The following is reprinted from a Usenet post by Michael Rideout, winner of the original Swordquest: Waterworld contest held by Atari in the 1980's:
"As Walton C. Gibson said, Steven Bell won the
Earthworld contest and was awarded the Medallion. I was told that he took
it to a coin dealer and had it melted down. He got about $15,000 for it,
which was about $10,000 less than its stated value of $25,000. But the
price of gold had dropped, and the EarthWorld Medallion was almost all
gold (except for the gemstones for the twelve signs of the zodiac, which
couldn't have been worth very much). Also, Steven kept the miniature sword
which was on the face of the Medallion, so the money he got for it didn't
include the value of the sword.
I won the Fireworld contest and was awarded the Chalice. When they took my picture, I felt like I'd run an endurance race, and I could barely stand up, which is why I look like I'm about to keel over in the picture they took. I still have the "cheesy Fireworld t-shirt" in my closet, and the Chalice is in a safety deposit box in a bank vault. I was told that its value when I won it was over $21,000 or $22,000 (I forget the exact figure). I was more fortunate than Steven, because half of the value of the Chalice is in the platinum cup and the gemstones which decorate the gold base, so even though the price of gold had dropped, the Chalice didn't depreciate as much as the Medallion had.
The Waterworld game was manufactured, but it was sold exclusively through the Atari Club. However, Warner Communications bought Atari before the Waterworld contest was held, and apparently Warner decided to discontinue the Swordquest contests. The Waterworld contest was never held. When Atari discontinued the contests, Steven and I each received compensatory checks for $15,000, and the 15(?) Waterworld qualifiers each received compensatory checks for $2,000(?). I'm not positive about the number of Waterworld qualifiers, but I believe it was 15 (see the next paragraph). I'm also not sure if the $2,000 figure is correct; it may have been $3,000 or even $5,000. All of my notes and documents related to Swordquest are stashed in a box somewhere, and it was over ten years ago, so my memory is a bit hazy.
Some of the Swordquest participants were upset about changes in the contest rules. I think the original plan was to allow 50 people in each of the four contests; the winners of the four contests would then compete for the Sword in a final contest, which I think was going to consist of playing all four contest versions of the games, one after the other. I don't know how many people were in the EarthWorld contest (which I didn't qualify for), but I think it was less than 50. Over 50 people qualified for the FireWorld contest, so they used a tie-breaker to narrow it down to 50. (We had to write a paragraph saying what we liked about the game, and 50 people were picked on the basis of the answers.) When the Waterworld game was sold through the Atari Club, Atari reduced the number of potential contestants to 15, or something like that,
which upset some people. I only just remembered this, so it isn't mentioned in the interview I had with John Hardie.
The Swordquest contests were indeed a "fiasco" for Atari, in my opinion. I think they'd hoped the contests would generate excitement and boost their sales. The contests did generate excitement, but the effect on their sales may have been less than anticipated. However, I don't know anyone who worked at Atari, so that's speculation on my part. I didn't qualify for Waterworld (and I don't think Steven did, either), and the Crown didn't appeal to me that much anyway, but I thought the Philosopher's Stone was gorgeous, and I would have loved to have won it in the Airworld contest. I don't know what became of the Crown, Philosopher's Stone, or Sword, but I'd guess that they were either sold
or melted down by Atari to help recoup financial losses, with part of the money being paid to Steven, myself, and the Waterworld qualifiers. However, that's also speculation on my part. John Hardie may have found out whatever became of those prizes.
As for the games themselves, each game was easier than the ones preceding it, with EarthWorld being the hardest, and Waterworld the easiest. The number of rooms in each game was fewer than the games before it; EarthWorld had 12 rooms, FireWorld had 10 rooms, and Waterworld had 7 rooms. Since the clues were triggered by leaving different objects in different rooms, each game had fewer permutations to check than the ones preceding it. Also, the EarthWorld clues had to be triggered in a particular order, so each time you found a clue, you had to go back and start trying all the combinations over again. The FireWorld and Waterworld clues could be triggered in any order, so once you'd tried a particular combination, you didn't have to try it again. Finally, there was no pattern to the EarthWorld clues; one clue might require one object in one room, another might require two objects in one room, and another might require one or more objects in two or more different rooms. There was a pattern to the FireWorld clues, with four objects having to be in one room, and one other object having to be in another room. The Waterworld clues were the easiest to trigger, because you could have any four of seven different objects in a particular room. I suspect that each game was deliberately made easier to "win" than the ones preceding it, because Atari realized that they were too difficult for people to figure out (more speculation on my part).
The EarthWorld maze was circular, patterned after the twelve signs of the zodiac. Each room had four exits. The top exit led to the previous sign in the zodiac circle, and the bottom exit led to the next sign in the zodiac circle. For example, if you were outside the Taurus room and took the top exit, it would take you to the outside of the Aries room. If you were outside the Taurus room and took the bottom exit, it would take you to the outside of the Gemini room. The left and right exits connected signs of the same element (i.e., Fire, Earth, Air, or Water), provided you had the Key. Thus, the left exit of the Aries room led to Sagittarius, and the right exit of the Aries room led to Leo, that is, forward (right exit) or backward (left exit) four signs in the zodiac circle.
The FireWorld maze was more complicated, but I figured out that it was patterned after the Tree of Life in the Jewish Kaballah, because I'd seen the Tree of Life figure in books about how to read Tarot cards. The 10 rooms were arranged in three triangles, with one room by itself at the bottom. The rooms were connected to each other by paths, as in the Tree of Life, with different rooms having different numbers of exits. Some doorways were hidden unless you had the Chalice.
The Waterworld maze was simply seven rooms, one on top of the other. I don't if this was supposed to represent anything in particular. However, since the EarthWorld maze was patterned after the zodiac circle, and the FireWorld maze was patterned after the Tree of Life-- both of which have mystical significance-- the Waterworld maze may have been patterned after the orbits of the seven classical "planets" (the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), which at one time were thought of as seven levels of the heavens, like seven concentric circles with the Earth at the center. But that's just speculation on my part."