Blue Line to Venus: The Subway Map in Destiny

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If you ever find yourself in the Ishtar Collective on the planet Venus sometime in the far future, you can rest easy that you have several mass transit options available, at least according to Bungie‘s new console game, Destiny.

Destiny Subway Map

A hybrid first-person shooter/role playing game with a shared online game space set in the future, Destiny visits several close-in planets during its twenty-odd mission story campaign, including a terraformed Venus where subway stations apparently don’t need to have names. Computer games, particularly shooters, often use subway maps as set dressing in order to suggest a deeper, wider world, creating an illusion of depth and breadth beyond the narrowly confined channels the developers want you to walk down. A subway map drives home the point that, though now gone, people lived and worked here.

Rather than feeling a sense of a wider world, though, seeing the map just confirms how small and lifeless the game’s world really is. The map serves as a metaphor for the game itself. There’s no subway station nearby to explore, no tunnel network to search through. (A later game level, set on Mars, does have a constrained transit station.) There are hints of more to come in Destiny, of detail under the surface, but it’s just not there. The game simply provides a series of set piece locales with a varied—and quite often beautiful—mise en scène in which to fight aliens and other players. An odd complaint, perhaps, to make of a game billed primarily as a first-person shooter, but it speaks to my slight disappointment with the game, as I wanted it to be a more engrossing and detailed exploration experience than it turned out to be. I was hoping for a faster-paced Fallout 3 rather than a Halo re-skin with random loot drops.

Fallout 3 Subway Map

Fallout 3 provides both a subway map (loosely based on the real Washington, DC, Metrorail map) and the ability to travel to quite a few of the stations via the subway tunnels themselves, but then it is a role playing game with shooter components rather than the reverse. Fallout’s structure encourages such exploration, whereas Destiny herds you from objective to objective. I can’t fault Destiny for not being the game I wanted it to be; I just hoped that the creators of the Marathon series could find a way to combine a cutting-edge first-person shooter with a captivating world that rewards exploration via something to find rather than new things to shoot. Marathon and its sequels, though purely first-person shooters, told a story to those willing to look for it in way Destiny, twenty years later, does not.

Still, I’m enjoying my time with Destiny, even if I can’t get hopelessly lost in the imaginary tunnels of the Venusian Green Line.

With a Story and a Side Arm: Bungie's Marathon

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Every few years, I reacquaint myself with an old friend, one I’ve known since 1994. It originally came on four 3.5″ floppies in a triangular box, produced by a Mac-only software shop with a funny name: Bungie. They had previously released Pathways into Darkness, an adventure shooter centering on an alien god awakening in a jungle pyramid. Their new Mac-only game? Marathon.

Marathon

The Marathon demo came out in late November, 1994, changing Mac gaming—and arguably computer gaming as well. It certainly wasn’t the first first person shooter; it wasn’t the first shooter to feature a detailed story told through interaction with in-game objects; it wasn’t the first shooter to use the mouse to change the player’s viewpoint independent of movement direction (mouse look); and it wasn’t the first shooter to attract an active modding community. But it did it all so very well, and on a platform not renowned for gaming to boot.

I upgraded my trusty Mac LC III to a whopping 8 MB of RAM (at no mean cost, either) in preparation for the full game after playing the demo, which I downloaded slowly on a 28.8k modem. USENET group comp.sys.mac.games lit up with conversations about the demo. Indeed, the volume of Marathon-related posts was so high that it spurred the split of c.s.m.g into various sub-groups, like .action and .flight-sim. I still have a record of a post I made to c.s.m.g that apologizes for posting about Marathon there:

From: chbaer@kestrel.cqi.com (chbaer)
Newsgroups: comp.sys.mac.games
Subject: Marathon and Micronauts?
Date: 15 Dec 1994 08:00:55 -0500
Message-ID: <3cpem7$d8e@kestrel.cqi.com>
X-Newsreader: TIN [version 1.2 PL0]

(Sorry, my server doesn’t carry alt.games.marathon or alt.mac.games.marathon)

Has anyone noticed the similarity between the soldiers and Bug from the
late-70’s/early-80’s comic book and action figure series Micronauts?
Bug, too, carries a fighting stick with a spade-like top. Hmm . . .
perhaps a plot connection (or at least something to think about until
Marathon ships).

Why the rabid fan base? Setting aside the fact that this amazing game was Mac-only, fostering quite proprietary feelings in the breasts of many Mac gamers, the game’s immersive story kept people coming back for more even after the last level.

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