RPO Replay: Swordquest

The Ready Player One Replay is an ongoing exploration of the games that inspired the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Love it or hate it, there’s value in revisiting our geeky roots.

Quote

“You’re holding Swordquest: Earthworld,” I continued. “The first game in the Swordquest series. Released in 1982.” I smiled wide. “Can you name the next three games in the series?” — Ready Player One p. 43

Game Play

A blue-and-white figure stands in a red room. A brown-ish border surrounds the room. A green bar at the bottom of the screen includes inventory items.
An external room in Swordquest: Earthworld. Credit: Internet Archive

The spiritual successor to AdventureEarthworld features a similar crawl through a dungeon-esque landscape. This time around, instead of a square carrying an arrow that kills monster ducks while moving through mazes, you’re a more-or-less human-looking character venturing through a series of Zodiac-themed rooms and action sequences. Your goal is to find the Sword of Ultimate, the first step in a quest that should have spanned three additional games (Atari only completed two of those sequels; the final one fell victim to the 1983 video game crash).

The game includes a five-item inventory, special items used to unlock different rooms and clues, and a companion comic book. The in-game clues point to page numbers in the comic book, which in turn contain hidden text clues that help with the game.

The action sequences are mini-games that you need to beat to collect additional items – for example, the “Aquarius” room features waterfalls that you need to navigate through. This being the Atari 2600, the “waterfalls” are vertical, rainbow-colored lines with a small, moving opening. You need to navigate your character through these openings; touching (or getting touched by) the lines sends you back to the beginning of the room.

Impressions

I never played the Swordquest series as a kid – I scratched that itch by playing fantasy text adventure games like Colossal Cave and Zork on the Apple II+. Firing up Earthworld for the first time, I was lost. Based on my experience with Adventure, I expected to move through a series of rooms and corridors, with maybe a few open-ended areas to wander through.

I got the rooms alright – complete with north-south, east-west exits – but only the north-south passages worked. I quickly found myself endlessly scrolling through color-changing, but otherwise similar, rooms. Experimenting with pressing the action button brought up different kinds of screens:

  • An inventory-like room view, where you could pick up items
  • An action sequence where you needed to do … something.

My initial confusion led me to the Swordquest game FAQ, which does an excellent job of explaining the pixelated logic of this ancient game. Swordquest  us interesting from a proto-computer role-playing game perspective, but its gameplay didn’t grab me.

High Scores

  • My High Score: N/A

Resources

Where to Play

Commentary

 

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