Game 29: Avalanche (Atari, 1978)

Playing rules:

Difficulty: Factory default. Start: 3 Misses per game. Bonus: Extended play at 450 points. Extended Play: Enabled

Dip-Switch: 1-3=ON; 4=OFF; 5-6=Not Used; 7=ON; 8=OFF.


Current Record holders

1st: 2,453 - David Nelson - 2004
2nd: 1,334 - Jason Cram - 2004
3rd: 597 - Shawn Cram - 2004

1978 – When I were a lad, all this were fields – and by ‘eck it were grand. Lucky then that I was way too young to go anywhere near an arcade, because little did I know Atari had created the absolute terror that is “Avalance”.

Alright, alright – I can hear you from here; Absolute terror? Just look at that screenshot, it looks about as scary as a care bear in a trance. Well don’t you be fooled young traveller – this is by far the most stressful game I have played in years and if it doesn’t scare the bejesus out of you then you truly are dead inside – or at the very least you don’t have the sound turned up. We are still only in the “A’s” yet we’ve already had some bloody scary sound effects thrown at us along the way; well they are *nothing* compared to this game, believe me.

Anyway enough of that for now, think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts…aaaahhhhhh that’s better, thank you Felicity Kendall you can go now.

Where was I? Ah yes – 1978 (thirty years ago!).

Video games were still very much in their infancy all that time ago; one of the first recognised video arcade games, Space War, had only been out a year and Space Invaders was yet to arrive (albeit only by a matter of months), so realistically we should expect this early Atari effort to be quite simple. Well, simple we certainly get as you can see by the screenshot – in fact I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar looking game running on an oscilloscope. What’s an oscilloscope I hear you ask? Well, find yourself a scientist and ask him. Can’t find one? Ok, at the very least find a man with a beard, he’s sure to be able to tell you.

We also get simple with the controls; In fact if I didn’t know better (and I don’t) I would imagine quite a few PONG and Breakout spinners found their way back into the limelight with this game, as that’s all you get – no buttons, no joysticks, just a spinner. The control method isn’t the only familiar aspect either, the trusty pong bat is back, fresh from his last adventure “breaking out” and this time he’s brought some friends with him, six of the buggers altogether. What adventure could possibly require SIX pong bats for goodness sakes? Surely with that number you can take over the world!

Well, you see there is a major problem in pong-bat town (which is of course where they live in case you were wondering). Previously all the pong bats had to worry about was losing their precious ball, be it playing a nice game of tennis or fannying about vandalising walls. Well fuck your ball son, we are talking about a mother freakin’ AVALANCHE here. Why is it down to you bats to save the town? Well funny you should ask actually – y’see this is no ordinary avalanche with snow and shit, this is an avalanche of BALLS. Yeah that’s right, while we’ve been grafting dahn t’ pit doing proper jobs, sticking food on your table every night, you’ve been prancing about playing ball games all day long. Well now the tables are turned pal, time for you to earn your keep. Yeah ok, I know the avalanche won’t really effect us as we are underground in the pit as previously explained, but let’s not ruin the little story eh? If you want to question anything why not question who the hell “we” are, if not bats, and why are we looking after bats? Do bats even eat? Why are non bats living in pong-bat town at all as a matter of fact? Look, no time for that – avalanche on it’s way remember, loads of rocks about to plummet on our heads? There we go…ok, we better work out what we’re supposed to do i suppose.

The game is extremely simple. Using the spinner (or the mouse under MAME) you control all 6 bats at once, all tied together, and are able to go left and right as much as you like ( that’s all mind, don’t be getting greedy). The idea of the game is to simply prevent the “rocks” from reaching the bottom of the screen, which sounds easy enough – and it is. All of the rocks are visible from the off and they slowly start falling off one by one. Once you catch a rock it doesn’t bounce about or anything funky like that, it just disappears with a “beep”, surrendering itself to your mighty bat. That’s it! Easy – let’s get cracking!

First of all though let’s take a peek at the scores. As ever it’s hard to tell what’s a good score at the moment but it’s quite clear that some buggers suddenly found one of these rare machines in 2004 and proceeded to slap it about a bit as all three records are from the same time. A nice spread of scores as well so looks like we could be in with a chance.

Righto then, I’m ready to save batsville or whatever the place is called so off we go. No music, no fanfare nothing – straight away the rocks start to fall, really rather slowly. With a satisfying beep I hoover all of them up; occasionally I miss one with the top bat, but I have 5 others lined up that more than happily make up for it. Piece of piss this. Oddly though I notice a soft slow rumbling sound in the background which I assume is the best that they can come up with in the way of atmospheric sound effects – it does sound a bit like an avalanche I have to admit…..ahhhh how sweet – nice touch Atari.

It’s this “sweet” sound that for the past week has caused me to wake up every night with the sweats on something rotten.

You see, of course the game speeds up as you go – surprisingly viciously in fact, but that isn’t the main concern. The slow rumbling sound effect ramps up, not just in volume, but in intensity as well. Within a single minute the sound that this fucking game makes is entirely terrifying. It’s running on 30 year old hardware for christ’s sake yet it somehow has the technology to get INSIDE your head. Like when you watch a Cronenberg film you find yourself hitting your own head with a shoe, pleading desperately with yourself WHY you are putting yourself through this horror? I cannot believe that this machine ever lived in an arcade,  a lovely family place, uttering such evil, surely not. Maybe it sat in its own sound proof box, like an old fashioned circus freak show – that I can believe. “Come and witness the scariest fucking thing ever, roll up roll up!”.

As you may have gathered the sound is pretty intense.

The bats however, decide that they aren’t happy playing second fiddle to the sound, oh no. “Why not get intense too?” they think. “I know, what we’ll do is start shrinking in width, eventually doing legs, one by one until there is only a single skinny bat left. Yeah that’ll do it”.

“Hang on though you slags”, think the rocks. “Why should we miss out?. What *we’ll* do is start falling faster and faster leaving the smallest of the small rocks till last. That oughta do it, yeah let’s do that.

All of this happens at once in the space of about 45 seconds. ALL AT ONCE.

I’m an absolute jibbering wreck by the time my first go is over, my three lives were all a blur (although I did notice that on losing a life the sound resets giving you a few seconds of peace before it revs up again). What was my score? Do you get a score? What is my name? hang on, what does that say up there?

Score: 256

Fuck. My. Old. Boots.

That is one crazy game. It takes literally 20 seconds to start going mental and then it’s just a case of hanging on in there. I can’t see *how* anyone scores highly on this game as by the time you are a minute in the rocks are tiny and the bats almost as small. 256? I’ll take that and leave now if that’s ok? No? bugger.

If only to avoid going straight back in for another game I have a look around the screen. That’s interesting – “Extend play for 450 points” – wonder what that means? Also I see that you can play two player, one after the other though rather than together, which is a shame. Mind you, at least if you play two player you have someone to hug the tears away once it’s all over.

Ok, I’m ready let’s go.

Score: 378

An absolute blur. I managed to last about 15 seconds longer this time, mainly due to turning the volume down slightly and not messing my pants to distraction. It really is rock hard though, once the rocks speed up and the bats start disappearing you really are in trouble, proper proper trouble.

Ok, let’s go again (volume down a bit more)

Score: 364

Ok, again

Score: 356

Shit. Getting nowhere, let’s get the volume back up again.

Score: 228

Fuck that, back down again

Score: 397

Ok, focus now – focus. FOCUS!!!!

Score: 488

YES! I managed to reach the extend play, which surprisingly works just like a pinball machine. Once you reach 450 points, the screen flashes and you get a free game. The current game plays on though so don’t celebrate too hard if you get there, especially as the 3rd place score isn’t that far past it.

The good thing with this game is that it is over really quickly. Once you’re over the shock of it all (although the sound NEVER goes away) you can whip through games of this without even pausing for breath.

So I do, for another 10 goes – never getting to the extend score again. Shit.

So how does someone get over a thousand? I for one want to know what happens if you manage to clear the screen (i.e all rocks have fallen). For my highest score of 488 there could only have been a dozen or so rocks left to fall, I assume it resets but I don’t want to assume, I want to know!

It takes me a while to notice the scoring as well. Score wise the rocks start off at 1 point each, which I assumed would be the same all the way through, 450 points = 450 rocks etc… But It’s not. As the rocks get smaller they go up in value – when you reach 450 points or so the rocks are worth 5 points each, which makes my score of 488 all the more painful as 597 and third place actually isn’t that far away.

How do people get the high scores though? I just can’t see how you can manage the rocks once you are a single tiny bat and they are thundering down at you, the size of a pea? There must be a technique, there just must be.

And then it struck me – what about if you swaz the bats left and right as fast as you can, effectively making an impenetrable wall in the process? GENIUS! Worth a stab and it certainly looks the part as the bats whizz side to side with impossible speed, this is going to work!

Score: 122

No it isn’t. Fucking stupid idea – idiot.

Oh well, back to the old way

volume UP…


4 thoughts on “Game 29: Avalanche (Atari, 1978)

  1. Alright, so I tried it out, just to see if you were exaggerating about the sound thing…dear Lord…that’s fucking scary 0_0 Just imagine being at an arcade with one of those, let alone if they had multiple copies of the machine…Jesus.

    On another note, I can’t wait until some poor bastard decides to come over to my house while they’re tripping shrooms or something. They’re fucked. “Hey, come check out this game, it’s “trippy”!” “Oh, like Rez or Katamari?” “…yeah…just like them…”

  2. i dont have this game yet but i think i will download it just to see what the fuss is all about.

    great read as always m8. keep it up

  3. Just found your site. I like your way of story telling 🙂

    I just had to try this Avalanche and got to 681 in a few attempts.

    Take care

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