Jack Tramiel and the quest for the golden sword

By Mike on 7:39 pm

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A video gaming legend has passed away this week. Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore and former CEO of Atari, has died at age 83. The man was famous for bringing the world the legendary Commodore 64, one of the firstr gaming PCs available to the average consumer. However, elite gamers may know him for an entirely different legend. One involving a quest for a golden sword. A SwordQuest if you will.

In the early 80s, Atari was the king of video games. Prior to Major League Gaming, they held their own pro level contests to find the best of the best. Perhaps the most famous was SwordQuest. The contest began in 1982 with a series of four games planned for it. Gamers who joined the Atari fan club received a t-shirt and would receive each game as soon as it launched. The games also shipped with their own DC comic book tie-in.

SwordQuest as a rudimentary precursor to Zelda type adventure games
The four games were based on the ancient elements of the cosmos: Earthworld, Fireworld, Waterword, and Airworld. The structure of the games were based on ancient symbols; the zodiac, tree of life, chakra, and I Ching respectively. It being on the Atari 2600, a lot was left to the player's imagination. That's what made games a lot more magical back then.

Gameplay was basically the same for all four One had to navigate rooms, collect items, and find clue words. These clues were hidden in the companion comic. They would then have to be arranged in the correct sentence. Those who got it would compete at a finals event at Atari HQ. The champions were given custom cartridges and had 90 minutes to find as many clues as possible. The winner would receive a fabulous prize.

A clue in Earthworld directs the gamer to page 16, panel 4 of the comic. The clue is "SPIRE".
In today's game contests, you might win a grand, or a free collector's edition. Atari was serious back then. No plastic trinkets or trips to Hawaii. SwordQuest winners would receive authentic jewel encrusted swag, valued at $25,000 each.

The prizes, clockwise from top left: Talisman of Penultimate Truth, Sword of Ultimate Sorcery, Chalice of Light, Crown of Life, Philosopher's Stone
The winner of Earthworld received a solid gold talisman studded with diamonds, a white gold sword, and the twelve birth stones. Steven Bell took home the prize. Unfortunately, it was forever lost when Bell melted it down and solid it to a coin dealer. Only the sword pin remains.

The winner of Fireworld received a platinum chalice with gold base. It was adorned with citrines, diamonds, green jade, pearls, rubies, and sapphires. Michael Rideout won the chalice and still owns it to this day.

Winners of Waterworld were suppose to receive a gold crown, also adorned with rare gems. Then the video game crash of 1983 hit. Production of SwordQuest games stopped. Two semi-final winners of the Waterworld contest received $15,000 each. The finals for the crown were never held.

After that, Atari stopped the contest. Had it continued, winners of Airworld would have been given a white jade "Philosopher's Stone". It was to come in a jewel encrusted, solid gold box.

Both the crown and the stone did exist. They were on display at the previous three competitions. However, neither captured gamers' imaginations quite like the grand price: the titular sword.

When the four contests were over, the previous grand champions would have a chance compete for the ultimate prize. The Sword of Ultimate Sorcery featured a solid silver blade and solid gold hilt. The hilt was also covered with rare gems. This ultimate prize was valued at $50,000, or over $100,000 today.

A rare photo of the legendary lost sword. It was rumourned to be owned by former Atari CEO Jack Tramiel.
When Atari filed for bankruptcy during the crash, the three remaining prizes disappeared. Then Jack Tramiel bought the company and restructured it. The whereabouts of the sword, crown, and stone have remained unknown up to this day. However, rumours persisted that Jack Tramiel was in possession of at least one, if not all these missing prizes.

Some people claim to have seen the sword  hanging in Tramiel's house. However, none of these reports have been confirmed. Tramiel repeatedly denied he was in possession of the items.

So gaming's greatest mystery persists. Now that Tramiel has passed on, we may finally find out if he did indeed hold on to these legendary relics of games past. That is if his estate chooses to share that information. Until then, the quest continues. 

If you want to know more about this contest, check out Cinemassacre's Angry Video Game Nerd special on SwordQuest.