Maximillian Laumeister

My Thoughts on Marble Drop

Marble Drop is a puzzle video game published by Maxis on February 28, 1997 for the Windows PC. It is my favorite underrated puzzle game.

I remember this game very fondly from my childhood. When I was very young I used to love dropping marbles into the various marble machines in this game and watching where they would end up. Only in replaying this game recently can I say that I fully understand how to solve most of the puzzles (though there are still a few that give me trouble).

Marble Drop’s gameplay, from Wikipedia:

Players are given an initial set of marbles […] These marbles are picked up and dropped by the players into funnels leading to a series of rails, switches, traps and other devices which grow more complex as the game progresses. The aim is to ensure that each marble arrives in the bin of the same color as the marble. Players must determine how the marble will travel through the puzzle, and how its journey will change the puzzle for the next marble. When a marble runs over certain sections of the puzzle, the paths may be rerouted or cut off, either temporarily or permanently. For example, if the marble runs over a button, it might hop, skip and jump a diversion that sends the next marble down a different road.

My speed-run of Level 1 (Click for Video)

In many of the puzzles, the player needs to waste one or more marbles to solve the puzzle. These “wasted” marbles go down the “wrong” paths and are destroyed by the puzzle, but in doing so they flip diverters and trigger state changes in other components, which pave the way for subsequent marbles that can solve the puzzle. The beauty of this game (and what makes it addictive) is that there are many ways to solve each of the puzzles, but often only a small handful of optimal strategies (that waste the least amount of marbles).

In case anyone asks, my favorite level is Level 16: Brunelleschi. I think it is genius in its simplicity, yet the optimal solution is difficult to find. Kyle Zingg found a solution (confirmed by Derek Kisman) that is even better than the Maxis team’s optimal solution. I’ve found the Maxis team’s best solution myself by working on the puzzle, but I don’t want to be spoiled so I haven’t looked at Kyle’s even better one yet ;)

I also think that levels 35, 44, and especially 39 are pretty rad in the respect that it feels like you are not just solving the level but cooperating with it. Not levels 40 and 45 though, those ones feel like they are always working against you >:(

I send my many thanks to the developers, artists, level designers, and other team members who made this game. I’ve enjoyed it way more than my fair share over the years.


P.S. If you would like to play this game, I recommend getting a Windows 98 install set up in VMWare Player. That’s the best way to play it!

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Level Screenshots

I wanted to post screenshots of every one of the game’s 50 levels all in one place, since it’s not something I’ve been able to find on the internet anywhere else. Each level is named after a historical scientist, philosopher, or mathematician. There are some pretty unique puzzle designs in this game!

  1. Thales of Miletus

    Marble Drop Level 1 - Thales of Miletus
  2. Tarquinius the Elder

    Marble Drop Level 2 - Tarquinius the Elder
  3. Priscian

    Marble Drop Level 3 - Priscian
  4. Xenophon

    Marble Drop Level 4 - Xenophon
  5. Galileo (Bonus Level)

    Show Spoiler
    Marble Drop Level 5 - Galileo (Bonus Level)
  6. Aristotle

    Marble Drop Level 6 - Aristotle
  7. Archimedes

    Marble Drop Level 7 - Archimedes

    Marble Drop Lore (Leonardo's Notes)

    • Designing these puzzles has brought my creativity to full vigor. My only obstacle is that I have more ideas than hands. To rectify this situation, I have brough Gino, my cousin's child, under my employ. I am confident he will make a most adequate houseboy.
    • After completing the first puzzle, my patron, Medici, is anxious for more challeges.
  8. Euclid

    Marble Drop Level 8 - Euclid
  9. Eratosthenes

    Marble Drop Level 9 - Eratosthenes
  10. Polybius

    Marble Drop Level 10 - Polybius
  11. Ctesibius

    Marble Drop Level 11 - Ctesibius
  12. Ma Chun

    Marble Drop Level 12 - Ma Chun
  13. Hero of Alexandria

    Marble Drop Level 13 - Hero of Alexandria
  14. Speusippus

    Marble Drop Level 14 - Speusippus
  15. Democritus

    Marble Drop Level 15 - Democritus
  16. Brunelleschi

    Marble Drop Level 16 - Brunelleschi
  17. Archytas of Tarente

    Marble Drop Level 17 - Archytas of Tarente
  18. Christiaan Huygens (Bonus Level)

    Show Spoiler
    Marble Drop Level 18 - Christiaan Huygens (Bonus Level)
  19. Philo of Athens

    Marble Drop Level 19 - Philo of Athens

    Marble Drop Lore (Leonardo's Notes)

    • The enlightened can turn the weapons of man toward more industrious exploits.
  20. Cato the Elder

    Marble Drop Level 20 - Cato the Elder
  21. Philo of Byzantium

    Marble Drop Level 21 - Philo of Byzantium
  22. Hipparchus

    Marble Drop Level 22 - Hipparchus

    Marble Drop Lore (Leonardo's Notes)

    • Some upstart has apparently come to Medici with aspirations of writing a book about the patron's political activity. Medici's hubris is now large beyond any scale that could be measured (even by astronomical instruments).
    • I have also been regretfully informed that I will be sharing the carriage house with said writer of little note.
    • Gino claims to see a wild dog in the geometry of this puzzle. This is added to the three monkeys and the elk with its tongue sticking out he has seen in other puzzles. I have yet to determine whether his are the eyes of an artist or a lunatic.
    • Medici's feelings were hurt when he could not solve the last puzzle at his birthday celebration.
  23. Shao Ong

    Marble Drop Level 23 - Shao Ong
  24. Dionysus Thrax

    Marble Drop Level 24 - Dionysus Thrax
  25. Geminus of Rhodes

    Marble Drop Level 25 - Geminus of Rhodes
  26. Plato

    Marble Drop Level 26 - Plato

    Marble Drop Lore (Leonardo's Notes)

    • Note to self: Next time Medici commissions a puzzle, make it easier.
  27. Sripati (Bonus Level)

    Show Spoiler
    Marble Drop Level 27 - Sripati (Bonus Level)
  28. Marcus Tiron

    Marble Drop Level 28 - Marcus Tiron
  29. Pliny the Elder

    Marble Drop Level 29 - Pliny the Elder
  30. Vitruvius

    Marble Drop Level 30 - Vitruvius

    Marble Drop Lore (Leonardo's Notes)

    • Thinking defines man but a man should not be defined by a thought.
  31. Ts'ai Lun

    Marble Drop Level 31 - Ts'ai Lun
  32. Apollonius Dyskolos

    Marble Drop Level 32 - Apollonius Dyskolos
  33. Belisarius

    Marble Drop Level 33 - Belisarius

    Marble Drop Lore (Leonardo's Notes)

    • Gino suffered a minor burn while cleaning one of the burners. Needless to say, his plaintive wails were embarassing to all those present, and would not cease until I held his hand under a convenient freezer.
    • Medici has, as of late, become infatuated with the study of thermodynamics.
  34. Apollonius (Bonus Level)

    Show Spoiler
    Marble Drop Level 34 - Apollonius (Bonus Level)
  35. Isidore of Seville

    Marble Drop Level 35 - Isidore of Seville
  36. Chang Hsu-hsun

    Marble Drop Level 36 - Chang Hsu-hsun
  37. Gerbert d'Aurillac

    Marble Drop Level 37 - Gerbert d'Aurillac
  38. Pi Cheng

    Marble Drop Level 38 - Pi Cheng
  39. Gui d'Arezzo

    Marble Drop Level 39 - Gui d'Arezzo
  40. Su Sung

    Marble Drop Level 40 - Su Sung

    Marble Drop Lore (Leonardo's Notes)

    • I heard an old man's musings about the treasures of Egypt and it served as some inspiration to me. This puzzle requires the quickness of the Nile valley's revered feline.
    • Note: Send Gino out for more cogs and glue.
  41. Guido di Vigevano

    Marble Drop Level 41 - Guido di Vigevano
  42. Salvino degliArmati

    Marble Drop Level 42 - Salvino degliArmati
  43. Albertus Magnus (Bonus Level)

    Show Spoiler
    Marble Drop Level 43 - Albertus Magnus (Bonus Level)

    Marble Drop Lore (Leonardo's Notes)

    • Malthus would say my charity does no favors, but I need to be beloved.
  44. Leone Alberti

    Marble Drop Level 44 - Leone Alberti
  45. Timdeharis

    Marble Drop Level 45 - Timdeharis
  46. Giovanni

    Marble Drop Level 46 - Giovanni
  47. Kiddinu

    Marble Drop Level 47 - Kiddinu

    Marble Drop Lore (Leonardo's Notes)

    • More musings from the old man. The last pyramid puzzle was very well liked by the patron. This one owes its soul to the legendary shape-changing abilities of ancient Pharoh kings. Blah, blah, blah. Whatever will keep Medici off my back for the moment.
    • Caught Gino eating the last of my glue. Must get more.
  48. Thabit Ibn Quarra

    Marble Drop Level 48 - Thabit Ibn Quarra
  49. Gutenberg

    Marble Drop Level 49 - Gutenberg
  50. Copernicus (the invisible level!)

    Marble Drop Level 50 - Copernicus (the invisible level!)

    Marble Drop Lore (Leonardo's Notes)

    • At last! I give to you the finale, the triumph, my grandest design... The Invisible Puzzle. Alas, perhaps I have gone too far in the name of simplicity. Woe am I. I have blundered. An invisible puzzle, what other horrors could I inflict upon the world: Should I next paint a canvas white and claim it to be art? Worse yet, should I paint it white, call it art, and then sell it for more money than my renaissance mind can fathom? To be sure there is no shortage of patrons daft enough to buy it. They lord themselves over me and my kind, all the while holding their heads upon stiff necks for fear that freinds might hear their brains rattle. Ah, but my fumings digress. Tis myself with whom I am angered... Myself and the boy. That scoundrel was to have returned with my cogs and glue ages ago. I pray nothing has happened to him lest I be unable to influct some form of punishment upon his backside. Oh me. Oh loathesome, embittered me. I should best be forgotten entirely. -LEO
    • Note: I remember how they laughed at me when I showed them the Flying Machine. I had better find a good place to hide this.