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Game Design Essentials: 20 Mysterious Games

January 14, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 21 Next

4. Marble Madness (home computer versions)

The Water Maze

Developed by various developers working for Electronic Arts (original version by Atari Games)

Originally designed by Mark Cerny

Reason for inclusion:

It's not too well understood even now, but the computer versions of Marble Madness contain a secret level called the Water Maze. It's obscenely difficult and obscure to get through, but it's not obvious how to get to it, either.

The game:

It's not well-known (despite being featured in magazine ads), but the home computer editions of Marble Madness published by Electronic Arts contain a secret level of sorts. In the first level, if the player jumps off the pointed sides of the trench leading to the goal and lands on the floor on the left side of the screen, there's a secret passage to be found. It can't be located just by bumping around; he must wait on a specific spot until the timer reads 13 seconds remaining. Done correctly, an elevator will appear leading down, and soon after he'll be in a new area with 99 seconds on the clock. This area is the Water Maze, which appears only in EA's ports of the game.

The new area is a bit more fidgety than the real game. Instead of a series of action movement challenges, it is more a series of puzzles where the player must figure out what to do to move on. Many of the puzzles require two marbles to pull off, so while a single player will be let into the level, he won't really have a chance of completing it. Many of the puzzles involve elevators or rivers, objects which don't appear in the main game. The game rules are also different there, for if the clock runs out the level resets, but if the player dies the game ends immediately.

It greatly changes what it means to play Marble Madness, and it's maddeningly difficult besides, so it's fitting that it's relegated to an obscure easter egg in a dark corner of the game.

Design lesson:

The Water Maze plays differently than the main game, is fairly small, and finishing doesn't cause anything special to happen, so it's good that it's relegated to being a weird little secret. But that moment when a player happens upon it for the first time is really something.


Article Start Previous Page 5 of 21 Next

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