Marble Madness (Genesis) Tutorial

Oct 8th, 2017
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  1. Marble Madness (Genesis) Tutorial
  2. ---------------------------------
  4. # Resources
  6. Leaderboards:
  7. Series Page:
  8. Discord:
  9. Streams:
  10. World Record: 2:21.667 by AD2 (
  12. # Difficulty
  14. Due to the way the time counts up at the start of each level, it is faster to
  15. choose the hard diffculty because less time will count up, saving a few frames.
  16. This is not necessary if you just want to consistently beat the game, since it
  17. would save less than a second. The time that is counted up is the only aspect
  18. of the game that changes based on the difficulty setting.
  20. # Splitting
  22. Official time starts when "Time to finish practise race" disappears, which is
  23. timed using a -5.9 delayed timer (for NTSC) starting at the same time as
  24. pressing Start on the title screen. End the timer by splitting upon crossing
  25. the finish line, but don't mess up to do it! The goal posts have a large hitbox
  26. so if you want to focus on getting in the goal post you can split after you are
  27. sure and retime it later based on the video. I split when "Bonus for time left"
  28. appears on the screen because you are no longer controlling the marble. It is a
  29. consistent amount of time after crossing the goal line and it can also be timed
  30. using the sound effects.
  32. # Versions
  34. Marble Madness is on many platforms, and each version is different. The only
  35. version coded by Mike Cerny, the original designer and co-programmer, was the
  36. arcade version, so each other version was given to a different programmer.
  37. The current versions that are speedrun are NES, Master System, Genesis,
  38. Gameboy and Rolling Madness 3D.[1] The NES version is the most popular home
  39. console port, which is significantly different from the arcade version in
  40. controls, appearance, level design and music.[2] It is the version that is
  41. ran the most, and currently has the most optimised record (by Elipsis).[3]
  42. The Master System, Gameboy and PC versions all have different physics as well.
  43. I believe they all have design flaws which make them undesirable to run unless
  44. you are particularly fond of Marble Madness like I am.
  46. There are actually two versions on the Genesis. One version was coded by
  47. Michael Schwartz, which is the most popular version and the one which I run.
  48. It has an almost perfect recreation of the arcade physics such that any tricks
  49. that work on the arcade version work the exact same way on the Genesis version.
  50. The differences come in the form of the pause button, which doesn't exist on
  51. the arcade version, the edge of the screen, which interacts differently with
  52. the marble, the lag, which is an issue on the Genesis version due to either the
  53. hardware or the implementation, the music, which is lower quality and ported to
  54. Genesis by Steve Hayes, and the graphics, which were partially reconstructed. I
  55. personally think that this version is a more interesting speedrun since it is
  56. shorter, better known and has many interesting tricks in it.[4]
  58. The Japanese release of the game was given to Tengen. This version has graphics
  59. such as the marble, text and high score screen, and sound, which may convince
  60. you that it is a more accurate port of the arcade version.[5] I'm not an expert
  61. on this version, but given that the physics are demonstrably different it is
  62. definitely not as faithful to the original as the UE release, which has one to
  63. one parity with the physics of the arcade version. People might prefer this
  64. version if they think the controls are better or want track ball support
  65. through use of the Sega Mouse. There is no page for this version.
  67. # Movement
  69. The most important thing about the movement in this game is to use the
  70. turboboost.[20] This essentially speeds up the marble and makes it easier to
  71. control. It is used by holding down a, b or c, so use whichever one is most
  72. comfortable for you to hold for a long period of time. When I do runs of the
  73. game I essentially never let go of the button, but you may want to slow down
  74. the marble for more precise sections initially. Unlike the NES version, this
  75. game can actually be beaten entirely without the use of this button, but it is
  76. slow and painful.[6]
  78. In other aspects of movement, you have more leniency on what counts as being on
  79. the ground in comparison to the NES version, so jumping gaps is much easier.
  80. You will learn from experience just how far you can push a gap to make it
  81. across. This works because of a coding design decision, where the game detects
  82. when the marble is just under a platform and, instead of killing the marble,
  83. pushes it back onto the platform. Aside from these points, good movement is
  84. acquired by playing the game enough to get the hang of it.
  86. # Practice Race
  88. The practice race is the easiest race in the game. It is called the practice
  89. race because the time from this level does not carry across to the next, so
  90. casually there is no time pressure. The notable differences from the NES
  91. version are that the camera actually keeps up with the marble in this game
  92. (which is freaking fantastic) and there is more leniency in movement so the
  93. small gaps created by the zig-zag section can be jumped. With some practise
  94. you should be able to consistently get a mid to high 55 at the end of the
  95. stage.
  97. # Beginner Race
  99. Take some time to find controls which work for you at the start of the beginner
  100. race. I do a quick left tap before the steelie[11] (black marble) to avoid it,
  101. since it is very hard to avoid without doing a deliberate movement. Hitting the
  102. steelie tends to be quite slow so I would recommend focussing on avoidance,
  103. even at the cost of some speed.
  105. Remember how I mentioned that there is a lag issue with this game? Hitting
  106. enemies which stun you, such as the marble muncher[7], causes the speed of the
  107. game to drop, which wastes a lot of time. Your best bet is probably to try and
  108. copy my movement through that section, which moves in a zigzag similar to the
  109. practice race. I move in line and close to the middle structure, then switch
  110. direction, then switch direction again once I am past the marble muncher. This
  111. movement does not waste time, since the bridge is on a level timer, but if you
  112. delay during the starting area you may want to try and take a more direct path
  113. to the bridge.
  115. After crossing the bridge, there is a fork in the road, allowing you to move
  116. down a ramp or fall into a pipe. The pipe leads to a shorter path so it is
  117. faster for the speedrun. Get to the pipe by cutting a close line to the edge
  118. of the level nearest the pipe or by swinging around the steelie in an arc.
  119. Anything within a certain space of movement will hit the steelie and could
  120. be dire. The part between the pipe exit and the final pipe is done by
  121. practising and working out controls, which over time can become more tight to
  122. the edge of the platform.
  124. There are three strategies for reaching the finish line after leaving the final
  125. pipe. The most casual and slowest strategy is to stop the marble on the grid
  126. line nearest the pipe, then hold down+left to avoid the ice contours and reach
  127. the top of the platform on the other end. The second strategy, which is second
  128. fastest, is to hold down out of the pipe, then switch to holding down+left and
  129. then left, with the aim being to hit the middle to upper grid lines of the ice
  130. parallel to those lines. This will always make it across the ice and generally
  131. allows you to hold down after the ice to get into the goal post, although a
  132. left adjustment may be needed depending on the angle. The last method is the
  133. fastest but it is more complicated and I don't have a consistent setup. It
  134. involves entering the ice at an almost downward angle roughly 30% up from the
  135. bottom of the ice, then using the curvature of the ice to exit near the bottom
  136. of the platform and steer into the goal. The TAS[16] uses this method.[8]
  138. # Intermediate Race
  140. The first trick of the run is done at the start of this race. It's quite hard
  141. initially to get a feel for, but if you have save states you should have a much
  142. better time than I did. Essentially any way which you can get the correct angle
  143. will work, but the way that I do it is to hold right, then switch to holding
  144. down at a certain time, then right and down again. It helps to have a visual cue
  145. to switch, for example the intersection of tiles on the ground. Up to 3 attempts
  146. can be made before losing time to the intended route, so if you are not
  147. consistent enough it is faster to not perform the skip. The spawn point after
  148. failing the first time is different, so slightly different inputs will be needed
  149. to make the jump. For the second position, I just hold right then hold down.
  150. You will probably find that initially you are better at this spawn position
  151. because you can try it as many times as you like until it works. After getting
  152. onto the platform, it is faster to drop into the channel in order to steer out.
  153. If you can find a consistent way to get onto the ramp fast with no bounces,
  154. please let me know. I usually bounce 3 times before getting onto the ramp, with
  155. 0 bounces being a good run.
  157. If you don't lose speed during the section from the ramp to the acid slime[12],
  158. they should be in a position such that you can roll through the middle without
  159. any issues. I have seen other patterns but they are rare. If you have quick
  160. reflexes you can spot the patterns and improvise a way through it, or if you
  161. are more on the casual side of things you can slow down, observe the pattern,
  162. then turn on the turboboost and roll through.
  164. The last section of the level is mostly movement based. You are once again
  165. given a choice of paths, with the waves being the faster option.[9] If you
  166. are fast you can get in front of the first wave. Be sure to make a hard right
  167. to get into the goal. You can hold up+right to slow down or hold right at the
  168. right time to make the corner.
  170. # Intermediate Race RTA[17]/TAS Differences
  172. There are currently three differences in strategy between the RTA run and the
  173. TAS run. At the start of the level, it rolls into the right channel and uses
  174. efficient movement and corner cutting to make it through that section. This
  175. appears to be a shorter path, so it would save time, but it is difficult. At
  176. the end of the level there are two incredibly precise tricks. One jumps the
  177. gap between the ramp and the wave platform by falling in such a way as to stun
  178. the marble, which is used to build speed. This trick is used other times in the
  179. run. I have done this RTA, but it is in no way consistent and probably
  180. resembles less than 1% chance of happening. The final trick jumps into the goal
  181. while killing the marble to skip the sequence of rolling to a stop, immediately
  182. bringing up the "Bonus for time left" message and ending the level. I have not
  183. attempted it.
  185. # Aerial Race
  187. Start by holding up+right off the ramp to stop the marble rolling off the edge,
  188. then change direction to move with the path. Some people initially struggle
  189. with the hoovers[10], but the instruction manual gives the key to success.
  190. If you are already holding the speed button when you roll past the hoovers
  191. from the middle to the bottom of the platform, they won't have an impact.
  192. Following this is the next trick of the run.
  194. If it hasn't been made clear already, Sprint has had a huge impact on this run.
  195. The setup for the Aerial skip was entirely found by him, and saves about a
  196. second, even with an intentional death to set up marble positioning. The first
  197. step is to kill the marble in a specific range of positions which gives it a
  198. specific respawn point. As you can see in the record, I do this by holding
  199. down+right in the middle of the path and allow the hoover to bring me closer to
  200. the edge of the platform so that the marble falls into the small hole. After
  201. this, roll the marble into a specific position by holding turboboost and down,
  202. then pause. While paused, change direction to turboboost and up+left, then
  203. unpause and continue holding those buttons until you make it across the gap.
  204. This gif by Sprint shows the inputs to do after pausing on the correct frame and
  205. the frame just after:
  207. It is important to know that you can frame advance with the pause button by
  208. pressing it twice consecutively. In this way, if you pause one or two frames
  209. early, you can advance to the correct frame. Doing this trick without the
  210. intentional death would save two seconds over the current record. I have managed
  211. to do it without a death and save about a second in a run.
  213. After making it across the gap there is another fork in the road, which is
  214. better tackled by taking the path down towards the pistons. It is very
  215. important to avoid the steelie, since hitting it will quite possibly lose all
  216. of the time that the skip saves. You can either steer very close to the edge of
  217. the platform and take a direct line to avoid it, or arc around the steelie up
  218. the screen. The arc is much easier but slightly slower. Without doing the skip
  219. this section is done by holding down after landing to get to the ramp. If the
  220. steelie is in the way it may be necessary to steer around it. The steelie is on
  221. a level timer, so if you move there the same way each time, you won't have a
  222. problem knowing what to do. It is actually possible to skip this section by
  223. rolling past the hitbox of the catapult, as seen in this gif:
  225. It should be noted that the TAS uses a completely different route in this
  226. section which is not currently RTA viable.
  228. The pistons[13] in this game are very docile, so you can roll through that
  229. section without worrying about patterns or timing. If you hit a piston you can
  230. usually just bounce off and continue rolling. It is possible to be launched by
  231. the pistons but it is very rare. The section of raceway up to the hammers is
  232. based on good movement. The hammers[14] pose a tough challenge to beginners,
  233. but rest assured they are fairly easy, especially compared to the NES version.
  234. Once you reach the hammers, a pattern is decided. There are only a few possible
  235. patterns, so it shouldn't take long to memorise them all and develop solutions.
  236. The main difference from the NES version which makes these hammers easier is
  237. that the pattern repeats instead of switching to a different one after one
  238. cycle, so you can always wait for the next one to make a move or slip through
  239. in the gap inbetween. The hardest pattern, being the one which doesn't have an
  240. obvious gap in the middle, is the one where hammers alternate from farthest to
  241. nearest. For this one you will actually need good timing to move between two of
  242. the hammers. If you are consistent enough at reaching the hammers without losing
  243. time, you will find that the same pattern generally occurs, making it
  244. predictable and easier to get through.
  246. # Silly Race
  248. Everything you know is wrong.
  250. At least, that's what the game tells you at the start of this stage. The good
  251. news is that you are reading this tutorial, so this statement, in relation to
  252. the game, will no longer be correct.
  254. This stage moves from bottom to top, and is the only stage in the game to do
  255. so. The ramp at the start of the level is hard to get the hang of, but the only
  256. advice I can offer is to be able to use left and right directions on the d-pad
  257. to influence the marble's direction more than up+left or up+right. The pit just
  258. after the ramp contains small acid slimes and steelies which can be crushed to
  259. gain time, although this requires precise movement and could end up losing time
  260. anyway. Generally you want to get a feel for moving through that pit
  261. efficiently and roll into the direct middle of the square under the tube, since
  262. inaccuracy could cause the marble to bounce around or not be sucked in.
  264. There is a fork in the road here, but unlike the other forks in the road, you
  265. are not given a choice. The game randomly decides which path you will be
  266. given so some quick thinking is required to change inputs depending on the
  267. path. The left path is slower in two ways: it is a longer path and hence harder
  268. to use to set up the 'earlybird' trick, and it doesn't have the 'silly jump'
  269. which saves time on the other path. It can still be fairly quick with efficient
  270. movement though, as in this video:
  272. The right path has the silly jump, which is done by steering off the top of the
  273. ramp at the corner in the direction parallel to the downward line on the far
  274. platform. This trick is part consistent and part annoyingly precise, and
  275. probably saves over a second. Since it is hard to explain in text, see this
  276. video for an example of it being executed, along with earlybird and silly skip:
  279. Either way you should have enough speed to attempt the 'earlybird' trick,
  280. which is one of my favourite tricks in the game. It essentially uses very
  281. efficient movement through that section to get the marble in front of the first
  282. terrordactyl[15]. You can mess around with this or move slower and trail behind
  283. the terrordactyl. After that there is a tricky zig zag movement section where
  284. you need to use the movement skills that you have developed up to this point to
  285. go fast and avoid terrordactyls. You may notice that by dying to a bird or
  286. falling into the upper pit, you will be spawned on the other side of the pit.
  287. Which may seem to be a faster option than rolling around the pit. I did some
  288. testing on this and found that it is about 0.35s slower by death in the pit and
  289. 0.7s slower by death to the bird, but if you find that you hit the birds anyway
  290. this might be a worthwhile death abuse to use.
  292. After the terrordactyls is the silly skip, the only skip that is in just about
  293. every marble madness port. The physics of the marble in this game make it
  294. very easy to do, so I don't expect to ever see someone running this game
  295. without doing the silly skip. All you need to do is roll to the top of the
  296. ramp, then roll back down the ramp and move upward to fall onto the other side.
  297. All that's left to do after that is to acknowledge when the lag from the
  298. terrordactyls ends and steer the marble into the goal.
  300. The only differences between the RTA and TAS Silly Race are a use of the stun
  301. glitch to make a gap in the terrordactyl section and a more efficient silly
  302. skip by cutting through the wall instead of rolling up the ramp then back down.
  304. # Ultimate Race
  306. Congratulations, you made it to the final level of the game! If you read the
  307. full tutorial up to this point, you have also made it through over 3000 words
  308. of text, which is even more impressive. This is easily the hardest level
  309. casually, since the enemies are very difficult to avoid, time is of the essence
  310. and the ramps at the end require good control of the marble. The first part
  311. should be fairly straightforward, but if you need approximate inputs you can
  312. refer to this poorly drawn diagram I made for the master system version:
  315. Next is the second and final fork which is controlled by RNG.[18] Both paths
  316. are difficult and require a lot of time to master. When I first started running
  317. the game I thought it to be near impossible to get through ultimate with no
  318. deaths, since the acid slimes and marble munchers appeared to be random and
  319. the floor surfaces made it difficult to steer the marble to avoid them. I have
  320. now reached a point where both paths can be done with no slowdown or death.
  321. Here I will detail the paths I take to avoid the enemies, but you may find that
  322. a different movement pattern works better for you.
  324. For the left path, I use the down/up method, meaning that I move in an almost
  325. straight path under the first acid slime and over the second acid slime. With
  326. no slowdown they are in optimal positions for this to work. After that some
  327. care is needed to land on the ramp, since it's visual appearance in isometric
  328. space can be misleading, causing you to miss the ramp entirely. After that I
  329. move over the first marble muncher, although it has a tendency to jump anyway,
  330. and under the second marble muncher. You can see a video of this here:
  333. For the right path, you will need to quickly adjust your inputs after
  334. recognising that you are on it in order to make the hairpin turn. There are two
  335. main options for avoiding the first marble muncher. One is to angle your travel
  336. across the bridge such that the marble is right at the top or bottom of the
  337. platform, then corner cut above the marble muncher to avoid it. The other is to
  338. go straight through the bridge, which will usually cause the marble muncher to
  339. jump. This jump appears to be based on a level timer, so if you are able to do
  340. the start of the level the same way each time you may be able to coerce the
  341. enemy into jumping. This method is faster. The second marble muncher is avoided
  342. by hugging the wall above it down to the ramp, which is also sometimes
  343. challenging to land on. For the acid pools I use the up/up method, which travels
  344. straight above the first slime then makes a 90 degree turn to travel straight
  345. above the second slime. I find the hitboxes to be less extended into these areas
  346. of the raceway so even if the marble is moving slower this is preferable. You
  347. can see a video of this here:
  350. Now we have to talk about the hardest trick currently used and required for
  351. world record speedruns of the game; the ultimate skip.[19] There are two parts
  352. to the trick: first you need to efficiently cross the ice and kill the steelie,
  353. then you need to do the correct inputs to get into the goal. Some people find
  354. the ice to be challenging, but the key is simply to steer the marble until it is
  355. pointing directly down, then move across the ice slightly to the right of
  356. centre. There are two situations you could be in on the other side. For one
  357. situation, the steelie is on the left hand side, so you need to slowly roll off
  358. the right edge in such a way that it will follow you. In order to respawn fast
  359. enough you need to fall off the side of the track and not onto the ground where
  360. the marble has a shattering animation. The other situation has the steelie on
  361. the right hand side, in which case I would run into the steelie at high speed to
  362. bounce it off the edge then roll off the side immediately after hitting it.
  363. Both of these strategies, given that you roll off the right side of the raceway,
  364. will give the exact same spawn point which is used for the setup.
  366. There are two cycles which I can do the setup on. Both have the same inputs but
  367. different visual cues for the flags. The flags are consistent with their
  368. animation in relation to the alternating platforms, as communicated by Sprint
  369. for the original setup. For the first cycle, I pause on the second frame of the
  370. right flag in its downmost position before the platform is going to appear.
  371. Using the same method as in the Aerial skip, if the pause is too early, I frame
  372. advance to the correct time by pausing and unpausing quickly. While paused,
  373. start holding down+turboboost and unpause. When the marble is above where the
  374. platform will appear, let go of holding down. When the platform appears and
  375. catches the marble, switch to holding up+left+turboboost to guide the marble
  376. into the goal. For the second cycle, I pause on the first frame of the left
  377. flag in its downmost position and do the same inputs. Doing the ultimate skip
  378. with no pauses is one of the largest timesaves left in the run, and simply
  379. requires that the inputs are done starting on the correct frame.
  381. If you choose not to do the ultimate skip because it is too risky to attempt,
  382. you can still do the long way moderately fast. Cross the ice in the same way
  383. and dodge the black ball, moving straight onto the first set of moving
  384. platforms. If this is done fast enough, the black ball shouldn't follow.
  385. Don't be too agressive with movement across the first four platforms as the
  386. fourth one has a slightly longer delay before appearing. The next set of
  387. alternating platforms, known as the 'snake', is best done by without any use of
  388. the turboboost, since the speed of alternation is much slower than the speed
  389. that the marble can move. After beating the snake, stop the marble within the
  390. first two grid lines on the next platform. When the first ramp appears, hold
  391. up+right+turboboost to jump over to the ice and make it safely to the other
  392. side. If you miss this chance, you can wait for three of the platforms to
  393. appear and roll over in the same way. The last stretch is done by holding up to
  394. get onto the first two platforms, stopping on the dark green platform to wait
  395. for the ice and the next dark green platform to appear, since there is no
  396. traction on the ice, rolling across to the next green platform, then moving
  397. near the top of the green platform to enter the goal by first holding left then
  398. holding down. The goal flags have large hitboxes so there will likely be times
  399. where you hit them and bounce off, but eventually the left->down method can
  400. become consistent.
  402. # Footnotes
  404. [1]
  405. [2] An interesting fact about the music of the NES version is that it was
  406. ported by David Wise, who also composed the music for Donkey Kong Country,
  407. Battletoads and Diddy Kong Racing.
  408. [3]
  410. [4] The TAS by Sprint demonstrates the wide variety of glitches and tricks:
  412. [5] This segaretro article claims that the Tengen version is "much more
  413. faithful to the original game"
  414. [6]
  415. [7] From the instruction manual, "Marble Munchers: These guys have a ravenous
  416. appetite for marbles. They have no eyes, but they can smell you when you get
  417. close. Avoid them at all costs!"
  418. [8] Timestamped ice strategy in the TAS:
  419. [9] The NES instruction manual says to "Be on the lookout for quicker ways to
  420. the Goal Line. For example, if you can catch the wave on Level 3 (The
  421. Intermediate Race), you'll reach the Goal Line faster!"
  423. [10] From the instruction manual, "Hoovers: Hoovers appear out of nowhere to
  424. pull you off the raceway. Turbo past them if you want to have a fighting
  425. chance!"
  426. [11] From the instruction manual, "Steelies: These black marbles try to bump
  427. you off the raceway into caverns around the maze. They're persistent, so get
  428. around 'em any way you can!"
  429. [12] From the instruction manual, "Acid Slime: These green pools ooze around
  430. the grid in an attempt to dissolve your boll. Don't roll into them!"
  431. [13] From the instruction manual, "Pistons: These pistons could pop up at any
  432. second and knock you off the raceway." JimmyStumps and I were originally under
  433. the impression that these were called 'Imwams' because he read the heading
  434. under one of the other languages in the instruction manual.
  435. [14] From the instruction manual, "Hammers: Hammers hide and appear at the last
  436. minute and try to knock you off the raceway."
  437. [15] From the instruction manual, "Terrordactyls: Bad birds fly in a straight
  438. path, just don't let 'em fly straight into you! If they do, you're history."
  439. This is my favourite enemy description from the instruction manual.
  440. [16] Tool-Assisted Speedrun. See
  441. [17] Real-Time Attack. This initialism is used to describe a run as done by a
  442. human in real time.
  443. [18] Random Number Generation, used by a computer to make 'random' decisions in
  444. the game.
  445. [19] You could actually beat the current world record without the ultimate skip
  446. if you tied the TAS in every other level.
  447. [20] The Genesis instruction manual only references the name of the turboboost
  448. under the controls section. The NES instructions give a more in-depth
  449. description of "Turbocharging", imploring you to "Press BUTTON A at any time to
  450. give your marble an extra burst of speed. Turbocharging can shave seconds off
  451. your time. It can also help you escape enemies and traps!"
  453. # Credits
  455. Mike Cerny for creating Marble Madness
  456. Michael Schwartz for coding the Genesis port
  457. Sprint for finding most of the tricks and glitches used in the run
  458. Nikos for proofreading this tutorial
  459. TheMotherBrain86 for proofreading this tutorial
  460. JimmyStumps for proofreading this tutorial and introducing me to the Genesis
  461. version of Marble Madness
  462. AD2 (me) for writing this tutorial
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