Wednesday, August 18, 2010

SwordQuest: Earthworld, an Atari 2600 experience (Part 1)

In 1982 I was beginning to end my love affair with all things Atari. While the 2600 was still my game system, and the games were increasing in quality, there were simply too many things conspiring against the game system, primarily the fact that arcade games were growing more and more polished and technologically advanced, and the 2600 was having a harder and harder time capturing even the essence of these games. As the 2600 was pushed to its ultimate limits just to present a version of a game that would be recognizable as the source material, the quality and fun suffered.

I had almost given up on my 2600 at this point, but was an official, card carrying member of the Atari Club (as an aside... is it just me, or has the concept of 'card carrying member' of clubs gone to the wayside? Neither of my kids have any club memberships that include a meaningless ID card. On the other hand, I've got my Pathfinder Society card and my DCI card on my nightstand. Hmm. Maybe the concept is just followng my generation around.)

One of the perks (the only perk?) of being a member of the Atari Club was that every so often you got a 'magazine' that was a thinly veiled product catalog. It was called 'Atari Age' and had silly puzzles and articles, and it was an interesting read for a few minutes when it came in the mail. I remember sending off my $1 membership fee in a security envelope that I got from my Dad's office, with the address scrawled in my trademark 'block capitals'. It was months before anything came of it, but eventually, the magazine started coming.

I can't remember which issue of the magazine announced the SwordQuest series of games, but the entire concept grabbed me... 4 games would be released, more complex that 'Adventure', and they would include a puzzle that if you solved it, you would win a real treasure! And, the 4 winners would be flown out to compete for a $50,000 gold and silver, jewel-encrusted sword!
Real treasures! worth $150,000!

11-year old me thought this was the greatest thing ever. I was good at games! I was smart! Nothing was going to stop me from beating SwordQuest: Earthworld (the first of the games to be released) and claim my Talisman. In fact, I had visions of winning *all four* games, so I'd get the Crown, the Chalice, and the Philosopher's Stone, and then of course winning the Sword by default.

I plotted and planned. There were some major issues, however, with my plan. I was 11 years old, and didn't have a lot of disposable income, and lived in a tiny town that didn't have a store dedicated to keeping the newest 2600 games in stock.

Eventually, Swordquest Earthworld made it to my town, and a couple of kids got it (I wasn't one of them). There was a brief time of jealousy and sneakiness, as the 'haves' taunted the 'have-nots' with how they were going to win the Talisman. Earthworld was a key part of recess discussions for a couple of weeks.

Then, the secrecy started to fall away. No one who had the game was getting anywhere. The game wasn't fun, and the clues weren't showing up. Soon, Earthworld cartridges started showing up as 'swaps' (We would bring carts to school and swap them with friends, either as actual trades, or loans). The people with them said that because they 'owned' the game, if any of us found the clues, they would be the ones that would win the prize. This didn't go over well, and SwordQuest somewhat fell out of favor.

I eventually got a borrowed copy of SwordQuest: Earthworld, but didn't have the comic and instruction book, and it was inscrutable at the time. I played at it for a few minutes, I believe, but then put it away.

Tomorrow, I'll post my experiences with Earthworld, as I'm going to play it. I am going to play until I uncover at least one clue. Depending on how long it takes to find the first clue, I may play longer. We'll just have to see.

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