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Overview

Marathon Title Screen

Released in late 1994 for Apple Macintosh computers, Marathon is a science-fiction first-person shooter that was both developed and distributed by Bungie Software Products Corporation. Although Bungie's previous first-person title, 1993's Pathways into Darkness, is set within the same fictional universe, Marathon is not considered an official sequel, but rather an independent title and storyline. Released roughly a year after id Software's seminal Doom and its subsequent popularity, Marathon is undeniably similar to Doom in terms of gameplay with its focus on frenetic first-person action, leading many to regard it as the Macintosh equivalent of id's shooter, although it also differentiates itself by placing a significantly larger emphasis on narrative development and objective-based gameplay than did most shooters of its era. It is often cited for introducing conventions which would become more popular in later FPSs, such as dual-wielding weapons, alternate firing modes, and live voice chat during multiplayer.

Marathon recieved two sequels in as many year: 1995's Marathon 2: Durandal and 1996's Marathon Infinity, both also developed by Bungie. Together, the three games are collectively known as the Marathon Trilogy. Although Marathon has never been released for any platform other than the Macintosh, the source code release of the Marathon 2 engine led to a fan-driven Marathon source port called Aleph One. This in turn led to a project which converted the original Marathon campaign to the Aleph One engine, eventually allowing Windows and Linux users the option to experience what was originally a Mac-exclusive title.

Development History

A screen capture of Marathon Zero, an early build of the game

After the success of Pathways into Darkness, Bungie co-founders Jason Jones and Alexander Seropian started down the path of creating what was originally planned as a direct sequel to their last game, one which would incorporate the fan feedback they had received since publishing Pathways. The process began as Jones took to the task of modifying the existing Pathways engine, improving enemy A.I., increasing speed, and also enhancing it structurally. The earliest evidence of Bungie's efforts was first shown to the public in the form of an alpha version called Marathon Zero, which was unveiled in January of 1994 at the San Francisco Macworld Expo. As Jones remembers, the response was underwhelming, with many simply discounting it as a modestly improved version of Pathways into Darkness.

Despite the game's lackluster reception at the San Francisco Macworld Expo, Bungie pushed forward with the development of Marathon. Deciding to put aside an unknown secondary project he had been working on called "Mosaic" in favor of working on Marathon full time, Jones began rewriting their entire rendering engine with the help of Ryan Martell, who also began programming a map editor for the Marathon engine entitled Vulcan. By February Bungie had also hired Greg Kirkpatrick, who was given the task of developing Marathon's fiction, and Reginald Dujour was brought on to replace the outbound Colin Brent as the game's primary artist. Later in the year, Alain Roy was added to the project, who is credited with creating the game's multiplayer net code, a feature which was not initially planned for. By May, the new Marathon had begun to come together, and the code-name "Marathon," which Jones had originally intended as just a working title, became the game's official name.

The Hound (right), one of three foes cut due to time and engine limitations

Marathon was officially announced on July 25, 1994, and the reworked game was shown to the public for the first time at the Boston Macworld Expo in August. Reactions this time around were far more positive, and Bungie went as far as to take pre-orders for the game at the show, promising customers that Marathon would ship in just two weeks, as the company was "just waiting on the boxes." Unfortunately for those eager attendees, the game would not ship until December, some four months later. In spite of the large time discrepancy, Seropian claims that "there was never any intention to deceive anyone", and that they had fully intended to ship within their stated time frame. However, after the show it was deemed necessary to make further changes to the game in order to "make the solo game enjoyable." Jones also added that the game might have shipped upward of a month earlier than it did had the team not developed a strong penchant for the game's multiplayer.

Over the coming months many aspects of the game would be changed dramatically, such as its HUD interface, the balance of individual levels, and even the game's overarching story. Bungie clocked the end of official development on Marathon as 6:05 PM Saturday, December 14, although even after finishing the game, the team was faced with another challenge: shipping their product. Their contracted assembly company unfortunately did not have the capability to fulfill the large number of preorders they had received (around 25,000) in a timely fashion. Production issues were so great initially that Bungie employees stepped in themselves in order to help assemble boxes, while some of the earliest copies were simply sent boxless in order to get them out to consumers as quickly as possible.

Post-Release

With the game completed, Bungie returned to the San Francisco Macworld Expo in January of 1995 now confident in their product, and the previously tepid reaction Marathon had received the year before was replaced by genuine enthusiasm on the part of many attendees. The development team held a Marathon competition at the show, the Marathon Mayhem Tournament, giving away a Power Mac as the top prize, and by the end of the expo every copy of the game Bungie had on hand had been sold. Over the subsequent weeks and months, the sales numbers for Marathon rose into the hundreds of thousands, and it was clear that Bungie's latest had become an unqualified success. Unsurprisingly, thoughts would soon turn toward a followup, which would evolve into a full sequel to be released later that year.

Plot

Prologue

Marathon's story takes place in the year 2794, and is set within the Tau Ceti solar system, or more specifically in and around the planet Tau Ceti IV and the nearby orbiting spacecraft, the UESC Marathon. The player character is a security officer assigned to aid in colonization efforts in the system, and just prior to the events of the game he is traveling to the Marathon aboard the shuttle Mirata. While in transit, one of Marathon's onboard artificial intelligence programs, Durandal, attempts to prevent him from docking with the station by remotely depressurizing the Mirata. As he boards the shuttle's Maneuvering Pod in order to escape, the security officer witnesses a massive unidentified spacecraft warp in and subsequently begin to assault the station. The alien craft quickly destroys the Mirata, and the resultant explosion propels the officer in his pod toward the Marathon. With Durandal now preoccupied by the new arrivals, the security officer is able to board the Marathon without being noticed.

Synopsis

Once inside, the officer is contacted by another of the ship's A.I.s, Leela, who is struggling herself to understand the nature of the sudden alien attack while also fighting off attempts by the intruders to compromise her systems and the ship. In accordance with Leela, the officer manages to activate the Marathon's internal defense systems which briefly slows down the invasion. He is then informed that Durandal had been in contact with servitors of the aliens, called the S'pht, whose masters belong to an aggressive race known as the Pfhor. By now it is clear that Durandal had become rampant and gained the ability to think freely long before the Pfhor arrived. Leela directs the officer to cut off Durandal's access to a few of the more vital parts of the ship, but Durandal responds by allowing the Pfhor to access other areas of the ship that were previously inaccessible.

Marathon's story is conveyed mostly through computer terminals.

Leela has the security officer carry out a number of other important missions, such as relaying a message to Earth regarding the invasion, protecting survivors of the attack, and cleansing areas of the ship that have been overrun by the Pfhor. Suddenly and without warning, the officer is captured by Durandal, who tells him he wishes to play a game. After participating in a few ill-defined tests devised by the rogue A.I., Leela manages to rescue him. However, while the officer was occupied with Durandal, the situation aboard the Marathon deteriorated greatly. Leela's attempts to maintain her own integrity in the face of the attacks on the Marathon and more specific assaults intended to take her offline are beginning to fail. While she struggles to defend herself, the security officer defuses an explosive device in engineering and saves a security detachment that was at risk of being overrun. In her final message to the security officer, in which she confesses that she will soon be taken offline by the Pfhor, Leela informs him that she has given Durandal details which will help him fend off the station's attackers.

With little other choice, the officer is forced into a coalition with Durandal in a last-ditch effort to save the Marathon. The officer helps bolster Durandal's ability to control the ship's teleporter array, and shortly thereafter he is teleported aboard the alien craft. Durandal reveals to the officer that the Pfhor are in fact slavers, and while exploring their ship he witnesses firsthand the fate of many of the abducted colonists. After learning that the mechanized S'pht were aiding the Pfhor against their will, the officer is able with Durandal's help to destroy the cyborg organism responsible for controlling them. Finding themselves no longer compelled to obey the Pfhor, the S'pht rebel against their former masters, and as a result the Pfhor are thrown into such disarray that before long they are forced to surrender.

Epilogue

Just before achieving final victory, the officer is contacted one final time by Durandal, who has transferred his consciousness to the alien ship. He thanks the officer for his actions, without which he would not have been able to commandeer the ship, and also informs him that a,s they are no longer slaves, the S'pht have seen fit to released control of Leela. He details his intention to depart in his newly-acquired ship to explore the galaxy alongside the S'pht. In spite of the colonists' victory over the more immediate threat of the Pfhor, Leela expresses her concern for the implications of a now-rampant Durandal having the ability to travel the universe in a highly advanced ship fully under his control.

Gameplay

The single-player portion of Marathon consists of twenty-seven levels split into six discrete chapters. Unlike many contemporaneous shooters, where players are simply required to reach a predetermined exit point on each map in order to proceed, most levels in Marathon are objective-based, meaning that there are usually one or more actions that the player is expected to carry out before they can be given access to the next map. These objectives are typically relayed through computer terminals found within the environment, and given tasks may include, among other things, rescuing civilians, acquiring a new weapon, or sealing doors to prevent enemy access. Players are teleported from one area to the next by the ship's A.I. programs, and typically an A.I. will simply refuse to teleport the player if they have not first achieved their objectives. In the course of completing these missions, the player will be accosted by large numbers of enemies, and it is in fending off these attackers that Marathon most resembles the action-oriented gameplay of its contemporaries.

Marathon is none too shy about throwing hordes of enemies at the player.

The means of regenerating health in Marthon also differs slightly from what was common at the time. Rather than collecting health packs as is customary in titles such as Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, the player can only regain lost health through health stations found around the Marathon. These can be used as many times as needed, and depending on the type of health station, it may restore the player to 100%, 200%, or 300% health. A similar system is adopted for game saves, which can only be made from wall-mounted save points called "pattern buffers." These as well can be used as many times as needed, but only after they have been located. In depressurized atmospheres, the player also must periodically seek out oxygen stations in order to replenish their suit's oxygen supply.

While players will normally be given the general location of their objectives, the layout of the levels themselves is such that it is often possible to find more than one path to an objective or to accomplish a multi-part objective without requiring a set procedural order. Furthermore, the locations of important secondary objects such as health stations and pattern buffers are rarely pointed out explicitly, thus requiring that the player find them through additional exploration, and when combined with the non-linear mission system, this need for exploration gives many of the game's levels an open-ended nature. In the course of completing goals, players must also contend with many of the common tropes of 90's first-person shooters as they traverse the Marathon, such as crushing ceilings, various pools of dangerous liquid, and switch puzzles, to name a few.

In terms of controls, Marathon is primarily keyboard-driven, though it also supports mouse look natively. Its HUD interface is for the most part fairly straightforward, plainly displaying information regarding player health, the amount of ammunition in the currently equipped weapon, and also the total number of clips for all weapons. One of the more novel HUD elements is a motion sensor included in the lower left of the screen, which shows the general location of nearby friendly units (in green) and enemy units (in red). This is helpful in gaining advanced knowledge of foes in the vicinity as well as in prevention against being pinned down; in some levels, notably those that take place aboard the Pfhor ship, the utility of the motion sensor is severely limited.

Multiplayer

At the time of its release Marathon supported multiplayer deathmatch, both team-based and free-for-all, for up to eight players over a network connection. Ten maps were included tailored specifically for this mode, and players are allowed to select the colors and names of their player characters before joining, as well as a team color. Multiplayer maps include alien creatures in addition to the players themselves, although in smaller numbers than are common during single-player gameplay. The objective in each session is to achieve the highest number of player kills, either individually in the case of a free-for-all game, or as a team in the case of team deathmatch. Players and weapons will respawn continuously up until either the set time limit expires or a predetermined number of kills has been reached. Once a particular play session ends, all players are given a post-match breakdown of the previous game.

Weapons

Marathon features seven weapons in total, and a number of them can be used in more than one way. With the exception of the player's starting weapons, the Magnum and the fist, armaments must be acquired over the course of the game by picking them up in the environment or from defeated enemies. In some cases the player will be notified of the proximity of a new weapon via a terminal within the level, though in other cases they must simply be found through exploration. All weapons that utilize ammunition must be reloaded after a certain number of firings, and the amount of loaded ammunition in the currently equipped armament is displayed in the player's HUD at all times. The reload process cannot be initiated manually by the player, instead happening automatically once the current clip is expended, so it is in the player's best interest to monitor their ammunition to prevent reloads from happening at inopportune times.

AppearancePickup IconDescription
Fist
  • N/A (Starting Weapon)

Fist

The fist is a unique weapon insofar as its damage output varies depending on the player's speed prior to the attack. While at a standstill, fists do modest damage, to say the least, though from a full sprint a single punch is enough to kill the weaker varieties of Pfhor Fighters. It can be useful early on to conserve ammunition, though even when factoring in the damage bonus from running, it can be difficult to use successfully against many of Marathon's ranged attackers.
.44 Magnum Mega Class
Magnum Pickup

.44 Magnum Mega Class

Along with the fist, the .44 Magnum Mega Class (or .45, according to the manual) acts as the game's ranged starting weapon. It has decent stopping power and its eight-round clip size is enough to kill multiple enemies before a reload, at least in the early goings. Later in the game it is possible to acquire a second Magnum, and from that point on the player is able to equip and fire it using the secondary fire button. On standard difficulty, up to fifty clips can be carried in addition to any that are currently loaded.
MA-75 Assault Rifle
Assault Rifle Pickup

MA-75 Assault Rifle with Grenade Option

The MA-75 (or M.75) Assault Rifle is the first additional weapon available during single-player, and the only one with two distinct types of ammunition. It is capable of holding 52 rounds of ballistic ammunition and 7 grenade rounds, and can dispense both simultaneously. Its main weakness, which is brought to the player's attention by way of Leela, is that its bullet spread is fairly large, making its primary fire option less than ideal outside of short-to-medium range. Nonetheless, it is a fairly versatile weapon.
Zeus-Class Fusion Pistol
Fusion Pistol Pickup

Zeus-Class Fusion Pistol

Powered by Deuterioxide Halogen Battery Packs, the Fusion Pistol emits highly dangerous bolts of energy that can be charged before release to cause even greater damage. Unlike previously available ranged weapons, the Zeus-Class fires physical projectiles rather than hitscan bullets, and with the speed of these projectiles being relatively slow, targeting at longer ranges can be somewhat problematic. Caution should also be taken when holding a charged shot, as, if held too long, it can result in catastrophic discharge, killing the user in the process.
SPNKR-X17 SSM Launcher
SSM Launcher Pickup

SPNKR-X17 SSM

The shoulder-mounted nature of the SPNKR-X17 translates to a significant reduction in peripheral vision, as when equipped it occupies a large portion of the left side of the screen. The reduced situational awareness can often be worth it, however, as the rocket's effects can be felt a full ten meters from the point of impact. Ammo is somewhat scarce for it, and only two rockets can be fired before a reload, so by necessity picking and choosing the appropriate firing situations is more important with the SSM Launcher than it is with most weapons.
TOZT-7 Backpack Napalm Unit
Napalm Unit Pickup

TOZT-7 Backpack Napalm Unit

Fed by napalm canisters worn on the user's back, the TOZT-7 is a flamethrower with a range of twenty feet that can reduce most organic targets to smoldering piles of ash within moments. A few notable enemies such as such as Hunters and Juggernauts are immune to its effects, as their thick armor plating is impervious to flames. All manner of fleshy foe will succumb quickly to it, though, and it can be particularly efficient when enemies are packed tightly together.
Alien Weapon
Alien Weapon Pickup

Alien Weapon

A mysterious Pfhor-created device composed of advanced technology, the rapid-fire armament known only as the Alien Weapon is obtainable solely from the bodies of dead Enforcers who have not experienced a "hard" death. Unlike all other ranged weaponry in Marathon, the Alien Weapon has no known ammunition source, being instead used for a set number of rounds before being discarded entirely. Once completely expended, the player must obtain a new Alien Weapon from the corpse of another Enforcer.

Enemies

The player's adversaries in Marathon are for the most part comprised of the Pfhor and those who serve them. The more common enemies have multiple varieties, which in some cases are simply tougher versions of the standard variants. In other cases, enemy variations may have different properties or even different attacks. As is the case with most first-person shooters of its time, enemy behavior is incredibly simplistic. Once alerted to the player's presence, enemies will invariably try to close the distance between themselves and the player character, whatever the cost, attacking with whatever mean are at their disposal as they do so. Difficulty is introduced into the equation by requiring the player to handle large numbers of foes simultaneously, often of multiple types, and frequently with very little room to maneuver.

AppearanceDescription
Pfhor Fighter

Fighter

The most basic of Marathon's opposition, the Pfhor Fighter, is encountered in great numbers throughout the game, and has as a result a larger number of variants than most enemies. Clad in green, the basic variety has very few hit points and attacks with its staff from melee range, while later on purple versions of the melee Fighter appear that are significantly more durable. Yet another class of Fighter, known to wear reddish garb, possesses a ranged fireball attack in addition to its normal melee ability, and this version also features stronger counterpart that wears blue. While numerous, it should be noted that even the tougher types are only modestly threatening when compared to later enemies.
S'pht Compiler

Compiler

A technologically attuned race that has been bent to the will of the Pfhor, the S'pht can be found throughout the Marathon, where they quite often are seen interfacing with the ship's various computer terminals. The most common type of Compiler is recognizable by its reddish cloak. These S'pht, when threatened, fire a green projectile in a straight line. The player will at times also encounter a version of the Compiler with purple robes, and this is the more dangerous of the two, as it fires a yellow projectile that has the ability to track its target. In addition to these variants, Compilers sometimes appear semi-ethereal, thus making them harder to see.
Drinniol

Drinniol

The race known as the Drinniol, colloquially referred to as Hulks, are massive, lumbering, bipedal creatures possessed of incredible strength. They are encountered rarely aboard the Marathon, and each one requires a great deal of firepower to take down. By themselves in an open area, Drinniol are a fairly simple matter to deal with, as they are quite slow and have no means to attack foes at a distance. In situations where there is not much room to maneuver, however, they can be much more troublesome, as there is quite simply no quick way to halt a Drinniol's advance.
Pfhor Trooper

Trooper

The next step in the Pfhor hierarchy, the Pfhor Trooper is tougher and more deadly than the Fighter. Though it differs in appearance, the Trooper's weapon functions in almost exactly the same fashion as the player's Assault Rifle, insofar as it is capable of firing both bullets and grenades. The specialized suit that it wears also allows the Trooper to function comfortably in depressurized atmospheres that other Pfhor cannot tolerate. They are encountered in two varieties, the basic green Trooper and the more advanced purple ones. In addition to being harder to kill, the purple Troopers are also far more liberal in their use of grenades.
Pfhor Hunter

Hunter

The heavily-armored Pfhor Hunter is a step above the Trooper, with resistances to certain types of attacks and a deadly plasma launcher mounted over its right shoulder. Hunters take reduced damage from traditional ballistic weapons, and are impervious to the flamethrower, however they are susceptible to explosive weaponry and the Zeus-Class Fusion Pistol. Two varieties exist: the standard brown Hunter and the noticeably tougher green Hunter. In addition to the health disparity, green Hunters fire in four-shot volleys as opposed to the two-shot volleys of the standard type. When killed in certain ways, the Hunter will explode, causing damage to those nearby, including the player.
Wasp

Wasp

Usually appearing in swarms, Wasps are aerial foes that injure their victims primarily by projecting a corrosive mucus-like discharge in their direction. Two types can be found aboard the Marathon, alternately brown or grey in appearance, and while the grey variety is the tougher of the two, neither variant is especially durable, and as a consequence Wasps are typically viewed as a nuisance class of enemies, as they are more an annoyance than a true danger. Their greatest asset is almost certainly their unrestricted mobility, as they have the capability to attack from angles that few other foes can.
Looker

Looker

Often found in proximity to Wasps, the Lookers are insectoid kamikaze drones whose behavior consists entirely of charging their way toward the closest suitable target before exploding, ideally causing considerable damage to said target. Though they do not appear to have the propensity for true flight, Lookers do seem to levitate a short distance above the ground at all times. In rare cases, the player may encounter shadowy versions of the Looker that are harder to see, though it is unclear how they accomplish this illusion. Due to their relatively small stature, Lookers can be somewhat hard to hit without the use of vertical aiming.
Pfhor Enforcer

Enforcer

Being presumably of an even higher rank than even the Pfhor Hunters, Enforcers are found mainly during the player's excursions aboard the Pfhor ship that attacked the Marathon. There are two visually distinct types, being either blue or bluish-green in color, and while the latter is somewhat tougher, both types behave in essentially the same manner and utilize the same rapid-fire machine gun-like weapon. If not killed in an extreme fashion, such as by explosives or immolation, the Enforcer will drop its weapon upon death, identified simply as the "Alien Weapon," which players can then utilize for themselves.
Pfhor Juggernaut

Juggernaut

A truly titanic foe, and one of the few Marathon baddies to have no sub-variants, the Pfhor Juggernaut is a floating weapons platform that is able to take and deal out massive amounts of damage. The Juggernaut alternates between two sets of weapons: a pair of heavy machine guns, and two heat-seeking missile launchers. If the player is successful in defeating it, they must still escape the Juggernaut's self-destruct sequence, which kills anything within its proximity. Even after escaping its radius, the flash of the Juggernaut's cataclysmic explosion can be seen from anywhere on the map.
Simulacrum

Simulacrum

The denizens of the Marathon (often called Bobs, an abbreviation of for "Born on Board") experienced no small amount of distress during the initial Pfhor invasion, and those lucky enough to have survived the attacks can still be found worriedly roaming the ships halls. A number of Pfhor-created facsimiles, or Simulacrums, are interspersed among them, and these effigies act much like Lookers, running headlong at the player before exploding. They can be distinguished from regular Bobs by the fact that they are always clad in green. In addition, while Bobs typically exclaim "They're everywhere!" while running around erratically, Simulacrums characteristically shout "Thank God, it's you!" before heading straight toward the player.
M.A.D.D.

Marathon Automated Defense Drone

Like Bobs, Marathon Automated Defense Drones, or M.A.D.D.s, are a rather benign presence aboard the ship, and will under normal circumstances only attack hostiles such as the Pfhor and their allies. However, on one anomalous level, the player character is forewarned by one of the ship's A.I.s, Durandal, that there has been "an accident with some defense drones", which is the player's forewarning that the drones in that area may not behave as expected. On this particular map, hostile drones can be differentiated from friendly ones by color, with blue indicating a friendly drone, and green denoting a rogue M.A.D.D.

Reception

Marathon was a significant critical and financial success for Bungie, not only paving the way for Marathon 2 and Marathon Infinity in the following years, but also placing Bungie on the map as one of the premier developers for the Macintosh. The player community that sprung up around Marathon spawned a plethora of creation tools that allowed fans to edit various aspects of the game, and a number of fan sites arose to support the game, some of which still exist today. On top of this, the game also received a fair amount of additional press recognition after its launch, such as the Macworld Game Hall of Fame Award, bestowed upon Marathon for being the best network game of 1995.

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