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SwordQuest - Angry Video Game Nerd - Episode 88

The Nerd: Once upon a time, video games were more than games. They were adventures. I'm talkin' about the Swordquest games for the Atari 2600. They were based on the four ancient elements of the cosmos, Swordquest: Earthworld, Fireworld, Waterworld - (The poster of the movie appears) we're not talkin' about the Kevin Costner movie - and at last, there was going to be Airworld. In these games, the player navigates through a series of mystical chambers in search of hidden treasures. But you weren't just playing a game, you were on a real adventure searching for real treasures. Atari was giving out prizes, and we're not talkin' about cheap plastic little things you get from a McDonald's happy meal. No man, this was real stuff. Here's how it worked.

The Nerd: First, you'd have to buy the games, which all came out one at a time. If you became a club member, they'd mail you a T-shirt, along with the games as soon as they got released. Not to mention, each game came with a poster, and a DC comic book. The games were all about finding clues. So you'd write down all the clues, and send them to Atari. Those who found the most, would go to Atari headquarters to compete in the finals. Here, they'd have custom made versions of the game which the players had 90 minutes to finish. Whoever finished first, would win the prize. The winner of Earthworld got a talisman made of 18 carat solid gold studded with 12 diamonds and the birthstones of the 12 Zodiac signs. The winner of Fireworld got a chalice made of Platinum and Gold studded with Diamonds, Rubies, Sapphires, Pearls and Green Jade. The winner of Waterworld would get a crown made of Gold decorated with Diamonds, Rubies, Sapphires and Aquamarines. The winner of Airworld would get a Philosopher's stone, a large piece of white Jade encased in an 18 carat gold box endorned with Emeralds, rubies and diamonds. Damn.

The Nerd: According to Atari's advertising campaign, these prizes were valued at $25,000 each. But that wasn't all. The four winners would come back for one final competition, and the winner of that would win a jewel encrusted sword with an 18 carat gold handle and a silver blade covered with Diamonds, Emeralds, Sapphires and Rubies. The sword was valued at $50,000. In total, that's $150,000 worth of treasures! And this was in 1982 and '83, so you can balance that out.

The Nerd: Not since the medieval times have I heard of a treasure quest of this magnitude! It gets ya really excited to play the games, so that's what I call a promotion. (The gifts start appearing around the Nerd) You'd be wearin' your Swordquest T-shirt, with your comic books and posters, drinkin' outta your gold chalice with your crown, Philosopher's stone and sword, and not to mention your Swordquest video gaming cartridges exclusive from Atari.

The Nerd: Well, too bad the contest is all over, so there's not much point in playing the games today. If you picked up one of these games right now with no instruction manual and no explanation, you wouldn't have any idea what to do. Every time you go to the next room, it sounds like an explosion.


The Nerd: That's what so great about Atari. Something as simple as going through a door is an event. (Goes to another room and the colors flash in front of him; fakes being blown backwards from the awesomeness)

The Nerd: Every room's a different color, and there's no end. It just keeps going and going. If you look at the manual, you'll see that each room represents a sign from the Zodiac, and if you keep moving, you'll come around full circle. But there's only so many colors, so it's easy to confuse Aries with Libra, or Capricorn with Leo.

The Nerd: Each room has a hidden chamber where you find treasures. But sometimes, before you get to the treasure, you have to pass through a nuclear waterfall, or jump on laser rafts. These kind of games, you gotta use a lot of imagination. When you get to a treasure chamber, you can pick up items or drop them. By putting the right combination of items in a certain room, you'll trigger a clue.

(Clue displays on his screen)

The Nerd: Whoa! Now what could that mean? Hmm... 16, 4. The comic book. (he opens the comic) Page 16, panel 4. I don't see anything - whoa, wha-! (finds a hidden word in the panel) Wow! (He writes down the word and continues playing and finding more clues)

The Nerd: There's ten hidden words, and they're supposed to make a sentence. But five of them are bogus. The only way to figure out which are the right words, is to find a subliminal hint on the first page. The words "prime" and "number" are a different color than the rest, so this means you only use the clues that are prime numbers. Lemme tell ya, in 1982, people had a lot of time on their hands and a lot of creativity to figure this out. Out of 5000 entries, only eight gamers got the right sentence. The winner was 20-year old Steven Bell. Good work, man.

The Nerd: The second game, Fireworld, was basically the same principle, except this time, the rooms are laid out to follow the Tree of Life. The only things that are very different from the first game, are the action sequences. What are we doing here? Hitting birds with a pole? Throwing knives? Now you're actually steering knives into a... a turkey club sandwich. This part, you're like a black eagle shooting bullets at snakes! All with glorious Atari sound effects.

The Nerd: I think this game was a little easier than Earthworld, because this time, over 50 gamers found all the clues. So Atari had sort of a tie breaker where they made everyone write down what they liked about the game. (writing on a notebook and speaking with a sarcastic tone) "Damn, that's a good game! Gee whiz, I sure love that game!" And somehow, based on those answers, they narrowed it down to 50 contestants. Michael Rideout was the final winner, and received the golden chalice.

The Nerd: The third game, Waterworld, is when the shit hit the fan. The infamous Video Game Crash of 1983 was taking effect, and Waterworld was released in a limited quantity, making this an extremely rare game. It had only seven rooms, significantly less than the previous games. This time, it was based on the Chakra structure. Appropriately, its action scenes all had something to do with water. Either you're tryin' to swim around sharks, dodge squids, or hop on icebergs.

The Nerd: The contest never happened. Atari's financial problems led them to sell the company, and pull the plug on the whole thing. The fourth game, Airworld, is just what it is - Air. It never got made, though a prototype has been rumored and even hoaxed. It's a very sad end to what could've been the greatest gaming event in history. An adventure series with rooms based off mythology? Came with comic books? A chance to win real treasures?! And then it all vanished.

The Nerd: The biggest mystery of all, is whatever happened to the remaining treasures? Eyewitness accounts and pictures prove that they all existed, because they were on display during the competition. But where are they now? The guy who bought Atari was a guy named Jack Tramiel. Some comments online from people in the business have said that they've seen the sword hanging in Tramiel's living room. There's no pictures or any hard evidence to support this, but if he does have the sword, it's most likely he has the crown, and the Philosopher's Stone as well.

The Nerd: Somebody's gotta find out. The real Swordquest is the quest for that sword, and the other treasures. They belong in the hands of gamers who earned them! Y'know, everybody who put those games in their Ataris had a chance of winning. It was something to dream about. But that dream's been thrown down the toilet. It's 30 years later, but I say, the contest must go on! Finish the last game! You can't have Earth, Fire, and Water without Air! The balance of the cosmos must be restored! The true bearer of that sword must be found! The kingdom of Nerddom depends on it!