Eternal X 1.2
is finally final!
And here's the sort of postmortem thing I've been planning to post once that finally happened:
Eternal Hindsight Plans
I would have based the textures much more closely off of the textures from the original trilogy, and just adjusted them to fit a more-sensible version of the pattern that I designed my textures to fit: (spoilered for length and dryness)
I would have made the whole scenario smaller, as in fewer levels. Instead of three intro levels, a fork level, and two levels of each branch of the fork, it probably would have sufficed to have just one intro, the fork level, and one level for each branch. That would mean twenty fewer maps to make, and made the scenario take about half as long to play, without really sacrificing much of any importance.
But the biggest difference is that I would have structured the entire scenario differently, around the concept of the Pfhor empire and its three great rebellions spanning the gap between the ancient Jjaro and modern Humanity:
Chapter 1 would have still taken place on the Marathon, but it would have been set during the time of the Pfhor war like the current chapter 2, which would have been omitted. The initial plan would have been, instead of just to find the Battleroids at Tau Ceti, to retrofit the Marathon with its own Cybernetic Junction and turn it into a time-travelling battle-moon like K'lia could be, if only it weren't housing the last surviving remnants of humanity and so unavailable for that role. The Marathon would have been destroyed in mysterious circumstances during the war by the time this plan was hatched, however, so the mission would be to go back in time to shortly before its destruction, secure it and put it in Hathor's control, then bring the K'lia junction back in time to install on it.
The intro level would be something much like Sakhmet Rising in style, merely trying to gain entrance into the Marathon from outside. It would be under Nar control at the time, but Human forces from the then-present would be attempting to reclaim it, and the Pfhor would be there trying to stop them.
The fork level would be installing Hathor into what used to be Leela's databanks. In the process, the remnants of Leela still in K'lia's systems in the future would interact with the remnants of Leela still left in the databanks after her sloppy deinstallation at Pfhor hands, and that would give rise to the Leela featured throughout the scenario. She would briefly have access to Hathor's processes on K'lia, until Hathor noticed that and shut her out, and that's how she would know to warn you about Hathor -- if you noticed her message on the level, at least.
If you didn't, then you would continue to the failure branch thinking Hathor was good still, until, having finished putting her in control of Marathon, she told you what the next steps in the plan would be, revealing her malice toward humanity under the assumption that you would just agree with it... but we'd never see where that timeline went because Jjarandal would interrupt with a failure dream and send you back.
If you noticed Leela's message that time around, she would take you off to the success branch where you two would work together to foil Hathor's plans, which would somehow or another end with the destruction of the Marathon that was such a mystery to the humans of the future. Hathor would flee back in time, and using your Junction, Leela would help you follow.
The first chapter taking place in the same time frame as the current second chapter also creates a nice kind of loop around when the end of the final chapter returns back to that same time frame again. Perhaps strengthening that connection even more, the prologue could describe how despite Humanity's effective loss of the war, the Pfhor are just as doomed because of some unknown catastrophic explosion spreading through the galaxy from the heart of Pfhor territory, putting even greater urgency on the need to create and move to a better timeline -- the very same explosion that ends up being caused by the events at the end of chapter 5.
Chapter 2 would have been largely the same as the current Chapter 3, just minus the intro during the S'pht Clan Wars. You would arrive in the midst of the Pfhor invasion of Lh'owon, and then, while tracking down and trying to destroy Hathor, be approached by S'bhuth to help turn back the Pfhor assault. Only when you succeeded would you realize that S'bhuth has also been receiving aid from Hathor, who pointed him in your direction to begin with, all with the aim of prompting the Pfhor to deploy the trih xeem against the untamable S'pht and wipe them out entirely, dooming mankind in their future encounters with the Pfhor. Also, the whole W'rkncacnter-in-the-sun problem. If you instead proceeded with "destroying" Hathor (forcing her to flee through time again), then Leela would gain access to future-K'lia and merge with the remnants of S'bhuth there, as she does in the present story, and upon that enlightenment would realize both the need and the means for making the S'pht'Kr leave the battle. In the success branch level, you would put Leela-S'bhuth in contact with the S'bhuth of that time, convincing him to leave as he historically did, much like in the current story.
The new Chapter 3 would be the most different, taking place during the end of the Nakh rebellion against the Pfhor. I'm thinking that this chapter would look much like the present Chapter 2 does, aesthetically, either because it's all in thoroughly Pfhor-controlled places that the Nakh rebellion is happening, or perhaps because the Pfhor got their biotech from the Nakh similar to how they got their cybertech from the S'pht, and so Nakh structures have that purple organic look that later Pfhor structures do. I'm not entirely sure what the plot of this chapter would be, but I'm thinking that maybe the Nakh themselves posed some kind of galactic threat in their desperation against Pfhor rule, maybe planning to deploy some kind of bioweapon that eventually would inadvertently wipe out Humanity as well, and Hathor wants them to win, contra-historically. You then would have to ensure somehow that the Pfhor wipe out the Nahk, in a kind of foreshadowing of the events of Chapter 5.
Chapter 4 would be largely unchanged, besides being shorter like all of them, basically just having all the Pfhor-set levels trimmed off and the rest rejiggered a bit to compensate. And the fact that you're helping to launch a slave revolt against the Pfhor, what will turn out to be a much bigger one than the Nakh revolt you just helped put down in the future of chapter 3, would be a bit of emotional respite, right before the gut-punch that is chapter 5. You had to let the S'pht be enslaved so that they wouldn't be exterminated, and then cause the Nahk to be exterminated so that they wouldn't cause even more widespread devastation, so actually getting to incite a slave revolt now is a nice change of pace... and the false hope spot before you have to do even worse than you did to the Nakh in the next chapter.
And chapter 5 would also be largely unchanged, except I'm thinking that maybe for the failure branch, rather than going back in time with Hathor to the start of the W'rkncacnter trouble and blowing up the Earth with a trih xeem from space, she would instead just take you, still at the present time, directly to the body of the W'rkncacnter itself, buried underground... in the catacombs that make up the last few levels of Pathways Into Darkness, there to do something that will still end up blowing up the Earth, but you get that awesome Pathways tie-in there now.
I would have had the prologue, epilogue, and failure and success dreams constructed a little differently too. The prologue level, rather than being on real K'lia prior to your departure, would be a dream version of a Human spacestation (maybe the same Inti station from the current failure dreams), a dream occurring during your transport from the future back to the Marathon, which would have the benefit of letting the prologue terminal be split up in an unrealistic way, and also (together with the different chapter 5 failure plot) alleviate the need for the dumb story patch currently in place to explain why you don't dream during only those two time-jumps ("because it's different somehow when Marcus and Hathor travel together, for reasons I guess"). The failure dreams would be returns to that space station, calling back to the beginning just like the success dreams foreshadow the end.
Meanwhile the post-teleport section of the success dreams would be some larger dreamlike Forerunner space that you could only see, not visit, from the terminal room you're locked in. The epilogue would then be yet another copy of that same success dream level, except just as the real Where Giants Have Fallen doesn't have you visit that dreamlike terminal space but does let you finally go through the door that's been locked the whole time before, this new epilogue would have you only visit that dreamlike space that you've only been able to see so far, and make your way to the usual terminal from there. Between that and the changes to chapter 3, we'd end up never actually seeing K'lia in the whole scenario, which would let the environment currently shared between K'lia and chapter 4 be dedicated entirely to the latter. The whole rearrangement would create generally nicer symmetry in the scenario too.
I would have, as mentioned in part elsewhere, themed the architecture and texture design of each chapter a little more consistently too:
The Human/Marathon environment of chapter 1 would be very square, both in its architecture and in its textures. It would have the color scheme it currently does, with a military green the primary color, gold and teal accents, and a highly desaturated purple for contrast. The source of level puzzles (i.e. why can't you just walk straight from point A to point B like you could in a well-designed real-world space) would have been that the Marathon is a half-decommissioned scrap ship by this point and most of its doors and elevators and such don't work like they're supposed to. (So basically, the levels would have been designed like easy-to-navigate real places, but then those easy paths would be broken by malfunctioning doors and elevators and such, requiring you to find another, longer way around).
The S'pht/Lh'owon environment of chapter 2 would be very hexagonal, both in its architecture and in its textures. It would also have the color scheme it currently does, with orange-brown the primary color, yellow-brown and red-brown accents, and desaturated blue-greys for contrast. The source of level puzzles in this chapter would simply be that the S'pht can fly and you can't, so what's a well-designed easy-to-navigate structure for them is very different for you, and you have to find the long way around again in many circumstances (foot paths maybe designs so that F'lick'ta don't get stuck in places).
The Nakh/Pfhor environment of chapter 3 would be very organic and irregular, both in its architecture and in its textures. It would have the color scheme of the current Pfhor set, with magenta as its primary color, red and blue accents, and a desaturated green for contrast. The source of level puzzles in this chapter would just be inscrutable alien geometry. You are in a maze of tiny intestine-like purplish organic corridors, all alike. It is dark. You are likely to be eaten by a Hound. (If the ship itself doesn't just digest you first).
The Drinniol/Jjaro environment of chapter 4 would be very octagonal, both in its architecture and its textures. It would have the color scheme it currently does: dark green as its primary color, with faded orange and azure accents, and a highly desaturated purple for contrast. The source of level puzzles in this chapter would be crumbling ancient architecture that's been falling apart for thousands if not millions of years.
The Jjaro/Sphere environment of chapter 5 would be very circular, both in its architecture and its textures. It would have the color scheme it currently does: azure as its primary color, with teal and blue accents, and a coppery desaturated orange for contrast. The source of level puzzles in this chapter would mostly be because half the time you're running around the rugged untamed wilderness outside, and the other half of the time you're in some kind of crazy 5D spacetime folded in upon itself.
Each environment would have certains patterns of architecture that would be reused throughout: a distinctive hallway geometry, a distinctive elevator geometry, a distinctive room geometry, etc. Perhaps with subtypes for the different sub-environments, e.g. perhaps the Human upstairs interior hallways all have a recessed alcove filled with light panels along the tops of their walls, and the Human downstairs exterior halls all have small columns lining them.
Perhaps each of the chapters could have had its own distinct weapon -- have only one fusion weapon instead of two, a S'pht weapon, a Nakh weapon, a Drinniol weapon, and only one of the Jjaro weapons -- though that would then necessitate eliminating one of the Pfhor weapons, and I struggle to think what a S'pht or Drinniol weapon would be like (since the S'pht build their weapons into their cybernetics, which is the same reason there's no usable Hunter weapon, and the Drinniol don't use weapons at all). But it's a thought that I've played with at least.
Lastly, but far from least... I have wild fantasies of Eternal having been part of a trilogy of scenarios, shadowing a version of the Marathon Trilogy that never was:
The first in this shadow trilogy would have been a prequel of sorts to Marathon 1. On the Tau Ceti colony before the Pfhor assault began, you would be working security for a team lead by Bernhard Strauss secretly investigating a Jjaro artifact buried on the surface of Tau Ceti IV (because JJARRO WERE AT TAU CETI); an artifact similar to the one that would have been featured in the plot of the Marathon beta, and which is the reason why Strauss and other MIDA operatives stowed away on the Marathon with two hands full of secret Battleroids and a secretly rampant Durandal. Shortly into this expedition the Pfhor assault would have begun -- perhaps not coincidentally? -- and you would have helped to fight it off, until you stumbled across the Jjaro AI buried in the dig site, who, much like in Infinity, would see the future that was to come and send you back in time to do it over again. Over, and over, and over again, sometimes involving going up to the Marathon but never to any successful end, until on the last try you would take the Miriata up to the Marathon before the invasion even began, starting the timeline of Marathon 1 proper. Which is why this is familiar to you, as if from an old dream, but you can't exactly remember...
The second in the shadow trilogy would have been more or less Infinity, starting as it does in a timeline where you were never taken from Tau Ceti by Durandal, but were instead captured alongside Tycho by the Pfhor. But instead of taking a brief detour to a timeline that ends up becoming just like Marathon 2 (at the start of the Rage chapter), and then returning to the Tycho-centric timelines, you would have exhausted all of your options in the Tycho-centric timelines, before going back even further than you have before, to the timeline that ends up becoming Marathon 2. Somehow, something that you do along the way ends up explaining why no W'rkncacnter is released when the Pfhor deploy the trix xeem at the end of Marathon 2; maybe something similar to Mark Levin's interpretation of canon Infinity, you somehow remove the W'rkncacnter from all timelines, but you sacrifice so much to accomplish that that you still have to go back and forge a new, successful timeline in the end. Maybe somehow you collapse Lh'owon's sun across all timelines, which the Durandal of the M2 timeline finds a curious mystery at the start of the third installment of the Trilogy proper.
The third installment of the shadow trilogy of course would be Eternal itself, serving as it does as a prelude to a final, climactic, victorious battle against the Pfhor, which ought to have been the actual third installment of the Trilogy proper, but never got made. I like to imagine, if I could somehow go back in time and make that happen myself, carrying along with me the influence of everything that has happened in our reality, that that final installment would have visited the same environments as this new Eternal itself: the dark ruins of Lh'owon after the unexplained collapse of its sun; an ancient abandoned Jjaro installation at the rogue star; a former Nakh world where perhaps the old Nahk bioweapon, similar to Rubicon's Achilles virus, could come into play; the decommissioned Marathon in Nar hands during the war, again, where you'd have to be careful not to cross your own timestream, but could maybe meet up with Leela again after she returns from her time travel in Eternal; and the Sphere installation, to which you would travel during the war just like Leela does in Eternal (perhaps even shadowing her there), where events similar to the plot of Halo would occur (seeing as how Halo was originally supposed to be set in the Marathon universe, and the Sphere is basically an expy of the Halo), which would then wrap up the cliffhanger ending of Eternal in a way that doesn't end with the whole galaxy exploding.
I like to think that the Pfhor empire ultimately falls somehow along the lines of: previously-futile military attacks by the S'pht are rendered effective after a modified Nakh virus (discovered, altered, and released by Durandal and Marcus) incapacitates most of the Pfhor troops, and the crumbling of the Pfhor chain of command then prompts the cowed-by-fear Drinniol to rise up against their now-sickly masters once again. So in the end the Pfhor are defeated from without by the S'pht, and from within by the Drinniol, all thanks to being weakened in the middle by the Nakh (from beyond the grave).