Thursday, 11 April 2013

Retro Gaming - Part 1

Not having my principal gaming machine - it's still in the repair shop - has meant that I have been pratting around with an odd selection of 'stand in' games and platforms.

Aside from my Xbox seeing heavy use I revisited my STEAM library for forgotten Apple Mac games and have even dragged an old gaming PC out of the attic and dusted it off (more about that in part 2 of this post).

Bungie's Marathon and the Aleph One project
One of the interesting tangents I have pursued over the past week has been a bit of a retro gaming kick. I downloaded the Aleph One project's conversion to Mac OS X of the classic 2D shooter Marathon. This hugely influencial FPS maybe completely unheard of in today's console dominated games fraternity, but back in 1994 this left-field release actually unseated teh legendary 'Doom' as contender for the crown of best first person shooter.

Aleph One is the open source continuation of Bungie's Marathon 2 game engine. Available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux, Aleph One supports Marathon 2 and Marathon Infinity natively, and Marathon through a fan-made conversion. Many third party scenarios and net maps are also available. [Aleph One]

People may find it hard to believe that - for a short period - it was teh Apple Mac that was at the forefront of action gaming, but I can vouch for the fact that PC gamers were green with envy. I found that - in a bizzarre reversal of the norm - my PC gaming friends were coming round to my house just so they could have a go at playing Marathon!

Of course this situation was short lived as ID Software is not the kind of company you can thumb your nose at. In the short term ID ported 'Doom II" for the Mac to cash in on the Mac gamers' new-found appetite for FPS action, but in the long run ID's 1996 ground breaking 'Quake' with it's real 3D graphics killed off the 2D shooter.


Marathon legacy and thoughts...
Naturally in this day and age, where hyper-realism games - such as Call of Duty, Far Cry and Battlefield 3 - reflect the gamers' level of expectation, a blocky 2D shooter does not age well. But as soon as I heard the opening audio notes of Bungie's game a shiver shot down my spine - this was all part of the more cerebral attraction of Marathon and the foundation of it's popularity.

But, you might ask, why doesn't everyone remember Marathon? Well, if you are a PC or console gamer it's is understandable that you might question the influence of Bungie's shooter and it's relevance to the history of game development, but the fact is you may very well have been part of the Marathon story without even knowing it...

Going back to 1995 Bungie was unfortunately a victim of it's own success and the success of the Marathon concept. The waves it created in the games community attracted the attention not only of ID Software but also of Microsoft, who were in the midst of developing it's own ground breaking gaming system, something called an 'Xbox'.

Soon after Marathon was first released, its multiplayer mode gained a small but
dedicated fan base. Marathon's multiplayer allowed up to eight people to play
competitively over AppleTalk. Rather than using the traditional method of points
in order to win, Marathon instead gave players scores based on their kills-to-deaths
ratio. Marathon also differed from its contemporaries in that it did not use single
player levels for multiplayer, but used dedicated multiplayer maps.
Source: Bungiepedia
Microsoft was on the look out for a cutting edge game concept with which to launch it's new games console and Bungie was the unfortunately focus of Bill Gate's giant as they were developing the game which they hoped would surpass even Marathon's phenomenal success...A game that would eventually be called HALO!

Well, the rest is, as they say history. Microsoft bought Bungie and effectively strangled the Apple Mac game industry (some conspiracy theorists in the Mac community think deliberately so). Without the entrepreneurial example of Bungie Mac gaming had no champion who believed that this platform could support a games industry in it's own right and Mac games reverted to it's traditional fare of the occasional half-hearted PC ports.

I enjoyed my reflections on this classic game, probably more because it represented the one and only time when Mac gaming was pre-eminent. The game itself, as mentioned, does not really translate into today's gaming environment and I found that the very thing that made it such a success - it's brilliantly scripted plot - worked against it as I remembered to storyline all to well even after all these years. But, boy, playing it brought back some brilliant memories and at least in that it was well worth the download.


Links to the Marathon history...

> Marathon: Why is it such a great game? Very nicely analytical approach to understanding why Marathon was so good compared to it's contemporaries.
> The Marathon Trilogy - Wikipedia
> 'Marathon Story' - An outline of the plot of the original story (a walk-through if you like).

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