Designer: Mark Cerny
Added to my collection: Spring, 2003
Sold: October 26, 2015
Marble Madness is one of those games that could probably never be made in today's game industry. It's odd, it's abstract, and it's lots of fun!
The object of the game is to roll your marble from the starting point to the finish line, wending your way through a series of pseudo-3D obstacle courses that look like Escher drawings. In addition to the terrain--which includes steep hills, mazes, and patches of ice--you must avoid enemies like an ominous black marble, snake-like creatures that gobble your marble if given the chance, and animate ooze that slinks around waiting to melt your marble into a sizzling puddle. The game is timed, and the faster you get through one course, the more time you have on the next one. Marble Madness really shines in two-player mode, where you get to race your opponent as you both wend your way through the course simultaneously.
The controls are simple--just one trackball for each player. This is the perfect controller, as it emulates the marble's movement perfectly.
There was a sequel produced--Marble Madness 2: Marble Man--but that game never made it past the prototype stage.
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This is one of the games on my list that I figured I would never get in my collection. Marble Madness was the first of Atari Games' "System 1" games. System 1 consisted of a generic cabinet with a basic set of control boards that was designed to accommodate a wide variety of games. All that arcade operators had to do was swap out the main board, the control panel, and the marquee and voila! Brand new game! As a result, many Marble Madness games were changed into something else. (Other System 1 games included Road Blasters, Road Runner, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.)
Most Marble Madness games exist only as kits, and collectors who want the game in their collection usually hope to find a cheap System 1 cabinet that they can convert on their own. Whole Marble Madness machines are rare, and when you find one, it's usually really expensive (in the $800+ range on eBay). I got lucky. A local collector decided to thin out his collection and advertised his machine for sale on the local news group. I got a good deal for a near-perfect machine. There are the usual signs of wear on the side art and cabinet, but overall it's in fine condition.
And, now...it's SIGNED!!!!!
In April, 2011, I was lucky enough to meet Mark Cerny, the designer of the game, at the East Coast Game Conference. (I spoke there the first day and he was the keynote speaker on day 2). I decided to do something I don't normally do and go all "fan boy" on someone in my own industry. (I did it once before, when I got Atari founder Nolan Bushnell to sign an Atari 2600 joystick at the Classic Gaming Expo back in 2003.) I didn't know how Mark would react to it, but he seemed really surprised and delighted that I actually had the machine in my collection! He said that only 4,000 of them were made, and that it was getting rarer to see them around. He gladly signed my marquee (he called it a "historic artifact") and he even told me a story about how the artist who did the marquee art wanted to put smiley-faces on the three marbles. Mark told them that they were marbles, not characters, and that the game was supposed to be abstract. The end compromise was the reflection patterns that look like an eye and a smile on each of the marbles.
When he gave his keynote, I found out that Mark is about the same age as me. He started at Atari when he was 17, and Marble Madness was his third game. He's been in the industry ever since. He was in the right place at the right time...ten years before I was!
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Tecnical info and a .pdf version of the manual coming soon (hopefully).
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