Amiga Gaming Retrospective Part 2: MarbleMadness!

An arcade classic, and an all-time Amiga favorite

Where we left off

Last month, I introduced this series by giving somewhat of a history and analysis of Amiga gaming, focusing primarily on the early years. I then said that in the coming months, I would "review" old Amiga games, so as to provide a better perspective of the way things were, how they have changed, and how, in fact, they have remained so very much the same.

I am starting off that series of older games this month with "MarbleMadness!." This game was a hit in the arcades in the mid 1980's, and was, in time, published for a variety of platforms. The Amiga was one of these, and it was rumored that that was the best version of all. The game was so addictive that, while "developing" the Amiga version, the folks at Electronic Arts acquired their own arcade machine unit in order to save on pocket change.

The Game

MarbleMadness! was published LONG ago, back in the AmigaDOS 1.2 days. Those were also the days when games had a habit of taking over the entire machine, and MarbleMadness! was no exception. It should therefore come as no surprise that it won't run under AmigaDOS 2.0 or above (unless you're in a hurry to meet the guru). That became part of the reason for me to get DKB's MultiStart II, so that I therefore now run AmigaDOS1.3 and 3.1 on the same A500 system. That is what allows me to even continue to use older software.

The test machine was a 68000 A500, and has become a 68030 A500. MarbleMadness! is now set up to run from my hard disk (you wouldn't believe what a pain THAT was to accomplish! But it's worth it, in terms of loading speed.).

Double-clicking the big fat marble icon on the Workbench first opened an information/credits screen, and then the control screen. That itself utilized a fairly simple point-and-click GUI that allows you to set the input device and difficulty level. In addition, it includes a "GO!" button for starting the game. They recommend using a joystick, but I always found that a mouse afforded the greatest level of control and fun. (well, I never tried the trackball).

The object of the game is fairly simple: you are controlling a marble (red for player 1, blue for player 2), and you must maneuver it safely to the finish line (the "Goal"). Watch out, though, because there are a number of obstacles waiting in your way that aren't so partial to seeing you succeed. The playing field itself is a 2-dimensional representation of a 3-dimensional surface (in other words, it's a bitmap of a 3D world). The marbles are sprites with multiple frames, apparently, as there are little reflective specks moving over their surfaces.

You are faced with 6 different levels ("races") of [generally] increasing difficulty. The first is quite easy, with no enemies at all, and the last has a whole assortment of them, plus some other difficulties as well. You can't get there without passing through the "Silly Race" (#5), in which you get to wreak havoc on shrunken forms of all your enemies, plus defy gravity to boot. There are, however, new difficulties in that race.

Here are the specific things one must deal with throughout the game: (some names are "official," some are improvised)

Quality In Design

This game may be old, but in some ways, it's quite impressive. Primarily, I might point out the nice physics of movement, in which a 2D surface is mapped into virtual 3D space with little lost in the translation. In addition, the gameplay is smooth, and you are accompanied by a fairly rich environment of various multimedia effects. The game runs VERY well on a 68000 machine (naturally, those were the last word when MarbleMadness! came out), but if you manage to run it on a faster processor, such as a 68030, be prepared for a special pleasant surprise.

It's a pity that this game seems to have joined the ranks of "The few...the proud...the forgotten," and that Electronic Arts has all but stopped supporting the Amiga. I think a new version of this game, optimized for faster processors and with AGA capability, would be a real hit in the Amiga gaming world. Especially if it was made OS-friendly, and came on a CD-ROM with TONS of expansion boards and other possibilities. Imagine could play MarbleMadness! nonstop for days on end IN BETWEEN writing articles for your magazine...

In Conclusion:

Well, I hope that provides an interesting look back for all you veteran Amiga gamers out there, and gives a fresh new perspective for those who came in late. MarbleMadness! is an indelible part of many Amiga users' earliest computing memories, and even in this day and age of virtual reality, texture-mapping, and realistic role-playing games, it's still a lot of fun to digress for a few minutes for a quick game of MarbleMadness!.

The Amiga Gaming Retrospective will return next month with a look back at...another classic Amiga game! See you then.

Here's how MarbleMadness! fits into the modern AM template: 


A port of an arcade classic, Amiga-style. ca. 1987

Electronic Arts
Installation:N/ANot intended for HD install. I did it, but it was NOT easy
Playability:95%Nicely done.
Graphics:83%Not just good for their age, but good in general. Not extremely complex, but nice.
Sound:87%Plenty of music and sound. Music sounds a bit artificial, but probably to stay true to the original version. Sound effects are very good.
Documentation:90%The documentation, if you can call it that, is on the inside of the box. But it's plenty.
Performance:96%Shows that not a great game does the microprocessor make so much as the coprocessors. 68000 version is great.
Controls:98%Simple. Yet adequate.
Overall Score:
Just what is a classic, you ask? MarbleMadness! definitely deserves an honored place in Amiga gaming history.


Amiga 500/1000/2000, 68000, AmigaDOS 1.3 or lower, Mouse, 1 Floppy Drive
68020 or better for neat speedup, Multiple Input devices (EA recommended a joystick) for 2-player games, decent sound system
-By Michael Webb-
Write to him at email address