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Video Games

Marble Madness

Marble Madness

Marble Madness

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 onscreen marble through six courses, populated with obstacles and enemies, within a time limit. The player controls the marble by using a trackball. Marble Madness is known for using innovative game technologies. It was Atari's first to use the Atari System 1 hardware and to be programmed in the C programming language. The game was also one of the first to use true stereo sound; previous games used either monaural sound or simulated stereo.

In designing the game, Cerny drew inspiration from miniature golf, racing games, and artwork by M. C. Escher. He aimed to create a game that offered a distinct experience with a unique control system. Cerny applied a minimalist approach in designing the appearance of the game's courses and enemies. Throughout development, he was frequently impeded by limitations in technology and had to forgo several design ideas.

Upon its release, Marble Madness was commercially successful, becoming a profitable arcade game. Praise among critics focused on the game's difficulty, unique visual design, and stereo soundtrack. The game was ported to numerous platforms and inspired the development of other games. A sequel was developed and planned for release in 1991, but canceled when location testing showed the game could not succeed in competition with other titles.

Marble Madness Plot


Marble Madness Gameplay

Marble Madness is an isometric platform game in which the player manipulates an onscreen marble from a third-person perspective. The player controls the marble's movements with a trackball, though most home versions use game controllers with directional pads. The aim of the game is for the player to complete six maze-like, isometric race courses before a set amount of time expires. When a player completes a race, the remaining time is added to the next race's allotted time. The game also allows two players to compete against each other.

Courses are populated with various objects and enemies designed to obstruct the player. As the game progresses, the courses become increasingly difficult and introduce more enemies and obstacles. Each course has a distinct visual theme. For example, the first race, titled "Practice", is a simple course that is much shorter than the others, while the fifth race, named "Silly", features polka-dot patterns and is oriented in a direction opposite from the other courses.

Marble Madness was commercially successful following its December 1984 release and was positively received by critics. Around 4,000 cabinets were sold, and it soon became the highest-earning game in arcades. However, the game consistently fell from this ranking during its seventh week in arcades that Atari tracked the game's success. Cerny attributed the six-week arcade life to Marble Madness's short gameplay length. He believed that players lost interest after mastering it and moved on to other games. The arcade cabinets have since become fairly rare. Stan Szczepanski holds the official world record of 187,880 points.

Many reviewers felt that the high level of skill required to play the game was part of its appeal. In 2008, Levi Buchanan of IGN listed Marble Madness as one of several titles in his "dream arcade", citing the game's difficulty and the fond memories he had playing it. Author John Sellers wrote that difficulty was a major reason that players were attracted. Other engaging factors included the graphics, visual design, and the soundtrack. Retro Gamer's Craig Grannell, in referring to the game as one of the most distinctive arcade games ever made, praised its visuals as "pure and timeless". In 2008, Guinness World Records listed it as the number seventy-nine 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. A common complaint about the arcade cabinet was that the track ball controls frequently broke from repeated use.

Marble Madness inspired other games that feature similar gameplay based on navigating a ball through progressively more difficult courses; such games are often described in terms that relate them to Marble Madness. Melbourne House's Gyroscope and Electric Dreams Software's Spindizzy were the first such games; both met with a good reception. In 1990, Rare released Snake Rattle 'n' Roll, which incorporated elements similar to Marble Madness. The Super Monkey Ball series uses similar gameplay based on rolling a ball, but adds other features such as minigames and monkey characters. Archer Maclean's Mercury also contains many elements similar to Marble Madness, but with minor variations, including the ability to change color, added hazards, and that the player controls a blob of liquid mercury rather than a marble.

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