Computer Gamer

By Electronic Arts
Commodore 64

Published in Computer Gamer #11

Will Gyroscope have the success of Marble Madness? Mike Roberts has an in-depth look at both games


In the beginning was the void, and Atari looked upon this void and said "let there be the game" and the game was created. And Atari looked upon the game and saw that it was good, and the name of the game was Marble Madness...

Marble Madness took the arcade world by storm in the early part of 1985 with its incredible music, amazing graphics and totally original gameplay - something exceedingly rare in this day of the millionth variation of Pac-Man.

Control was by the Atari pioneered Trakball, which left many a player with aching shoulders after an afternoon's play (yours truly included). Two players could play at once, which in itself is as rare as it is welcome.


The computer operating the game is based on the latest 16-bit technology and has a graphics, sound and processing power up to that of the new Amiga (watch out for an official Marble Madness on the Amiga in a few months time).

The concept behind the game is controlling a marble, by spinning the trakball in the direction you want the ball to go. By doing this, you can control it rolling down a conceptual 3D landscape of walkways, cliffs, drop tubes, jumps and targets, monsters and many more obstacles to avoid. Everything is against the clock and bonuses are awarded for the time left on the clock at the end of your run.

The Gyroscope computer games definitely have their roots in the Atari game, and only differ in detail.


In all versions of Gyroscope, your character is based on a gyroscope-like top, which has a time limit on it as to when it runs down. The landscape is similar to Marble Madness, but the actual set up and route is different. The monsters are simpler, and there are a lot of things missing, like tunnels, pipes, moving ramps, and conveyor belts. Gyroscope has new problems to overcome like magnets to draw you off course, ice to slip on, and little pac-men running around.

The difference between the Commodore and the other versions is mainly one of quality. As explained earlier, the Marble Madness machine has quite a high level of hardware. A Spectrum just cannot cope, so the Spectrum user will have to make do with guiding his gyroscope down the hill without the benefit of a smooth scrolling screen.

Each Spectrum section is made up of four screens; this introduces problems as it gets a bit tricky to charge off the bottom of the screen onto the next without being able to see what is happening. Due to resolution difficulties the Spectrum game has slightly simpler and cruder screens, but all is well on the Commodore version.


On the Commodore game, you get full smooth scrolling over the thirty screens (only twenty on the Spectrum and twelve on the BBC), much harder problems, and a musical background iin the spirit of the original game.

Unfortunately, the Commodore 64 version has a few inconsistencies. When you die, you should be put back in the same position on the track if death was caused by an alien.

Sometimes you are not put back onto the track properly and you can die before you even mode. Sometimes you can die an extra two times before you get put back onto the track successfully.


The same happens with the aliens; when you die the alien disappears, but you proceed to die again before you can even move a muscle.

I think I have worked out the edge bug. If you can zip off the track the game will put you back on the edge of the track, the very edge, that is. As no computer can produce true straight lines, they have to step pixel-by-pixel instead; if your gyroscope gets put on one of these edge pixels then there is only one pixel or couple of pixels that it can move onto.

So the upshot of all this is that you can only move in one direction, and the game seems to store your joystick movement as you crash and uses that as your first movement when you restart. As your last movement was the one that killed you, you die again.


Collision detection (between moving objects) is not all that hot on the Spectrum, so avoid all aliens as much as possible, as even going near them will lose you a life.

For Commodore owners who find their version a bit tricky around the edges, try travelling along the right side of the track. The game seems to be a bit more lenient on the right of a track and a bit finicky on the left.

If Commodore people get a bit confused halfway through level three, here's why...

The data for the levels seems to be stored in a compressed format. Only a certain amount can be held 'current' in memory at one time. Level three is twice as long as levels one and two so halfway through level three, it stops, decodes the rest of the level and starts again. How do you get onto the next bit? Well, you take the left path and keep going off the screen along that track, remembering to avoid the magnets so that you don't get thrown off the edge!

With luck, that section should end as if you had finished the level, clocking up bonuses etc. However, the level continues as if nothing had happened.

On the Spectrum and Amstrad versions, you have to watch out for these are particularly significant in a couple of the levels where the only possible route is quite close to an edge. This is because, if you touch the side of a screen, you will bounce off with some force, usually over the edge that you were trying to avoid.

The Amstrad version is a straight copy of the Spectrum game although it is easier to play because the graphics and collision routines are better defined. This allows you the luxury of being able to skirt along narrow edges and know exactly where you are.

The same is sadly not true of the BBC and Electron versions which offer only a paltry twelve screens. They also suffer from irritating bugs that allow you to actually pass through the game's obstacles!

Despite this annoying feature, it is so addictive that you will keep on playing until you finish it.

There are now five different versions of Gyroscope available covering the popular machines (Spectrum, Amstrad, C64 tape, C64 disk and BBC/Electron) and each offers its players a different challenge.

Elsewhere in this transmission we have featured Melbourne House's blockbuster, Lord Of The Rings. Lord Of The Rings might be the game everyone's talking about, but Gyroscope is the one that everyone's playing.

Mike Roberts

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