Marble Madness

Marble Madness is an arcade game by Atari Games released in 1984 by Czech programmer Mark Cerny. Using trackballs, players race marbles through an isometric labyrinth against a strict time limit. While Marble Madness is a fairly short game, with victorious plays through its six levels rarely lasting longer than five minutes, its high degree of challenge and charming theme, sound, and graphics made it a hit. The game can be played solo, or by two players competing against each other. The game is harder with two players, so to compensate each player is allowed to continue the game once, and receives bonus time for beating the other player to the finish line. In single player mode, the player can use both trackballs at once, allowing more-rapid changes of direction.

After the first training level, Practice, the player is given a limited time to maneuver through five successively harder levels: Beginner, Intermediate, Aerial, Silly and Ultimate. Unused time from previous levels is carried over to the next, with modest additional awards granted at the start of each one.

The cryptic and somewhat eerie message "Everything you know is wrong!" appears on the Silly stage because the stage goes from lowest point to highest point, which is the exact opposite of all the other levels; and some physics are changed, such as upward ramps making the ball go faster; and tiny enemies players can squash.

A small assortment of enemies are scattered through the levels, but the player's greatest foes are the levels themselves, which contain many sudden drops and difficult passages.

This was the first Atari System 1 game; it was also the first video game with true stereo sound, featuring music composed by Brad Fuller and Hal Canon and instrument design by Earl Vickers. (Konami's Gyruss, released a year earlier, had simulated "stereo" sound using discrete audio circuits).


The game was ported to various home computers and video game consoles. A few ports for personal computers were made by Electronic Arts, with the most accurate arcade translation seemingly being the Amiga version. The Commodore 64, Apple II, Apple IIGS, and PC versions had a secret level called the Water Maze which players could get to by being on the leftmost bottom platform of the first level at a certain time (13 seconds). Once reaching the Water Maze, the player was transported out of the level as soon as a mistake was made. The walkthrough can be found here (pick the latest date) and it requires two players to complete. The ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC ports came in a DeLuxe Edition with a Marble Madness Construction Set to create new levels. These versions were published by Melbourne House who had already released an unofficial clone called Gyroscope.

In 2005, a Game Boy Advance port was included on DSI Games "Marble Madness/Klax", however the Marble Madness port was given poor reviews due to only having the first three levels. There is also an Unreal Tournament 2003 mod. An emulated version of the arcade game is available on Midway Arcade Treasures for the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox. Despite the plethora of ports, few of these systems support trackball controllers, so an authentic Marble Madness experience is now extremely rare. Fans of the game hope that the Wii will support Marble Madness with its motion sensor (similar games such as Kororinpa: Marble Mania and Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz have already been released). Rolling Madness 3D is an OpenGL remake.


Owners of Marble Madness machines found that maintenance of the game became costly and difficult. The game required vigorous spinning of the track ball in order for the marble to reach high speeds. This caused the track balls (especially the left "Player 1" ball) to wear out quickly. Replacement of the track balls was expensive and time consuming. Failure to replace partially-worn balls would lead to a frustrating (and often impossible) experience for its players.

In order to compensate for the easily-worn "Player 1" track ball, game developers allowed either track ball to control the marble during 1-player games. However, this was not obvious to most players, so this workaround had limited usefulness.

The lack of durability of the controllers is the primary reason why Marble Madness became difficult to find in arcades years after its release. By the mid-1990s, very few working Marble Madness games could be found anywhere. Today, even fewer exist.

Some copies of the Game Boy version have been reported that after the second or third level, the game resets to the first level indefinitely.


In 1991, a sequel, Marble Madness 2: Marble Man, was in development. Reportedly the first round of playtesting of a very rough prototype did not yield an extremely favorable response, and Atari at that time was only interested in producing games they expected to be big hits. Marketing believed the problem was that kids didn't like trackballs, so they had the engineers replace them with joysticks. This caused the next round of playtesting to have substantially worse results. Most of the few surviving cabinets have joysticks.

Marble Man ROM dumps (joystick version) and a driver for the MAME emulator exist, but are not publicly available at this time due to restrictions that were placed on the purchase of the machines from which the dumps were made.

Marble Madness in popular culture

See also

Title Released Platform(s)
Gyroscope 1985 Acorn Electron, Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum
Spindizzy 1986 Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum
Airball 1987 Dragon 32/64, Atari ST, Amiga, Apple IIGS, PC DOS, Atari 8-bit, Game Boy Advance
Snake Rattle 'n' Roll 1990 NES, Sega Mega Drive (ported)
Kula World 1998 Playstation
Super Monkey Ball 2001 Arcade, Nintendo GameCube, Mobile Phone, N-Gage
Trackballs 2002 Linux, Windows
Marble Blast Gold 2003 Linux, Mac OS X, Windows, Xbox, Xbox 360 (XBLA)
Neverball ? Linux, Mac OS X, Windows, FreeBSD
Ballance 2004 Windows
Hamsterball Gold 2004 Windows
Archer Maclean's Mercury 2005 PlayStation Portable
Marble Blast Ultra 2006 Xbox 360
Overball 2006 Windows
Kororinpa 2007 Wii
Switchball 2007 Windows, Xbox 360 (XBLA)

External links

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