Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Marathon - Couch Fishing

My father was an early adopter of the Macintosh. He got one in 1985 or so as a gift for some work he had done. Thanks to him, we became a Macintosh household. This meant that the computer games I played when growing up were generally a bit different from a lot of the other kids. The Mac had some fun games, but there were nowhere near as many as on the PC, and several gems from the PC just never made it onto the Mac. This was particularly true for first-person shooters. Wolfenstein 3D eventually made it over, but the computer required to run it was much more than the equivalent PC, so it wasn't an option for me. Doom was not ported over until after Doom II was (which was again quite some time after its PC release). What was a Mac user who wanted to play this new, burgeoning genre to do?

Enter Bungie Software.

You may recognize their name as being the developers of that Halo game, but that came later. In the 90s, they were crazy about the Mac and developed games for it. They also saw this new-fangled first person shooter thing and decided the Mac needed one. Their first creation was Pathways Into Darkness. That game was a first person shooter, but also included many adventure and exploration aspects. Inventory management and using the proper items at the proper time and conversations (with dead people) were all very important to advancing through the game. Jealous of my friend Max with Wolfenstein 3D, I begged my parents for that game and received it. It is a pretty good game and I definitely enjoyed it, but I also found it quite difficult.

Their next game, another first person shooter, this one clearly made to compete with Doom, was Marathon. Marathon was either first or one of the first games to do many things including operate on the Y-axis (you must aim your gun vertically as well as horizontally), mouse look (introduced in the sequel, but later retrofitted into the original), objective-based levels and levels with different physics or other game-changing characteristics, friendly non-player characters, and networked multiplayer. It is also known for its intricate story that is revealed through a series of computer terminals the player interacts with throughout the game.

Sadly, I had never played Marathon, despite being a Mac user. I'm not sure why. Maybe because I wasn't as bowled over with Pathways Into Darkness as I thought I might be. Maybe because I realized that first person shooters weren't my favorite genre, or maybe I thought Pathways Into Darkness ran a tad slowly on my LC III and couldn't imagine Marathon would run acceptably. Whatever the reason, I passed up this gem and had always intended to get around to playing it. Bungie had released the source code and eventually all the games in the trilogy for free online distribution. I actually toyed around with it two years ago, but I was on vacation, so having to play on my laptop without full-sized keyboard and mouse was a bit restrictive.

Last week's retronauts's podcast was about Marathon and really got me jonesing to give the game a go. I'm glad they did because I'm having a blast.

The game is very atmospheric, taking place in a space ship (the U.E.S.C. Marathon) boarded by aliens. Systems are damaged and power is not at full so many corridors are dark and lights are flickering. Your cybernetic suit is equipped with a motion detector so you can see when enemies are moving near (similarly, the aliens have motion detectors and will attempt to come toward you if you are moving near them). It borrows liberally from the Alien movies for its feel and it just totally works.

I'm also very much enjoying seeing the plot gradually unfold. Besides the aliens that have boarded the ship, one of the Marathon's artificial intelligence programs has "gone rampant". This means that it has become self aware basically and is affecting other systems because it has reached the anger portion of rampancy. I know that this AI, Durandal, plays a key role in the story (and sequels) and look forward to seeing it.

The levels also have "colorful" names, hence the level I am currently on is named "Couch Fishing".

Also, though originally released on the Macintosh and though I am playing it on a Macintosh, I am actually playing the Aleph One (Marathon open source) remake of the original Marathon, which is available for Windows and Linux as well. As long as I'm not just playing a game in an emulator, I'll put the actual platform I'm playing it on and not the original one.


cooldog said...

Growing up, I was in a PC family, but one of my best friends had a Mac. I don't think I really understood the difference at the time.

Have you ever gotten around to playing some of the original PC games to make up for being deprived as a child?

Davíd said...

As a matter of fact, I have. I bought my girlfriend's old Pentium laptop after I graduated college and used that to play some classic PC games. X-Com and Star Control 2 were definitely gems I missed out on.

It only being a Pentium, I'm limited to (hardware-intensive) games that came out up until 1997 or so.