|Secret Quest was the first of several releases by Atari Corp. at the end of the 2600's life that were contracted through Axlon, Nolan Bushnell's company. Atari capitalized on this affiliation by putting Nolan's picture on the Secret Quest box and cartridge itself, implying that he himself had written the game. In actuality, Nolan acted more as a producer or designer. He came up with the general idea for the game and made comments for improvements and changes as the games were developed.
To give some background on the Axlon/Atari-Corp connection, Steve DeFrisco noted that at the time Atari asked Axlon if anyone could write any 2600 games, Nolan bluffed and told him yes before he even knew if any of his staff were up to the task. (Axlon was desperate for money and were not about to turn an opportunity away.) Steve volunteered without having any previous experience with the system, and quickly ramped up to speed while writing this game. Steve later wrote two more 2600 titles, Motorodeo, and Klax.
Axlon actually did employ at least one ex-Atari 2600 coder, Tod Frye, who was called upon to write the unreleased Save Mary and Shooting Arcade.
Nolan asked Steve to create something in reaction to Nintendo's Zelda adventure game. Steve's solution was to place the game in a futuristic scenario and use simple color coding tricks on the rooms (like Adventure and Superman) to give the impression of an expansive world.
Technically speaking, Secret Quest is most notable in that it is one of the few 2600 games to use a pass-code feature. The first 2600 game to do so is Starpath's Survival Island. Secret Quest is a 16K game with the SARA Superchip for 256 bytes of extra RAM. Most of the final 2600 games used this configuration. This gave the game the ability to have a larger, more persistent world.