Was it really so simple in those days? A boy wanted to play a good game so he wrote one and sold it (and himself) to Atari Games. Mark Cerny was only 17 years old when he joined Atari and realized Marble Madness together with Bob Flanagan. The game was designed as part of a contest Atari ran at the time, allowing outsiders to design a game. Mark was very well known for his game-playing skills and easily won the contest. According to some sources, Mark taught himself how to program in assembly language before joining Atari, so he fit right in. But in fact, the original Marble Madness code hardly contained any assembly language. Neil Bradley, known from the emulator project "Retrocade", confirms that it is almost exclusively written in C.
In fact, the Atari marketing guys seemed to be very unimportant in 1984, nevertheless (or thats why) the games where good. On the second picture, you will see the maybe first marketing guy at Atari.
Later, Mark worked with Naughty Dog, which designed the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon series games for the Playstation. Mark is now running Cerny Games, a "games and consulting" company. Consulting? Sounds like marketing. Grmbl.....! Cerny games work on titles like Spiro 2 for the Playstation 2 and a Crash Bandicoot Followup named "Crash Bash". Not bad games but a little bit too kitschy and "non-escheresk". Still no Marble Madness Followup, Mark?
At this place, there was a "Tell it to me, Mark!"-button for years. And in June 2002, Mark Cerny really pressed the button and told me. He even gave me a detailed interview. Read it here:
Mark Cerny today at the age of 37, not age19.
Bern: Hi Mark. Would you please give a brief bio?
Mark: My name is Mark Cerny. I was born in 1964, and grew up in Berkeley, California, where my parents both worked at the university. I skipped a few grades in school, and started attending classes at the university from when I was 13 years old. Mostly I focused on math and physics, a background which helps me to this day. My big hobbies were computer programming and playing arcade games. In 1982, when I was 17, I was able to turn both of these hobbies into a job by joining Atari's coin-operated game group as a programmer/designer! After making an unsuccessful game prototype called "Qwak!", which you can see on the MAME emulator, I sat down and wrote the Marble Madness design. I then put it aside for a year, and helped Owen Rubin finish Major Havoc. Once Major Havoc was finished, I returned to Marble Madness and spent most of 1984 on it. In 1985 I left Atari and started working at Sega. I spent seven years there, half in the United States and half in Japan. I worked on Master System and Genesis games, and also several games using the Sega 3-D glasses. In 1990 I kicked off the "Sega Technical Institiute" for Sega, which was a R+D group located in California. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and three other Sonic games were created by this group.
Bern: Could your tell us about your role at Universal Studios, Crystal Dynamics and Naughty dog? How were you involved in the great Crash Bandicoot series?
Mark: In 1992, I joined Crystal Dynamics. I was the first employee in product development, and worked as a programmer and sometimes designer on "Crash and Burn" and "Total Eclipse" for the 3DO Multiplayer. In 1994, I went to Universal Studios, which had a very small "interactive" group run by two Universal Studios executives, Rob Biniaz and Skip Paul. This was the height of the multimedia "boom", and everyone expected us to make multimedia PC titles, but in fact we decided to make a few high quality games for the Sony Playstation. Naughty Dog arrived on the Universal Studios lot a month after I started there, and immediately began the first Crash Bandicoot. David Siller and I had production roles on the project. The same year, we also started working with Insomniac Games on their first video game, Disruptor; Michael John was the producer. After Rob Biniaz left Universal in late 1996, I became President of Universal Interactive Studios. In 1997 and 1998, I was Producer on Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot 2 and 3, and Executive Producer on Spyro the Dragon.
Bern: We can find little information about you in the web today. Your company, Cerny Games, is called a "game consultancy" in the web. What is this exactly? Could you tell us about current projects?
Mark: Our company is very small, just three people. We work with a variety of companies, providing assistance in game design, production or technology. Usually we are involved in four or so projects. We've worked on Spyro 2, Spyro 3, and Crash Bash for the PSOne. On PlayStation 2, we've consulted on Jak and Daxter and this year's upcoming Ratchet and Clank.
Bern: Could you tell us something about Bob Flanagan, the Co-programmer of Marble Madness?
Mark: Bob was a wonderful partner in the creation of Marble Madness. I'm sure you can imagine the stress of creating a totally unique game; Bob always approached his work with calmness and confidence.
Bern: For me, Marble Madness is the most beautiful videogame of all times. No other game has this aesthetical strictness, similar to a building from a very good architect. When I was 20 years old, I often dreamed to be the marble in this world. How could that happen? How much was that strictness caused by technical constraints, how much was it laid down in your concept? How could you imagine these abstract worlds? Were you influenced by the artist M.C.Escher?
Mark: Thank you so much! The "aesthetical strictness" is a personal bias; I was hoping that the world of Marble Madness would be a completely synthetic universe, with as little reference to our world as possible. And yes, there was a huge M.C.Escher influence. I'd seen his lithographs since I was a child, as my parents "discovered" him around 1972 and bought four of them. I also loved his initials - MCE, whereas mine are MEC (my middle name is Evan). If you look carefully, you can see an Escher style optical illusion in the fifth level, near the finish line. A level part of the environment bends around and comes near to itself, but when it does, it is "higher" than where it started out!
Bern: Marble Madness has a very good music, that interacts with the game noises and supports the action. This is very unusual until today. Most times, the game music just plays independent from the gamer's action like a shower radio. The rather new "Rez" from Sega is a great exception. How do you rate the chance for such "interactive music" in future video games, I mean music that changes and develops together with the gamer's action?
Mark: I think that the "music game" genre will continue to evolve. To date, no one has created an action game like you describe, but I think that we will see one within the next ten years.
Bern: I never had the chance to play the unreleased "Marble Madness 2: Marble Man", but the still pictures look more sloppy than the original Marble Madness. Were you involved in this project? What do you think about it?
Mark: I was not involved in Marble Man at all - I had left Atari by that time and was working as a contract employee of Sega. I did have a chance to play it, and it seems to me that it didn't quite follow up on the original Marble Madness concept. For example, one of the Marble Madness rules was that *everything* in the game was somewhat abstracted, including the environments and enemies. Marble Man, on the other hand, had enemies such as tomatoes, knives and forks.
Bern: What do you think about today's videogames? For me, the videogame industry is a little bit boring today cause of the limitation to very few genres like Doom clones, car races, role games, Jump 'n' run... That makes them very comparable for game testers but leads to endless repetitions with the only improvement of more levels, weapons, cars and polygons every year. Do you see a possibility to break this vicious circle?
Mark: I believe that the spirit of innovation is alive and well in the videogame industry. What we are seeing, I think, is that we've become a bit topheavy; every company with a successful video game franchise is releasing new versions of their games on the new hardware systems. That doesn't mean that there aren't original titles such as Pikmin or Grand Theft Auto, just that there are many many sequels hitting the market.
Bern: Repetitive videogames with clear graphics and only one or only a few levels (like Pacman, Tetris, Donkey Kong, Major Havoc or Marble Madness) seem to have no chance on today's videogame market. Even the newer games that you were involved in (Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter) are very large and complex. This is very contrary to other media-markets like the design-, music- and art-market and parts of the film-market. Videogames often seem to be "technical demos" with more of everything every year. How do you judge the importance of repetitive elements and plainness? Any chance to see less bombastic videogames in the future?
Mark: In their day, I believe that Donkey Kong, Major Havoc and Marble Madness had outstanding visuals and variety; what you call "bombastic". For example, no one had seen enormous animated characters like the gorilla in Donkey Kong, or the ray-traced, antialiased environments of Marble Madness. That's not to say that simpler games can't be successful; at the same time as Crash Bandicoot was successful in Japan, the puzzle games "Xi" and "IQ" both sold over 500,000 copies.
Bern: There were many games that tried to recreate the idea of a living marble. None of them ever could compete with Marble Madness IMHO, maybe with the exception of "Esprit/Oxyd" (first released for Atari ST). Today, there are a few 3D-games that refer to Marble Madness, but none of them could surpass a kind of "shareware quality". We also had a team here last year in Saarbrücken/Germany that started to develop a 3D successor with rather good Marble physics, but we failed due to a weak team. How are your ambitions to revive the idea of a living marble?
Mark: I'd love to return to the physics based, abstract type of universe found in Marble Madness. I'm a bit afraid, though, that it would the kind of game that I like but the mass market rejects. For example, the total sales of Marble Madness arcade units were only a few million dollars, versus the 500 million dollars or so of Crash Bandicoot sales.
the world seems to be different now, but didn't you say in 1984 "I designed
a game I'd want to play so you'd want to play it?". This may sound like
suicide for a business manager, but i still believe in that kind of
Bern: Are there any possible tricks or Easter eggs hidden in Marble Madness that are not yet described on the Marble Madness Page?
Mark: Our schedule for Marble Madness was very tight, so we didn't have time to stick in any "Easter eggs". However, if you want to reduce your time and increase your score, there are a few shortcut jumps you can take. These are "tricks", in the sense that we didn't put them in on purpose, or even know that they existed until after the game was shipped!
Bern: What graphical, musical and programming tools did you use in the early eighties to create Marble Madness?
Mark: The graphical tools were custom, running on a minicomputer, and so expensive that several artists had to share one system! For programming tools, we used in-circuit emulators (called an "ICE"). I honestly don't remember how the sound was created, but they did a great job!
Bern: Do you play any videogames today? Which ones?
Mark: Recently, I've played - and enjoyed tremendously - Final Fantasy X on PlayStation 2, Pikmin on Gamecube, and Halo on XBOX.
Bern: Thanks a lot for the detailed and interesting answers.