Marathon (video game)

Marathon (video game)
Marathon's icon
Marathon's icon
Developer(s) Bungie Software
Publisher(s) Bungie Software
Designer(s) Alex Seropian, Jason Jones
Platform(s) Mac OS, Apple Pippin[1]; later ported to Windows, Mac OS X, iOS and Linux through the Aleph One project
Release date(s) December 21, 1994
Genre(s) First-person shooter
Mode(s) Single player
Media/distribution 3½" floppy disk, Compact disc

Marathon is a first-person shooter video game with a science fiction theme developed and published by Bungie released in December 1994 for the Apple Macintosh. The game was Bungie's second foray into the emerging genre of games with a first-person perspective, the first being Pathways into Darkness, which was released in 1993. Marathon was released at a time when other early first-person shooters such as Doom were enjoying popularity amongst PC users, and it was widely seen as a Macintosh counterpart to Doom (which would not be ported to the Macintosh platform until 1995). The game takes place several centuries into the future in outer space and sets the player as a security officer attempting to defeat an alien invasion aboard a colony ship named the Marathon.

Although Marathon features action-heavy, first-person shooter gameplay similar to Doom and other contemporaries, the game is renowned for having an intricate story line that is also an essential element of its gameplay whereas most similar games devote minimal attention to plot for the sake of faster, simpler, more action-oriented gameplay. In addition to a single-player scenario with a rich plot, Marathon also features a multiplayer deathmatch mode through which up to eight players on separate machines on the same computer network can compete against each other individually or on teams. This functionality tremendously increased anticipation for Marathon prior to release, and won the game the Macworld Game Hall of Fame Award for the best multiplayer game in 1995.

Marathon is the first game in a series of three games collectively known as the Marathon Trilogy, which in addition to Marathon also includes its two sequels, Marathon 2: Durandal and Marathon Infinity, released in 1995 and 1996 respectively. In 1996, Bungie completed Super Marathon, a port of Marathon and Marathon 2 to Apple's short-lived Apple Bandai Pippin video game console.



Marathon is unique among contemporary first-person shooter games for its particularly rich (science fiction) plot. The game takes place in outer space in the year 2794, and the player takes the role of a nameless security officer responding to a distress call from the UESC Marathon, a large, multi-generational colony spacecraft converted out of Deimos, one of Mars' two moons, which has been invaded by a race of alien slavers known as the Pfhor (pronounced like the number "four"). Through the guidance of the artificial intelligences aboard the Marathon, the player seeks to defend the ship and defeat the alien threat. The game takes place over the course of numerous levels, each of which presents the player with numerous architectural obstacles and hostile alien creatures that he must kill to survive. Unlike other games where the only objective of each level is to locate an exit, most levels require the player to complete a particular mission, such as exploring an area or retrieving one or more items in order to advance.

The plot of the story is primarily revealed to the player by means of the numerous computer terminals accessed throughout the course of the game. These terminals relay information such as crew logs, maintenance documents, historical accounts, and stories, but their primary function is to allow the player to interface with the AIs aboard the Marathon, who provide the player with information about his current mission at any given point in the game and teleport him out of a level when his mission is complete. There are three AIs aboard the Marathon: Leela (responsible for general ship operations), Durandal (responsible for autonomous functions of the ship such as opening and closing doors and maintaining kitchens), and Tycho (responsible for the science and research taking place aboard the ship). Leela is the only stable and fully reliable artificial intelligence, whereas Durandal is malfunctioning as a result of the initial alien attack, and Tycho was almost completely destroyed. For the first part of the game, the player primarily interfaces with Leela, who is largely unemotional and lucid in providing orders. Later, the player interfaces almost exclusively with Durandal, who is far more emotional, philosophical and sarcastic. The relationship between and history of these artificial intelligences serves as a significant plot device in the story.

Plot summary

While being transported from the planet Tau Ceti IV to the Marathon on the shuttle Mirata, the security officer is nearly killed when an unidentified alien ship appears and destroys the Mirata. He survives by ejecting seconds before the explosion, and hours later, his officer's escape pod then reaches one of the Marathon docking bays.

Upon arrival, the security officer contacts Leela, who informs him of the invasion and that she has been under attack by cybernetic beings. With Leela's help, he activates the ship's internal defense network to slow the invasion. Leela informs the security officer that Durandal has been in contact with cybernetic servants of the aliens. These servants call themselves "the S'pht" and they are slaves to a race known as the Pfhor. Soon after, Leela learns that Durandal has become "rampant" and has had the ability to freely think for quite some time. In response, Leela has the security officer cut off Durandal's access to vital areas of the ship. While the security officer is successful, Durandal retaliates by giving the Pfhor access to previously denied areas. Leela and the security officer complete several tasks afterward, such as securing an recreational area, decompressing a highly infested area, and sending a message to Earth to warn them of the invasion.

Durandal manages to kidnap the security officer briefly, but after a few desperate battles, Leela rescues him and informs him that the S'pht attacks have persisted to the point where she will inevitably succumb. While Leela struggles, the security officer rescues a security detachment and disables a bomb in engineering. While he is successful in these endeavors, the S'pht eventually destroy Leela, and Durandal takes her place. Following Leela's demise, Durandal has the security officer help him increase his ability to control the strength of the teleporter array of the Marathon and then teleports him to the Pfhor ship to explore. He eventually discovers that a large cybernetic organism is controlling all of the S'pht on the Pfhor ship and the Marathon, and he is tasked with destroying the device. After doing so, the S'pht join his side to rebel against their Pfhor captors. After freeing the S'pht, the security officer returns to the Marathon to defeat the final stand of the Pfhor. Durandal announces his intention to depart the Marathon to take over the Pfhor ship, but before doing so, he reveals that Leela was never completely destroyed, and the freed S'pht have released their grasp on her. He reactivates and bids the player goodbye. Leela and the security officer then break the last point of hostile forces.


A screenshot of Marathon in play. While the larger monster (called a hulk) is immune to the flamethrower the player is holding, the green and orange monsters (called fighters) are not.

Marathon is a first-person shooter, and it therefore the player experiences the game through a first-person perspective. It takes place in a real-time, pseudo-3D rendered world with ceilings and floors of various heights and widths. All surfaces in the game are texture mapped and have dynamic lighting. The player controls the movement of the main character primarily through use of the keyboard. Using assignable keys, the player can move forward and backward, turn left or right, sidestep left or right, look up, down or forward, and glance left or right. Additionally, Marathon features free look, whereas the player uses the mouse to rotate character view. The mouse may also be employed to fire weapons. Marathon was one of the earliest games to employ free look and give the player the ability to look up or down, and the first major release that used the mouse to do both.

Much like other first-person shooters from the same time period, gameplay involves the player progressing through various levels, killing enemy creatures and avoiding numerous obstacles, all while seeking to survive. However, unlike similar games, Marathon features a plot that exists as a fundamental element of gameplay and player advancement. The primary channel through which this plot develops is the computer terminals located throughout the game's levels. The player accesses these terminals to interface with the artificial intelligences of the Marathon, who also provide him with information regarding the levels.

In order to advance from one level to the next, a player find a terminal from which an AI can teleport him to the next level, or less frequently, either an actual marked or unmarked point of teleportation. Unlike other games of the time, simply finding an exit point is often insufficient for successful advancement. Marathon levels frequently require to execute objective-based missions in order to advance. These missions may involve exterminating all hostile forces ("extermination"), conducting a thorough exploration of the area ("exploration"), retrieving one or more items for use later in the game ("retrieval"), activating one or more switches for a particular purpose or installing repair chips into receptacles ("repair"), or ensuring the majority survival of defenseless civilian crew members. Each level is unique in its objectives, some having more than one, and some having none. As a result, each level of Marathon is unique and dynamic.

While the player completes the levels in a fixed order, many levels are non-linear and either allow or, in some cases, require extensive exploration. Obstacles include "crushers" (ceilings that crush the player), pits of harmful molten material or coolant, locked doors or platforms that must be activated by remote switches and puzzles that may involve precise timing and speed to complete successfully. One level in the game lacks oxygen, forcing the player to find a recharging station to replenish his suit's supply before asphyxiating. Some levels (generally those on the alien mothership) have low-gravity and/or magnetic fields that interfere with the player's motion sensor.

There are seven weapons available for the player to use in the game: a fist, pistol, assault rifle, fusion gun, rocket launcher, flamethrower and an unidentified alien weapon that can be picked up by killing a special type of Pfhor. Unlike other early first-person shooters such as Doom, the player collects ammunition for these weapons in magazines as opposed to individual rounds; each magazine contains a certain number of projectiles, and when a magazine is depleted another is loaded. Some weapons have secondary triggers or other dynamics. With these weapons the player fights a variety of monsters throughout the game (generally Pfhor and their enslaved races). The selected difficulty setting (which the player can change in the preferences at any time) determines the placement, strength and vitality of each monster. Monsters may have melee or ranged attacks and have many other complex dynamics such as friend and enemy monsters or immunity against or weakness to certain attacks. Health is replenished at certain stations on walls. While these stations have an infinite supply, their placement is relatively infrequent.


A multiplayer game of Marathon. Multiplayer games can accommodate as many as eight players on a network.

One of the most influential aspects of Marathon to many players and reviewers has been its arcade-like, multiplayer deathmatch mode. As many as eight players (each with a separate computer) on a computer network can participate in a single match, either in teams or every man for himself. The objective of the game is to obtain a better kills-to-death ratio than the other player(s) or team(s) before a specified number of minutes has elapsed or before a set number of kills has been aggregately reached. After a match concludes, the results of a game are displayed in graph form upon each player's screen.

To begin a multiplayer game, one player volunteers to gather a game, selecting "Gather Network Game" from the main menu. The player who gathers the game has control over which level will be played, the duration of the game, and other various parameters. Other players on the same network will join the game by selecting "Join Network Game" from the main menu, by which their machines seek out a gatherer, who then adds them to his pool of players. Prior to gathering or joining, each player chooses a name, as well as a personal color and a team color. If the gatherer allows teams, players who have selected the same team color will be on the same team during the game. A player's armor, as seen by the other players, will reflect that player's team color; the top half of the armor will indicate the personal color and the bottom half of the armor will indicate the team color.

Marathon includes ten levels for multiplayer play. These levels are generally smaller, flow faster, and contain heavy weaponry, more powerups, and fewer alien creatures than the levels of the solo player game. Enemies and items respawn at different rates and often in random locations. Each level including eight player spawning points (one for each potential player). When a player dies, he can respawn at a randomly selected one of these points. If enabled by the gatherer, penalties for suicides (15 seconds) or dying (10 seconds) will apply and prevent a player from respawning immediately.

Multiplayer deathmatch modes had been previously implemented in earlier first-person shooters, but that Marathon was the first Macintosh shooter with such a mode.[citation needed] The game's multiplayer functionality was one of its most anticipated features prior to release and won Marathon the Macworld Game Hall of Fame Award for the best network game of 1995.[2] Bungie reportedly intended to add more multiplayer scenarios such as cooperative play but could not due to time constraints.[citation needed] Many of the concepts and levels that could not be included in the final product because of a lack of time to implement them were included in Marathon 2.[3] Bungie has reported that the development of Marathon was delayed significantly due to time spent playing the deathmatch.[4] The code was written almost entirely by Alain Roy who reportedly received a Quadra 660AV in compensation for his efforts.[5]. According to Jason Jones, the network code is packet-based and uses the DDP, or Datagram Delivery Protocol to transfer information between each machine.[6]


Marathon is still played by a number of veteran Macintosh gamers and has a small but strong community of enthusiasts still making custom content for the game. Despite its technical accomplishments and praise from the few reviewers that graded it, Marathon is not frequently cited or well-known among the PC gaming community due to its predominantly Macintosh roots. Its first sequel, Marathon 2 was commercially-available for Windows 95, but did not have a sizable impact on PC gamers either. It was included as part of the Marathon Trilogy Box Set, which was released in 1997, and the Mac Action Sack, which contains several of Bungie's pre-Microsoft games.

In 1996, Bungie completed a port of Marathon to the Apple's short-lived Pippin video game console. The port was released as part of Super Marathon, a compilation of Marathon and Marathon 2: Durandal which bears the distinction of being the first console game ever released by Bungie, pre-dating Oni and Halo.

On July 7, 2011, a port of Marathon for Apple's iPad was released for free on the iTunes App Store.


External links

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