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Marathon: Durandal XBLA Q&A

Posted by lukems at 7/17/2007 3:20 PM PDT

So what the heck is Marathon: Durandal? Well the odd thing is that Marathon: Durandal is actually a sequel, rather than the original game. It's a 3D shooter, often compared with id's masterpiece, Doom. That's not exactly accurate. Both games feature wildly disparate pacing and feel. But yes, it's an olde-worlde 3D shoot 'em up with corridors and monsters. The reason we chose to port Durandal rather than the original, is that it's the more accomplished and feature rich game, more modes of play and a better Campaign mode.

You'll certainly enjoy some hints of what would eventually come from Bungie in here. There are unmistakable similarities to Halo that if anything, are compounded by the new 360 control scheme. Marathon: Durandal, while primitive compared to today's efforts, was a remarkably complex and sophisticated offering back in the day. We hope you spend some time with it and enjoy a rich and mysterious sci-fi universe, with lots of story woven into its action and take it for what it is - a brilliantly reproduced homage to one of our old classics.

We chatted with Bruce Morrison from Freeverse about their Xbox Live Arcade-bound port of Marathon: Durandal.

Who is Freeverse and why are they messing with my Marathon?

Freeverse is one of the oldest Mac game developers out there.  Founded in 1994, Freeverse has been a fixture in the Mac community.  When Bungie was at the MacWorld Expo with Marathon, it was Freeverse's booth that was right next door.  It was common to trade games between companies and of course to play some Marathon over Apple Talk.

In 2004 Freeverse hired two new employees, Mark Levin and Bruce Morrison.  You might know Mark as "Count Zero" or "HaveBlue" from HBO and Bruce as "Hippieman" from  It wasn't long after that Mike Watson or "Patient Zero" from came to work at Freeverse and finally Steven Cento from the Myth community joined up in 2006 (He had done contract work for Freeverse for many years previous).

This was the core team to work on Marathon, and with good reason, everyone on the team had worked in Forge and Anvil.  Mark worked on Aleph One and Steven had designed Myth tools and was familiar with Bungie's file format.  It was a perfect match.  These guys idolized Bungie and Marathon, and they knew how to treat the series with the respect and love it deserves.

How did it come about that you guys were remaking a Marathon game?

Short answer: Ferrex's love of Diablo 2 and World of Warcraft.

Long answer: Microsoft contacted Freeverse in late 2004 to construct a camera game for the Xenon (later to become the Xbox 360).  Freeverse was invested in a company called Strange Flavour, two brothers based in the UK who had made a game called ToySight for the Mac.  Strange Flavour began work on a game for Microsoft.  A while later, Microsoft realized Freeverse, based in New York City would need Xenon Dev kits to test the games with Strange Flavour.  This mystery box was of course the Xbox 360, but it was an oddity in the office, it had to hook up to a Windows machine to run, so nobody knew what to do with it at first.  It was Steven, the resident Windows guy who noticed he could compile out games to this Dev kit.

At the same time, Bruce was enjoying World of Warcraft with the old school Diablo 2 players, a majority who happened to work at Bungie, including Mr. Sketch.  It was one day during WoW that the subject of Xbox Live Arcade came up.  Sketch mentioned that Bungie would really like to see Marathon come to XBLA, but they didn't have time to devote to it (Something about this Halo 3 game).  This was the opportunity.

The next day, all work stopped and a file loader for the Marathon 2 map file was created.  By the end of the week we could see Marathon 2 levels on the 360.  Freeverse knew they'd need more than a good idea to convince Bungie to hand them Marathon, they'd need a prototype.

Over the next few weeks a simple prototype was created with basic physics and a crude networking layer was created to show to Bungie.

That August at GameFest, Freeverse met with Bungie in Kirkland to iron out the remaining issues and in September a contract was drawn up and the game was started.

 Why Marathon: Durandal? Why not the first game?

There are a few reasons to this, some technical some business related.

The Technical:

Marathon 1 was built for the 68k Macs in System 7.  Our team is a bit younger than that (Average age 25).  This format was less known to us.  Marathon 1 also was much more dependant on older Macintosh resources such as system sounds and resource forks.

We prototyped with the GPL Marathon source code.  It was available before we had a contract and it was well documented.  *NOTE* Marathon: Durandal does not in any way use the GPL Marathon 2 source code.

Marathon 2 was released for Windows with a Windows version and Windows source code.

Marathon 2 for the Mac was built for PowerPC-based computers, something Freeverse is very familiar with.

The Mac tools Forge and Anvil work with the Marathon 2 assets.

Marathon 1 is a very tiny game.  The maximum size of a Marathon 1 level is 256 polygons.  The maximum size of a Marathon 2 level is 1024 polygons.

The Non Technical:

We had to look at this project from worst-case scenario:  We only get to bring one of the 3 games to Xbox Live Arcade.  With that in mind we had to say, which is the most appropriate?  We universally agreed that Marathon 2 was the best.  It had the richest story and environment of the 3, and it was more mainstream and traditional than Marathon Infinity.  It was the right fit.

Liquids, Marathon 2 supports liquids, which add depth.

Dual Shotguns, quite possibly the best weapon ever created.

Thunderdome, one of the best multiplayer maps out there, Halo fans might remember it as Foundation.

Durandal, as a character he is very cool and his story is quite fun.

Robert Blake was played by none other than Jason Jones, we just had to get his smiling face on Xbox Live Arcade.

Haven't folks been playing Marathon games via Aleph One for a while?

Yes, Aleph One is a great project and people need to continue to support it.  Our goal was not to recreate Aleph One.  We wanted to recreate Marathon 2.  We want the Aleph One guys to enhance and add to the engine.  If you have never played Marathon and want to try it, head over to and check it out.  The Aleph One team are great guys who are really devoted to updating the engine and are always adding cool new features.

What's different about Marathon: Durandal on Xbox Live Arcade?

There are a number of new items.

New Engine.  Marathon: Durandal is running in a true 3D engine on the Xbox 360.

New Save System.  You still must find Pattern Buffers to save, but let's say you beat the first level and get to the 2 nd level.  What used to happen is if you died, you'd load a save game back on the first level.  Now if you die, when you respawn you are brought back to the start of the new level (with all your weapons).  Also if you save then immediately die the game takes note of this.  If it happens really often (as in you saved in a really bad spot) it will respawn you back at a previous save point.  This is to remove frustration.

HD Graphics.  You can turn on HD graphics (they are on by default).  This is a total replacement—walls, guns, aliens, effects even the marine.

720p Widescreen.  The game is running in true widescreen at 720p.  This actually gives you a bit more visual room.

60 frames a second game play.  Marathon 2 was originally locked to 30 frames a second.  We increased it to 60 (and ensured the existing logic transferred over to 60 ticks a sec instead of 30).  This gives the game a much more fluid presentation than it's computer counterpart.

Brand new networking layer.  Instead of using the old Marathon networking system, we implemented a new one with ReplicaNet.  This allows the game to play smooth and reliably over the Internet, something the original Marathon 2 could not do.  This also allow for online coop play with up to 8 players (the original supported 8 players, but getting the game to not fall apart was another story).

A control scheme designed for the 360.  Bungie was very nice to us, and assisted us in setting up a control system very similar to Halo.  Using these acceleration curves we are able to give players a fluid control system.

Achievements, Rich Presence and Leaderboards.  Staples of the Xbox 360, but these give ultimate bragging rights.  Plus our Achievements were designed with hardcore Marathon fans in mind.

French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese and Korean translations of the entire game.  This is the most accessible Marathon to date.  Every terminal (even the secret ones) were translated by Microsoft's expert localization team.

Survival is a brand spanking new mode for Single Player Marathon, give us the scoop! What is it?

Survival is a giant truck that pulls up to your house one day, where a platoon of alien commandos jump out, kidnap you, and wail on you until you're dead. And then the truck explodes, just to make sure the job gets done. If you're lucky, you'll take out a few hundred of them before your final moments.

When you start a Survival game, you're dropped randomly into one of four brand-new deathtra--er, levels and given a metric -blam-ton of guns and ammunition. After you gather your bearings, we start teleporting groups of enemies, dozens at a time, into the level. It's literally wave after wave of Pfhor and S'pht against you, and we keep the action moving by changing things up every sixty seconds. The more enemies you sack--and the less damage you take--the higher your score will be at the end. (And we all want to be at the top of the Leaderboards, right?)

As you progress through each round, we rotate new threats in and out of the game, from lowly Pfhor Fighters to Hunters to Juggernauts. (Did I say Juggernauts, plural? Hmm.) Our goal was to keep the experience fresh both while you were playing and between individual games. By rotating the enemies in waves and randomizing the placement of the enemies each time we add more, we keep Survival challenging and unpredictable--each time you play, it's a little different.

While the placement of the enemies is random, the progression of the waves is not. Thanks to our wonderful testing crew, we've been able to craft a cleverly escalating difficulty ramp for the Survival rounds. It's also a pretty awesome way to play with some of the weapons the game doesn't give you much time with outside of multiplayer.

We've got four new levels just for Survival, so we thought we'd give people a peek at a couple of them:

A screenshot from "Calm Like Your Mom"

Another screenshot from "Calm Like Your Mom"

An image from "Road Warrior"

An image from "Full Roaming Vapor"

Does Marathon: Durandal support fan content?

Sadly it does not.  This is not a limitation of the game, but a limitation of the Xbox 360.  All content must be approved by Microsoft before it can run on a Xbox 360.  There is no way to play games like Marathon: Evil or Tempus Irae inside Marathon: Durandal.

Does Marathon: Durandal support films?

Sadly it also does not support this.  This is the only feature missing from the original game.  Why?  It's a complex issue.  First the reason films worked was due to how Marathon approached networking.  In Marathon, your keystrokes are recorded and sent to other players.  In a film, the game would actually play the game, by inputting your keystrokes into the game.  If your game were ever to stall for any reason, the game would get out of sync and fall apart.  Our networking layer works like a modern system, so the keystrokes are not recorded.  Also, if you've seen the picture of Bungie's system for storing Halo 3 films, you'd see a huge (and expensive) setup of servers all tied directly to Microsoft's Xbox Live.  An 800 point arcade game does not have that luxury to support the film servers needed.

Why should I buy Marathon when I can just get it for free?  You are ripping us off!

If you want to and enjoy Marathon on Windows and Mac, keep on enjoying them!

 However, Marathon: Durandal is the best Marathon experience to date.  The game plays better than ever and looks better than ever.  Once you pick up a 360 controller and play on your HDTV you will never go back.

Do you support downloadable content?

Yes, Marathon: Durandal fully supports downloadable content packs.  There are no plans currently for downloadable content, as the game has not been released yet.

© 2007 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.