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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.


Best time: 0:02:47 by Steve 'Elipsis' Barrios on 2014-10-09.

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Author's comments:

Marble Madness Speedrun 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

This speedrun of Marble Madness times out to 2:47.51 with 0 deaths. It was done live on and retimed afterwards. After talking with Andrew G and Big Walsh, we all kind of picked out 2:47 as the upper limit on a human playthrough of this game. It turns out that the difference between a 2:48 and a 2:47 is indeed maddening - involving thousands of resets and over a hundred hours of play. This run stays pretty much in lock-step with its 2:48.68 predecessor until the Ultimate Race - but then concludes with a nearly perfect finish instead of a one second time loss.

Level Commentary:

Practice Race:

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 frame rules that you can land on, the third being exceedingly rare.

This practice race went unremarkably, with the marble going offscreen and relying on muscle memory to complete the level.

Beginner Race:

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. It all comes down to optimized cornering and how you handle the draw bridge. I always try to anticipate the frame that it descends and be moving towards it with as much velocity as possible, and attempted to do so in this run. Beyond that, all you can do for a good beginner race is cut corners. This Beginner Race was slightly faster than many of my previous efforts mostly due to my cornering between the pipes, but only by a very narrow margin.

Intermediate Race:

The Intermediate Race really is a double edged sword. Every small time save greatly increases the difficulty of the run by reducing the amount of screen real-estate available to the player. Very aggressive runs can put the player in the position of having to input blindly, similarly to the Practice Race.

Nothing noteworthy happened before the pipe, the acid is deterministic and can be avoided very consistently as long as you follow a precise route. The most difficult section takes place after the pipe, as you begin running off the bottom of the screen. In this run you can see the recent strategy that I have adopted of attempting to do parts of the final section of the race semi-blind. This resulted in a small gain in this run over previous efforts. (Props go to Big_Walsh for showing me that it was possible to learn to do this consistently.)

Aerial Race:

After more experimentation with this race, it looks like there is a global timer of some sort that affects the behavior of the pegs and, more importantly, the hammers. The times that I have started this level a few frame rules ahead of schedule, I have ended up losing that time again because the hammers were in a bad position. Likewise if I take a time loss on previous levels but elect not to reset, I find that the hammers are in a completely different pattern than is expected.

In this run the vacuums are a non-issue, I think I have died to them 2 times out of over 5000 attempts. The pegs can be more tricky, I try to do the exact same inputs every time and hope that they are kind enough to do the same. They have the potential to "tip" the marble, which doesn't kill the run but requires emergency strats, but in this run everything went perfectly smoothly. I feel like I got to the hammers quickly enough to make another small gain over my standard run, but due to the time saves of the Intermediate Race they were slightly behind schedule - and so I had to hesitate ever so slightly or end up running into the side of them. As such, the Aerial Race ended up being exactly dead even with my previous efforts.

Silly Race:

Getting a sub 2:48 time in Marble Madness is monstrously difficult primarily due to this race. The Big Silly Shortcut is, ideally, 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 if you want a 2:47, but the required inputs end up being just slightly different every... single... time.

The gravity of the Silly Race is backwards, and so you start by rolling uphill. The little guys in the middle area give you +3 seconds as a bonus to the timer, but that is of no use in a speedrun and so they are all spared. If you do the beginning of this race well, you get sucked up the pipe coming into the hardest cornering section of the game with little screen real-estate to work with. Slowing down at all means that the level's physics play hell with the marble, and worse yet a screen-bounce is pretty much always fatal. At this point, it has to be all muscle memory. Fortunately, this time I executed the quickest pattern I know of without error.

I remain convinced that the path to the right is the faster of the two directions to travel up the ramp, simply due to inertia. The bird section is extremely frustrating and in this run you can see I just barely clear one of them. Aside from killing your run in their own right, they tend to make the upcoming Silly Shortcut difficult to plan for. The TAS does this shortcut without touching any other walls, which as far as I can tell is utter nonsense to attempt in a human run. My ideal strategy here is to bounce off the front wall, then the back wall, and take that horizontal speed with me to go diagonally along the third grid-line towards the goal. There are a number of caveats to be aware of here. 1. As near as I can tell, the grid-line positioning has to be pixel perfect. 2. Sometimes the first bounce actually sends you back out towards the birds for whatever reason. 3. If you overshoot the positioning even slightly, the physics of the level do not allowed you to maneuver backwards.

In this run I ended up taking one extra bounce off the back wall, giving me a 2-bounce shortcut instead of the optimal 1-bounce. While adding only a few tenths of a second, this extra bounce in the Silly Race negated the tiny time saves that I had gained over the first four races relative to my previous 2:48.68 WR... and so I once again came into the Ultimate Race at almost the exact same time. This is the ONLY part of the entire run where I believe there is any substantive possibility of improvement, and even still only a fraction of a second.

Ultimate Race:

I have begun calling 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 shortcut in the Silly Race to go off properly (after everything else) has only happened for me a single digit number of times in thousands of runs, and so as soon as the level loads I find myself horrendously nervous. I knew full well that in my 2:48.68 run, I lost a full second on this level compared to my best possible performance. I was aware that I had absolutely no room to hesitate or play it safe and still get a 2:47, and at this point I was so anxious that my hands were literally shaking (not helpful for precision inputs).

Some time can be saved off of the very first jump by approaching it on an angle instead of head-on, but this strategy is now mandatory. (See Elliot's previous WR for the safe-strat and a comparison to how Andrew, Walsh, and I approach it.) The corner after the little blue strip is where I massively hesitate on my prior run, and it remains one common place to get all up in my own head and choke on the Ultimate Race. The biggest slayer of runs, though, is the lone acid that patrols the red floor section. You have to come through on either the very near or very far edge to consistently be clear of it. Until this play session it was, so to speak, the farthest I had ever been from the shire and still been on 2:47 pace. When I made it past, I knew I was going to either get a new WR or be more disappointed in myself than ever before.

The final blue floor section is also a terrifying moment, as you have absolutely NO control over your marble during this section. You need to hit this flooring with as much velocity as possible or waste a ton of time, and on exactly the correct vector so that don't put yourself on a collision course with the blue pyramids or the black marble. I was fortunate enough to miss all of those obstacles and so was finally staring down the last screen of the game.

By all rights, this screen is very easy compared to many of the other challenges of the game. Similar to the draw-bridge on the beginner race, there is no point in trying to hurry through the first few disappearing floor sections because your progress is limited by the rate at which the next tile appears.

"All you have to do is not die." This is what I told myself coming into this section with a huge lump in my throat and my hands _violently_ shaking. Yet there is one more time save to try to squeeze out. I was never brave enough to try this before, but this time I hit the last tile as close as I could stomach to the same frame that it appeared, and rushed through the goal.

Livesplit confirmed that this turned out to be pretty much a perfect Ultimate Race. It was over a second faster than my old PB, and damn near a gold split.

Final time 2:47.51

Overall I am extremely happy with this run, and am planning to retire from Marble Madness and move on to other projects. At the beginning of 2014 the WR for this game was 2:54.2 - and after lots of exciting competition and severely pushing the envelope we are now looking at a run that is nearly 7 seconds faster. I am going to make the bold prediction that you will never see another full second shaved off of this time.

The list of people who I owe my thanks continues to grow. I want to give Big_Walsh major credit for pushing this game to its limits, annihilating my old 2:50.9 SDA run, and not being content until the NES cartridge bleeds. Also, great respect to BassDeluxe for his fantastic representation of Marble Madness at SDGQ 2014. I am also grateful for the small but awesome band of folks who regularly swing by my twitch channel to break up the tedium of speedrunning with laughter and conversation.

As before I would like to thank AndrewG for being supportive and encouraging me to pursue the original record, NESKamikaze for the enjoyable Marble Madness races on SRL that got me excited about running the game, TheThrillness for helping me figure out my capture setup as well as everyone on #sda who spent time listening to me stress out about interlacing, my mother for actually keeping all my NES / SNES stuff at her house for 20 years until the day I wanted it back, and SeamusOdrunky for the NES that actually still worked. Lastly much gratitude to my roommates AxiomAltruist and MiakaTroy for being patient and hanging out as a took over the TV to play this game over and over again for hundreds of hours.

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. Throughout this year the speedrunning community has been a great pleasure to become a part of, and I am looking forward to putting this game behind me for awhile and expanding my speedrunning horizons. I would love to have more of you drop by my stream sometime as I attempt to move on from being a one trick pony and tackle some new titles.

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