The Swordquest series of games for the Atari 2600 were very ambitious for their time, in that tie-in competitions to win 4 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 4 winners, (who were to face off against each other for said final prize). The 4 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).
For Earthworld, only 8 of 5,000 contest entrants found the correct 5 clues needed, with the first place winner being Stephen Bell of Detroit, taking home the coveted Talisman of Penultimate Truth (though, sadly it has been reported that he had the backplate melted down for cash, keeping only the model sword that originally sat on the front). However, in the case of Fireworld, more than 50 contestants (50 being the planned cap) answered correctly, and a preliminary tiebreaker was held to choose which 50 would go through; for this tiebreaker, entrants were asked to write what they liked best about the game, with the people with the best answers going forward. Of the 50 who made it through, Michael Rideout reigned victorious, and took home the Chalice of Light. Waterworld, as mentioned earlier, was subject to a limited release due to the 1983 video game crash, and as a result of said crash, the competition to win the Crown of Life was prematurely cancelled. Airworld was cancelled entirely, and as such, was never released (nor was the competition for said game ever held).
The location(s) of the unawarded prizes remains 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), however no hard evidence to support this theory has ever surfaced. No prototypes of Airworld have ever turned up, though there have been several claims made by various parties that such a prototype exists, some even providing photographs, although their validity, too, has never been proven.
The creative direct of Swordquest, Tod Frye has stated that Airworld was intended to be based upon the I Ching (an ancient Chinese text), with 64 rooms, each room represented by a six digit number (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. Whether a somewhat-playable prototype does indeed exist, (or is simply the product of rumor), as well as the location of the 3 unawarded prizes, remain 2 of the biggest video game mysteries of all time.