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As you may have guessed, I am both a user and a fan of Macintoshes, by which I refer to both the hardware and the MacOS. Actually, before Apple decided to name the Macintosh operating system MacOS there was always a confusion about what 'Macintosh' meant: was it the OS, or the hardware, or just the brand name? (Okay, maybe it's not that confusing.) Now we just have to wonder about the non-Apple systems that run MacOS. Are they Macs? Mac-clones? Mac-compatible systems? (Okay, maybe no one cares about that either. So what. This is my Web site, and I'll write about whatever I bloody well want to.) Well, now that I've completely gotten sidetracked, let me tell you two ways not to refer to Macs: don't call them 'Apples', that refers to the Apple II line, and don't write it 'MAC', which is a kind of ATM (Automated Teller Machine, not Adobe Type Master or Asynchonous Transfer Mode).


Search for 'Marathon' in Yahoo and you'll find dozens of references to footraces. However, you'll also find tons of stuff about one of the most popular Macintosh video games, called (you guessed it) Marathon. Marathon owes much of its popularity to the fact that it is the first texture-mapped, non-orthogonal first-person-persepective (1pp) video game available for the Macintosh. (Doom II would be released months later, followed, oddly enough, by Doom. Go figure.) The fact that the first texture-mapped, non-orthogonal 1pp game was Doom (or DOOM, depending on whom you're talking to) has inevitably made people compare the two and debate which one is better. (You also see people championing Dark Forces, or, more recently, Duke Nuke'm.) These "conversations" tend to start out cross-posted to various usenet groups and degenerate into endless, pointless flamewars.

In my mind, it is a mistake to try and compare the two. While both involve running around in a vaguely SF environment shooting stuff, Marathon strikes me as the more intelligent of the two, for one main reason: plot. Simply put, Doom has no plot. True, there's that bit about secret government research into "dimensions" (peeve: misuse of the word 'dimension') which leads to the forces of Hell(tm) running amok on the moons of Mars, but frankly that's just an excuse to fight really neat-looking demons in space. Some of you are saying, "So what?" and that's fine. It's just not my cup of tea.

In contrast, Marathon's designers decided to come up with a fairly complex plotline, and they decided to reveal the plot while the game is in progress. Essentially, the story is slowly revealed by reading data terminals at certain points in most levels. In addition, the plot progresses as the game does, as the various alien forces and the Artificial Intelligences onboard the Marathon move against each other, and engage in betrayal and that sort of thing. Neat stuff, curiosity about what would happen next is what kept me playing (although I spoiled the surprises by reading the Marathon story page, a move which I regretted. I've vowed not to make the same mistake with Marathon 2).

On other notes, while Doom has some better-looking enemies (from a design standpoint), I find Marathon much more visually appealing. In particular, Doom always seemed kind of washed-out and ugly, while Marathon's colors are sharper. I'm not quite sure how to put it into words. Dark Forces also has that problem, maybe its the VGA-Mac thing. I dunno.

Other Stuff From Bungie

Bungie, of course, is the company that makes Marathon. Before that they made Minotaur, a networking game, and Pathways Into Darkness, a texture-mapped, 1pp game with an even more complicated plot, and non-linear levels. I've heard it said that PID is among the hardest 1pp games made, and I believe it. You have to very carefully conserve your ammo, you can't shoot everything that moves, you've got a time limit, you need sleep and food, etc.

Post-Marathon releases are Marathon 2: Durandal and the forthcoming Marathon Infinity, which will provide the absolute end of the story. (Good thing too, what do you call the sequel to Marathon Infinity? Marathon Infinity Plus One?) MI will also include non-linearity (I think) and Bungie's own level editor. There's also talk that they're working on a next generation 3D engine.

Marathon Scenarios

There are a number of third-party scenarios avaliable for Marathon. The two best known are Devil in a Blue Dress and Operation: Tantalus.

The former is the output of the Marathon Mapmakers Guild, and switches the maps and terminal messages to provide its own plotline. It's one of the best collections of third-party maps avaliable. The MMMG is also working on a sequel, which will totally redo the graphics and take place in four different time periods. (Sounds like a major download, if you know what I mean.)

Operation: Tantalus streches the Marathon engine in unexpected ways. First, they've added several new non-player characters, some friendly, some quite the opposite. Second, they've subtly modified the weapons. Third, they've redone many of the sounds. Fourth, in addition to including all-new levels and terminal messages, they've made the game-play non-linear -- you, as a player, actually have some control over where you go next (you can't yet control how the plotline itself develops, but Marathon wasn't designed with that in mind, sadly). They've even stuck in an infinite loop to ensnare people who aren't paying attention. <evil chuckle>


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Cool Mac-related Companies

This section contains unpaid endorsements for Mac-related companies that, I feel, make good products.

Ambrosia Software

The folks down at Ambrosia make some of the best shareware software avaliable.

Bare Bones Software

Makers of the extraordinary text editor BBEdit, and its freeware cousin BBEdit Lite.

ZedneWeb: Mac Stuff

Last updated April 5, 1996, by David Menendez.