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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