Marathon (computer game)

From Academic Kids

Marathon is a series of science fiction first-person shooter computer games from Bungie Software released for the Apple Macintosh. Marathon is also the name of the giant interstellar colony ship that provides the setting for the first game and figures prominently in the plot of the sequels; the ship is constructed out of what used to be the moon Deimos of Mars.

The first game, Marathon (1994), was followed by two sequels: Marathon 2: Durandal (1995) and Marathon Infinity (1996). Marathon 2 was also released for Windows 95. Marathon 2 and Marathon Infinity are playable today on a variety of modern operating systems using Aleph One, an open source project based on the original Marathon 2 source code. The orginal Marathon can also be played via Aleph One using a scenario conversion called M1A1.


Games in the series


Marathon was released for the Apple Macintosh and was one of the earliest first-person shooters to appear on the Macintosh. Unlike some other similar games of that era (for example, id Software's Doom) Marathon and its sequels, Marathon 2: Durandal and Marathon Infinity were notable for their intricate plots.

Set in the year 2794 A.D., the game placed the player as the Chief Security Officer aboard the enormous human starship 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 inhabitants from a race of alien slavers called the Pfhor. As he fights against the invaders, he witnesses interactions between the three shipboard AIs Leela, Durandal and Tycho, and discovers that all is not as it seems aboard the Marathon. Durandal has gone rampant and appears to be playing off the Humans against the Pfhor to further his own agenda.

Throughout the series of games, it is strongly implied that the player, probably without his own knowledge, is actually one of ten superhuman military cyborgs smuggled illegally onto the colony ship. Eerily, he would in this case be constructed from the reanimated dead body of a soldier from a long-ago war, and given false memories and powerful implants. Passages of bizarre and haunting fiction found on terminals in all of the games (sometimes elaborately hidden) are sometimes interpretted as glimpses into the player's fractured psyche or fragments of his original identity breaking through. Though it is never directly stated that the player is a cyborg, the preponderance of evidence in the games makes it a virtual certainty.

Marathon 2: Durandal

Marathon 2: Durandal was the sequel to Marathon. In addition to being released for the Apple Macintosh, a Windows 95 version was also released.

Marathon 2 begins 17 years after the first game ends, as the player's ship arrives at the ruined S'pht homeworld Lh'owon. Durandal, having captured the Security Officer at the end of Marathon, sends the player and an army of ex-colonists to search the ruins of Lh'owon for information which would give Durandal an advantage against the Pfhor, who are planning a new assault on humanity. Among the new characters in this adventure are Durandal's evil counterpart Tycho, a Lh'owon-native species known as F'lickta, an ancient and mysterious race of advanced aliens called the Jjaro, and the long-lost S'pht'Kr clan.

The game engine itself underwent several changes from its first incarnation. Although most of these changes were "under-the-hood", a few were visible to the user. The Marathon 2 engine offered performance gains on some machines, in addition to support for higher resolutions, higher color depths, and better quality sound. The enhanced engine also allowed the loading of maps, physics and graphics from external files, allowing for users to (later) create and play their own maps more easily than with Marathon.

Marathon Infinity

Marathon Infinity included more levels than Marathon 2, which were larger, scarier, 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. Marathon Infinity was only released for the Apple Macintosh. The most dramatic improvement in the game was the inclusion of Bungie's own level-creating software, Forge, and their physics editor, Anvil. Forge and Anvil allowed a new generation of players to create their own levels using the same tools as the Bungie developers themselves. In Forge, distance was measured in 'World Units', which are roughly equivalent to 2 metres (6 or 7 feet). Another improvement was the ability to include separate monster, weapons, and physics definitions for each level, a feature heavily used by Double Aught, who designed the Marathon Infinity levels.

Marathon Infinity is considered one of the most confusing computer games of all time. For example, Infinity begins as if large parts of Marathon 2 never happened. Through time travel granted by the Jjaro, the Security Officer finds himself jumping between alternative realities, seeking to prevent a chaotic entity from being released from Lh'owon's dying sun. For example, the Security Officer begins the game as Durandal's ally, only to be transported to a reality where Durandal did not capture the Security Officer after the events of Marathon. As such, he is controlled by the Pfhor-tortured Marathon AI Tycho.

Through multiple instances of these 'jumps', the Security Officer (seemingly the only being who realizes he is being transported between possible realities) activates the ancient Jjaro station, preventing the chaotic entity's release - if it even really existed. The ending screen of Infinity aids little in understanding, taking place millions of years after the events of Marathon Infinity.

In going from Marathon 2 to Marathon Infinity, Bungie was given a joke award by MacFormat magazine for 'largest version number increase'.

Aleph One

Shortly before being acquired by Microsoft, Bungie released the source code for the Mac version of Marathon 2. This was ported by fans of the game to many platforms, including Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, and even Sega Dreamcast, and features various enhancements including Internet play, OpenGL rendering, scripting, full support for all Marathon Infinity levels and physics, and in-level music. The name Aleph One was chosen as it is a larger number than infinity (in this case assumed to be Aleph-null).

Halo and Marathon

Halo, a more recent game by Bungie (now a division of the Microsoft Game Studios conglomerate), shares many features with Marathon and early on was widely considered to be Marathon 4. Bungie has 'officially' stated that Halo and Marathon are completely separate universes, other writings from Bungie comment that there are connections between the two game series, but they will never make direct connections. Nods to the series include the Marathon logo embedded in the Halo logo, Hunters, Mjolnir battle armor, and SPNKR rocket launchers. Both plots involve aggressive alien races attacking humans, highly advanced ancient races who leave artifacts behind, and well-written AI characters, and in both games the player is a cybernetically enhanced human (in the Marathon this was only hinted at but never confirmed). Halo plays very much like a modern, high end version of Marathon (although it is far more linear). Bungie often recycles components, famous phrases and jokes from its games - the most powerful sword in Minotaur (a very early Bungie game) was called "Durandal" after Roland's sword, and this is also the name of an AI in the Marathon series.

References in Marathon

Throughout the Marathon series, there are a number of recerences to classic films, songs, books, and historical events found in the terminal text. Several quotes from Shakespeare and Darwin are found early on in the first Marathon, usually from Durandal. In Marathon 2, garbled messages from Durandal include the hilighted letters O, P, and E. This is an obvious reference to Dr. Strangelove. (The 3 letter code required to disarm "the bomb" was a combination of O, P, and E. The code was created by General Ripper and stood for Purity of Essence. He was deranged and believed communists were poisoning America's water [and thus the essence of his precious bodily fluids] with fluorine and had interfered with his ability to successfully achieve an erection.)


The Pfhor

The Pfhor are an extraterrestrial ancient spacefaring race of alien slavers seeking to control the galaxy and perform numerous evil deeds in the games. The Pfhor are bipedal, somewhat taller than humans, have three red eyes and green skin, and come in a variety of classes and flavors. In Marathon, the three eyes are arranged in a triangle, pointing down, making the unmasked Pfhor look a little clownish, but the later games shifted the "arrow" to point up, with the third eye in a more "enlightened" position in the middle of the forehead.

The following varieties vary only slightly between the games.

  • The most basic variety is the Fighter, a lightly armored pfhor wielding a shock staff (capable of firing a "projectile" in the case of the blue and orange types). Fighters come in four flavors, in order of ascending rank and nastiness: Green, Purple, Orange, and Blue.
  • Troopers are heavily armored and pack automatic rifle/grenade launcher combo weapons. Troopers come also in Green and Purple flavors.
  • Hunters are the Pfhor assault troops. They wear very heavy armor and have shoulder-mounted energy cannons. They come in three flavors: Brown, Green, and Blue.
  • Enforcers are the Pfhor MP's. They wear strange cloaks and possess alien shotgun weapons (in the original game) or alien flamethrowers (in Marathon 2 and Infinity.) They come in two different types, with blue/orange enforcers being tougher and faster than green/blue ones.
  • The Juggernaut (aka The Big Floaty Thing What Kicks Our Asses) is the Pfhor tank. These flying armored weapons platforms are like a mix of a tank and an attack helicopter, only bigger and badder. They fire dual homing RPGs as well as machineguns/alien shotgun bursts. They come in two flavors: Bad and Worse (Grey and Brown).

Exceedingly tough, monochrome-colored versions of all of the Pfhor (except for Juggernauts) appear in the Vidmaster Challenge stages, a series of skill challenges hidden at the end of Marathon: Infinity.

The Pfhor also utilize the 'Conditioned Ranks', or enslaved soldiers, who are forced to fight for the empire. Conquered races make up the majority of the conditioned ranks. The S'pht and the Drinniol (or "Hulks") are the only conquered races encountered during play in the Marathon games, while the Nahk are referred to as a now-extinct race that once attempted rebellion. The Nar are also mentioned as another race presently resisting Pfhor enslavement, but are likewise never witnessed in person (although images of them appear alongside some of the game's terminal texts).

The S'pht

The S'pht are a race of alien cyborgs, cybernetically enhanced by the Jjaro to terraform Lh'owon. They were enslaved by the Pfhor c. 1810 A.D., and liberated en masse by Durandal and the unenslaved and technologically superior S'pht'Kr clan in 2811 A.D. The S'pht consist of extremely complex brains carried in floating cybernetic bodies. They are armed with a built-in energy pulse weapon and some are invisible.


Hulks are a species of dim, enslaved, enormous bipeds used by the Pfhor as front-line tanks. They appear only in the original Marathon game, and even there only on one level, but are quite memorable for their intimidating size, appearance, and sounds. Hulks aren't much of a threat to the cautious player as they are too slow to get close enough to do real damage, but they are quite annoying due to the large amount of ammo it takes to kill them and the high damage they can inflict with a single hit if they do get close. It is thought that the Hulks refer to themselves as "Drinniol."


Both humans and Pfhor employ robotic, non-anthropomorphic fighting machines. Human defense drones, found in the original Marathon, resemble small, floating, 4-legged spiders, and are extremely powerful, armed with assault rifles and, later on in the game, grenade launchers.

Pfhor drones, found in Marathon 2 and Infinity, shoot bursts of energy and are weaker. They resemble flying metal insect heads, and come in several flavors, some very aggressive. Due to their propensity for being reprogrammed, both types of drones sometimes oppose and sometimes assist the player.

All types of drones explode, dealing area damage, when destroyed. All are rather slow.


F'lickta are native creatures of Lh'owon, living in sewers, water pools, and lava. They are biologically related to the S'pht and often harass Pfhor forces. F'lickta have a simplified digestive system, absorbing nutrients through their skin from the sludge they live in, and are extremely irritable. Entering their home turf unarmed is not recommended. F'lickta allow their eggs to develop in their large mouth-like orifices located on the front of their abdomen. Water F'lickta can only strike with their claws, while Sewage and Lava types can throw sewage and lava, respectively.

The Jjaro

Little is known about the Jjaro, an extremely advanced species which disappeared from our galaxy millions of years ago (they are not seen in-game), leaving much of their technology to fall into the hands of the Pfhor. The Jjaro are known to have possessed high-quality cyborg technology (such as that used to create the S'pht), a star-destroying weapon known as the Trih'Xeem, and the ability to move entire planets by warping space around them (as used by the S'pht'Kr).

In S'pht mythology, the two creators Yrro and Pthia were most likely to be either specific members of the Jjaro race or personifications of the whole race.

The Jjaro were first used in an earlier Bungie game, Pathways Into Darkness.

There has also been a popular theory that the Jjaro are the Forerunners alluded to in the Halo games - at the very least, they fulfil a similar role in the series.


Other than the player's character, the human characters in the game are all referred to as "BOBs" (which stands for "Born On Board"). They wear different-colored suits, but all have the same face. In Marathon, most are harmless and generally ignore the player (and occasionally announce "They're everywhere!"); in Durandal and Infinity they carry weapons, either a pistol or a fusion gun and enviroment suit, and will attack the enemies. If the player begins to attack them, they will consider him a traitor and return fire. However, a few, called simulacrums (or "assimilated BOBs"), are actually living bombs; upon seeing the player's character, they will run directly towards him (usually shouting things like "I'm out of ammo!", "Thank God it's you!" or the infamous "Frog blast the vent core!" (see below)), and when close enough they will explode and inflict severe damage to him and to other BOBs. This is especially a problem on levels where a certain number of BOBs must be protected to pass to the next level. Some common signs that a BOB was assimilated were: speaking certain phrases, if they ran towards you, a green uniform (though only some "normal" BOBs had green uniforms, assimilated BOBs always wore green), and if tagged by a bullet, yellow blood.


The weapons used by the character undergo a substantial visual, if not behavioural, change in the years between the original Marathon and its sequels. The ever-present fist (weapon) is the basic no-ammo-needed weapon throughout the series, and needs no explanation.


The ".45 Magnum Mega Class" (original) or ".44 Magnum Mega Class A1" (Marathon 2 onwards) is the initial weapon in all games. The bullets do a fair amount of damage, but the firing rate is slow, and there are only 8 bullets per clip. It is capable of firing in a vacuum.

Assault Rifle

The "M.75 Assault Rifle With Grenade Option" (original) or "MA–75B Battle Rifle (with integral 40mm Grenade Launcher)" fires much faster than the pistol (600 rounds per minute), and has 52 bullets per clip, however each bullet does significantly less damage and the weapon is far less accurate. The grenades come in clips of 7 rounds, and fire very slowly. Neither the bullets nor the grenades can be fired in a vacuum.

Fusion Pistol

The "Tech.50 Fusion Pistol" or "Zeus–Class Fusion Pistol" is an energy weapon fed by batteries, and works in a vacuum. The weapon may be fired in one of two modes: standard, and overload. The overload takes time to charge and (in M2 onwards) may discharge explosively, killing the player if the player keeps it in overload mode without firing for too long. Part of the fusion pistol upgrade in Marathon 2 onwards caused it to do additional damage to mechanical units.

This is the only weapon capable of penetrating the "invulnerability" BIOBUS super-shield. If fired underwater, the shot will instantly discharge, harming the player and any entity in direct contact with them, regardless of the presense of a super-shield.

Rocket launcher

The "SPNKR-X17 SSM Launcher (Lazyboy)" or "SPNKR–XP SSM Launcher" is a two-shot shoulder mounted rocket launcher. As with all player weapons, it is unguided. The blast radius is 10m, the maximum range 2.5km and the rocket speed is 110m/s.


The "Tozt.25 Flame Unit" or "TOZT–7 Backpack Napalm Unit" is a napalm flame-thrower, with 7 seconds of continuous operation per fuel tank. The fire spreads outwards up to 20 feet. For obvious reasons, it does not work in a vacuum.


The "WSTE–M5 Combat Shotgun" was first introduced in Marathon 2. Unlike other weapons, the shots continue through their target after impact, and continue to hit any entity on the other side, only stopping when they hit a wall or their range limit.


The "KKV-7 10mm SMG flechette" was first introduced in Marathon Infinity. It is the only weapon (other than the fist) that can be fired safely underwater. It has a very rapid rate of fire, and works in a vacuum enviroment.

Alien weapon

The alien weapon, dropped by the "enforcer" alien, behaved in the first game much like the assault rifle, but with less recoil and different graphics. From Marathon 2 onwards, it was a pulsed, long-range flame-thrower. In all the games, it had a random amount of remaining ammunition when picked up, and no method to insert more: the weapon was discarded when the ammo was consumed.

"Frog blast the vent core!"

This is a phrase synonymous with the Marathon series. Explosive BOB "simulacrums" occasionally shout the phrase, trying to blend in with the regular BOBs and explode around a large amount of humans. Since sometimes they are merely only piecing together random words, their nonsense can give them away. The Marathon Scrapbook said that Doug Zartman, who performed the BOB voices, was instructed during recording to improvise a random phrase, and this is what he came up with. However, Aaron Snyder submitted an alternative theory on the Marathon Story Page ([link (]):

I just watched your most recent "VidTip" film on "Bigger Guns Nearby" and think that I've found the answer as to what "Frog Blast the Vent Core!" from M2 means: along the way, you give map views of two interestingly-named areas: "BioVent Core #88A" and "BioVent Core #88B". Between these areas is a raised hallway containing a BioBus chip (Hypervision power-up), but one can only get there by grenade-hopping.

Get it? Grenade-hopping might be renamed "Frog blasting."

So, on this interpretation, "Frog Blast the Vent Core!" might merely mean "Grenade hop in the BioVent Core on 'Bigger Guns...'!"

It is very popular to say in the text chat of a networked Bungie game; meant more as a joke than anything; the sheer randomness of this phrase means it can be used at any time.

The phrase has appeared hidden in other games, such as Myth, Tron 2.0, and Oni.

One of the latter stages of Bungie's successful XBox game Halo involves the player throwing frag grenades into a ship's reactor vent core. Whether this is also a reference to the above line is still unclear.

External links

Template:Bungie Studiosfr:Marathon (jeu vidéo) fr:Marathon (série de jeux vidéo)


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