Swordquest: Airworld (lost build of cancelled Atari 2600 game; 1983)
A fan's mock-up of what the box art might have looked like.
The Swordquest series of games for the Atari 2600 were very ambitious for their time, in that tie-in competitions to win four separate prizes each worth $25,000 formed the basis of each game, with a final prize worth $50,000 to be awarded to one of the previous four winners after facing off against each other for said prize. However, the video game crash of 1983 led to the contest being ended prematurely, and the final game in the series, Airworld, was never released.
History and Development
The four games planned for the series were as follows:
- Earthworld, released October 1982; contest prize was the $25k Talisman of Penultimate Truth.
- Fireworld, released February 1983; contest prize was the $25k Chalice of Light.
- Waterworld, released February 1983 (in limited numbers due to the beginning of the 1983 video game crash); contest prize was to be the $25k Crown of Life.
- Airworld, which was never released due to the aforementioned 1983 crash; contest prize was to be the $25k Philosopher's Stone.
The winners of said prizes would then compete against each other for the $50k Sword of Ultimate Sorcery. The means of entering these competitions was to find clues scattered throughout the game (as well as in tie-in comic books, created by DC Comics, of which separate volumes were included with each game).
The first two competitions went off as planned, with the Earthworld talisman going to Steven Bell, and the Fireworld chalice going to Michael Rideout. However, Waterworld was subject to a limited release due to the 1983 video game crash, and the competition to win the Crown of Life was ultimately cancelled. Airworld ended up being cancelled entirely, and as such, was never released, nor was the competition for said game ever held.
The creative director of Swordquest, Tod Frye, has stated that Airworld was intended to be based on the I Ching (an ancient Chinese text), with 64 rooms, each room represented by a six digit number and each digit, in turn, representing an aspect of the room's environment, though this mechanic (which only ever reached the design phase), upon further study, had several combinations that would have rendered the game unplayable, and the idea was scrapped. The layout was then changed to that of 64 hexagonal rooms, each representing a separate mini-game, which the player would select after a short overhead flying stage.
Frye has also allegedly stated that the development team only managed to complete about 20% of the game before it was scrapped; it has also been confirmed that its respective comic book never even reached the writing stage.
The location(s) of the unawarded prizes remain unknown, although it has been rumored that the Sword of Ultimate Sorcery had once been seen hanging in the house of former Atari CEO Jack Tramiel (who purchased Atari in 1984), but no hard evidence to support this theory has ever surfaced. As for Airworld itself, no real prototypes have been released in any way. Several false/unverified claims have been made however, some even including fake photos of the cartridge.
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The five planned competition prizes.
Photo of the Sword of Ultimate Sorcery, as seen on display during the competition.
2005 photos of the Chalice of Light, courtesy of Michael Rideout.
Stephen Bell with the Talisman of Penultimate Truth.
- Article for the game series from Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 1 Oct '16.
- Digital Press page describing the history of the series. Retrieved 1 Oct '16.