Marble Madness

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Marble Madness

Marble Madness

Date added: 2014-09-30

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Game Information:

Marble Madness is an arcade video game designed by Mark Cerny and published by Atari Games in 1984. It is a platform game in which the player must guide an on-screen marble through six courses, populated with obstacles and enemies, within a limit of time. The player controls the marble using a trackball. Marble Madness is known for using innovative game technologies; it was one of the first games to use true stereo sound - earlier games used monaural or simulated stereo sound - and was the first Atari to use Atari System 1 hardware and to be programmed in C.

In designing the game, Cerny drew inspiration from miniature golf, racing games, and M.C. Escher's artwork. His goal was to create a game that offered a different experience with a unique control system. Cerny took a minimalist approach when designing the appearance of the game's courses and enemies. Throughout development, technological limitations frequently prevented him from giving up various design ideas. When it was released, Marble Madness was highly successful commercially and became a profitable arcade game. Critical acclaim focused on the game's difficulty, its unique visual design, and its stereo soundtrack.

The game was ported to numerous platforms and inspired the development of other games. A sequel was developed, scheduled for release in 1991, but was canceled when localization tests showed that the game could not succeed in competition with other titles.

Marble Madness is an isometric platform game in which the player manipulates an on-screen marble from a third-person perspective. The player controls the movements of the marble with a trackball, although most home versions use game controllers with directional pads. The object of the game is for the player to go through six isometric maze-like courses before a set amount of time elapses. Each ride has its own time limit, and the time remaining after completing one ride is added to the next. The game also includes an option that allows two players to race against each other on the tracks. The courses are populated with various objects and enemies designed to hinder the player. As the game progresses, the courses become increasingly difficult and introduce more enemies and obstacles. Each track has a distinct visual theme. For example, the first track, "Practice," is an easy track and much shorter than the others, while the fifth track, "Silly," features polka dot patterns and is oriented in the opposite direction of the other tracks.

Marble Madness was developed by Atari Games, with Mark Cerny as lead designer and Bob Flanagan as software engineer. Both Cerny and Flanagan handled the game's programming. It uses Atari System 1 hardware, an interchangeable system of circuit boards, control panels, and artwork. The game features pixel graphics on an Electrohome G07 19-inch CRT monitor, and uses a Motorola 68010 Central Processing Unit (CPU) with a MOS Technology 6502 subsystem to control audio and coin operations. Marble Madness was the first Atari game to use a Yamaha-produced FM sound chip, which is similar to a Yamaha DX7 synthesizer and creates the music in real time so that it is in sync with the action in the game. The game's music was composed by Brad Fuller and Hal Canon, who spent a few months familiarizing themselves with the sound chip's capabilities. Cerny and Flanagan collaborated for the first time on a video game based on Michael Jackson's Thriller.

The project, however, was canceled and the two began working on an idea by Cerny that ended up becoming Marble Madness. Development lasted 10 months. Following the video game crash in North America in 1983, game development within Atari focused on delivering a distinctive experience through the use of a unique control system and an emphasis on a two-player simultaneous mode. Cerny designed Marble Madness in accordance with these company goals. He was first inspired by miniature golf and was captivated by the idea that the contours of a playing field influenced the trajectory of the ball. Cerny began testing various ideas using the Atari art system. After settling on an isometric grid, Cerny began developing the concept for the game. His initial idea was to hit the ball similar to miniature golf, but Atari was not keen on it. Next, Cerny thought about racing games and planned long track races against an opponent. The technological limitations of the time could not handle the physics necessary for the idea, and Cerny changed the objective of the game to a race against time. The Motorola CPU included a C runtime compiler, C being the language with which the two programmers were familiar. After conducting performance evaluations, Atari approved the use of the language.

Cerny and Flanagan's decision to write Marble Madness in C had positive and negative consequences. Atari games had previously been programmed in assembler; C was easier to program, but it was less efficient, so the game ran at the slower 30 Hz rate instead of the normal 60 Hz rate found in arcade games of the time. Cerny decided to use a trackball system (marketed by Atari as Trak-Ball) to give the game a unique control system, and chose a motorized trackball to spin and brake faster when the game ball was rolling downhill and uphill. up. While building the prototypes, Cerny was informed by Atari's design department that the motorized trackball design had an inherent flaw: one of the four mounts had poor contact with the ball, making using a normal trackball more feasible. In addition, Cerny had envisioned the use of powerful custom chips that would allow the CPU to animate RAM-based sprites, but the hardware available was a less advanced system that used static ROM-based sprites.

These technical limitations forced Cerny to simplify the overall design; Taking inspiration from M. C. Escher, he designed abstract landscapes for the courses. In retrospect, Cerny partly attributes the designs to his limited artistic skills. Unlike most arcade games of the time, the images of the courses were not drawn at the pixel level, instead Cerny defined the elevation of each point of the course and stored this information in an array of heightmaps. The field graphics were created with a ray tracing program that traced the path of light rays, using the height map to determine the appearance of the field on screen. This format also allowed Cerny to create shadows and use antialiasing, a technique that gave graphics a smoother appearance. Cerny's walkthrough generator allowed him more time to experiment with the level designs. When deciding what items to include on a tour, practicality was an important factor; omitted items that didn't work or appear as intended, such as a springy barricade or seesaw ladder. Cerny's personal interests changed throughout the project, leading to the inclusion of new ideas that were not in the original design documents. The game's enemy characters were designed by Cerny and Sam Comstock, who also animated them. Enemies had to be small in size due to technical limitations. Cerny and Comstock purposely omitted the faces to give them a unique design and create a minimalist look similar to the fields. Flanagan programmed a three-dimensional physics model to dictate the movements of the marbles and an interpreted script for the behavior of the enemies.

As Marble Madness neared completion, feedback from Atari's internal tests was positive. In hindsight, Cerny wished he had included more tours to give the game greater longevity, but the additional tours would have required more time and increased hardware costs. Atari was experiencing serious financial problems at the time and was unable to extend the game's development period, as it would have left its production factory idle.

Marble Madness was commercially successful upon its release and was received positively by critics. Several thousand cabinets were sold and it soon became the top earning game in arcades. However, the game consistently fell from this ranking during its seventh week in the arcades. Cerny believed that players lost interest in the game after mastering it and moved on to other games. Since then, arcade cabinets have been quite rare. The high level of skill required to play the game was considered by many reviewers to be part of its appeal. In 2008, IGN's Levi Buchanan included Marble Madness on his list of "arcade dreams", citing the game's difficulty and fond memories of it. Author John Sellers said the difficulty was one of the main reasons players were drawn to it. Other drawing factors were the graphics, visual design, and soundtrack.

Calling the game one of the most distinctive arcade games ever made, Craig Grannell of Retro Gamers praised its visuals as "pure and timeless". In 2008, the Guinness World Records listed it as the number seventy-ninth arcade game in technical, creative and cultural impact. Marble Madness was one of the first games to use true stereo sound and have a recognizable musical score. British composer Paul Weir commented that the music had character and helped give the game a unique identity. One of the most common complaints about the arcade machine was that the track ball controls frequently broke due to repeated use. Starting in 1986, the game was ported to numerous platforms with different companies handling the conversions; Electronic Arts published several home versions; Tiger Electronics released portable and desktop versions of the game, and Rare ported it to the Nintendo Entertainment System. The first versions presented simplified graphics, and the different adaptations had a mixed reception. Gamasutra's John Harris opined that the arcade's popularity boosted sales of home versions, while ScrewAttack's Thomas Hanley commented that most versions weren't as much fun without a trackball. Grannell echoed similar claims about the controls, adding that many had poor visual effects and collision detection. He listed the Amiga, Game Boy, and Mega Drive versions as the best conversions, and the ZX Spectrum, DOS, and Game Boy Advance versions as the worst. Dragon's three reviewers—Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser—all praised the Apple IIGS port, calling it a "must-have" title for arcade fans.

In 2003, the game was included in the cross-platform title Midway Arcade Treasures, a collection of classic games developed by Williams Electronics, Midway Games, and Atari Games. Electronic Arts announced a mobile phone port for 2010 that would include additional levels with different themes and new items that increase gameplay. Marble Madness inspired other games featuring similar gameplay based on navigating a ball through progressively more difficult courses; these games are often described in terms that associate them with Marble Madness. Melbourne House's Gyroscope and Electric Dreams Software's Spindizzy were the first such games; both had a moderate reception. In 1990, Rare released Snake Rattle 'n' Roll, which incorporated similar elements to Marble Madness. Other games of this type are Marble Blast Gold and Super Monkey Ball. The Monkey Ball series uses similar gameplay based on rolling a ball, but adds other features such as mini-games and monkey characters. An arcade sequel titled Marble Man: Marble Madness II, although Cerny was not involved in its development. Development was carried out by Bob Flanagan, who designed the game based on what he believed made Marble Madness a success on the home console market.

Since the market audience was younger, Flanagan wanted to make the sequel more accessible and introduced a superhero-type main character. Marble Man: Marble Madness II expanded on the gameplay of the original game with new abilities for the marble, such as invisibility and flight, included pinball mini-games between sets of levels, and allowed up to three players to traverse isometric courses. Flanagan aimed to fix the short length of the first game, and with the help of Mike Hally, he developed seventeen drives. Atari created prototypes for localization testing, but the game did not fare well against more popular titles of the time, such as Street Fighter II. Atari assumed that the track balls were the cause of the poor reception and ordered a second model with joystick controls. As the new models met with the same poor reception, production was halted and the focus was placed on Guardians of the 'Hood, a two-dimensional beat 'em up game. The prototypes that were produced have become collector's items.

How to play:

↑ = up
→ = right
↓ = down
← = left

Z = A Button
X = B Button
A = X Button
S = Y Button

Q = L Button
E = R Button

Shift = Select
Enter = Start

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