Sneak Peek: Marathon 2
by Tuncer Deniz
NOTE: Screen shots and information presented in this article are based on a pre-release version of Marathon 2 and are subject to change before final release. This article is not a review.
"...I tend to dislike sequels. Many times when a publisher comes out with a sequel to a game, it means that they made a lot of money on the first one and they're going to publish similar games until everyone gets sick of them." For some reason I remember those words Bungie's Jason Jones boasted in an IMG interview back in October of 1993 when Pathways into Darkness was just a few months old.
So naturally it came as a surprise to me that Marathon 2: Durandal was recently announced to the public. I thought to myself, didn't Bungie say they would never do a sequel? In fact, on several occasions, I remember Jason telling me that Bungie would never create a sequel to one of their games. OK, so, what going on here? Is the company we've all come to love suddenly getting greedy on us? Is Bungie turning into another id Software?
Part of the answer lies in their most recent game, Marathon. With over 100,000 copies sold worldwide, it is seemingly one of the best selling Macintosh games of all time, if not the most popular. Macintosh people seem to have garnered a special relationship with Marathon. After all, it was created by Macintosh fanatics for Macintosh fanatics. For that simple fact alone, it demands respect like no other Macintosh game. It also is arguably the best network game ever. And I'm sure I don't have to mention the spectacular graphics, intelligent gameplay, and downright inherent Macintosh feel to it.
In the end, Marathon helped elevate Bungie from being just another software company to a major player in the computer software entertainment business. So why a sequel? "I think that we're doing Marathon 2 right" says Jones. "The first Marathon was very successful, yet even as it shipped we had a thousand different ideas for improving it and continuing the story. Marathon 2 came out of that potential, to improve the original Marathon, not out of some cheap desire to make more money."
Durandal's Back! In Marathon 1, Tau Ceti, a human colony world outside of Sol, was savagely attacked without warning by the evil Pfhor, a malicious race of slavers. The interstellar ship, Marathon, which brings humans to the colony on Tau Ceti, was also attacked by the Pfhor. Leela and Durandal, two of Marathon's artificial intelligences, organize a defense against the Pfhor. But since the AI's can't do any of the fighting themselves, they enlist you to recapture the Marathon. As you battle through waves and waves of Pfhor on the Marathon, Durandal strikes an unlikely deal with the enslaved S'pht. In return for their freedom, they will rebel against their Pfhor masters and give control of the Pfhor attack ship to Durandal.
After the player successfully defends the Marathon and drives a crushing blow to the heart of the Pfhor, Durandal teleports a boarding party to the Pfhor vessel and assumes control of the ship by downloading his entire personality to the ship's massive computers.
Along with the security officer and the many human colonists on board (who are put to sleep for the long journey through the galaxy), Durandal leaves Tau Ceti in the Pfhor ship. Upon hearing of the rebellion, the Pfhor leaders send another ship to Tau Ceti. Meanwhile, Durandal, after searching the vast galaxies, finally arrives on the devastated homeworld of the S'pht. Here he searches for some weapon or piece of knowledge to aid him in freeing the S'pht from the clutches of the Pfhor. Soon more Pfhor will arrive to battle Durandal and the rebellious S'pht. Once again, he calls on you to do battle against the Pfhor. But this time, you've got a little bit more help....Bob is back....
Gun-Packing Bobs. YES! Durandal, sensing that the upcoming battle with the Pfhor will be a tough one, recruits the help of the civilians who happen to be on board the Pfhor ship Durandal captured. With loaded guns in their hands, it's the Bobs duty to teleport into an area you've just entered where the number of Pfhor are thick and heavy and clean house. You'll often catch them yelling out, "Here's one!" "I got him!" or "Over here!" as they bravely fight until either the Pfhor or the Bobs themselves are destroyed. If they win the battle, they'll yell out something like, "Perimeter secure, get me outta here" or "see'ya star side" and teleport out.
You're probably wondering, hmm, what happens if I shoot a Bob? Well, if you happen to kill one or a few, the remaining Bobs will turn their guns on you and frantically yell, "You killed Bob!" But don't think the Bobs are perfect either. Remember, these are the same mistake-prone Bobs that were in the original Marathon. Sometimes they'll accidentally hit one of their own or even hit you. If they yell, "Whoops" or "Sorry," it probably means they've either killed a Bob or accidentally hit you. And if you should get in their way, they'll often scream out, "Get out of the way!"
Overall, the gun-toting Bob is probably the single coolest feature you'll find over Marathon 1.
A New Interface To Boot. One of the things you'll notice about Marathon 2 is the wider field of view . The field of view has been increased from about 90 degrees to about 140 degrees. In terms of gameplay, this means you'll be able to see more area to your left and right. This wider screen angle also gives the optical illusion that you are walking or running faster than in Marathon I. If you ever used the Extravision Chip in Marathon 1, which increases your field of view to 180 degrees, you'll notice this optical effect.
Since the release of Marathon 1, the programming gurus at Bungie have been working on speeding up the graphics engine that drives the graphics in the game. The Marathon 2 engine is about twice as fast as it used to be in Marathon 1 on Power Macs. As a result, Bungie created a larger view screen that fills the maximum width of the monitor. For example, the old Marathon view screen was 448 pixels wide by 272 pixels long, compared to Marathon 2's 640 pixels wide by 320 pixels long. So now you'll be able to see more of the action in the sequel, and less of the interface. Does this mean you'll now be able play Marathon 2 on 030s now that the graphics engine is twice as fast? I'm afraid not. Most of the optimization Bungie concentrated on was making the PowerPC version faster and faster. In fact, Bungie will be requiring an 040 or better for Marathon 2 (if you try it on an 030 it will still run, but not very well).
As a result of the larger view screen, the interface where the motion detector, health and oxygen bars, and weapons manifest are located has been curtailed. The clunky old interface has been replaced with a sleek new interface and only takes up about one-third to one-fourth of the screen area at the bottom.
New Graphics Too. Since the action in Marathon 2 takes place on the homeworld of the S'pht entitled Lh'owon, all the textures in Marathon have been redone to represent this new world. The textures are now richer and bring to life the desolate planet you are on. Although the wall textures themselves will not be in 16-bit color, the CD-ROM version of Marathon 2 will have 16-bit art for the weapons, monsters, and outside landscapes giving them a sharper and cleaner look. In addition, Marathon 2 now features outdoor landscapes (you'll be able to look out a window to the outside world) and transparent textures (for example, you'll be able to see through an air vent that is made up of many holes and see an object or wall in the distance).
Marathon 1 featured hazardous moving lava and dangerous green slime that hurt to touch. In the sequel the lava makes a return, but this time you'll actually be able to sink into it and walk through it. Of course, without any protection you'll fry into oblivion. Since Lh'owon is a water-rich environment, you'll be able to dive into the depths of water pools in search of switches, guns, clues, etc. In fact, some of the missions in Marathon II will be entirely or mostly underwater. It's a good thing your Cyberhead Helmet can maintain a healthy supply of oxygen for a while before refueling.
Sound. The sounds in Marathon 2 have also been dramatically improved. Gone is the cheesy music (sorry Alex). What you'll now hear in the game are ambient sounds such as whirling wind when you are close to windows and outside areas, water flowing when you are close to or in rivers or pools, and lava boiling and bubbling. The game also features high-quality, 16-bit sounds and real-time stereo tracking, which means you'll be able to hear from what direction sounds are coming from giving you important audio cues. In addition, when you move, the sound will move It's safe to say that the sound effects alone put any other game on the market to shame. Make sure you try Marathon 2 with an external speaker, or better yet, headphones. It's a truly magical experience.
The Bad Boys, Bad Toys. What would a sequel be with some good 'ole friends joining the party? You can expect to see new and old versions of familiar enemies in Marathon II, like the fighter, compiler, enforcer, and hunters as well as some new fiends like the Cyborgs (grenade flinging bad dudes on wheels) and Probes (floating robot-like creatures) and many more new bad guys.
As in all sequels, when there are new bad guys, there are new bad guns to fight them with. Marathon 2 will have new incarnations of weapons like the assault rifle, flamethrower, rocket launcher, fusion pistol, and pistol. In addition, you'll now be able to fight with two fists instead of one. Cool, huh?
And then there's the shotgun, the one weapon everyone in Marathon 1 wished they had. Well, now you have it. The sawed-off double barreled shotgun is the ultimate destructor, and can kill just about anything they comes near its blast radius.
Network Play. In my opinion, there is no game that comes close to Marathon's network play. I've tried them all, DOOM, Spectre, Descent, you name it: Marathon is it. The folks at Bungie realize this and are trying to improve on an already perfect network game by include games such as king of the hill, tag, etc. For example, in one network scenario I recently played, the object was to carry a large red ball for the longest period of time. The player who held the ball the longest won the game. When you picked up the ball, the clock started ticking. The other players would try to kill you so they could pick up the ball. Unfortunately, when you had the ball, you couldn't use any of your weapons. Basically, the player could hide or dodge the other players the longest won the game.
In Marathon 1 there was always a moment of suspense after a network game finished as the computer tallied up the scores and then presented them on the screen. In Marathon 2 you'll be able to keep track of the number of kills versus deaths during a game. While this takes away from some of the suspense at the end of the game, it adds another interesting dimension to network play. Since you'll be able to keep track of your current situation, you'll be able to fight more offensively or defensively depending on how well you are doing. For example, if you are winning big, you might want to take it easy the remaining minutes of the game and play chicken. Or if you're losing by one, and the yellow player is ahead of you by one point, you might try to find him and kill him so you can get a leg up. In the end, knowing the status of your current network game demands different strategies than the one you used in Marathon 1.
A new feature in Marathon 2 will be cooperative network play. You and a buddy will be able to play the adventure levels together and fight the Pfhor in unison. The bad news, however, is that as of this writing the development team at Bungie says Marathon 2 will not have modem-to-modem play. Damn it Jim!
Mama, I'm Coming Home. While Marathon set a standard, Marathon 2 will likely eclipse it and bring Mac gamers a whole new dimension in Macintosh gaming. Bungie Software has quietly spent the better part of early 1995 improving on an early successful formula by tweaking the Marathon engine, creating better graphics, sound, monsters, and weapons.
If Marathon 1 had one major drawback, it was the adventure levels which were rushed so the game could ship by Christmas. As a result, many of the levels were confusing, if not irritating. Realizing this, Bungie has improved their level building abilities by improving on their map-making tools and spending more time on creating intricate and complex, yet fun levels. If the demo is any indication, the levels in Marathon 2 should be far superior to those found in Marathon 1.
Now the question, when will the game ship? Unlike Marathon 1, Bungie this time is not promising any ship dates. About the only promise I got from Bungie is that it would probably ship on a month ending with the letter "R." From what I saw in a recent visit to Bungie, the game is not near completion. So it would be a fair guess to say that Marathon 2 will likely ship on both floppy disk and CD-ROM sometime before Christmas, maybe even as early as October or November.
Demo Instructions. The preview demo below is not intended for general distribution. This means you shouldn't upload the preview demo anywhere! The preview demo is intended for readers of IMG only. The official demo with networking, etc will be released to the public sometime in August. We will put the official demo on the next CD-ROM. Till then, enjoy the preview below.
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