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Marathon
With features that were way ahead of their time, Bungie created a series of games that doesn't get the credit it deserves for helping shape the world of the FPS.
By - Matt "Kindrak" Chandronait

The Play's The Thing


The most famous multiplayer Marathon map ever: "Mars Needs Women."
There's little secret as to the elements which made Half-Life such an astounding success. An immersive plot, "realistic" physics, terrific multiplayer, and an incredibly user-modifiable game engine. Now, rewind to December 1994 and, at the time, the only FPS title that could claim all of the above and more: Bungie's Marathon.

The master plotsmiths at Bungie wove a sci-fi plotline into the Marathon series (Marathon, Marathon 2: Durandal, and Marathon Infinity) that rivals Fank Herbert's Dune in it's mesmerizing scale. Revealed through a series of mission briefs and in-game computer consoles, the story unfolds in such a way that fans of the series still debate it's intricacies, as can be seen at sites like Marathon's Story. Mostly through the pernicious meddlings of insane, or "rampant" A.I.s (which had an odd predilection towards communicating with the player via haiku), the player was taken on a ride across space and at least several hundred years of time through the famed Marathon space station itself, alien starships and planets of every variety, and at last, seemingly, into some sort of higher state of being -- though that is still a point of contention.

Before Mods Were Mods


Rubicon, a scenario released March 17th, 2001. No, that's not a typo.
In 1994, immersive plot was nothing new to the video game industry -- even if the Marathon series did it extremely well and as an action title. What set the Marathon series apart was the engine itself.

The engine sports an impressive physics model that allowed grenades to arc through the air and the player to waft gently across wide crevices in low-grav maps. Though such things seem necessary and basic now, at the time they were not only impressive, but revolutionary. (Remember, Quake wasn't released for another year and a half).

But the most incredible thing about the engine was that it was possible to make mods for it -- though the community calls them "scenarios." Perhaps it's the nature of the Macintosh community for which the first Marathon game was originally released that encouraged gamers to want to hack new sounds and graphics into a game. Maybe it was just that Mac gamers had too much free time on their hands with their gaming selection being rather limited, but after a short period of time user-created tools began to pop up for manipulating every aspect of the game.

Often buggy and seldom, sporting anything that could dubbed a good UI, these tools allowed the community, nevertheless, to rapidly explode with custom-made multiplayer and single-player maps, new sound and graphic sets, new weapons, and, over time, entire new "scenarios" that would be described today as nothing short of total conversion mods.

A particular favorite was the fully-automatic Bob launcher. This marvel of engineering would rapid-fire the generic human used throughout the Marathon series (dubbed "Bob") screaming at his target with highly explosive (and somewhat disgusting) results, complete with splash-damage.

It's All About "You"


Double-barrel hand-shotguns akimbo... sweet.
The point being that if one could dream it, the Marathon engine could just about be modified to do it. The community was so active that Bungie sat up and took notice, releasing professional tools publicly so that the users could create their worlds with even greater ease. After time, even the Marathon source code was made available for anyone wanting even more control over how their scenario functioned. Check out Marathon Central and it's easy to see just how vibrant and just plain big the community surrounding the series became; a community that is still active over 6 years later and shows no signs of immediate slowing. This was a lesson well learned by Bungie and the results can be seen in all of their subsequent titles. It may not even be all that far-fetched to state that it was a lesson learned by the gaming industry as a whole.

Known for being a company very adept at "breaking the mold," Bungie created in the Marathon series games which put them on the map and helped shape the modern gaming world. Though the series is often under-credited for it's contribution to the FPS experience, it was ahead of it's time in almost every way (the multi-player even included real time voice-communication) and brought all the right components together for a truly unique and inspiring vision of what was to come. For these reasons, it has earned its place in GameSpy's Hall of Fame.

Essential Links Next: Hall Of Fame Index...




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