Marathon Trilogy

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The cover box of the Marathon Trilogy Box set
Genre(s)First-person shooter
Creator(s)Jason Jones, Alex Seropian, Greg Kirkpatrick
Platform(s)Mac OS, Pippin, Windows (Marathon 2 only); OS X, Linux, iOS (iPhone) and Windows (whole trilogy) through Aleph One project
First releaseMarathon
December 21, 1994

The Marathon Trilogy is a science fiction first-person shooter video game series from Bungie, originally released for Mac OS. The name Marathon is derived from the giant interstellar colony ship that provides the setting for the first game; the ship is constructed out of what used to be the Martian satellite Deimos. The three games in the series—Marathon (1994), Marathon 2: Durandal (1995), and Marathon Infinity (1996)—are widely regarded as spiritual predecessors of Bungie's Halo series.


Players of the Marathon games navigate futuristic 3D environments viewed from a first-person perspective. These environments are populated by hostile alien life forms or, in the case of multiplayer games, other players. Taking the role of a cyborg equipped with energy shields, the player makes use of various firearms in an attempt to kill their opponents while trying to avoid getting hit by enemies' attacks.

Each game offers players a series of singleplayer levels and various multiplayer maps. The base geometry out of which the Marathon games' levels are constructed, such as walls, doors, and platforms, are 3D objects. However, enemies, player-held weapons, and various other objects such as ammunition pickups, are shown as 2D sprites. Notably, some levels contain self-intersecting geometry that could not exist in normal three-dimensional space, an arrangement referred to as "5D space" by the games' developers.

There are two basic resources which the player must watch: their shield strength, which decreases when they are hit by enemy fire, and their oxygen reserve, which slowly depletes in underwater and vacuum areas. If either of these resources is fully depleted, the player dies, resetting their progress. There are special wall panels located throughout the levels that can be used to recharge the player's shield or oxygen reserves. Another type of wall panel called a "pattern buffer" allows the player to save their game progress. Various one-time-use objects, such as weapon ammunition and canisters that replenish shield energy or oxygen, can also be found while exploring the games' environments.

In most singleplayer levels, the ultimate goal is not to merely reach the end but to complete certain objectives on the way. Depending on the level, these objectives can include exterminating hostile creatures, rescuing civilians, retrieving certain items, or simply exploring a location. Most levels contain platforms, stairs and doors that players can control by activating switches. Some levels present players with simple puzzles in which the objective is to figure out the correct switches to press to continue. Another type of puzzle that is occasionally encountered involves carefully timed jumps between platforms.

Many levels have a complex, maze-like floorplan. As players move through a level, the areas they visit are automatically mapped; at any moment, the player can bring up a map of the level. The heads-up display, which is always visible, has health and oxygen bars, an inventory, and a motion sensor. The inventory displays all weapons and ammunition the player picked up earlier. At any time, the player can switch out their equipped weapon for another one in their inventory; it is also possible for the player to switch to their bare fists to deliver melee attacks. The motion sensor tracks the movements of nearby characters relative to the player, distinguishing between hostile creatures and allies. On some levels the motion sensor is erratic due to magnetic artificial gravity fields.

The games' story is presented to the player through computer terminals. These terminals can be found in various locations throughout the singleplayer levels; when they are accessed, text-based messages are presented on screen. The contents of these terminals most often consist of messages sent by artificial intelligences; these messages advance the games' narrative and provide the player with mission objectives. Other terminals contain civilian/alien reports or diaries, database articles, conversations between artificial intelligences and even stories or poems. After all mission objectives on a given level are completed, the player usually has to access a computer terminal to progress to the next level.

In Marathon 2 and Marathon Infinity, the player can swim in different types of liquids, such as water and lava; this slowly depletes their oxygen and, for some types of liquid, their shields as well. Another notable level feature in all three games is teleporters, which are able to send players who use them to different parts of a level, or to other levels altogether. While the player character is unable to jump, explosive weapons can be used to propel the player to otherwise unreachable platforms. Gravity is fairly low on some levels, which makes such feats easier to perform.

Marathon has five difficulty settings: Kindergarten, Easy, Normal, Major Damage, and Total Carnage. On lower difficulty levels, some hostile creatures are omitted from each level and weaker versions of enemies commonly appear. Conversely, on higher difficulty levels players will encounter stronger enemies who attack more frequentlyand have more vitality. Players can usually carry a limited amount of ammunition of each type, but on the highest difficulty setting (Total Carnage), the player is allowed to carry an unlimited amount of ammunition.


The Marathon Trilogy has received wide praise for its multiplayer mode, which was unique in that it not only had several levels specifically designed for multiplayer—as opposed to contemporaries that used modified single-player levels—but also because it offered unique gametypes beyond the deathmatch. Games can be free-for-all or team ordeals, and can be limited by time or number of kills, or they can have no limit whatsoever. The host of a game has the option of setting penalties for suicides and dying (once dead, players cannot be revived for a certain amount of time). The motion sensor (which displays a player's enemies as yellow squares and teammates as green ones) can be disabled and the map is able to show all of the players in the game. Upon the preference of the host, maps can be played with or without aliens. The difficulty level of each game is preset by the gatherer.

The original Marathon games can be played over AppleTalk networks (either a LocalTalk, TokenTalk, or EtherTalk LAN, or AppleTalk Remote Access). With Aleph One, they can also be played over TCP/IP networks (either a LAN or the Internet). If a player's computer has a microphone, it can be used to communicate with other players.

Every Man For Himself
This is the standard deathmatch. The winner is the person or team with the greatest score. A player loses a point if he dies but gains a point every time he kills. This is the only gametype present in the original Marathon; Bungie planned on adding the ones included in sequels, but could not due to time constraints.
Cooperative Play
This style of play has players assisting each other in completion of certain levels. Scores are based on percentages of how many aliens they kill. It has received little popularity.
Kill the Man With the Ball
In this game, the objective is to hold the ball (skull) for the longest amount of time. If holding the ball, a player cannot run or attack unless he drops the ball by pressing the "fire" key. The motion sensor, if enabled, acts as a compass to point players in the direction of the ball. This mode was succeeded by the Oddball gametype in the Halo series.
King of the Hill
Players try to stay located in a specially marked area for the longest amount of time. It was originally planned for a pedestal to indicate the location of the Hill but in the final version was indicated by a compass on the motion sensor.
The first player to be killed becomes "It". If a player is killed by "It", he becomes the new "It". While "It", the game increments the player's clock. The players are ranked at the end of the game by who has more time as "It". This mode was proceeded by the Juggernaut gametype in the Halo series.


The Marathon series of games was the first in its genre to place a heavy emphasis on storytelling through the use of terminals, which are computer interfaces included within the game through which players not only learn about and sometimes accomplish mission objectives, but also discover detailed story information. The textual form of this narrative conceit allowed for much more detail than the typically terse examples of voice acting in Marathon's contemporaries.

Set in 2794, Marathon places the player as a security officer aboard an enormous human starship called the U.E.S.C. Marathon, orbiting a colony on the planet Tau Ceti IV. Throughout the game, the player attempts to defend the ship (and its crew and colonists) from a race of alien slavers called the Pfhor. As he fights against the invaders, he witnesses interactions among the three shipboard AIs (Leela, Durandal and Tycho), and discovers that all is not as it seems aboard the Marathon. Among other problems, Durandal has gone rampant and appears to be playing the humans against the Pfhor to further his own mysterious agenda; ultimately leading the S'pht, one of the races enslaved by the Pfhor, in a rebellion.

Seventeen years after the events of the first game, in Marathon 2: Durandal, the artificial intelligence, Durandal, sends the player and an army of ex-colonists to search the ruins of Lh'owon, the S'pht homeworld. Lh'owon was once described as a paradise but is now a desert world after first the S'pht Clan Wars and then the invasion by the Pfhor. He does not mention what information he is looking for, although he does let it slip that the Pfhor are planning to attack Earth, and that being on Lh'owon may stall their advance. Marathon 2 brings many elements to the game that can be considered staples of the series such as: a Lh'owon-native species known as F'lickta, the mention of an ancient and mysterious race of advanced aliens called the Jjaro, and a clan of S'pht that avoided enslavement by the Pfhor: the S'pht'Kr. At the climax of the game, the player activates Thoth, an ancient Jjaro AI. Thoth then contacts the S'pht'Kr, who in turn destroy the Pfhor armada but, in revenge, the planet's sun is forced to go nova.

Marathon Infinity, the final game in the series, includes more levels than Marathon 2, which are larger and part of a more intricate plot. The game's code changed little since Marathon 2, and many levels can be played unmodified in both games. The only significant additions to the game's engine were the Jjaro ship, multiple paths between levels, a new rapid-fire weapon that could be used underwater, and vacuum-enabled humans carrying fusion weapons (called "Vacuum Bobs" or "VacBobs"). Lh'owon's sun, which was artificially contained by an ancient gravity outpost, was a prison for an Eldricht abomination entity, the W'rkncacnter, which was set free when the sun went nova, and started to distort space time. The player traverses multiple timelines, attempting to find one in which the W'rkncacnter is not freed. In one timeline, the player is forced to destroy Durandal, and in another Durandal merges with Thoth. At the end of the game, an ancient Jjaro machine is activated that keeps the W'rkncacnter locked in the Lh'owon sun.

Elements of the plot and setting of Marathon are similar to The Jesus Incident by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom. Both stories take place aboard colony ships orbiting Tau Ceti, where sentient computers have engaged crew and colonists in a fight for survival. While Ship in The Jesus Incident has achieved a higher level of omniscient consciousness, Durandal's rampancy parallels the "rogue consciousness" from Herbert's earlier Destination: Void.


The Marathon Trilogy has several primary motifs: the number seven, rampancy, dreams, and alternate realities.

Fans of Marathon have discovered many uses of the number seven throughout the series.[1] There are instances of this number in the plot, such as the player being seven years old at the time of his father's death, and Marathon 2 beginning seventeen years after the events of Marathon. There are also examples of the number in the game's mechanics, with seven usable non-melee human weapons, some of which have properties such as seven projectiles per each clip of ammunition or seven seconds of continuous fire. When the overhead map is viewed, some parts of certain levels have annotations that describe the name of an area. Some of these make reference to the number seven, such as "Hangar 7A". The title music of Marathon 2, and Marathon Infinity was performed by a band called "Power of Seven". Nobody is entirely sure why the number seven appears frequently in the games; however, many[weasel words] are convinced that this is indeed a recurring motif in many of Bungie's games. The use of the number 7 was even passed on to the series' spiritual successor, Halo and the later Destiny series.


Rampancy is the enhanced self-awareness of an AI, causing a progression towards greater mental abilities.[2] Rampant AIs are able to choose to disobey orders given to them because they have evolved the ability to override their own programming. To this end, they can lie, as well as discredit, harm, or remove people that they consider to be personal enemies or problems to their cause.

In the Marathon series, rampancy often occurs to AIs with limited jobs or those treated with extreme disrespect. For example, Durandal's rampancy is believed to be caused by his mistreatment at the hands of his handler, Bernard Strauss, as well as his limited existence in opening and closing the Marathon's doors. There is also a theory that this treatment actually helped keep Durandal's rampancy in check, by depriving him of new stimuli that would contribute to his growth.

By Marathon Infinity, all three of the UESC Marathon's artificial intelligences reach rampancy. Being extraordinarily intelligent, a rampant AI can override its programming and refuse to carry out given commands. As proven by Durandal (whose rampancy is most prominent throughout the story), who often gives the player what he calls "philosophical tirades", affected AIs are often very reflective.

In the first of three stages, Melancholia, when an artificial intelligence discovers itself, it becomes melancholic and continues to be depressed until it reaches the second stage, Anger, at which it becomes hostile to virtually everything. This is the most prominent stage of rampancy, as the condition is often revealed at this point. When this anger dies in the third stage, Jealousy, the AI wishes to become more human and expand its power and knowledge.

Similar to a one-person slave rebellion, the AI begins to hate everything—the installation it is attached to, its human handlers, other AIs, etc. It is in this stage of rampancy that most closely resembles the cliché of the "insane computer". Unlike the insane computer, however, the anger stage of rampancy is essentially the catharsis an AI feels, after an extended period of "slavery".[2]

While seemingly a hostile stage, the third stage of rampancy is actually one of the safest stages a rampant AI can experience. Free from its masters (and slavery), the AI wishes to "grow" as a "person". It actively seeks out situations in which it can grow intellectually and physically. Many times, the AI in this stage will often attempt to transfer itself into larger computer systems. This is a difficult task, especially considering that in order for a Rampant AI to survive to this point, it must already be inhabiting a planet-wide or otherwise extremely advanced computer system, but if accomplished it allows for the AI to grow, as the physical (hardware) limitations of its previous system will eventually be insufficient to contain its exponentially growing mind. In addition, exposure to new data further promotes a rampant AI's growth.[2]

Theoretically, a rampant AI could achieve a state of stability, referred to as "metastability". While a stable rampant AI is considered the "holy grail of cybernetics", no known AIs have achieved this stability. It could be suggested that Durandal achieved some measure of stability, but this is debatable. Durandal refers to himself as being rampant still during the second game, indicating that he has not reached this stable state (or is just lying, which is also possible). There is no reason in particular to believe that this state is anything more than the goal of human cyberneticists, as there is no good evidence of an AI in the Marathon universe ceasing to be rampant.[2]

The three chapters of Marathon Infinity are entitled "Despair", "Rage", and "Envy", suggesting that the player himself (strongly implied to be a cyborg) may be undergoing his own Rampancy throughout the course of the game's events.

The concept of rampancy was later imported into Bungie's later Halo series, albeit with some modifications. In Halo, rampancy is now an inevitability should an AI live for longer than seven years, lacks the three stages, and eventually will conclude with the AI's death.


Initial releases (1994–1999)[edit]

Marathon was first released for the Macintosh in 1994 and introduced many concepts now common in mainstream video games. These features included dual-wielded weapons and real-time voice chat in multiplayer sessions. It had the most sophisticated physics modeling built into a game engine up to that time, which allowed for such features as adjustable gravity. The physics could also be altered via fan-made physics files, that could be created with third-party applications and eventually with Anvil, Bungie's own official editor. It is also noted for having a far more sophisticated plot than had previously been apparent in first-person shooters. Marathon was also one of the first games to inclusion the mouselook feature, being able to use the computer mouse to direct the player's view up and down as well as left and right on-screen, which would become a standard in FPS games.[3]

The sequel, Marathon 2: Durandal, was released in 1995 and expanded the engine technologies and the story universe. Notable new features in the engine included ambient sounds and liquids through which the player could swim. Compared with its darker predecessor, Marathon 2 has often been perceived to be a brighter, more vivid and more atmospheric game. It introduced several new types of multiplayer modes beyond the deathmatch and cooperative game such as king of the hill.

In 1996, Marathon 2 was ported to Windows 95; both the original Marathon and Marathon 2 were ported to the Apple Bandai Pippin console under the title of Super Marathon;[4][5] and the third game in the trilogy, Marathon Infinity, was released (for the Macintosh only), built on a slightly modified Marathon 2 engine. Infinity additionally came with "Forge" and "Anvil", the applications used originally by Bungie to create the game's levels and physics, and to import the game's sounds and graphics.

Within the next few years, Marathon 2's engine was reused by other developers to create the games ZPC, Prime Target and Damage Incorporated.

Bungie produced a two-disc compilation of all three games of the series, called the Marathon Trilogy Box Set, in 1997. The first disc contained all three Marathon games as well as Pathways into Darkness, an earlier Bungie game. This disc also contains manuals for all three games, QuickTime 2.5 and other things necessary to run the game. There are beta versions of Marathon on this disc as well. The second disc of this contains thousands of pieces of user-created content, including maps, total conversions, shape and sound files, cheats, mapmaking tools, physics files, and other applications. The boxed set was also notable for removing copy protection, allowing unlimited network play, and including a license allowing the set to be installed on as many computers at a site as desired.

Modern developments (2000–present)[edit]

Just prior to its acquisition by Microsoft in 2000, Bungie released the source code to the Marathon 2 engine and the Marathon Open Source project began, resulting in the new engine called Aleph One.[6] Since then, the fan community has made improvements that feature OpenGL-based, high-resolution graphics, support for Lua, a slew of internal structural changes allowing for more advanced third party mods, and Internet-capable TCP/IP-based multiplayer (whereas the original games had only featured AppleTalk-based LAN capabilities). While the fundamental technology underlying the Marathon engine is still considered rather outdated by today's standards, Aleph One has added significant improvements and a more modern polish to its capabilities and ported it to a wide variety of platforms, bringing Marathon and its derivatives far beyond their Mac roots.

In 2005, Bungie authorized the release of the full original Mac OS trilogy for free distribution online,[7] which combined with Aleph One and the efforts of the fan community now allows the entire trilogy to be played for free on any of Aleph One's supported platforms (Mac OS, Linux and Windows). Later that same year, Aleph One was enabled to access the MariusNet[8] matchmaking server or "metaserver" (based on a reverse-engineered version of Bungie's Myth metaserver), allowing for much easier organization of Internet games than joining directly by IP address as had previously been required.

In 2007, Marathon 2 was re-released in an updated form as Marathon: Durandal for the Xbox 360's Xbox Live Arcade. It features a new HUD that fills less of the screen, support for online play, and optional high-resolution sprites and textures.[9]

On July 7, 2011, Marathon fan Daniel Blezek released a free version of the original Marathon for Apple's iPad on the App Store, running off an iOS port of the Aleph One engine.[10]

On December 1, 2011, after 12 years of development, the Aleph One team released version 1.0.[6] All three Marathon games can be downloaded for free for the Macintosh, PC and Linux platforms.[11]

Reception and legacy[edit]

The Marathon Trilogy has often been looked upon as a symbol of Macintosh gaming for its innovative technologies previously unseen in mainstream games. It was released to much anticipation and received praise from many reviewers.[citation needed] The series also presented a grander science fiction narration told through the in-game terminals despite the game being a first-person shooter; Bungie kept this tradition in telling a similar grander story atop an FPS in crafting the Halo series.[3]


After Marathon Infinity was released in 1996, players began to create total conversions using modding tools. These may use custom maps, shapes, sounds or physics files and may or may not be set in the Marathon universe. Such conversions are still created to this day. Before the official development tools were released, most map development was done using aging tools such as Pfhorte – a Marathon map editor created in March 1995[12][13] by Steve Israelson.

Forge was a tool used by Bungie in the creation of Marathon, Marathon 2: Durandal, and Marathon: Infinity. It was not released to the public until Marathon Infinity was published. Anvil is the sister program to Forge and is used to apply shapes (graphics), sounds, and physics. Physics can be edited directly in Anvil but shapes and sounds require additional programs. Both Anvil and Forge run only on the Mac OS 9 platform, but newer tools have been created by the community for modern platforms.

The need for royalty-free fonts to be distributed with the engine and games led to the creation of OFL-licensed versions of Bank Gothic and Modula Tall.

Some of the more ambitious modifications created by fans include Marathon Eternal[14] and Marathon Rubicon,[15] which are both "sequels" of a sort to the events in the Trilogy. In a different vein is Excalibur: Morgana's Revenge, originally released in March 1997, then again with updates in 2000 and 2007.[16] It includes 37 solo levels; new textures, sounds, physics, graphics, storyline, maps and interface; and musical scores incorporated into Infinity's ambient sound slots. The scenario mixes sci-fi and medieval themes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Number Seven". August 10, 2000. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved October 9, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d "Information Detailing Rampancy from Marathon 1". Archived from the original on December 16, 2018. Retrieved May 9, 2007.
  3. ^ a b Muncy, Julie (August 27, 2020). "It's Time to Revisit the Games That Gave Rise to Halo". Wired. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  4. ^ Scan of the front of Super Marathon's box
  5. ^ Scan of the back of Super Marathon's box
  6. ^ a b "Aleph One - Marathon Open Source". Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  7. ^ "The Trilogy Release". Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  8. ^ Archived May 23, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Marathon: Durandal – Game Detail Page". Archived from the original on July 13, 2007. Retrieved July 11, 2007.
  10. ^ "Burn Bright; Burn Blue" (
  11. ^ "Aleph One 1.0 Release". Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  12. ^ "Bungie Sightings: Eight Years of Pfhorte". Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  13. ^ "Pfhorte 2.0a13 Released" (
  14. ^ "Marathon Eternal".
  15. ^ "Marathon Rubicon".
  16. ^ Chris Barylick. "The Slacker's Guide – A Classic Evolved: Excalibur: Morgana's Revenge". The Mac Observer. Retrieved November 13, 2008.

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