8-Bit Tuesday: Marble Madness – Stage 3 (Hal Canon & Brad Fuller)December 9, 2009
Marble Madness was an incredibly awesome game. I can remember playing this for days on end on the Amiga back when the disk still worked. I got pretty good at this game and one time managed to clear the game with 0 seconds left (the points kept on going up – must have been a math error – and I eventually shut it down). Anyway, not only was it a lot of fun to move the marbles around through in the mazes and obstacles with the physics of Mark Cerny‘s masterpiece, but the music was also VERY impressive and atmospheric for the time. The game was released by Atari in 1984, and while I have always been familiar with the Amiga mod versions of the songs, the original arcade is outstanding. Note that this song is in OGG format. I recommend using Winamp on the PC or Cog on the Mac, as Apple refuses to support open audio formats. Or just click here and skip to about 1:00.
There are a few things to note about this soundtrack. First, it is in stereo, which was pretty unique for the time: you can hear the music pan from one speaker to the other. Second, the Stage 3 is the “Intermediate” level of the game and at this point things get darker and a lot harder. The level is gray in design and full of mazes and bottomless pits. It also has a lot more of those green marble-eating worms, acid that can melt the marbles, and wave blocks that can sweep you into the abyss. The composition is wonderfully fitting with its dark atmosphere and fiendishly brewing strings and bubbling notes (perfectly fitting for the acid and block waves) – this is kind of like hades for marbles.
The third striking thing is that if you were really good at the game, you could finish the level by the time the song was completed – meaning that these tracks appear to be composed with the player’s performance and the level’s design in mind! All of this contributes to make Marble Madness a classic. I wish that a lot more games would keep player performance in mind, essentially both rewarding a player’s performance with a soundtrack that matches and composing pieces that roughly match the amount of time a player usually spends in an area.
Below is a map of the level. Also, Wikipedia has a wonderful entry on the game’s development, including some original design sketches.