Thursday, February 18, 2010

A mystery from the past explained...?

When I was little kid back in the 1980s I was introduced to video games by way of the Atari 2600 owned by my older brothers. I have a lot of very fond (but equally hazy) memories of sitting in my parents' den playing games like Yar's Revenge, Vanguard, Adventure, and Hero on a black and white TV. 1 Those games were freakin' awesome, and I honestly think that early video games were great stimuli for young imaginations. Seriously, how else but through incredible mental effort could you assign coherent meaning to games like this? Coming up with a storyline to go along with the action onscreen was half the fun.

That being said, my younger years were haunted by a pair of bizarre games that I never understood at all. SwordQuest: Earthworld and SwordQuest: Fireworld both seemed like they ought to be awesome. The cartridges were adorned with pictures of an armored hero and heroine brandishing impressive looking weapons and the games even came with cool, full-color comic books. 2 Unfortunately the gameplay itself was completely indecipherable, to the point that I defy anyone to fire up a ROM of either of them without reading any hints or tips online and actually figure out what in the holy hell is going on. You spent the entire game wandering through differently colored rooms, occasionally finding yourself in a too-bizarre-to-describe action sequence, then you'd go back to more wandering. As far as I can remember you couldn't actually die...but you couldn't ever really progress either. I'd eventually give up, only to return to the game a few weeks later and repeat the process.

I didn't find out until I was 25 years old that the Swordquest games were actually part of a high stakes real-life contest, but even then the mystery only deepened. It turns out that the Swordquest games really are the stuff of gaming legend, and the truth behind them is weirder than any story my young mind ever concocted to explain the motivations of few moving pixels. With that I'll defer to the always hilarious James Rolfe, because this week he's posted a gut-busting video in which he explores, and explains, the real world mystery that is Swordquest.

Check it out.


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1.) I also utterly destroyed any collector's value that the joysticks may have otherwise held by mercilessly chewing on them.

2.) The Fireworld comic in particular burned it's way (har, har) into my impressionable young mind. For reasons I can't explain, the briefly-shown blue centaur stuck with me for years.

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