Marble Madness was originally released as an arcade game in 1984 and was ported to NES in February 1989. Take control of a marble in a set of six maze-like levels. Traps abound to delay your progress, including other marbles, acid pools, hammers, and vacuums.
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Co-Op: 0:03:17 by Steve 'Elipsis' Barrios, 'Toad22484'
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(Written commentary by Elipsis - please see audio track 2 for joint audio commentary from both runners)
This is the first fully recorded co-op speedrun of Marble Madness that is worth calling an initial starting point for a world record. It was a cooperative effort between Toad22484 and myself that was recorded at AGDQ 2017. While the time here is 3:17, it is worth nothing that real-time 12 seconds in any two player run will be lost rewarding the winner of the previous race with an additional five in-game seconds (2.4 seconds per race times 5). Marble Madness is a very hard and unforgiving game which becomes exponentially harder to perform flawlessly when there is a second player sharing the track. This video represents the very best run of a 6 hour recorded session - Toad22484 and I had to make many adjustments to the usual single-player strategies in order to beat the game fast without getting in each others' way. The commentary on each level will primarily highlight the co-op strategies we employed.
Our goal every time here was a double 55. While it is already hard to get the blind inputs required to do this into muscle memory with 100% consistency, it was especially challenging here to avoid the other marble when we couldn't even see each other. This particular run was just one frame-rule short of our double 55 goal, with a still very satisfactory 54/55 finish.
Steeley (the black Marble) is a little bit more difficult to get around for the second player. It was not intended, but this time around Steeley successfully got in my way (although he paid the ultimate price for doing so). This does not represent much of a time loss, however, because both players have to wait for the drawbridge to move out of the way before they can proceed down the pipe. A small time loss here was from my bumping the green slinky enemy on approach to the bridge. Everything else about this level went perfectly.
Toad22484 does a bounce in the first section which benefits us in a couple of ways. First, it gets the blue marble ahead of the red one enough that red has more screen real-estate to work with. Second, it avoids a situation where both players are semi-blind going into the pipe. Everything about this level went well, climaxing in a double 1-cycle green carpet ride for both of us.
The red marble has a shorter track here, and so I was always ending up ahead of Toad22484 in practice. This allowed Toad22484 to consistently work with the same timing going through the peg section, and he discovered that some of them can be despawned (or they are still on cooldown) if he moves fast enough. This was pretty much a textbook co-op Aerial race until Toad22484 took a death on the jump. Fortunately, the two-player respawn behavior pulled him pretty far forward, so we didn't lose nearly as much time as a solo player would have. A movement error at the end of the race after the hammers does cost another second or so, however.
The introductory weaving section lead to some hilarious mistakes in previous attempts until Toad22484 and I agreed that he would always allow red to get just slightly ahead in the intersections. The red track here after the pipe is completely different than what I was used to in solo attempts, and while difficult I think it ended up being less dangerous than the difficult screen-bounce corner that blue has to deal with. The dream here was a double silly-skip... but given that it is rare even for one player to hit this perfectly, it was fortunate that Toad22484 was able to showcase the trick while I went the long way around. Overall a very solid stage.
Red was intended to go down the pipe first here, but the red angle is very awkward and I ended up making a movement error which caused Toad22484 to get in ahead of me. The red marble's track here is insanely more lengthy and difficult than blue's, involving multiple modified floor types that feed straight into each other as well as actual backtracking. This means that barring major mistakes from player 1, red will always get to the combined track last. (Some "race" this one is!)
The conclusion of the Ultimate Race almost stopped this run from happening entirely. We were experiencing a complete crash and soft-lock nearly every time in the final screen of the game until we discovered the guaranteed solution to this problem was to destroy the second Steeley marble (presumably reducing the sprite-count). Effectively, we added this to the route and started practicing Steeley quick-kills. Our strategy here was for Toad22484 to get in first and attmept the quick kill, while I would come in to assist as soon as I got there. Though I took a death to the acid, this basic stategy did not change. Toad22484's first attempt was unsuccessful, but by the time he respawned Steeley was dispatched. What follows is, in my opinion, the highlight of the entire run - a double first cycle Ultimate Race finish. It's really hard to stress how much more difficult sharing the platforms with another marble makes the sequence. Tensions were high here, and we managed to nail the sequence and close out the run.
Final Time: 3:17.29
For the most part I am very happy with this run. While Toad22484 and I acknowledge that it is definitely improvable down the road, there are only a few people who can perform at this level - and we are all geographically dispersed enough that time for collaboration is rare and limited. We may attempt to improve this in the future, but it stands for now as a strong benchmark for what a co-op run should look like. Very big thanks go out to World 9 gaming and the AGDQ 2017 staff for helping make this opportunity possible.
0:02:43 by Steve 'Elipsis' Barrios
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Marble Madness Record History:
July 31 2005, 3:13, Elliott Feiertag
October 27 2008, 2:54.2, Andrew Gardikis
March 18 2014, 2:52.1, Steve Barrios
March 21 2014, 2:50.9, Steve Barrios
May 22 2014, 2:48.84, Big Walsh
July 24 2014, 2:48.68, Steve Barrios
October 9 2014, 2:47.51, Steve Barrios
July 24 2015, 2:46.930, Toad22484
July 25 2015, 2:45.530 Toad22484
December 5 2016, 2:45.465, Steve Barrios
October 21 2016, 2:44.998, Steve Barrios
April 24 2017, 2:44.271, Steve Barrios
July 19 2017, 2:44.198, Steve Barrios
July 20 2017 2:43.664, Steve Barrios
This speedrun of Marble Madness times out to 2:43.664 in Yua, and has 0 deaths. It was done live on http://www.twitch.tv/elipsys and retimed afterwards. Looking at the record history, you can see that there has been a lot of activity in the last 3 years. With current human techniques, a 2:42 may one day be within the real of possibility - but the 2:43 felt like a huge achievement, and I am very proud of this SDA submission. Individual level commentary is as follows:
If you do this level right, you're playing the last half of it blind. I always shoot to finish this level with 55 seconds remaining on the in-game timer, and reset otherwise. Fractional gains or losses here distill down to three different possible "55" frame rules that you can land on, "slow", "fast", and "TAS".
This practice race went very well, and demonstrates the difficult to achieve "fast" frame-rule 55.
The time saves in this level are barely perceptible. There is absolutely no point to any time saves prior to the draw bridge, as it forces you to wait for it to go to the down position before proceeding. In this run I had a reasonably good draw bridge by approaching it as it moves down. The rest of the time saves here are from good movement and cornering on the section after the pipe. All of this amounted to me being exactly on pace with the previous WR, due to frame rules.
The Intermediate race shows off the newest strategy that runners Toad22484 and Yelsraek have been incorporating into their runs. While it doesn't look like much, the double wallbounce on the first screen saves somewhere between 0.75 to 1.0 seconds over the old strategy. It can be a bit janky, but is reasonably consistent to execute with a little practice. Furthermore, unlike other possible timesaves in this race, this strategy does not force the player any further ahead of the camera - meaning the difficulty of the remainder of the run is not increased due to camera scroll.
This Aerial race was "+0.0" versus my gold split, and probably on the same framerule. Every corner was aggressive, tight, and near perfect, saving an additional 0.6s over the 2:44.271 run, and putting the run 1.2 seconds ahead of pace in aggregate. While early hammers is always required for my target times, this aerial race was as close to perfect as I think has ever been executed, and I'm very happy that it made it into the WR video.
This one is the run killer, getting a top time in Marble Madness is tremendously difficult primarily due to this race. The Silly Skip shortcut is, optimally, a pixel-perfect frame-perfect endeavor... and the variability of the preceding birds mean that there is no consistent setup or approach to nailing the trick, which has now become mandatory. So not only do you have to go for it to have a shot at improving the world record, but the required inputs to execute it end up being slightly different every...single... time.
My initial climb was relatively clean, and this time around the bird pattern didn't cost me any time. The Silly Skip itself was a rare flawless 1-bounce execution and it was at this point that I knew the run really had a chance to be something special.
I call this level, not at all affectionately, the Choke Race. That is because while I feel like it is about tied for third (with Intermediate race) as far as executional difficulty, approaching it knowing that you are on world record pace can make it extremely jarring. Getting the Silly Skip to go off properly after everything else puts a ton of pressure on this final race to perform flawlessly. There is no room to hesitate or play safely on this level without losing time until the last screen.
Unfortunately, there is one small movement error in this run and you can see it in this level. I accidentally bounced off the screen which caused me to shoot out too far to the left and have to readjust for the downwards ramp onto the red floor section. I was rather surprised at this point that I didn't completely kill the run here, but watching the video and looking at the splits seems to indicate that I only lost about a half a second.
Fortunately, thinking that I lost way more time than I actually did caused my nerves to be calmer in the final screen, and I made a pretty aggressive lunge onto the final ramp to finish the Ultimate Race reasonably strong.
Final Time: 2:43.664
I am thrilled to have finally breached the 2:43 barrier and it was a huge relief to finally get this run to come out. I acknowledge that a string of gold and near-gold splits could one day bring this run into 2:42 territory... but as I consider 2:42 to be the limit of human achievement with current technology, I'm happy to celebrate this run for awhile before I throw myself headlong into what will certainly be a massive grind.
This time around I want to thank Toad22484, Yelsraek, and AD2 for bringing the good times to the new Marble Madness discord, and AD2 in particular for making the Genesis and Sega Master System versions of this game into the limelight. I also want to thank the people in my life who continue to support my hobbie, with special acknowledgement to Vixentropy for tolerating victory screams at 2 in the morning.
It's really exciting to be a part of the history of one of my favorite games and see my name up on the same website as some of the most talented gamers out there. The speedrunning community has come to mean a great deal to me, with all the wonderful people who I have met at the AGDQs who expand my horizons. Also enormous thanks to the Games Done Quick staff for giving me the honor of running this game at SGDQ 2017 - progressing from a casual runner watching the event in complete awe in 2013 to being on the big stage myself this year was a deeply moving experience.
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