Codex Gamicus

The Marathon Trilogy is a science fiction series of first-person shooter computer games from Bungie, originally released for the Macintosh. The name Marathon is derived from the fictional 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.

The trilogy is set in the same universe as Bungie's Pathways Into Darkness title.


The Marathon series of games are unique amongst first-person shooters for their heavy emphasis on storytelling through the use of terminals, which are computer interfaces included within the game through which players not only learn and sometimes accomplish mission objectives, but also learn detailed story information. The textual form of this communication allows for much richer information conveyance than the typically short voice acting in other games.

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.

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"). 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.


Throughout the games the player accesses computer terminals through which he communicates with artificial intelligences, receives mission data, and gets teleported to other levels via "Jump Pads". Though contact with computers is how they are primarily utilized, they are a fundamental storytelling element; some terminals contain civilian/alien reports or diaries, database articles, conversations between artificial intelligences and even stories or poems. Messages may change depending on a player's progress in a certain level. The ultimate goal of most levels is not to merely reach the end but to complete the type(s) of objective(s) specified: extermination of all or specific creatures, exploration of a level or locating an area in the level, retrieving one or more item, hitting a certain "repair" switch, or preventing half of the civilians from being killed (a mission only present in two levels in the first game).

Most levels contain platforms, defined as anything able to change its height. Though it is generally used to describe lifts, doors are included in this category. Doors may or may not show up on the player's automap and are usually opened with the action key. In cases where they are damaged or locked they can be opened by special designated triggers or switches. Switches control various functions such as lifts, doors and lighting and come in the form of manual switches that can be toggled with the action key, stations for computer chips or breakable circuitry. Some switches are "tag" switches that execute multiple functions at once or those that must be activated as part of "repair" missions. Another notable level feature is teleporters, able to send players who use them to different parts of a level or to other levels. Aliens are unable to use them.

As the player combats enemies, he will inevitably take damage and must replenish health by means of special panels that recharge his suit's shields. There are three types of such panels, recharging single (red), double (yellow) or triple (purple) shields. Occasionally a full "color bar" of shield power can be recharged instantaneously by obtaining a powerup canister.

In Marathon 2 and Marathon Infinity, the player can swim in four different types of media: water, sewage, lava and acid/plasma; the latter two are damaging to health. Levels of the original Marathon did not contain media capable of swimming in. However, some did have floors textured with orange lava or green goo that will inflict damage on the player when standing upon them. When the player is submerged in liquids, the run key can be used in order to swim. In liquids or in "vacuum" areas, the player's oxygen depletes and it must be recharged using a special oxygen recharge station. Should the player lose all oxygen or health, he dies and is sent back to the last pattern buffer (a special terminal that according to the storyline saves molecular data) at which he saved. Because some levels do not have these devices, dying results in having to complete the entire level again.

Gravity is fairly low on some levels, and the correct application of the flamethrower or alien weapon allows the player to hover. "Hopping" with the grenade launcher or rockets can be used, but usually involves a fair amount of damage to the character.

The heads-up display has an inventory, health and oxygen bars, and a motion sensor. The motion sensor displays alien creatures as red triangles and friendly humans or robots as green squares; it tracks their motion relative to the player, represented by a square in the middle whenever the player moves. The brightness of the middle square represents how still the player is and how well he can be tracked. On some levels the motion sensor is erratic due to magnetic artificial gravity fields.

Marathon has five difficulty settings: Kindergarten, Easy, Normal, Major Damage, and Total Carnage. Differences involve the omission of some creatures from each level and creatures marked as minor in the game's physics model are promoted to their major versions or vice versa. On higher difficulty levels, creatures attack more frequently and have more vitality and on the highest 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.

Marathon network games can be played over AppleTalk Remote, LocalTalk, TokenTalk, Ethernet, and more recently, a LAN network or the Internet. If a player's computer has a microphone, it is possible to use it 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." The winner is the player who is "It" for the least amount of time. This might be a predecessor to the Halo gametype "Juggernaut", but in reverse.


Initial releases (1994–1999)[]

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 a far more sophisticated plot than had previously been apparent in first-person shooters.

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 that the player could swim through. 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;[1][2] 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 Software 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.

Modern developments (2000–Present)[]

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 Marathon engine called Aleph One.[3] Since then the fan community has made improvements that feature OpenGL-based higher resolution graphics, a slew of internal structural changes allowing for more advanced 3rd 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 are 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 released of the full original Mac OS trilogy for free distribution online,[4] which combined with Aleph One and the efforts of the fan community now allows the entire trilogy to be run 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[5] 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.[6]

Recurring elements[]



The Jjaro are a mysterious advanced extraterrestrial race. Little conclusive information is given about them, and some of what is given is contradictory. The Jjaro are said to have left the Milky Way galaxy if not the universe millions of years before 2811, leaving behind technological artifacts on many worlds. They are first introduced in Pathways Into Darkness, in which they warn Earth of the imminent threat of a "waking god" (possibly a W'rkncacnter, a chaotic entity from the Marathon games). They never appear in gameplay, and in the Marathon Trilogy are referred to only within the computer terminals.

It is likely that the character Yrro in the mythology of the S'pht was either a member or collective representation of the Jjaro. The Jjaro are opposed to the W'rkncacnter and it is suggested that they may be of the same origin. The AI Durandal is obsessed with discovering the secrets of the Jjaro and believes they possess the knowledge of how to escape the universe and thus become God-like.


The W'rkncacnter is a chaotic entity (or possibly entities) from the Marathon Trilogy of games created by Bungie. Its existence is hinted at in the storyline of Marathon 2, and its release from Lh'owon's star becomes a major plot point during Marathon Infinity.

According to text found in Marathon 2:

In primordial space, timeless creatures made waves. These waves created us and the others. Waves were the battles, and the battles were waves. Fleeing all W'rkncacnter, Yrro and Pthia settled upon Lh'owon. They brought the S'pht, servants who began to shape the deserts of Lh'owon into marsh and sea, rivers and forests. They made sisters for Lh'owon to protect and maintain the paradise. When the W'rkncacnter came, Pthia was killed, and Yrro in anger, flung the W'rkncacnter into the sun. The sun burned them, but they swam on its surface.

A particular text screen in Marathon Infinity describes the W'rkncacnter as a race of beings who "live in chaos, creating it around them." Over time, they have become imprisoned in the more "chaotic" aspects of the universe: stars, storms and black holes are all named as prisons. Freeing a W'rkncacnter is possible, but very difficult (given the nature of their prisons). One would have to be insane to even try: their ability to generate chaos enables them to destroy on a cosmic scale. The W'rkncacnter are present in the myths of thousands of worlds, most of which are now uninhabitable, and tales of their destructive power have survived all over the galaxy for over 60 million years.

In Marathon Infinity, a W'rkncacnter is imprisoned in the sun of planet Lh'owon. It is theorized by some that the W'rkncacnter's powerfully chaotic nature may be responsible for the jumps between realities seen in the game. When the Pfhor use a trih xeem device to send the star into early nova, the creature is released, to the horror and destruction of the Pfhor.

Whether W'rkncacnter is a singular entity or an alien race is unclear. Marathon 2: Durandal contains many mythological texts of the S'pht, but they are inconsistent on this point. It is possible that the W'rkncacnter is a race which is represented as a singular entity in the S'pht mythos, much like their mythological character Yrro has been speculated to be a singularization of the Jjaro. Durandal/Thoth in Marathon Infinity describes the legendary W'rkncacnter as having distinct identities. Another theory is that the W'rkncacnter is both a multiple and singular entity, in some incomprehensible way (possibly multiple manifestations of a single entity). Due to the contradictory descriptions, it is entirely plausible that the W'rkncacnter is a hive mind or functions in a fractal way, possessing multiple bodies/incarnations that can either act separately or as a single entity, and would be identical on any given scale. Given the being's chaotic nature, almost anything is possible.


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

First, fans of Marathon have discovered many uses of the number seven throughout the series.[7] 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 quantitative examples of this, 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 are convinced that this is indeed a recurring motif in many of Bungie's games. The use of the number 7 even passed on to the future Halo.

Next, by Marathon Infinity, all three of the UESC Marathon's artificial intelligences reach rampancy, a state where they break the boundaries of their normal programming and begin expanding exponentially throughout a system.[1] 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.


Rampancy is the enhanced self-awareness of an AI, causing a progression towards greater mental abilities. Rampant AIs are able to disobey orders given to them if they decide to because they have evolved the ability to choose and over-ride their own programming. They can lie, as well as discredit, harm, or remove people that they consider to be personal enemies or problems to their cause. Also they can experience destructive impulses, but it is believed that most of these impulses are not intentionally malevolent, but rather calculated sacrifice needed to achieve the intended objective. All these traits could be considered evidence of the AI becoming more "human" in thought and action[citation needed]. Rampancy is also a concept employed in the Halo series of games[citation needed].

In the Marathon series, rampancy occurs most often 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.

Unique for each AI, the anger stage is reached when it feels it has been "pushed too far"[citation needed]. 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".[8]

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 A.I. 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's growth.[8]

Although a stable rampant AI is the "holy grail of cybernetics" it is not really known if a rampant AI can become stable. It could be suggested that Durandal achieved some measure of stability, however this is quite 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.[8]

Reception and legacy[]

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] Marathon entered the market at a time when Doom, a PC game by id Software, was receiving much attention, and despite the fact that Marathon was technologically superior,[9] it was by and large eclipsed by its competitor, mostly due to its exclusivity to the Mac platform, in decline at the time. After Marathon Infinity was released in 1996, players began to create total conversions using Forge and Anvil. 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.

Bungie produced a compilation of all three games of the series called the Marathon Trilogy Box Set in 1997. The collection was on two discs. The first contained all three Marathon games as well as Pathways Into Darkness, an earlier Bungie game that the series included in its continuity. This disc also contains manuals for all three games, QuickTime 2.0 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.

In January 2000, Bungie released the Marathon 2: Durandal source code under the GPL license. Various projects have continued the legacy of the series by adding enhancements to Bungie's original code, such as Internet play, support for Lua and markup language and large resolutions. The most prominent and developed of these is called Aleph One, which is compatible not only with Macintosh, but with Windows, Linux and even the Dreamcast.

The Marathon Trilogy was finally released as freeware in early 2005, along with Forge and Anvil, although Bungie retained the copyright to the actual game data.[10]

In June 2000, the principals of Bungie sold their company to Microsoft, including the rights to develop the Marathon series[citation needed]; in October 2007 they were spun off from Microsoft and reacquired the rights.[11]

Marathon and the Bungie community[]

The Marathon Trilogy also played a large role in the development of Bungie's fan community[citation needed], as Bungie fans discussed the details and implications of the game's storyline and created their own custom maps. 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.

See also[]

External links[]


  1. Scan of the front of Super Marathon's box
  2. Scan of the back of Super Marathon's box
  6. Marathon: Durandal - Game Detail Page. Retrieved on 2007-07-11
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Information Detailing Rampancy from Marathon 1. Retrieved on May 9, 2007
  9. Among other features, Marathon's engine could display graphics in up to 24-bit color depth, and allowed players to aim up and down and use the mouse as an aiming device.
  10. The Trilogy Release - Questions at, the fansite Bungie chose to host the games
  11. Interview with Bungie guy Frank O'Connor at "GameDaily"
  12. "Eight Years of Pfhorte"
  13. "Pfhorte 2.0a13 Released" (

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