Sneak Peek: Marathon
by Tuncer Deniz

NOTE: Screen shots and information presented in this article are based on a pre-release version of Marathon and are subject to change before final release. This article is not a review.

Last year, Bungie Software released a revolutionary 3-D game called Pathways Into Darkness. It was the first texture-mapping game on the Macintosh and it went on to become an extremely successful title. In fact, it won Inside Mac Games' Adventure Game of the Year, the Macworld Game Hall of Fame award, and the MacUser 100.

Now, almost a year later, Bungie is working on a follow up to Pathways Into Darkness entitled Marathon. Although it's not a sequel, the new game features some of the same 3-D real-time graphics featured in Pathways Into Darkness, but, of course, with some rather massive (and impressive) improvements. Marathon features a newer, more sophisticated and faster graphics engine, better looking graphics, enhanced artificial intelligence, a unique and intuitive interface, networking, PowerPC support, and more.

The Plot Thickens. The game begins on a space ship called the Marathon. Unlike other ships, the Marathon is unique in that it once used to be a small Mars moon called Deimos. Years ago the moon (very small in size) was mined, hollowed out, and turned into a space ship (ah, don't ask me how).

After traveling hundreds of years to a planet believed to be habitable by humans, the colonists on the Marathon land on the planet and begin to terraform it. A few years into the operation, the colonists find a strange, metallic sphere containing some strange hieroglyphics near the colony. After some low-level studies are conducted on the object on the planet, the colonists send the sphere to the Marathon for further testing by the scientists on the ship (using more sophisticated equipment found only on the mother ship).

A few hours after the sphere arrives on the Marathon, the scientists send a message back to the planet saying the sphere is a capacitor holding a huge amount of energy and are in need of an electrician for further studies. This is where you come in. You, the electrical specialist, are instructed to take a shuttle from the planet to the Marathon to do further tests on the object. When you land and disembark from your shuttle onto the Marathon, you realize things have gone terribly wrong. Strange aliens have somehow come on the ship and killed everyone on board and you'll be next if you don't do something.....quick.

Not Pathways: Part 2. By now you've probably guessed what you have to do...find a weapon fast and start killing bad guys like in Pathways! Carnage! Yea, well, that's not all true this time. The wizards at Bungie have learned quite a bit from their previous games and have added new elements to the storyline to make the game more dynamic and less frustrating than Pathways Into Darkness. Although it'll still be a pretty hard game, the authors of the game promise you won't (hopefully) get stuck on a level and get so frustrated you have to call Bungie's technical support line. As the game evolves, you'll find yourself going through the various levels on the ship and will eventually find your way to the alien colony on the planet for your final confrontation with the bad guys..

In the game you'll not only have to use your quick reflexes but also combat tactics like ambushes and stealth to out-smart and out-fight your enemy. In some cases, it'll be futile to suddenly go into a room with 20 aliens and start shooting. You'll have to somehow either disguise yourself as an alien or use another form of stealth to get by them. The aliens in Marathon are also now smarter (but they also have a tendency to be dummer). For example, if you are hiding behind a wall next to a door and the door opens, there's a good chance the alien will simply walk right by you and not even notice you. In fact, if you are quiet enough and keep a distance, you'll be able to follow an alien around without being noticed.

In Pathways, the monsters would only come at you depending on your proximity to them on a level. In Marathon, the aliens move about a level independent of what you do. For example, if you stay put in one hidden area the whole time, you'll see the aliens move about the level going about their business. Of course, if you start causing a scene like shooting or fighting, the aliens will instinctively come to the "check out noise."

The Graphics, Interface, and Cyberspace. The new graphics engine (completely re-written about 3 times for Marathon) runs about twice as fast as the one in Pathways Into Darkness. In addition to moving forward, backward and sideways (like in Pathways), you'll also be able to look up and down (something you can't do in Pathways or DOOM for that matter), climb up and down stairs, jump, and make other movements. Marathon will also have textured floors and ceilings and other complex structures (like spiral staircases). Even though the graphics engine is twice as fast as that of the one in Pathways, the added complexity of the graphics will make the game extremely slow on slower Macs (IIsi and below). However, the good news is that the game will run extremely fast on 040 machines and blazingly fast on PowerPC based Macs.

One of the obvious drawbacks in Pathways Into Darkness was the repetitiveness of the graphics in the game. The walls, doors, and monsters all basically looked the same on all the levels. In Marathon, the graphics are rich and varied. Different levels on the ship and planet will be completely different than the ones before.

The interface in Pathways was also awkward in that you had to use your mouse to select potions, ammo, etc. Marathon fixes this problem with a new, slick interface. On the left of the main view screen is a rotating compass which is used to show the heading of your movement. On the bottom left of the screen is a motion detector (inspired by the one found in the movie Aliens). You'll be able to use the motion detector to find the distance, speed, and heading of your opponent(s).

The game will also feature an enhanced auto-mapping feature. In auto-map mode, you'll be able to navigate throughout a level in real-time. Areas previously undiscovered will be drawn when moving into a certain area. Once you've walked through a whole level, the entire level will be mapped out. Quite a handy feature if you should get lost or need to return to another area quickly.

Another twist to the game is the addition of cyberspace. In Marathon, cyberspace is essentially the computer's interpretation of the real world. In the game you'll be able to find cyberspace portals that will let you go into cyberspace. Once in cyberspace, you'll find the cyberspace world to be exactly like the real world you were just in but with some physical changes like more objects, corridors, doors, and walls than in the real world. For example, imagine you came to a door that was locked and had no way to get in. In Marathon, you'll be able to jack into cyberspace and find a way to open the door in cyberspace through the use of additional tools, rooms, etc. If you should get killed in cyberspace or decide to return to the real world, you simply return to the real world unharmed and in the same place you jacked into cyberspace.

Network Play. One of the more exciting new features in Marathon will be the addition of network play. Think of the network play as the arcade part of Marathon.

In network play, the player will be able to play against a number of human opponents across a network (or ARA). Gameplay on a network will be set up so a player has to engage human opponents on the network on a specially created network level (unlike the ones found in the adventure part of the game). You'll be able to form teams (for example, reds against blues) and you'll also be able to assign aliens to a certain team to fight on your side. The games will be, for example, in the following forms: every man for himself, whomever gets the most kills in 10 minutes wins, capture the flag, and on and on.

Mood Rellik? It seems once again the guru's at Bungie are taking another giant step forward in the Mac game industry with Marathon as they did one year ago with Pathways Into Darkness. Combined with excellent graphics, exciting gameplay, networking, a super slick interface and other surprising innovations, Marathon will no doubt be one of the hottest titles this year.

But I almost positive that 99 percent of the people who read this preview will ask, "Uh, huh, huh....dude, how does it compare to DOOM?" Well, if you think I'm going to compare and contrast both products you're absolutely wrong. Let's face it, DOOM is not on the Mac so how can you make a comparison? Or should we even try to make a comparison? Would it be fair to make a comparison between a PC product and a Mac product? Absolutely not! Mac gamers should be thankful that Bungie has made a commitment to bring top-notch entertainment to the Mac and should support the efforts (provided of course if the final shipping product is up to our expectations) of publishers who PUBLISH Macintosh game titles. Yea, ok, sorry, enough lecturing <grin>.

Although Marathon is still in the late development stages, the programmers are putting in 24 hour shifts (OK, 23 hours if you count the hour or so they waste playing Street Fighter 2 Turbo on their SNES) to complete Marathon. Look for it in August, or September.

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