A Marathon Effort: Aleph One

By Jim Rossignol on December 1st, 2011 at 10:52 am.


It seems likely that some of you will not be aware of ’90s classic Marathon, which was one of those obscure-yet-influential games in the history of the shooter. It was one of the things Bungie did before they really made hay with the Halo games. Anyway, fans have continued the series, as well as powered a number of other games, with an open-source engine-creating effort called Aleph One, and that project recently hit a big old milestone, v1.0. This means it’s a good time to download one of the games related to the project if you are looking for some retro FPS adventures. Needless to say there are Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux versions.

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55 Comments »

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  1. Bob Sacamano says:

    I was actually looking for an open source engine to tinker around with recently when I came across Aleph One. I’m not familiar with Marathon, but I’ll have to check this out.

    • dontnormally says:

      Please oh please oh please oh please someone do this for Myth… II…

      edit: CASUALTIES.

    • WPUN says:

      dontnormally… wake UP man! Start at:

      http://www.mariusnet.com/

      Myth TFL, Myth 2 SB, Myth TWA all patched all working all right!

      Also, RPS coverage of Aleph One??? Now I’ve seen everything!

    • dontnormally says:

      @WPUN: Wow, I actually used to play there. I forgot it existed. Time for memory lane!

      Who owns the rights to Myth, Microsoft? M3 was bunk…

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      Johnny Law says:

      I believe Take 2 has the Myth rights.

  2. GallonOfAlan says:

    “Marathon is a fight for survival against the Pfhor, an alien race attacking your colony ship.”

    The Pfhor, presumably led by Sid James.

  3. caddyB says:

    Oh, Marathon, how I loved thee.

    • Gonefornow says:

      Oh, Marathon, how I love thee.

      I mean.. What happened?

    • formivore says:

      GLaDOS and SHODAN you are swell gals, but Durandal was always my first rampant love.

    • caddyB says:

      Gonefornow: It’s complicated.

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      Smashbox says:

      I LOVE Marathon!

      The Marathon series has a surprisingly deep and unconventional story, especially the further into the series you get. Infinity is totally insane.

      Durandal is the HAL9000 of dangerous computers in video games.

      I just can’t believe it took this long to reach a 1.0, I’m pretty sure I played Aleph One at least 6 or 7 years ago.

    • Shuck says:

      @ Smashbox: Yeah, I think Aleph One has been around since 2002, maybe earlier. Bungie officially made free the Marathon content in 2005, but Aleph One was an outgrowth of when they released the Marathon 2 source code in ’99, I think.

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      Smashbox says:

      Does it drive anyone else crazy that the opening of the first game has been changed for the files provided with Aleph one. No. Just no. Get your Pathways into Darkness outta my Marathon!

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      Johnny Law says:

      Smashbox, your wish has been granted.

      Anything else you’d like?

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    Anaphiel says:

    The three Marathon games all still hold up surprisingly well, in my opinion. The graphics are from the just-after-Doom era, so they’re old-school enough to avoid the sort of early 3-D game uncanny valley* that something like Unreal falls into, and the overall shooter gameplay is really tight. Very well-designed games in that respect.

    One piece of advice though: when you find terminals in the game, actually read them. There’s a ton of story going on – way more than in pretty much any other FPS I can think of – and since the game doesn’t have objective markers or a quest log you pretty much have to read them to know where you should be going and what you should be doing.

    * The pedants below are welcome to suggest another term to describe the process by which once-amazing early 3D graphics are now completely impossible to look at since we are only allowed to use the narrowest and most literal definition of uncanny valley

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      VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      uncanny valley

      You keep using those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.

    • Nallen says:

      It has to be one of the most widely misused/misunderstood phrases going these days. Right up there with ‘Beta’.

    • KaL_YoshiKa says:

      The Uncanny Valley specifically refers to things that ALMOST but not quite look real, you can’t use it to describe early 3d games because they don’t almost look real they look like computer generated graphics. It’s not a narrow definition, it’s a TECHNICAL definition – if you start applying completely unrelated meanings to it then you erase the entire point of using the term. By your suggestion all computer generated characters made from 1998 onwards qualifies as Uncanny Valley which would make the term redundant.

      For an actual alternative description most gamers would understand late 90’s 3d, low resolution models heck they’d probably follow “old 3d graphics” since you were going to say what kind of game you’re talking about anyway.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I don’t know what you’re talking about, early 3D looked almost exactly like real people at the time

    • Shuck says:

      I think the issue is “the expectations we have with 3D graphics.” Pixel art has become an aesthetic, so we’re willing to accept less than contemporary AAA standards, but with 3D, not so much.

  5. magnus says:

    Shouldn’t it be called Snickers by now?

  6. ZyloMarkIII says:

    I just wanted to say that the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw this image was the Tau from Warhammer 40K.

  7. Manfromtheweb says:

    I was aware!

    Also, I first played through them couple of years ago. These games had something I can only describe as a soul.

    Their stories are still richer and more complex than the vast majority of games. It also shows that you can create a memorable character in an FPS with just text, chiefly Durandal.

    There is a Marathon story page for those interested: marathon.bungie.org/

    BTW weren’t these originally for Macs?

  8. Woden says:

    Marathon. As a Mac gamer during the heyday of shareware, AOL, and Bungie, just the word fills me with nostalgia. Gimme some Marathon, some Escape Velocity (hell, any game from Ambrosia’s peak), some Rescue!, and some Think Ahead, and I’m a kid again.

    I want to echo Anaphiel’s note that the terminals actually matter in Marathon. Not only are they the sole direction the game provides you on what to do, but the story revealed through them is both broad and deep.

    For your perusal, the Marathon Story: http://marathon.bungie.org/story/ Note that this series is roughly 17 years old, and that site’s post from about two weeks ago shows that people are still finding new things to wonder about in the story.

    • TheLongKahn says:

      Right on with the Marathon and Escape Velocity. I grew up with Apple products, these were my primary introductions to computer games.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      There’s little to add here. As a mac gamer (especially as a budding mac gamer back then) these games not only heavily influenced how I see gaming, but they remain very good games in their own right.

    • formivore says:

      Marathon was the first shooter that felt like it had not just levels, but places that create a sense of wonder. This is probably the reason I never thought Half Life was such a great step forwards when that came out.

    • Doctor Pandafaust says:

      God yes. I was actually too young to appreciate marathon when it first came out. I had it on my computer and couldn’t quite understand what I was meant to do. Replaying it as an adult a couple of years back with aleph was great. I eerily remembered some of the levels but suddenly understood how to use them!

      Even back then I loved escape velocity though. Spent hundreds of hours on them, literally. Built my own (surprisingly decent) mods at the age of 10. Still whip out the old nova now and then. Also: the original exile series anyone? Mars rising? Realmz?

      I have to say, whatever else you can say about steam, I’m actually really loving the resurgence of indie games. Though to this date I don’t think any have beaten escape velocity…

    • dontnormally says:

      EV Nova is still fun!
      Go download it, play it, buy it!
      Encourage them to make a freaking sequel!

    • grundus says:

      Mans after my own heart. I grew up on: Bolo, Escape Velocity, Marathon, Harry the Handsome Executive, Full Throttle, The Dig, Sam & Max (just the demo, but I played it a lot), Star Wars: Dark Forces (demo) and just about every other game/piece of software that came free with Mac Format magazine. Other games I had in my surprisingly long and fruitless Mac gaming career: Quake 3, Ghost Recon, C&C Generals, Rainbow 6 Raven Shield… Er… Most of the good stuff from Steam, that’s it. I have a high tolerance for repetition, it seems. Then I tried out Boot Camp and now, mostly thanks to RPS’s ‘help everyone build a PC!’ thread (and Apple’s ludicrous graphics card prices where a 5870 = GTX 580) I have (and am posting this from) a PC for play which sits alongside my Mac for work (and EV:N).

      The Mac wasn’t the liveliest of the gaming platforms, but it had some truly awesome moments.

    • Hulk Handsome says:

      Here’s an article about mac gaming that was printed in Retro Gamer a while ago:

      http://imageshack.us/g/836/mac1g.jpg/

      AND here is an article about Marathon:

      http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/352/marathon1ta6.jpg/
      http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/352/marathon2ac3.jpg/

      Pretty BRILL’ stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

    • Ralphomon says:

      Marathon chat on RPS: great.
      Escape Velocity chat on RPS not instigated by me: AMAZING

      My first computer beyond an old Commander Keen-era thing was a Mac, then an old purple iMac, so my early gaming life is filled with happy memories of Marathon, various Ambrosia titles (HARRY THE HANDSOME EXECUTIVE hell yes), Exile and Blades of Exile, Realmz… Anyone remember 3 in Three?

      As for EV, has anyone played NAEV, and if so, does it have a story at all? I’ve spent a lot of time on it and kinda given up due to lack of mission variety.

  9. bleeters says:

    There are vent cores.

    Frog blast them.

  10. durandal says:

    The Marathon series was the first fps I ever played! I think I must have been 7 or 8 and dad brough home Marathon 2: Durandal for the old Mac LCII’s. Mum was Not Pleased.

    Amazing for the time, and only came out 2-3 years after Doom and, imo, is such a vastly superior game that I struggle to think why Doom is recognized and remembered and Marathon barely generates a blip!

    Durandal, an amazing character, well written, interesting and with an awesome opposite number in Tycho. It’s a shame they don’t remake them in full 3d. Would be quite refreshing imo, particularly with the depth of the stories and muckings abouts when you get the Jjarro timeline jumping power.

    Too much to say, not enough time to type it all out! (or organizational ability!)

    • malkav11 says:

      Easy answer: Marathon, as amazing as it was, was a Macintosh exclusive. Doom was an IBM-compatible exclusive. (Yes, Marathon 2 was eventually ported to PC, but it apparently never found an audience, and the third game resumed Mac exclusivity.)

      I mean, even without that, Marathon is from a distinctly later era of FPS and would probably not have dethroned Doom from people’s hearts. But being limited to the tiny Mac gaming community can’t have helped.

  11. Lagwolf says:

    Marathon had a couple of total conversions in the form of Tempus Fugit and Evil. Both were excellent and Evil was rather creepy/scary. There were these little bastards with knives for claws that jump out of the dark at your knees. I loved Marathon and wish Bungie (or someone) would re-make it for the new century. Half-life is great and all but Marathon is something special for many of us.

    * Oh yea and Marathon’s LAN multi-player wasn’t have bad either. The rockets were particularly fun once you learned to lead em’ properly.

  12. rampancy says:

    Marathon was my very first FPS love when I played it on my 16 MB 120 MHz Performa 6320, and it always pained me to see it and other Bungie classics like Myth ignored and shunned while games like Halo and Half-Life took the spotlight. The Marathon Trilogy was one of the very first games to feature a deep and immersive story-driven campaign, relentlessly brutal (and incredibly fun) LAN multiplayer with voice chat, dual-wielding and alt-fire weapon modes. It was one of those rare games that had it all.

    But that’s just part of the story. Over the years total conversions mods have cropped up like Marathon: EVIL, the Aliens-like Marathon RED, Tempus Irae (which warps you back in time to the era of Leonardo da Vinci), Rubicon (the expansive “unofficial Marathon 4″), and Eternal, which is as close as we’ve seen to a Marathon-Halo connecting story as we’ll ever see. All of these efforts are huge, standalone freeware games. A huge amount of extra content like HD textures and backgrounds, HD HUD mods, and weapon/shot improvements has also been made, and apparently, Aleph One 1.0 has actually included all of them in the download. Bravo, and thank you for all of your hard work.

    • Twitchity says:

      I also think the BOBs were the first AI-driven allies in an FPS game. Damage Incorporated (using the Marathon 2 engine) then upped the ante by giving you an AI-controlled squad of Marines to hunt down ’90s-era American extremist militias. (Good times, the ’90s. Good times.)

      Another thing Bungie got right: big set pieces. I still remember the first time you encounter a Hulk (or Drinniol): you’re running down a long, curving corridor, when all of a sudden a mob of civilians runs past you in the opposite direction, screaming. A few seconds later, a ten-foot-tall alien stomps around the corner, forcing you to backpedal furiously in an attempt to not get squashed flat.

  13. DocSeuss says:

    The Marathon games, particularly Infinity, remain, to this day, the absolute best-written games I have ever played, topping even System Shock 2.

    You show me a game that’s written better than Marathon: Infinity, and I’ll reveal to you the depths of your rampancy.

  14. deadpan says:

    But this was the weekend I was going to spend with Serious Sam! Don’t make me choose!

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    Smashbox says:

    So, after reading this story and getting some misty-eyed nostalgia for Marathon, I remembered the custom scenario I made in ninth grade, twelve years ago. To Google!

    The scenario still exists on some insane person’s server, and I just downloaded it! The first custom maps I’d ever made are sitting on my work computer’s hard drive, and I can’t wait to go home and play them tonight!

  16. Matzerath says:

    I used to be a mac guy, and when I was a mac guy, Marathon was in its prime. I think I picked the right time to be a mac guy.

  17. Master_of_None says:

    I so enjoyed the comments on this thread.

    I will throw a +1 to the call for a Myth / Myth II open source effort.

    And some things that have not been said yet:

    Halo was the best Marathon game from a multi-player perspective – I remember when Bungie sold to Microsoft and I realized that I would never get to play Halo on a Mac. Crestfallen. That is when I bought my first PC.

    Marathon was the first physics engine that I played with. It was incredibly user-friendly and fun as an 8 year old kid to change gravity settings and the radius / power of explosions. I think the modding that allows and encourages creativity in altering the game universe is the single most important thing that PC games have going for them (vs. console).

    • deadpan says:

      The mod tools Forge and Anvil (which were packaged with Marathon Infinity) remain some of the most user-friendly FPS mod tools I ever used. There was something special about walking around inside a level I had just sketched in a 2D drawing, texturing surfaces just by looking at them and using a drag and drop interface to adjust floor and ceiling heights on individual polygons. In 1996.

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      Smashbox says:

      They were my introduction to level-making (well, actually Wolf3D, but I don’t think that counts)

      I spent countless hours in those tools.

  18. gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

    I used Aleph about a year ago to play through Marathon. I had played it only once before, at the apartment of a friend with a Mac, back in the late 90s.

    It was pretty, and the story was really neat, but the level design was so… artificial and forced.

    You know that one level of Doom 2 where you start out surrounded by barrels, and the second you move forward, a handful of Mancubi appear, and start firing? Remember how it was one big puzzle rather than being a level with organic “this is a laboratory” or “this is a city street” sense?

    The whole game was like that for me. It simply irritated me. It was supposed to be a spaceship, but apparently it was built where even the door to the gents’ is a secret tunnel.

    After I finished Marathon, I cancelled my plans to play through Durandal or Infinity.

  19. august says:

    As someone who came to the Marathon campaigns late via Aleph One, there’s plenty to love about the games but some of the level design is obtuse to the point of absolute absurdity.

  20. Xanadu says:

    Loved playing Marathon 1 and 2 (infinity less so) back in the day – University and PhD Lab computer rooms were all Macs. Amazing for a doom contemporary – plot. grenade/rocket jumping. fluids. oxygen. You could even mod the physics model. In ’95!. Definitely affected me though – haven’t really enjoyed FPS since as none captured my imagination the same way – Found Halo disappointing as it wasn’t quite Marathon 4, and Half Life less revolutionary than most as I expected all FPS to have a story.
    Replayed a few years back on Aleph 1. Had lasted surprisingly well.

  21. JohnnyMaverik says:

    OOooo, never played the Marathon games before. Looking forward to giving this a go.

  22. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    I played and beat Marathon through Aleph One a couple of years ago, and it was a great experience. Interesting story and fun gameplay. After System Shock 1, controls felt amazing.
    I was planning on completing the entire trilogy, but then Marathon 2 disappointed me with its weird gameplay changes. I just had the worst time trying to find the exits, and then there was this level that was filling with water fast, and at some point I think I just said “screw this” and moved on.