The Amazing Bungie Venture

Huh. Thanks for all the comments about FFXII. That’s… a lot of reading. And all very well thought-out and generally civil despite many disagreements, at that. What are you people doing on the Internet? Clearly you have real-world skills and shouldn’t be skulking around this vile nest of festering social retardation.

I think I may start doing this sort of thing more often — since I’m in the business of telling people my opinion about games, I spend a lot of time trying to get a feel for perspectives on the other side of the Great Publications Divide. But since those opinions are usually filtered through the lens of message boards and user feedback, the results tend to be a little unsavory (and frequently presented in a way that leaves the writer’s intelligence in question). But if I can use you guys as my control group, great! Of course, that does mean it’s a statistically invalid sampling if the general lack of raw idiocy on display in the FFXII comments is any indication, but I’m OK with that.

And now for something completely different:

I need contributors for tomorrow’s Retronauts podcast. Turns out that of everyone at ZD, only Sharkey and myself have any real experience with the Marathon games. SO! If you have strong (and informed) opinions about Marathon/retro-Bungie in general and will be free tomorrow at 5 p.m. Pacific, please contact me. (Not in the comments — use email or 1UP private messages, please.) Extra bonus points if you live in the Bay Area and can actually come to our offices to record. The Skype thing, it’s not so good.

22 thoughts on “The Amazing Bungie Venture

  1. Ooo… I love me some retro Bungie. I have fond memories of many, many hours whiled away at the old Marathon Story pages. I think I won one of the weekly trivia contests there.

    Sadly, I’m not remotely near the Bay Area, and not even properly set up for Skype at that. But best of luck – I’ll look forward to the episode.

  2. Frog blast the vent core! I wish I could help, because I’m pretty sure I loved the Marathon games, but in retrospect it’s hard to tell what was geniune affection for the games, and what was “Well if you’ve got a Mac, this is it! Enjoy!” I’m reasonably certain it was more the former than the latter, but I wouldn’t feel informed enough to say much more than “Marathon rocked!” without having played through it/them more recently. Also, I wouldn’t be available in that time frame anyway.
    Oooh, but man, remember the paranoia of running around a level with the Juggernauts floating silently around the corner? That was some tense gaming.
    Also, I didn’t mean to break your heart with my Gears of War over FFXII pick, it’s just that the “community” is very fickle. If I wait a couple weeks to pick up Gears of War, all the people I know will already be playing something else and I’ll be stuck playing with strangers online. We can agree that’s a bad thing, right? My decision was entirely based on the ability to play multiplayer as soon as possible, and had nothing to do with the actual quality of the games, for better or worse.

  3. Unfortunately, the extent of my Marathon experience comes from it’s use in Red vs. Blue. I have always wondering about the series though so I look forward to hearing you talk about it.

  4. The explosion dwarves in Myth were always my favorite.
    Dwarves: *insane cackle*
    Announcer: “CASUALTIES.”
    That announcer voice was also unusually calm about reporting a few dozen bodies exploding, too.

  5. I never played the Marathon games, but I would like to. From what I understand, they would make a pretty good fit on XBL Arcade or something like that. I know that they haven’t been announced for it, but one can dream.

  6. After hearing all this talk about Marathon, I finally looked up the free releases and played a bit of the “Infinity” one. That game is barely playable. The ship itself looks completely haphazard an illogically designed, with textures changing essentially at random. The level design ‘hides’ things in the cheapest way possible, as if mocking my player’s limited field of view. The inexplicable abundance of corridors, empty rooms, and more corridors … with some random barrels. The lack of a real save game feature — checkpoints don’t count — is pretty much inexcusable even for the era. And the ability to easily get ‘stuck’ if you happened to assume a more human design and save on low health … because apparently you don’t respawn? Combat was okay, but didn’t seem particularly interesting or special.
    And I suppose I’d have to play quite a bit more to judge the text, but it looked very … not compelling. Go here. Do this. Oh, this is an AI.
    Maybe it was good Once Upon a Time, but really, other old games hold up a whole lot better than this. So I don’t know. I’d take Ultima Underworld over this any day.
    I’ll listen in just to figure out how anyone could like this thing so much.

  7. I went ahead and downloaded the open source version of Marathon and it is pretty cool. I am going to have to play through it now lol

  8. Last year I took a quick look at the Marathon games, and determined that, like most shooters of that era, they’ve aged terribly. I can recognize why the game was so good in its time (especially compared to Doom), but it’s basically unplayable now. In fact, I can’t think of an FPS older than Jedi Knight that is still worth playing.

  9. I have to say, I am kind of surprised that FFXII doesn’t seem to incite the usual flame wars that begin when evoking the name of Final Fantasy. This is a good trend, no doubt.

  10. Unfortunately I am unavailable at 5 pm, or I’d be so down, but: I played through the first Marathon when it was originally released and do have fond memories, but the more prominent gameplay experience for me was Pathways Into Darkness. The structure of this game was brilliant, and the incorporation of RPG elements into FPS gameplay made for a tense and addictive game, and one that dominates my memories of gaming on early Macs, along with Dark Castle, The Uninvited, and this one sweet Hypercard game that I can’t remember the name of. Anyway, I feel like PiD foreshadowed (by many years) the elements that were heralded as amazing gaming innovations in games like Deus Ex. I think that Halo retains some of the feel, or at least the stylistic elements of Marathon, but Pathways Into Darkness is a gameplay experience that could be successfully revived and updated as a compelling FPS/RPG adventure for next-gen platforms. I would buy a 360 for a new PiD. Anyway, I think Bungie is a great company, and would love to see them revive some of their old, popular IP’s, as well as continue to develop new ones, or even licensed games. For example (I know I’m pushing it here), Dune Chronicles: Duncan Idaho. This is an idea for a game I have had for some time– though I don’t know if Westwood (or whatever its current incarnation may be) still has the rights to any Dune games, I feel like Bungie could really do justice to this amazing character and IP. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the podcast.

  11. I downloaded the 3 Marathon games earlier, since I’d never played them before. After lots of messing around with Aleph-One/M1A1 to get reasonable performance on my ageing iBook (protip: turn off OpenGL), I got a few hours into Marathon 2 and a past the first few levels of 3.
    First impressions of 2 are that the visual aesthetic is disgusting. Someone else pointed it out above, there’s a complete lack of artistic merit: ugly, contrasting textures, enemies taken from the worst high-school doodles. For all it lacks in comparison to a modern-day FPS, Doom has a distinct, coherent thematic style throughout each episode. Marathon 2 does not. 3 is somewhat better, but still in dire need of proper art direction.
    The level design is messy and objectives are not clear. I almost switched Marathon 2 off after half an hour’s wandering around the first (quickly emptied) level. The objective required for completion? To re-press “use” on one of the computer screens doling out incidental information, found right at the start of the level, once it had been cleaned out. Eh? This ambiguity is compunded by the sprawling level size (like many early FPS games); I’m not sure if I became numb to it through repeated exposure, or just started “getting it” but it felt like it became easier over time. Either way, the levels are a cut below Doom, Duke Nukem 3D and other contemporary A-list PC FPS games, none of which are exactly stellar in retrospect.
    The saving grace for the games as far as I can tell is the narrative content. Doom communicates no real story to you as you play, just a small page of text at the end of each (10 level+) episode. Most Marathon levels contain more than that just in the computers on the walls, and there’s obviously a deep and well-developed mythology behind the series which started to draw me in. It requires a healthy portion of imagination to reconcile the words with the actual game experience, but I could imagine that in 1994 the leap was a lot less tricky.
    (That’s more than enough ill-informed ranting, apologies to all who made it through)

  12. To those just picking them up now… yeah, as Alc seems to be finding, a huge part of what drew a lot of us into Marathon was the incredibly well-developed story and world-building. This was pretty much unheard of for an FPS, and unusual even for action games. It’s why you can still find web sites with hundreds of pages devoted to picking apart the story and mythology.

    Not that the gameplay was terrible. Marathon’s slightly-fake 3D layouts held up well next to Doom’s completely-fake 3D. But yeah, it was the story that kept me coming back

    Today I follow Halo’s story for the nostalgia and to keep tabs on what Bungie’s up to (I haven’t actually played them much, not owning an XBox). But it’s hard to shake the feeling that the story there is a somewhat watered-down remake of the Marathon mythology. (Strained attempts by fans to connect the two stories coherently notwithstanding.)

  13. “Anyway, I feel like PiD foreshadowed (by many years) the elements that were heralded as amazing gaming innovations in games like Deus Ex.”
    I haven’t played PiD, but I imagine Ultima Underworld might be the more direct predecessor … and was actually released earlier. That and possibly System Shock (1), which was released after but probably in development around the same time, and the subsequent CyberMage — basically, Warren Spector and friends seemed to be nursing those ideas all through the 90s.

  14. Marathon is fucking fantastic. If I was getting paid to say it is fantastic, I’d say it, but since I’m not getting paid I’ll say it is fantastic anyway because, oh my god, what a great game. It was like Doom but well thought out and well designed. It did not give you that “creepy empty stomach feeling” early “3D” games used to give people. You know the feeling. Like when you feel all alone and sad. Doom gave me the “creepy empty stomach feeling”, but not Marathon, no sir.

  15. I’ve had all three Marathon games on my computer for many months now. I beat the original shortly after I downloaded it but 2 and Infinity have kind of just been sitting there. I actually just started playing 2 recently but with Guitar Hero 2 coming out this week it might get shoved to the back burner. The one thing that really stands out to me about Marathon was how creepy and atmospheric the game is. That weird chirping noice that the Pfhor make enduced more that a few jumps from me.

  16. This isn’t “on topic” but I wanted to thank you Mr. Parish – for being pretty much the only voice in the video game media that meshes with my own. I woke up today to find Gears of War receiving fairly perfect reviews which for some reason…made me sad. Hey, I know Epic has been putting a lot of effort into Gears; I even know one of the game’s programmers and he took me on a tour of Epic’s offices back in May – he even tried to let me test out a beta of the game before it crashed, yeah, beta. As such, I can’t comment on the gameplay or anything like that – just the art direction I’ve seen from screenshots and that leaked “Destroyed Beauty” artbook. What caused that tinge of sadness I think is due to game media’s tendency to rate graphics in terms of polygon pushing rather than its art direction as a whole unit. It made my day all the better however, when I read this from your 1up blog – you say you “don’t know if [you] can bring [yourself] to face the incredibly unappealing art direction. It’s not just that everything is grey, it’s that everyone (human and alien alike) appears to be have been assembled entirely from lumpy tree trunks slathered with Crisco” – a sentiment I truly agree with. Sorry, I just felt inclined to share this – I’ll stop short of giving you a virtual hug.

  17. I was reared by a pack of wild graphic designers and thus tend to view visuals holistically. A cohesive, original style is far more important than detail. Gears is part of the same school of design as American comics of the ’90s — lots of fussing over the fine details, oblivious to the fact that the big picture is shockingly ugly. I secretly find the non-Twilight portions of the new Zelda to be disappointingly bland in appearance and pine for Wind Waker’s stylized look.
    Of course, I also know better than judge games strictly on appearance, so I’m not entirely writing off Gears. Still, lumpy Crisco men = yuck.

  18. That’s my problem I suppose – I’ve been playing video games so long, they aren’t fun anymore. The satisfaction I get isn’t from blowing heads into mush, it’s from when I see something visually crisp and new, or a new interpretation of something old; all with complementary audio. FFXII is a great example; same old boring gameplay at its core resurrected by imaginative reenvisionings of classic environmental cliches and…Sakimoto, nuff said. At this point, I might as well just buy a game’s artbook and soundtrack (and I do, often) – I’d get the same value out of it, without the hours of personal investment.

    But anyway, back to Marathon, a topic on which I can’t comment, unfortunately.

  19. Wow. I had recently begun craving some good old Pathways Into Darkness and Marathon to rekindle some of the last untapped gaming goodness left from my childhood (it shrinks ever slower) and gone ahead and downloaded the old games, replacing Marathon’s texture sets with the new high-res sets, and playing through them with a big smimle on my face. Then I saw your post and realized that I’m not alone in revisiting these classics. I even wrote a letter to Bungie suggesting they put these up on the Live Arcade (if it happens you can thank me later).

    This just comes to make me yearn for a next-gen sequel on the 360 for both games, how cool would that be? Halo’s amazing and all, but it’s been a long time since a FPS had the power to scare me. Survival Firt Person Shooter (SFPS) FTW!!

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