Bungie Software began just four short years ago. In that time, the company has become one of the premier Macintosh game developers, releasing four titles in all: Operation: Desert Storm, Minotaur, Pathways into Darkness, and, of course, Marathon. I had the opportunity to sit down with Bungie President Alexander Seropian and Lead Programmer Jason Jones shortly after Marathon's release to talk about the game The first part of the interview is with Alexander Seropian; the latter part is with Jason Jones.
Tuncer Deniz: How did Bungie get started?
Alexander Seropian: I started Bungie in my apartment at college because I wanted to publish games. I had a problem, though, which was that I didn't have a game to publish, so I had to write one. I wrote this dumb little game (Operation: Desert Storm) and started publishing it. Then I met Jason. Jason can write games much better than I can (much better than most, actually). Jason and I work very well together because we excel in very complementary ways. We have kind of a left-brain/right-brain thing going. A lot of our success can be attributed to our attitudes toward the value of creative effort and providing incentive for productivity from others. Bungie exhibits a very flat organizational model, and everyone has the opportunity to contribute. However, that's not to say that there aren't strong and motivational personalities at Bungie. That happens to be a trait that Jason and I share. After we started working together, we came out withMinotaur and Pathways into Darkness. Minotaur and the previous product that I wrote really taught us some valuable lessons about the computer software industry, business, and life in general. Those experiences laid a solid groundwork for exploiting Pathways into Darkness to the extent we were able to. By the time we shipped Marathon, we were in the position to capitalize on Marathon's technical and creative excellence as best as possible.
TD: What are your feelings toward the Power PC?
AS: Power Macs rule. I couldn't have wished for anything better to happen to the Mac market. The only thing I would have done differently (if I were Apple) would be to burn Marathon into the ROMs. The Power Mac has given Apple the momentum it has needed to be taken seriously. Being the largest manufacturer of RISC-based computers sounds pretty good on a resume. The respect Apple has garnered from the Power Mac has raised its acceptance in the market and has convinced some important players to enter the Mac entertainment industry. Contrary to other people's opinions, we see this trend as being very beneficial to us. The more legitimized the Mac game market becomes, the more games Bungie can sell.
TD: Are any level editors available for Marathon? (Note: Editors allow a savvy user to manipulate the different aspects of Marathon to create new levels, creatures, and objects.)
AS: Yes, there are a few available on the online services. There are currently two map editors, a physics model editor, and a shape installer. I think the physics model editor is the coolest add-on It really lets you do some funky things to the game. Like, you can actually make the assault rifle shoot exploding Hulks at your enemy! That's cool. These kinds of enhancements to our products extend the shelf life of our games and raise the mindshare of our customer base.
TD: Where do you see Bungie in the next few years?
AS: I hope we are able to ride the wave we have created for ourselves and ship some more neat products for the Mac (and maybe other platforms too). Otherwise we might start designing a really cool line of designer toilet seats (there's a lot of good engineers here, ya know). One of the things we have experienced (which I'm sure is very frequent in this industry) is that it is hard to predict what will happen three, six, or twelve months from now. We like to determine operating and creative paradigms to work by (which I wouldn't dream of boring you with) and let those carry us in new directions. Therefore, it is almost impossible to predict, or guess, where Bungie will be in the next few years. I'll assume, for now, that we'll be on planet Earth.
TD: Why are people so attracted to first-person shoot-'em-up games like Marathon?
AS: Games like Marathon mimic reality better than any other genre of computer games-except maybe flight simulators. But flight sims have a much steeper learning curve. First-person, 3-D shooters have no learning curve. It's pretty obvious what to do as soon as you start playing. These factors make Marathon very accessible to a wide market, and it is appealing visually. Game play also contributes significantly to 3-D games. It will be interesting to see how this technology is applied to new kinds of games. I think [the game] Descent is an example of trying to create a hybrid of the traditional first-person 3-D shooter and some of the more complicated aspects of a flight sim. It is yet to be seen if that approach will be successful.
TD: What was the most difficult aspect of developing Marathon?
JJ: Actually, it was resisting the constant urge to play the network game, but that's probably not what you mean. There were a lot of technical obstacles we had to overcome during the development of Marathon, and the most difficult was certainly making the rendering engine run at an acceptable speed. It took three full rewrites during the development cycle before we finally got it running quickly, and we're still continuing to improve it. I've already got some new code that runs twice as fast as Marathon 1.2 at high-screen resolutions.
TD: Why aren't there any secret cheat codes in Marathon?
JJ: You mean you haven't found them yet? OK, OK. One problem was that most of our beta testers were using them to cheat during their walk-throughs of the game, which obviously wasn't very good testing. But I also wanted to make the game challenging and not provide players with an easy way out of a difficult situation. I knew cheater programs would be all over the Internet the day Marathon shipped, but running an application to modify your saved-game file is different than just typing "GOPOSTAL" or something during the game and getting a billion health and 65,535 rockets. Honestly, though, Marathon does have built-in cheat codes: the difficulty levels. Playing on the "Kindergarten" level is really easy, but I bet very few people can win the game on Total Carnage (and I'd like to play a few network games with the people that can).
TD: Marathon seems to be very network-oriented. When you began the project, did you plan it this way?
JJ: If Marathon seems network-oriented, it's because, for better or for worse, we logged so many hours playing and improving the network game. I'd wanted to do networking since before we finished Pathways, but in the beginning we didn't plan to add this feature to Marathon because of its complexity. A few months into development, it suddenly occurred to me how we could easily integrate networking into the game, and in a few weeks our productivity plummeted as we began to "test" the network game extensively. We spent a lot of time tuning and balancing the head-to-head network game, and I think it shows. Including network-only levels allowed us to design maps with network play in mind, and eliminated the impossible task of creating a map that would be interesting in both single-player and network mode. Many of Marathon's features were designed at first to make the network game more interesting like the power-ups, which rarely appear in the single-player game, for example.
TD: What is the single biggest mistake people make during network play?
JJ: Playing with me.
TD: OK, well, can you at least share with us any network-specific tricks you've learned?
JJ: Always run. Never stop moving, never stop sidestepping. If there is someone on your screen, never stop firing. Become one with the motion sensor. Learn to use the fist, learn to torso-twist. Turning is the fastest way to change your direction of movement (and the only way to change it in the air); use this to dodge rockets and grenades. Aim for the ground (or nearby walls) with rockets and grenades instead of at the player you are trying to hit.
TD: Are you planning on doing a sequel to Marathon?
JJ: We learned a few things about announcing unfinished products while working on Marathon. Actually, just one thing, and that's not to announce unfinished products. So my answer is "I'm not doing it. Nobody's seen me doing it. I deny everything." On the other hand, there are a lot of things we didn't get to include in Marathon because we ran out of time, and it's tempting to go back and try to do them now that we do have time. And Marathon's ending really does leave a lot of room for something else to happen. I don't know how many people noticed this, but the very last thing that happens to the player in Marathon is that he is teleported off the last level to where? Maybe someday we'll take advantage of this.
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