From The Vault: Cross the Blazing Bridge of Fire!

Did you know that I used to write a weekly column called The Games of Our Lives for The AV Club? It was about classic arcade (and occasionally console) video games that were just far enough off the mainstream radar for Gen Xers to realize that they remembered playing or seeing them, even if they hadn't thought about them since the 80s.

I worked very hard to keep it funny, nostalgic, and even a little informative. Though I didn't always come up with heartbreaking works of staggering genius, I'm really happy with about 95% of the columns I turned in … like this one for Satan's Hollow:

The flyer from Bally advertises "The hot new battle game that dares you to cross the blazing Bridge of Fire to do battle with the Master of Darkness-Satan of the Hollow!" After languishing for years in the obscurity of role-playing games, Satan finally crossed into the mainstream of arcades everywhere. Parents panicked as kids eagerly coughed up pocketfuls of quarters to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight.

Gameplay: It's 1982, so of course you have to enter Satan's Hollow in a spaceship. To pull this off, you build a bridge across a river of fire by picking up pieces from the left side of the screen and dropping them onto the right side of the screen. You have a shield that will protect you (for about .08 seconds) from the gargoyles and demons dropping World War II-style bombs. When the bridge is completed, you cross into the game's eponymous locale and face down Satan himself. If you avoid his magic pitchforks and destroy him, you won't save mankind from eternal damnation, but you will earn bonus points and an extra laser blaster for your space ship.

Before you complain that none of this makes sense, please remember that the number-one song of 1982 was "Centerfold" by J. Geils Band, and the number-one film was Tootsie.

Could be mistaken for: Galaxian, Dark Tower, Phoenix

Kids today may not like it because: Satan looks more like a sea monkey than like the Prince Of Darkness.

Kids today may like it because: Freaking your parents out because you're playing a game with Satan in it is always cool, whether it's 1982 or 2005.

Enduring contribution to gaming history: Doom wouldn't have been able to take players right into Hell in 1993 if Satan's Hollow hadn't opened the portal 11 years earlier. 

Every column had a different byline, which I tried very hard to make some kind of clever "nobody's going to get this, except for those few people who do and totally love it" joke: 

.mraf ynnuf eht, notaehW liW ot seilper rouy dnes esaelP .egassem terces eht dnuof ev'uoY !snoitalutargnoC

See what I did there? It's a game with SATAN in the title, so I put at BACKWARDS MESSAGE in the column. Ha! Ha! Ha! I am using the Internet!

I loved doing this column, and deliberately retired it while it was still going strong, so it didn't turn into [Pick some series that should have ended years ago while it was still funny. This is not a placeholder note to myself, it's a free option for you, dear reader. Merry Christmas.]

20 thoughts on “From The Vault: Cross the Blazing Bridge of Fire!”

  1. I remember as a kid playing “Wizards & Warriors” or at least I think that was the name. Anyway, I would play that for hours and hours. My house was always chilly so I’d be in front of the TV all wrapped up in a blanket like a burrito while playing. My mom came in and said, “How can you play that Nintendo without seeing your hands?” I guess I’m a master of eye/hand coordination, Mom. Ahhh, parents…

  2. Stupid question, but if you could go back to 198_, would you?? I would. I guess the more screwed up this world gets, the more I miss those days. I guess the 24 hour news channels don’t help in letting you forget the bad that goes on. I miss the ‘Stand By Me’ days of hanging with friends, camping, etc. Kind of stinks being an adult sometimes huh? And speaking of games, I hope you still have some of those treasures, cause people are paying out the woohoo to obtain them now for the collectors shelf. Cheers to the 80′s!

  3. I frakking LOVE that game. It was one of two games we had in the hotel in Eugene when we filmed Stand By Me (Burger Time was the other) and I played the hell out of it, even though I never got even the second treasure.
    The music is just epic in that game, isn't it?

  4. Absolutely epic!
    The best part of that game was that it was never overly popular. Thus, it was always available when I had a quarter to burn.
    Burger Time? Ehhh, not so much. :P
    And I used to wonder why I could never buy a car until I joined the Air Force… LOL
    My first wife actually bought me the stand-up arcade version in 1986 from a video game repair shop in Cheyenne Wyoming when I was stationed there. Having your favorite game in your very own living room at 21 years of age was amazing. I even left it on at night from the ambiance. She did make me flip the music toggle off on the board though.
    I had to part with it when I got orders to Germany 2 years later…

  5. It finally occurred to me who this piece of writing reminded me of… You’re going to think I’m crazy for saying so, but it reminds me of Mark Twain. I think it’s that biting yet wry social commentary woven into witty humor. Just listen…
    “After languishing for years in the obscurity of role-playing games, Satan finally crossed into the mainstream of arcades everywhere. Parents panicked as kids eagerly coughed up pocketfuls of quarters to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight.”
    Granted it’s hard to put Twain and a video game into the same context, but he was a game player for sure – hey this guy invented Huck Finn! I can just see you in a white suit on your southern plantation smoking a pipe.
    You channel so many different writers, Wil. First you’re Douglas Adams then Ray Bradbury and then Mark Twain. I’ve never seen a writer move around the map as much as you do.
    I think that’s what makes your writing so fun to read – I never know what you’ll be next. That’s also probably why you sometimes feel self-conscious about it.
    I have a word for people like you: creative.

  6. One of the criteria I used when selecting games was obscurity. I wanted to make sure that I didn't choose the popular games everyone who was a better writer than me had already written about.

  7. I’m a stranger too, oh yes! I’m too ‘dated’ for my own good..haha:) When the bus comes around for us old school folks, send it my way please:)

  8. Loved that column, Wil. One of the reasons I started reading AV club regularly back then. This is a great example of it. I always gravitated towards the less popular arcade games so I had a shot in hell (I think I did something there) to get a high score.
    I keep hoping Satan’s Hollow will show up at my local arcade, Barcade. That and Bump’n’Jump.

  9. My favorite arcade game (and I didn’t play many of them) from that era was probably “Starship 1″.
    Black & White screen. Different-sized ships for variations in difficulty. I think some of them fired on the player after a while. I also think they moved closer to the screen.
    That one, “Star Wars” (whoohooo ! vector graphics!) and “Buck Rogers” (I think that was the title) were the only ones I played more than once.

  10. When I was looking for games in the 80s for my C64 and read the elaborate backstory I was always so drawn in, most of the time utterly disappointed, played the game anyway and had a lot of fun after forgetting theat backstory. Exceptions were Elite and Mercenary.

  11. Bah!!!! Amateurs!!!
    You were nuthin’. NUTHIN’ if you couldn’t master the complex, dizzying, blitzkrieg of colors and zippy noises that was “Stargate”. Six buttons AND a joystick. And everything happened very, VERY fast. And the supreme prize? The high scoring player could enter their FULL NAME on to the leaderboards, rather than the mere three initials, which was the standard at the time.
    That was a true “Bow down, arcade peasants!” moment.
    And by the way, only *real* gamers developed callouses on the inside of their middle fingers from working those old ball-tipped joysticks.
    Obscure classics must include: “Moon Cresta” (Space Invaders on LSD), “Elevator Action” (what secret agent would wear red boots, btw?) “Zoo Keeper” and “Bagman”. Ahhhh, Bagman…

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