RetRollSpective – Attenuator

Hello and welcome to another RetRollSpective, a series that reflects on the history of marble athletes. This time, we’re going to focus on the attenuator, one of the most important and arguably most popular features of Marbula One.

The attenuator, designed by Jelle's Marble Runs.

You may be asking yourself: What is an attenuator? Why is the attenuator so popular with the marble sports community? Do attenuators make a difference during races? This RetRollSpective will set out to answer these three questions. Although you may think this article to be in jest, I do ask that you keep an open mind as we discuss and debate the history of the attenuator. You might be surprised how important this feature is not just to Marbula One, but to all marble sports.

What is an attenuator?

Although marble athletes identify attenuators synonymously with splits, the general public has what seems to be a completely different understanding of what an attenuator is. While the attenuator is less popular in general marble society, the device has found its niche with electricians, engineers, and other specialized industries.

“We use attenuators all the time in the studio,” stated Sheen, the manager of the Shining Swarm. “If the background parts of a mix are too loud, we attenuate them to lose power while keeping the waveform the same.” 

Of course, the attenuator exists in a different form on major highways. Road planning committees engineered road divisions with the safety of drivers in mind, padding the edges of roads with protective barriers, such as crash cushions and sand-filled barrels. This type of attenuator is known as an impact attenuator.

The moment of impact - the first time a marble athlete ever made contact with the attenuator in Marbula One.

The attenuator that appears in Marbula One is most similar to the impact attenuator in practice, albeit similar to the electronic attenuator in theory. Its first appearance, in the Savage Speedway GP on 15 February 2020, served to arrest marble athletes’ momentum right as they slingshotted around the turn in their first qualifying round. The attenuator curved around the next turn up to the ramp, protecting athletes from launching off the track. Ironically, Speedy got some brief airtime when they first collided with the attenuator:

“No, I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t nervous,” Speedy hastily denied. “I was excited!”

Speedy lost power, much like an electrical charge, when they hit the attenuator and hopped into the wall. Although they were able to keep on rolling and reclaim their speed, the marble athlete finished last in qualifying on their home circuit. Speedy was the first marble athlete to underestimate the attenuator—and they would certainly not be the last.

As of 25 December 2020, the attenuator has only missed out on four of Marbula One’s fourteen Grands Prix. The feature has appeared thirteen times in ten Grands Prix, with two attenuators present in the original O’raceway GP, the Momotorway GP, and the Razzway GP. If you count curbs and pit lanes as attenuators (along with the typical split), then the attenuator has appeared in every Grand Prix and even the 2020 Marble League’s Stardust Accelerator.

Why is the attenuator so popular with the marble sports community?

Suffice it to say that after appearing in so many races, the attenuator has gained a robust following within the marble sports community, even receiving a legendary trading card within The Marblebase’s Official Trading Card Game. Much of the discussion around Marbula One revolves around the impact of track features on Grands Prix, the attenuator being one of the most prevalent.

“I like them! I do think they make a difference. Look at what they did at the Honeydome qualifying,” The Emperor, a Team Galactic fan, pointed out. “I feel like with the removal of the pit lane it made some tracks seem bland…Without them, they took out some of the strategies.”

The JMRC took note of these requests after the first few races of Marbula One, requesting that the attenuator be added to the Honeydome GP during the course’s final check. The Royal Family of Buzznya eagerly added the feature to the track.

“I very much do like them,” remarked Mesp, a JMRC Member. “The best part about them is frequently, it is impossible to get a good line through them without the help of another marble. It gives challengers in the pack the chance to surge ahead and take the lead.”

The attenuator, leading into a turn towards the Bee Dance sector of the Honeydome GP.

Although many fans see the attenuator as a positive influence on races, others have noticed the toll that they can have on both the race and competitors. “The split itself is pretty cool, it allows marbles to take different paths – allowing them to overtake cleanly. Sometimes, I do feel the attenuator can be interesting, like the Aquamaring for example. The attenuator was placed right after a ramp if I recall correctly, which then made things pretty interesting when the marbs came down with lots of speed,” Nugget, a Crazy Cat’s Eyes fan, mused.

I shuddered, thinking of how Tumult nervously rode the attenuator for a split-second after Yellup bounced off of the track. Tumult was lucky to qualify in eleventh—perhaps the attenuator had granted mercy that time.

“But on the other hand, I do feel they can get a bit annoying and slow things down for the pack of marbs, which limits the high-speed racing many enjoy,” Nugget continued. “They can definitely be interesting on more technical circuits, but could potentially disrupt the high-speed tracks and turns.”

Not the kind of chaos Tumult was hoping for...

Phoenix, another Team Galactic fan, noted: “I do like them as a general rule. They certainly make a difference, though not always in a good way. While they are great with just mixing things up and creating extra obstacles, they add an extra element of randomness. This is good for some marbles, and not for others. Whether they are good depends on the level of randomness you want, compared with the individual marble shape and skill.”

Foucaulf, a JMRC Member, agreed. “I think a few races with them is a good idea. Racers may complain about how much they destroy forward momentum…it’s something that can ruin a leading racer’s day at all times. They can also be a big headache at the start of races in theory if a collision between racers pushes them the wrong way onto the attenuator.”

Do attenuators make a difference during races?

Regardless of how fans feel about the attenuator, none of them deny its popularity or significance in all of Marbula One. It may be a more simple innovation than either Mellospace Industries’ custom starting gate or the conveyor belt that elevates racers up to each lap, but it seems to be just as important to the overall feel of Marbula One. Nowhere is this more apparent than within the commentary, where Greg Woods frequently points out the attenuator in their analysis of a track and the ensuing competition of a race.

Speedy's unfortunate collision with the pit lane attenuator kept them away from podium contention for the rest of the race.

Woods first mentioned the attenuator in the Savage Speedway GP: “Out onto the front stretch they come, and a good launch off the corner by the Savage Speeders, but they hit the attenuator in the pit lane! That slows ‘em down. Several lengths go by, and they also have a brief difficulty getting onto the conveyor belt!”

Speedy’s glance off of the pit line split demonstrated a key if common role that the attenuator plays: disruption. Any athlete could be having a good race until they collide with the attenuator, arresting their momentum and allowing for shake-ups in the standings. The feature disrupts without discrimination. Athletes have the ability to avoid being affected by the attenuator if they drift to either side of its split. In Speedy’s case, they would have benefited from taking the road to the left instead of making contact head-on.

Granted, there are situations where the attenuator is virtually unavoidable, such as in the original O’raceway GP (Season 2’s rendition of the GP omitted both attenuators). In these circumstances, the attenuator may play another role: to mix the order of racers. While this could be classified as a disruptive feature, the outcome is different than simply slowing down one racer, affecting multiple racers as seen below.

The attenuators at the beginning of the O'raceway kept racers on watch.

Here, the attenuator was clearly able to separate racers on a number of different paths forward: the left, the right, and the middle—a ride on the attenuator itself. Wospy, who came into the race holding pole position, was slowed by the attenuator and failed to overtake Smoggy, who rushed ahead to the left. As Wospy settled into the right lane, Limelime fell out of the top four, being passed by Rezzy and Anarchy as they chased Billy, Wospy, and Smoggy.

The placement of the attenuator in a race may define how it influences athletes. The attenuator present around the second turn at the Savage Speedway came up quickly enough to surprise racers and jostle their order, but the attenuator present after the first turn at the O’raceway did not greatly alter their course. Rather, the second attenuator, placed after a curb, was a major point of inflection for athletes. The second attenuator served a similar function in the Momotorway GP, as opposed to the first attenuator (which athletes either avoided or passed easily).

“It took me the entire race to figure out how to steer past the second attenuator,” Prim discerned. “Once I did, I had so much momentum going into the speed boost that I nearly took the lead. It’s a shame that was the final lap of the race, because with one more lap, I’m positive I could have secured a clear victory.”

The attenuator was notably absent from the Hivedrive GP (besides the pit lane attenuator) but made its grand return in the Greenstone GP after a “twisty serpentine bit” of 19 turns. Here, the attenuator demonstrated that sometimes, there is a “best” route to take—and taking the road less traveled by can lead to unfavorable outcomes. As they held a slight yet definite lead, Bolt rode the attenuator to the left side in the penultimate lap of the GP. Athletes that had previously opted to take the left route—Rapidly in Lap 1, Hive in Lap 3, and Limelime in Lap 4, among others—emerged from the section further behind in the standings, relying on the curb in front of them to propel them forward. When Bolt got to that curb, they were passed by Orangin on the right and unable to recover what could have been their first gold medal in 2 years.

“I wasn’t shocked,” admitted Bolt. “I couldn’t get on the right side of the attenuator, and I paid the price.”

One of the most technical courses in any marble sports tournament, the Greenstone GP would not have been complete without the attenuator.

The attenuator’s third role in Grands Prix is to guide athletes further along the track in a way that ensures they are not slowed down by taking a less favorable route. As Bolt remarked earlier, not getting on the right side of the attenuator can be absolutely detrimental to the outcome of a race—but it is here that we must recognize that the mere presence of the attenuator is a benefit, not a detriment. When utilized correctly, the attenuator can be used as a guide to informing the best route on the course to follow. The Short Circuit GP’s attenuator demonstrated this best: guiding marbles around the outside of the chicane, allowing them to retain their momentum from crashing into the inside border of the turn. Few athletes were guided towards the inside of the chicane, thanks to the placement of the attenuator.

“It was more of a guardrail than an obstacle,” Snowy, the winner of the Short Circuit GP, noted. “Without the attenuator, that turn would have been distracting and would have hindered our ability to focus on the rest of the race. Instead, the attenuator turned an otherwise sharp 180 degree turn into a seamless transition from one sector of the track to the next.”

The attenuator granted mercy on those who took the outside lane in the hairpin turn. Few racers took the inside lane.

While the best of the attenuator was demonstrated during the Short Circuit GP, the worst of the attenuator was arguably displayed during the first lap of the Razzway GP. As the racers passed the speed boost early on in the track, Woods tracked the action:

“Mimo does not want to be denied…ooh, and then right up against the attenuator and the split, and loses first place to Smoggy.”

It was clear that the attenuator’s placement after the speed boost was succeeding in slowing down marbles, but was it to the point of disruption?

“Absolutely,” answered Mimo. “Between the speed boost and the hairpin, it had already been difficult to navigate the Razzway as it was. I didn’t need to bump into the attenuator for everything to be turned on its head in that GP…I’m lucky I made the podium.”

“It was honestly a very difficult race, to the point where all of us were blindsided by the split at least once,” Smoggy said, likely referring to Mimo’s overtake of the lead in the sixth lap. “I think it would have helped if the attenuator was moved down one track section and shortened going into the next turn. It certainly would have been less disruptive.”

The Razzway GP's long straights necessitated the presence of the attenuator, but at what cost?

As discontent grew among fans and athletes for the attenuator’s placement in the Razzway GP, the final track of the first season, the Midnight Bay GP, had already been revealed. It would be the second GP in the series to lack the attenuator, and the first GP to lack an obstacle besides the curbs and the pit lane. Without the presence of any real disruptions, the Midnight Bay GP had just two lead changes and became the perfect course for Speedy to redeem themselves after their experience with the attenuator at the Savage Speedway GP.

“It was the perfect setup for a race win: pole position, poor qualifying positions for competitors, and no attenuators,” remarked Speedy. “At that point, there was no other option except to clinch it all.”

Speedy’s win at the Midnight Bay GP, which marked another victory in the Speed Freak’s illustrious career, came at a turning point for the use of the attenuator in Marbula One. It would be nearly eight months before the attenuator would make its triumphant return in the Honeydome GP, the third Grand Prix in Marbula One Season 2. 

What had happened in the first two Grands Prix of the season? Interestingly, very few lead changes – results statistically similar to what had happened in the Midnight Bay GP. It became evident that the absence of the attenuator or a similar obstacle gave athletes that claimed the lead early on a clear advantage for the rest of the race. 

Nowhere was this more evident than at the O’raceway GP, where the two attenuators at the beginning of the track were gone. Billy was able to overtake Wispy for the lead coming out of the starting gate and had a clear advantage heading into the second sector of the race–only getting caught up on the edges of the sand to get passed.

The return of the attenuator brought many of the strategies back to Marbula One, where there had been a focus of pure speed and staying off the walls in the first two races. And, ironically, it did not stop Speedy from winning a Grand Prix—they won the Honeydome GP after earning pole position, repeating their success from the Midnight Bay GP.

“Maybe it wasn’t the attenuator all along, but the marbles I passed along the way,” remarked Speedy, smirking.

Hazy rides the attenuator as they coast to their first GP win of Season 2.

From then on, the attenuator has remained a part of Season 2, continuing to cause lead changes, overtakes, and a general sense of unexpectedness within Marbula One. It has appeared in different sectors, along curves and straights alike, guided and disrupted athletes, and regained its status as the most prevalent Marbula One obstacle. It remains to be seen how the attenuator will be used in future Grands Prix, but athletes and officials alike have praised the attenuator’s return.

“Without the attenuator, I would have never been able to win the Tumult Turnpike Grand Prix,” Hazy reflected. “I gained a lot of ground from the previous 90-degree turn, but it all would have been interrupted if I had crashed into the triangular curb on the left side of the track. Believe it or not, the attenuator guided me to a better position.”

Similarly, Greg Woods has commented on the strategies that the attenuator presents to athletes in real-time. “You see several marbles enter the right side of that split,” they commented in the Arctic Circuit GP, “only to just barrel across it as they work their way through it.”

The attenuator's most recent appearance in the Arctic Circuit GP, but not its last.

In RetRollSpective…

You now know what an attenuator is, why the attenuator is so popular with the marble sports community, and if attenuators make a difference during races. It’s clear that they do make a difference during races – if anything, to the extent of making races interesting. It’s clear that the marble sports community appreciates the role of the attenuator in competitions, even if they are more hesitant to see it overused throughout a season. Most importantly, it’s clear that an attenuator is a lot of things, but one of the most important things an attenuator can be is part of Marbula One. The attenuator’s use in Marbula One demonstrates a near-interdependent relationship between the feature itself and the concept of the entire series, an aspect nearly as important as the athletes themselves are to Jelle’s Marble Runs.

Thank you for reading, and keep on rolling!

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