Retronauts Micro 59: The return of Atari’s SwordQuest

Confession time: I had a dual motive in mind when I invited Chris Sims of War Rocket Ajax and The ISB to join us for the most recent episode of Retronauts. One, he knows a lot about Batman, making him a perfect foil for our Batman-centric episode. But also, he’s the cowriter of Dynamite Comics’ upcoming SwordQuest series. With issue Zero due out in a couple of weeks, now seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore one of the most fascinating game stories of the Atari 2600 era.

I don’t want to spoil the plot of this episode, but Atari intended for SwordQuest to comprise four separate games — episode gaming in the Bronze Age of the medium! — with incredibly valuable prizes attached to a complex set of puzzles tied to each game and its accompanying comic book. But, as has been the case with pretty much all episodic games not published by Telltale, the SwordQuest saga didn’t quite come to fruition… though in this case I’m gonna go ahead and say that wasn’t Atari’s fault. Or at the very least, that it was their fault for fomenting the circumstances that led to SwordQuest fizzling out, but that they really did have admirable intentions with this project.

In any case, the four-game SwordQuest series ultimately pooped out at three entries, and no one really knows what happened to the fabulous prizes that were created and promoted but never handed out. And that, in fact, is the real SwordQuest saga now; Chris’ comic project isn’t a continuation of the in-game story, but an exploration of the story around the games. It definitely sounds worth looking at, and I’m not just saying that because one of the writers was cool enough to join us for this episode.

Episode description: Jeremy and Benj discuss the history of Atari’s fascinating, extravagant, and incomplete SwordQuest series with (literally!) one of the authors of the game’s new comeback: Comics scribe Chris Sims.

MP3, 24.9 MB | 50:27
Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes
Retronauts at PodcastOne

As for music this time around… well, SwordQuest (being at Atari 2600 release) didn’t really have music to speak of, so I couldn’t pillage the game for interstitial tunes. But a chronicle is kind of like a quest, right? So I threw in some spacey jams from Hawkwind’s Chronicles of the Black Sword (which is about a totally different fantasy saga, namely Elric of Melnibone — but who’s counting?). Ah well, whatever. Enjoy.

Note: Sorry about the lack of an embedded stream in this post. Our host changed the layout of their pages sometime in the past few days and their embed option appears to have vanished! We’re looking into it.


Filed under Retronauts Micro

17 Responses to Retronauts Micro 59: The return of Atari’s SwordQuest

  1. hope

    Jesus, I know you quit your job for this, but it felt like this podcast was 50% advertising content. Generally when podcasts get a decent amount of patreon cash the advertising goes DOWN!

      • grossmann

        I have a comment/question on the advertising: do most of the companies give you guys leeway to record whatever you want? I personally find the ads quite entertaining (for advertisements) and appreciate that you put a unique/humorous spin on the whole thing.

        As long as you’ve got extraterrestrial robot overlords in your ads, I can live with them!

        • Yeah, as long as we hit our points and don’t do anything offensive/wildly off-brand, we’re free to treat ads as we see fit. So we try and make them feel like “us” (to the point that neither Bob nor I use each other’s scripts, since we have pretty different sense of humor). I’m glad it comes through!

    • aett

      You can skip ads at your convenience, dude, and then get back to enjoying your completely free product.

  2. Andrew E

    Chris Sims is a good guest. I’m glad you could have him on again, and hope he can come back again sometime. I’m sure he knows a thing or two about, or could at least provide context for various old wrestling games for instance.

  3. joedick

    OK, you can’t keep calling out the pedants then have an opening like that! This was another great episode on a topic I knew nothing about. Always nice to hear new voices and setups, though at the end of the day you and Bob compliment each other very well. Keep the great work coming!

  4. Lane

    I haven’t gotten through the entire podcast yet, but there’s a lot more details on the games and the championships (including an in depth interview with the guy who won the Fireworld chalice) at

  5. Greg Falkingham

    It’s probably worth mentioning for those who want to experience these games for themselves in full, the recently released Atari Flashback Classics vol. 1 for PS4 and XB1 have nicely digitized versions of the comics and instruction manuals. And if you want to be like Xzibit and have your retro inside your retro, this is also true of the Atari Anthology on PS2.

    The conceit of the new comic is wonderful, if arguably built on a false premise. No kid who actually played these games would have fallen in love with them and been obsessed with them that way. I can certainly understand being obsessed with the IDEA of these games though, because I was one of those kids. They were advertised quite a bit in the back of comic books, and while the contest didn’t interest me very much (not valid in Canada!), I was certainly familiar with D&D campaigns that took place over multiple modules. It was hard to parse just what the actual gameplay was like from such sparse information, so one’s imagination naturally filled in the gaps.

    When thinking of what legacy Swordquest might have left, I wonder if it didn’t pioneer the concept of trans-media in games. I’m thinking specifically of something like the original dot-HACK-sign series, which not only told its story across multiple volumes of games, but in Manga and anime as well. Overwatch does the same thing too; most of its story and lore can only be found in videos and comics outside of the game itself.

  6. ElectricWizard

    Quick question: it is not possible to comment on older podcasts? Just listened to the N64 episode and wanted to leave a comment.

    • To minimize spam posts, there’s a cutoff of a few weeks on commenting. Sorry!

      • ElectricWizard

        I understand. Already typed up something before registering and figuring out how to comment, so I’m just going to post it here. Hope that’s ok.

        Love(d) the N64, so enjoyed this. First Retronauts I listened to. I like the leisurely style of conversation and the knowledge you guys bring. Disappointed however that there was no talk of F-Zero X. An underrated gem that I consider one of the best racing games ever made. Still being played today for good reason. When the 64DD killer app was mentioned, I expected it to be the F-Zero Expansion Kit, because of the track editor.

        Mario 64 was pretty mind-shattering in its day. Here in Europe a Tekken 2 commercial ran on TV, in which Yoshimitsu did his signature teleportation move. It left my teen self hypnotized, so I went over to the game store for a PlayStation. As I walked in, I saw a TV that had Mario running around in 3D. And that was it right there: I became a N64 owner. No regrets. The N64 didn’t have the biggest library and certainly had its fair share of flaws. But man, it had some incredible stuff.

  7. Nathan Daniels

    Okay Parish, you get major points for “synthespian”. I love Tron; I was okay at the game, but my dad was something of a local champ at it(as well as Pooyan and Donkey Kong Jr.).

    The SwordQuest series was really interesting to hear about. I think I’ll pick up the comics. If nothing else, it makes me really interested in what they would have done with Yar’s Revenge, which in my mind is one of the best games of all time(although the more recent sequel makes me think some things are best left alone).

  8. aett

    I felt like I was going crazy when Jeremy was saying that they had never talked about SwordQuest on Retronauts before, until it finally hit me: Chris Kohler talked about it (contest and all) on an episode of Good Job, Brain! a little while back.

    Anyway, I’m glad that Retronauts got to discuss the games and the fascinating contest that surrounded them.

    I haven’t read it, but it’s interesting how Ready Player One seems to be either beloved or loathed by people. I got the Kindle version when it was on sale for about a dollar a while back, so I need to give it a shot one of these days.

  9. muteKi

    what if the real buried treasure was the carts of ET buried in alomogordo all along? well then that would suck. thanks for reading this comment.

  10. Kevin

    If I remember some documents from Airworld have turned up over the years – I think mainly the cover art?

    There was also an attempt years back at making a homebrew version of Airworld, complete with comic, for the 5200. I don’t believe it ever got terribly far along.