. What a horrible, horrible "game."

E.T. was better.
posted by bondcliff at 4:42 PM on April 3, 2006

I never got acknowledgment of my world-record E.T. on Activision's Dragster either.

posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:49 PM on April 3, 2006

I thought Jack Tramiel has the grand prize golden sword displayed his living room. It's probably perched on top of a stack of Atari 1600XLs and 1450XLDs.
posted by meehawl at 4:50 PM on April 3, 2006

Incidentally, I spent some time working at "Atari" not long ago, and put forth a little effort into finding out what happened to the remaining treasures (with the professed intent to hold another promotion related to DnD Online (but actually I was just curious)). No one who worked there could say with certainty, but the common explanation is, as meehawl says, that Jack Tramiel has the sword still.

I like to think the treasures among the cartridges in the E.T. landfill, waiting to be discovered by the one true king who will lead Atari back to the forefront of the game industry.
posted by Durhey at 4:58 PM on April 3, 2006

*Sigh*, mid-80s George Perez art I hadn't seen before! It was like skimming a never released issue of Crisis On Infinite Earths.
posted by kimota at 5:26 PM on April 3, 2006

I, too, was suckered into this cycle of games. At the time, I was living with my mother and brother in government housing, living off of food stamps and the like. We had an Atari only by virtue of my uncle having given his to us after he bought a Coleco.

With money so tight, I played this night and day, thinking I could make something out of myself at the only thing I really seemed to be good at. Alas, the fall of the series meant I was to never realize my dream.

Also, the games sucked monkey-balls.
posted by thanotopsis at 5:35 PM on April 3, 2006

Gah! Nothing but bad memories.

Earthworld was just... so... l.a.m.e.

Intellivision had AD&D and AD&D:Treasure of Tarmin. Both great games (I loved Tarmin). Too bad I didn't have an Intellivision and got scammed by this piece of crap for my 2600.

If the topic of conversation ever turns to old video games and the causes of "the crash", I always mention Earthworld and ET in the same breath.
posted by C.Batt at 5:36 PM on April 3, 2006

I remember this game series. Where I grew up, we had a place that would let us play before we bought a game. Big mistake. They probably lost more on E.T. and Swordquest than just about anyone - except, of course, for the people who actually bought and played them.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:09 PM on April 3, 2006

From the winner of the Swordquest: Fireworld contest...

MR: Sure. I'm 39 years old. I'm not married. I'm a computer programmer for a company that writes software for real-estate companies. I enjoy reading fantasy and science-fiction, and watching videos, TV shows, and movies like Star Trek and Babylon 5.

Wow. Who wudda thunk?
posted by milnak at 6:12 PM on April 3, 2006

I had Fireworld. My tiny child brain was kinda amused by the comic, but the game was frickin' terrible.
posted by selfnoise at 6:40 PM on April 3, 2006

&client&btnG&btnGWhoa. I had totally forgotten about this. Great post, it brings back memories...

Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, George Perez, Dick Giordano, Neil Pozner, Adrienne Roy, Adam Kubert - all names I recognize. I'm not sure what that says about me. Supernerd, I guess.

Comics aside, I wanted to win.

BTW, nostalgia is just a google search away...
posted by djeo at 8:23 PM on April 3, 2006

Dammit, preview and everything.
posted by djeo at 8:24 PM on April 3, 2006

There were comic books with clues? I was given Earthworld one xmas and it never made one iota of sense to my naive country-boy brain. It has bugged me to this very day.
Now I finally know why.
posted by strawberryviagra at 8:39 PM on April 3, 2006

One of my friends, Ken VanMersbergen was working closely with a former Atari programmer to finish off this project. My understanding is that the project was a go but eventually he got a cease and desist order. I got him a Mefi membership way back when. I'll email him and see if he can respond here. The guy is a walking Atari history book.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:38 PM on April 3, 2006

My favorite part of the SwordQuest link:
The Talisman [reward for Earthworld] was made of 18K solid gold, with 12 diamonds and the birthstones of the twelve Zodiac signs embedded in it, as well as a small sword made of white gold attached to the front. At the time of the contest, the Talisman was valued at $25,000. Steven Bell [the winner] melted down the Talisman in order to pay for school.
posted by moonbiter at 11:30 PM on April 3, 2006

If my comics were catalogued in any meaningful way, I could find these.
posted by poppo at 6:37 AM on April 4, 2006

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