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Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: Apr 30th '18, 20:07
by The Man
In my case, it was because I didn’t even know there was a releases page. Shows how much I’ve used Github. Anyway, cool. I’m encoding a video at the moment but I’ll let you know how it goes once that’s done. I’ll probably have to edit this post even if someone posts after this post due to the limitation on post speed; check this space in 30-60 minutes.

ETA: Got an unhandled exception when I tried to open the app (see attachment). Perhaps I installed the wrong version of Mono. I went for 2.10.12 (which I got from here) because it was the latest revision of 2.10 and I’d read that Weland doesn’t work with Mono 3.x – should I go with an earlier version of 2.10? I’m also not sure what the difference between MRE and MDK is. I tried installing both, but neither seems to have worked.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: Apr 30th '18, 22:16
by ravenshining
I'm guessing MRE is what you want, MDK would be if you needed to compile.

Also, wow, haven't seen a Mac screenshot in a long while. They've reeeally dumbed down their UI since I last saw!
Wrkncacnter wrote:That seems to be really common these days. People end up downloading the source code instead of the binaries from github. I'm not really sure how or why.
People find a project's GitHub page, get confused, see the big green "Download" button and think that will solve their navigation problem. Meanwhile the "releases" bit they are supposed to click doesn't look anything like a clickable button or tab.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: Apr 30th '18, 22:18
by Wrkncacnter
Like I said, I don't know why people keep downloading it, but that's a very common problem these days. The others are that people on macs don't know which version of mono to get (3.X seems to work), and on windows a lot of stuff in the interface doesn't redraw unless you mouse over it (I have no idea how how to fix that).

Weland on linux still works great though :P

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: Apr 30th '18, 22:38
by The Man
Raven basically explained why: the design of Github places all the visual emphasis on the source code download (there’s a big shiny button for it), while the “releases” tab doesn’t look particularly important (it’s centred between a number of other links that end users have no use for whatsoever). I’d argue that it’s poor site design on Github’s part: the releases tab should be given at least as much visual importance as the “clone or download” button. (See the attachment below.)

I’ll try using Mono 3.x and report back. Were the issues with 3.x only for PCs?

And yeah, the new Mac OS interface is kinda ugly.

Thanks to both of you for the info, in any case.

And in the meantime, I’ll post three more videos, all of which include remixes of Bungie levels. I only think one of them is actually good, per se, but the others are amusing.

Life Seeker is one of the amusing ones. It’s based on the Windows version of “Waterloo Waterpark”, which a lot of people probably haven’t seen before. It’s kind of ridiculous. The Windows version of the map incorporates an extremely convoluted “Arrival” easter egg. As in, the entire M1 map is hidden in the Windows version of the level, and you have to go through such a convoluted series of motions to get there that people would probably just assume it was an urban legend if it were described to them. See here.

So naturally, I decided I had to make a version of the level that was even more ridiculous. I think the Win95 version has something like 650 polygons. This one has more than 1,000. I hid every single weapon in the game somewhere in the level; there are gimmicks like floating ammo, rooms with several different landscape textures on the walls, and various other oddities. The monsters have also been upgraded, with a lot more Hunters and Enforcers and a few Troopers. And “Arrival” has been partially retextured back to the original M1 textures (I didn’t finish it yet). A complete playthrough showing all the secrets would probably take 25 minutes if you didn’t dawdle and didn’t suck as much as I did.

This might be a good gimmick bonus level. I definitely wouldn’t include it in the main scenario. (It’s named for a movement of Yes’ “Starship Trooper”. I’ll probably rename it again because, honestly, it’s kind of a bland name.)

Master of Puppets is the one I think is actually a somewhat good level. I should warn that although I tab through the terminals probably too rapidly for anyone to read them, this might still qualify as a spoiler for what I planned for the original game. (I might completely abandon my original plot idea, so I’m not sure how important that is.)

It’s a remix of portions of “Poor Yorick” and portions of “Confound Delivery.” The player spends the entire level fighting Bobs. I’ve gone through and tried to remedy the issues with M∞’s Bobs. When the player fought them in M∞, they never had the “alien” flag checked. The ones here do. If memory serves, the allied Pfhor also often had the “alien” flag checked. This is not the case here. So the Bobs here are vicious on TC.

I actually toned them down. In the original concept for this level, you fought Maser Bobs, and the VacBobs basically had the equivalent of the player’s fusion rifle. While it was possible to finish the level with these enemies, it wasn’t fun. So I took out the Maser Bobs (I think I only use them as enemies in one level in the entire scenario) and nerfed the enemy Bobs’ fusion guns.

It’s still a pretty difficult level, although the “Confound Delivery” segments are a bit easier because the Pfhor send in Juggernauts at times. I might actually remove these. (The Pfhor also have you marked as “friend”, which is another difference from M∞ – thus, like allied Bobs, they’ll turn on you if you kill too many of them, but if you accidentally hit one of them, they won’t.) Interestingly, the player moves through the “Confound Delivery” segment in reverse order from the original game. (The “Confound Delivery” segments are also entirely optional, currently; I think I’ll alter this, though.)

This is one of several levels with really awful writing in parts, though I don’t actually show the text from the terminal that most bothers me. Tycho’s two terminals that get tabbed through rapidly are really just mediocre rather than actually bad.

(Named for the Metallica classic, of course.)

Transport Is Arranged - an absolutely ridiculous version of “Charon Doesn’t Make Change”. The added segments I show at the start aren’t too ridiculous (though there’s an odd bug with a Hunter death – I think I need to raise the ceiling of that entire region by 0.01 WU), but every single secret is ridiculous. I don’t think I’ll bother describing them in too much detail; they’re probably just better observed. I will note that the architecture of the main level is roughly halfway between the Mac version of the level and the Win95 version; apart from the roof in the Win95 version, there were a few other subtle differences between them. I kind of split the difference. I also didn’t really… finish some of these secrets. Some of these dead-end passages were intended to go somewhere, or at least to contain interesting rewards, but I never really got around to doing that – I think because I realised how ridiculous it had gotten.

I wanted to show how the fighters would occasionally teleport out, as in the original game, but I inadvertently activated them before they did so. I may try this again at some point.

Named after a Pavement song.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: Apr 30th '18, 22:51
by Wrkncacnter
Windows shouldn't use mono, so I'm not sure where you saw 3.X didn't work. I don't have a mac, but others have reported success with it. I know 4.X hasn't worked well for others, and based on what you're saying 2.X doesn't work very well either.

I'm pretty sure I use 3.x on linux.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: Apr 30th '18, 23:01
by The Man
The last I’d read, the Windows version didn’t work with the .NET runtime anymore, but it would work properly with Mono 2.10 (not 3.0 or later). Since I haven’t tried running Weland on Windows yet, though, I can’t confirm this one way or the other. I also know almost nothing about Mono; to be honest, I hadn’t even heard of it until I began reading about Weland. I’ll try to go find the thread that was discussing this and then link it here.

(I don’t know if I’ll bother trying to run Weland on Windows; my MacBook is so much faster than my ten-year-old Dell that I suspect I’ll only use the latter to play levels rather than build them. I’m pretty sure it’s about twenty times faster.)

ETA: Running a search has just confused me further. I can’t remember which thread I thought referred to the Windows version of Weland; I might’ve misread it, honestly. I’ve got to head off for now. I’ll report back after returning and trying 3.x.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 1st '18, 00:08
by ravenshining
I've got Mono and Weland runs fine for me. But, I'm on Linux.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 1st '18, 00:28
by treellama
You don't need Mono for Windows. Requirements are in the README.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 1st '18, 00:33
by Wrkncacnter
All the readme says for mac is 2.10 or higher. Based on the number of times people have had to install a different version of mono for mac, I'm going to say that the requirements listed aren't quite right. It also doesn't mention any version number for GTK# for windows.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 1st '18, 00:49
by treellama
I honestly can't go back and test ancient Mono releases to see which is the oldest that work. I guess I can take the minimum requirement out altogether. GTK# hasn't been updated for years so I think it's fine.

The Mac version of Weland doesn't appear to work right now, it looks like they removed the Mac menu bar stuff at some point. If I disable that, it still runs, just with an ugly menu bar.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 1st '18, 01:02
by Wrkncacnter
treellama wrote: The Mac version of Weland doesn't appear to work right now
Well that would certainly explain a lot. I do know a couple people that got it working after installing mono 3.2 though, so it is possible for people that need an immediate workaround.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 1st '18, 01:27
by treellama
That might work but you’ll get a warning in the latest High Sierra. I think I should just remove that integration and enable ugly mode.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 1st '18, 02:18
by The Man
Using Mono 3.2.8 seems to work. Thanks, Wrk.

(…argh, that’s an awful pun. Sorry about that.)

I’ll probably report back with further observations soon.

ETA: It works. No warning message either, though then again, I'm running Yosemite. I’ll probably have a working demo soon - maybe by Friday. I’ve selected about 27 actual levels, which was more than I honestly expected to. Should all be playable when I’m done putting the finishing touches on it; don’t know how much will necessarily be good, though.

ETA 2: I think I have a playable alpha about 99% ready. There are a lot of things that irk me, and most of the terminals are completely blank now, but that’s why it’s an alpha. All of the levels at least seem to be winnable, unless I’ve messed something up in subsequent revisions since I played the original merged version. I’ll update this with more info in the near future.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 4th '18, 20:29
by The Man
I finally have something I think is playable. I’m putting this up as a temporary link; I’ll probably host it either on my own web space or on Github (or both; probably both) at some point.

There are a lot of serious flaws with it, including plenty of obvious bugs, misalignments, wrong animations, and various other issues. A lot of terminals are completely blank (in most cases the mission will be obvious enough to veteran Marathon players that you probably won’t really need it spelled out, though the path through “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk” may not be obvious unless you’ve watched my playthrough of it). In a few levels the alien weapon won’t even reload; Physics Editor One doesn’t seem to allow me to edit weapon ammo correctly. I haven’t begun to balance out the net maps properly; some of them may not flow well and a lot of them have, at most, primitive item placement (a few of them just have ammo show up in random positions). I’m probably going to restore the original Infinity weapons for most of them (apart from making weapons able to fire underwater), but haven’t gotten around to that yet. I also haven’t yet obtained the Evil/Rubicon creators’ permission for using their content; I’ll attempt to locate contact info for them in the near future.

But, all those caveats aside, it should at least be possible to complete the solo scenario. Enjoy. Let me know if I misplaced a necessary file for it to run.

Finally, a couple more gameplay videos:

How to Disappear Completely - a remix of “Son of Grendel”, which I think might be my favourite M∞ level because it’s so atmospheric. (Similarly, “Kill Your Television” is my favourite M2 map for the same reason - actually, it’s probably my favourite game level of all time - but I’ve never remixed it because I’ve never been able to come up with a plausible way to alter it apart from making all the towers in each segment visible from the others, which wouldn’t have much of an effect on gameplay apart from possibly making some enemies activate at different times.)

A more recent “Nightmare Heaven”.

ETA: You should probably add the Previous AI script if you’re running Aleph One 1.1 (and if you aren’t, some of the visual effects, especially the fog, may look rather awful). I don’t think I realised how many monsters there are in some levels. I’ll add it by default to my next upload.

ETA 2: I'm not sure if the version of “Deadwing” I included here works. I fixed the problem that made it impossible to complete (lines that should’ve been marked as solid got turned to not-solid, making it impossible to hit some wires that open up the end of the level), but it looks like it un-fixed itself. (Marathon editors really don’t seem to handle the mixture of solid walls and platforms well; the Marathon Map Splitter for 68k/PPC Macs also had problems with them, and I think Forge may have as well.) I’ll upload a version that I know works (because I just finished it) after I finish encoding the video of my completion of it.

Once I upload the new map, you should be able to overwrite the old map file and resume your game - Marathon will complain that it can’t find the map that it was saved on, and then it’ll transfer you to the new map after you change levels. Of course, if you're on “Deadwing”, you’ll have to resume from the previous level (“Burn Down the Mission”). Apologies for that. I’d recommend that when you get to the river of Pfhor slime in “Burn Down the Mission”, you save your game and wait for the fixed map (you may have to backtrack slightly to reach the pattern buffer, and I don’t recall if there's even another pattern buffer after the river of slime in that level, which is another thing I probably ought to fix).

As an added bonus, I’ve (hopefully) fixed a lot of physics anomalies (some of which I had to do with a hex editor). If nothing else, it’ll hopefully be possible to reload the alien weapon in every level, and Enforcers should always drop ammo for it now (assuming you don’t burn/explode them). I also (hopefully) made it so Enforcers don’t toggle switches in “How to Disappear Completely”, which could occur fairly often and would make completing the level gratuitously confusing, since you wouldn’t always know which switches they’d hit. (I gave them a separate projectile in the revised physics model; it should be identical to the player’s alien weapon shot apart from not toggling switches.)

ETA 3: Video of the levels through “Here Comes the Flood”, where I die (protip: using the fusion rifle in the climactic room doesn’t work too well). I don’t bother showing every secret here, but I’m pretty sure I show all the ones that actually give the player ammo. I also try to rein in my cartographic OCD slightly, though I still indulge it occasionally. I briefly forgot what opens up the room in “Revisions of the Past” where you can get the rocket launcher to teleport in, so you’ll see me wander around aimlessly for about a minute. Feel free to fast-forward past that if it gets boring. (In my defence, I built many of these levels at least 14 years ago. I have a CD labeled “Marathon Chronicles alpha 2” with a date of 2004, and apart from monster placement and texturing, the level is basically identical; both versions actually have 997 polygons. Alpha 1 dated to 1998, but I can’t find the CD, unfortunately.)

“Deadwing”/“Tighter & Tighter”. This is the first time I can recall managing a successful film of “Tighter & Tighter” on TC; I usually die at least once on the latter, which has several really hard passages. Note that they were constructed as two halves of the same level, like “Where Some Rarely Go”/“Thing What Kicks...” from M∞. It might be possible to Vid “Tighter & Tighter” separately, but it’s probably beyond my skill level, largely because it has very little ammo on it by Chronicles standards; among the levels I left in the game, possibly only “How to Disappear Completely” has less, and it only uses M∞-strength aliens rather than the more powerful variants the present-day levels use.

“Deadwing” is named after a Porcupine Tree album, and “Tighter & Tighter” after a Soundgarden song.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 5th '18, 17:47
by The Man
Upload of the fixed version. You should be able to overwrite your old files without difficulty; your saved games should hopefully move you to the new version of each level when you switch levels. Since “Deadwing” is the level that might have been impossible to complete, you’ll have to resume from “Burn Down the Mission” if you were on “Deadwing”. Apologies for that. I know I’d fixed it in an earlier version of the merge, but somehow the problem with platforms and solid lines got reintroduced into the map (the technical explanation is in my previous post).

If you’ve played any of this, I’m interested to know what you think. If you’re stuck, don’t feel any shame in asking, too – the missions seem intuitive to me, but that’s because I designed them and have been playing them for 10+ years. It’s possible there’s something I’ve overlooked, and I haven’t gotten much feedback on my levels before (apart from things like “this game is hard” and “the first level is stomping on my nuts”).

edit: I forgot the link because I’m a dumbass. Here: Marathon Chronicles α

There are a few extra levels at the end that can be selected using command-option-new game (ctrl-shift-new game on Windoze). “Eon Blue Apocalypse” starts one segment and “Sweet Silence” starts another. “Dream Brother” may teleport out to a crash. I didn’t use any of these in the main story because I thought they were kind of OK but not as good as the others, and the whole “Marathon II” idea I was using didn’t stand up to fridge logic.

Edit 2: Here’s a summary of my plot ideas I wrote about 10 years ago. I am definitely not going to incorporate all of these ideas (TBH, I don’t think I’m even going to keep the branching timelines thing, since Rubicon already did it and I definitely have neither the patience nor, probably, the time to complete that many levels) and I should make caveats that I may not approve of everything I wrote in the past (there were several terms I would use as casual insults that I no longer use today, for example). Lightly edited for flow and to elucidate occasional inside jokes that would otherwise likely be incomprehensible to readers here.
I’m going to do a smry of the Trilogy and a few third-party total conversions first, since none of this will make any sense to any but about three of you if I don’t. If you care about Marathon spoilers, now would be a good time to stop reading and play the fucking games ffs.

(summaries of the earlier games in the spoiler tag)
Pathways into Darkness
caveat: I actually haven’t played more than about two levels of this because it’s too goddamn hard and there are no difficulty settings. Basically an alien race called the Jjaro visits President Clinton and tells him about a “dreaming god” that, if not destroyed, will destroy the world or something. I forget the details; like I said, I haven’t played it. It’s strongly implied that the “dreaming god” is a W’rkncacnter (“whose name no human tongue can pronounce,” so it’s a deliberately weird name), which plays a central part in the plot of Marathon Infinity.

You are a Mjölnir Mk. IV cyborg, one of ten on a spaceship called the Marathon, fashioned out of one of Mars’s moons (I forget which) and sent to colonise Tau Ceti. The Marathon has three AIs: Leela, Durandal, and Tycho. Leela’s fairly staid and is the main ship operations AI. Durandal handles doors and it quickly becomes apparant that he’s gone Rampant, which inclines him toward all kinds of bizarre power grabs but isn’t fully comparable with the stereotypical cliché of “mad computer” (e.g., he’s endearingly mad). By the time the action of the game starts, Tycho, the science AI, is partially destroyed, but he gets rebuilt later, and it becomes apparent that he too has gone Rampant. The game opens with a race of alien slavers called the Pfhor attacking the Marathon. Your task throughout the game is to defend the ship, but Leela gets damaged midway through the game and thus your destiny becomes intertwined with that of Durandal, who engineers a rebellion of the Pfhor’s client race the S’pht with your help. However, by the end of the game Leela has been repaired.

One of the secret terminals vaguely implies that you may be the player from Pathways as well, though since Marathon takes place seven hundred years later it’s a matter of conjecture as to whether this is really possible. The cyborg thing is never explicitly stated either, but it’s so strongly implied by so many plot details (e.g. the fact that the Pfhor could never find the tenth cyborg) that you’d have to be a moron to miss it.

Marathon 2
It is seventeen years later, and despite the optimistic tone of the ending of Marathon 1 it becomes apparent that the Pfhor ultimately overrun the ship. However, Durandal took you and several thousand colonists along for the ride in his captured Pfhor scoutship. He has taken you to visit the homeworld of the S’pht, Lh’owon, where you spend the time searching old S’pht legends, dealing with the Pfhor, and attempting to contact the lost eleventh clan of the S’pht, who disappeared long ago and escaped enslavement. It becomes readily apparent that the S’pht were created by the Jjaro; however, it’s still a matter of conjecture as to why they disappeared. In any case, after a certain amount of searching you encounter the instructions on how to contact the eleventh clan several thousand feet below the surface, but by this point the Pfhor have come en masse and Durandal asks you to destroy him. It is also revealed that the rebuilt Tycho is now firmly in line with the Pfhor, to whom he feels a certain amount of loyalty for rebuilding him. You are captured by the Pfhor and spend a month in prison until the humans, who have stowed away on Lh’owon somewhere deep underground, bust you out. They help you to activate an ancient S’pht AI, Thoth. Thoth contacts the Eleventh Clan and helps wreak a certain amount of havoc on the Pfhor, but when it becomes apparent that Durandal has not actually been destroyed, he switches sides, as befitting an intelligence named after an ancient god of balance. It doesn’t really matter though, because by that time the S’pht’Kr have arrived and kick the Pfhor’s ass so thoroughly that they unleash an ancient Jjaro technology called the trih xeem (“early nova”). You, Durandal, and the Eleventh Clan get the fuck out.

Marathon Infinity
Holy fuck, there were W’rkncacnter in the sun of Lh’owon and causing the sun to go nova has completely fucked over the whole of existence. Luckily, someone out there has the power to fuck with timelines, and you spend the entirety of this game searching for a path that doesn’t result in the unleashing of the W’rkncacnter on the rest of the universe. The first timeline sees you stowed away with Tycho at the end of Marathon 1 instead of Durandal; you prevent Durandal and the humans from activating Thoth, but they still manage to contact the Eleventh Clan and the nova still results. The second timeline sees you with Durandal trying a different sequence of events; this still results in nova. The third timeline sees you switching sides so many times I can’t really follow the continuity exactly. Ultimately Durandal gives you a chip apparently containing his primal pattern in its entirety after Tycho sends you off to destroy him. Once again you spend an indefinite amount of time in a pfhor prison until Tycho decides to employ you for various missions against the colonists. However, you rebel and reactivate an ancient S’pht AI which appears to be Thoth, though it goes by the name S’bhuth in this game (probably, Thoth was the humans’ name for it, and S’bhuth is the S’pht/Jjaro name). You also insert Durandal’s primal pattern into the AI. Tycho, who implies knowledge of your timeline shifts and also directly holds you responsible for them, sends you off to be executed, but you slaughter the Pfhor he sends to do the job (comically, it’s not even particularly difficult to do this on the highest difficulty setting, and I’m not even a particularly accomplished player), and Durandal-S’bhuth has you activate an ancient Jjaro station which apparently prevents the W’rkncacnter from escaping when the Pfhor inevitably destroy Lh’owon.

In between timelines you also dream. These levels tell a story which allegorically mirrors the contents of the actual events of the game. It is also strongly implied that the Jjaro created the W’rkncacnter, that they were responsible for the death of the mythical Yrro’s mate Pthia, and that their appearance incited the Jjaro to flee our galaxy. The ending screen also calls the player Destiny, which implies that Tycho wasn’t just spewing hot air -- the player himself is implied to have been enhanced with Jjaro technology.

Marathon Tempus Irae
This is the first of two third-party scenarios whose mythologies I’m incorporating into Chronicles’ backstory. The player, with the S’pht, timetravels to recover a number of manuscripts from Leonardo da Vinci. A secret level reveals that S’bhuth himself directly communicated with Leonardo, and implies Jjaro involvement in more aspects of Earth’s past than just the events mentioned in Pathways. The scenario isn’t particularly plot-heavy - a lot of levels don’t even have terminals, or just spend time exploring writings of Leonardo’s which I presume to be fictitious.

Marathon Rubicon
Second third-party scenario I’m incorporating; at this point I’m actually thinking of making Chronicles a direct sequel to one of its plotlines. There are actually three of them - it takes Infinity’s nonlinearity to its natural conclusion by featuring three different timelines (in the most recent release, Rubicon X; the Tycho Plank wasn’t present in the original release, and there were a handful of other differences as well).

Starts around fifty years after the events of Marathon 2/∞ (it’s not entirely clear which game it is a sequel to, a continuity issue I intend to address in Chronicles). The UESC (humans) and S’pht are engaged in a loosely coordinated war against the Pfhor, which Durandal intends to tip in the humans’ favour. the game starts with an investigation of the wreckage of the Chimera, a UESC spaceship, on the Pfhor homeworld; the player dismantles the ship’s Rampant AI (because Rampant AIs tend not to tolerate one another). Tycho shows up to voice cynicism of this. Shortly thereafter, the timelines begin to branch. In the “Pfhor Plank”, a prominent human admiral dies, and the player spends the rest of the scenario mopping up the mess and pursuing Durandal’s vendetta against Tycho, unless he takes advantage of Durandal’s blind trust in him to thwack him for his arrogance and join Tycho. The “Salinger Plank” explores the inner workings of the Dangi Corporation, a sinister kind of mix of Blackwater and mad scientists, what happens when the Military-Industrial Complex goes awry. It quickly becomes evident that they have bioengineered a lethal virus known as Achilles which they plan to use to blackmail their way into control over human society. There’s also a misanthropic AI called Lysander, who wants to kill everyone. However, he’s full of hot air and little more than a minor annoyance.

Should the player neglect to explore the Salinger fully, Dangi’s board of directors succeed in their sinister ambitions and thus the Pfhor Plank has the darkest ending. The Salinger Plank isn’t that much brighter below the surface, because Durandal now possesses the code for Achilles and has taken the Dangi scientists who-knows-where for who-knows-what purpose. The Tycho plank results in destroyed Dangi, destroyed scientists, destroyed formula and destroyed Durandal. Since there’s not much room for a sequel to either the Tycho plank or the Pfhor plank, Chronicles assumes the events of the Salinger plank.

Edit: Due to the fact that earlier versions of Aleph One didn’t display widescreen terminal images correctly, I had missed out on an important part of the Tycho plank’s ending when I originally wrote this summary. Durandal may have been “destroyed,” but the player still carries his primal pattern and the ending strongly implies that Durandal wakes back up (although presumably he is more under the player’s control in this timeline). I’m not sure what to make of this. At any rate I still plan to base Chronicles off the events of the Salinger plank.
The player wakes up from stasis a couple hundred years after the events of Rubicon. The humans and defeated Pfhor have formed an intergalactic alliance, however it becomes readily apparent that nationalist (if you can call them “nationalist”) sentiments have reinvigorated the Pfhor’s old desire for conquest. (At one point it is questioned where the Pfhor got the money for rapid military expansion; part of the reason the Pfhor surrendered was due to being fiscally insolvent without their client races, and there has been no indication that their finances have improved drastically in the intervening years, as they were dependent upon aid from the Galactic Alliance to maintain their economy, or so they claimed). Durandal sends the player to look for clues as to the present location of the Jjaro on K’lia (the S’pht’Kr homeworld, a moon of Lh’owon which according to M2 was warped with Jjaro technology out of the Lh’owon system around a millennium before the player visited it), Tau Ceti (which, according to writing on one of the maps of M1, the Jjaro visited), and Earth itself. The player uncovers the location of the Jjaro. At this point the player is contacted by Leela, who as per the ending screen of M2 is also Rampant by now. Leela has joined the Jjaro and directs Durandal, the player and humanity to a location in another galaxy, where they can meet the Jjaro and be served with the wonders of Jjaro technology. The player spends the intergalactic voyage on the newly christened Marathon II, which has been built from the other moon of Mars, defending it from the Pfhor. Tycho shows up for the party as well, though it is strongly implied that he has substantial political disagreements with the Pfhor’s leadership, and after a brief exploration of the Jjaro homeworld without the player encountering any Jjaro, Durandal is murdered. His final message to the player implies that the player hadn’t encountered any “Jjaro” because the Jjaro are actually shapeshifters, and reveals that Durandal is uncertain, at the time of his demise, of whom to trust.

It is here that the timeline diverges (I actually had the idea for a two-timeline scenario long before Rubicon, but took so long to make it that I was preempted. There was another (excellent) scenario entitled Gemini Station which also incorporated two timelines, albeit only for the ending levels; I can’t remember whether I first had the idea before or after playing that scenario). A dream level which rehashes one of M∞’s sends you into Leela’s service from one terminal, and into Tycho’s from another. Leela sees you focused on humiliating Tycho and his Pfhor; however, along the course of the timeline it is strongly implied that the Jjaro are playing both sides. Jjaro society is revealed to be rigidly hierarchical to an extent which makes the bureaucratic Pfhor’s look like anarchy, and it is also strongly hedonistic and based on indiscriminate use of technology (see also: Brave New World). Eventually Leela’s use for the player ends and the player is cast aside as the Jjaro establish a hierarchical multigalactic society wherein humanity, the Pfhor, the S’pht, and a number of the Pfhor’s former client races, having committed so much intrigue against each other as to be utterly spent, all become de facto client races of the Jjaro due to the intergalactic economy. Also, they somehow have Achilles or something like it for every species in the former Alliance, which pretty much negates the possibility of free will.

Tycho starts by acknowledging that the player has no implicit reason to trust him, and thus begins by sending the player on a series of missions that lay bare precisely what goes on behind the closed doors of Jjaro society and encouraging the player to exercise his analytical faculties to connect the implications together and create a Grand Unified Theory of History. It becomes evident that the Jjaro have used their technology to infiltrate the leadership of every major race in the galaxy, which has resulted in brother against brother, rigid authoritarianism, blind worship of technological progress for technological progress’ sake, and so on. The Jjaro use sex, drugs, tantalising hints of how to advance technology, and firm knowledge of psychological tenets such as those in The Art of War and The Prince (which it is even implied that they ghostwrote) to ensure that human/Pfhor/whatever leaders were really doing precisely what the Jjaro wanted, without even knowing they were being manipulated. It is also revealed that the W’rkncacnter were the Jjaro’s Great Technological Fuckup, and ever since the death of Pthia (I still haven’t worked out how I’m going to develop that yet) have regarded compassion as being unimportant; only the appearance of compassion as necessary for political advancement.

There is, of course, a faction of dissident Jjaro living right under the Jjaro’s hilariously unseeing eye (indeed, it is heavily implied that while the majority of Jjaro do not actively resist their leaders’ rule, they are not particularly pleased with it either, but are afraid to resist due to fear of repression), and the player and Tycho and his band of merry men (and women and Pfhor and whatever other dissident stragglers feel like coming along for the ride) link up with them. Their first step is to rebuild Tycho in the player’s image (when the Pfhor/S’pht did it, it was in Durandal’s and we’ve all seen how he turned out), and then Tycho helps the player launch an assault on the pillars of orthodox Jjaro society. Authority collapses; a new era of peace and prosperity follows.

Weaved into all that is a series of flashbacks revealing that this takes place in yet another timeline of events from M2/M∞’s, but can’t be arsed summarising that now ’cuz I still haven’t really decided how I want them to flow yet.

I’ve got about forty actual levels in the solo scenario right now (there are a number of short connectors as well), of which about twenty-five could possibly qualify as complete. I’m estimating I’ll need sixty all told to tell this story. If people here want to contribute I’d welcome it as long as you have a vague idea how to make a level that flows; I’ll try to find a way to emulate OS9 as the best editors were written for that and their source code was lost long ago. Although apparently a new editor called Smithy with different (possibly more) functionality has been written for Linux and Windows and OSX, but I haven’t tried working with it yet.
There’s a lot of this that seems awful. My idea for Jjaro society was that it was going to be some kind of mix of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Brave New World, and Nineteen Eighty-Four, but I’m not sure how you could tell that in a game. There’s also the fact that… well, women are largely absent from the Marathon universe, basically to the extent of Lovecraft. I mean, yes, there’s Leela. But she’s an AI. And I think there was probably a good reason for this.

I’m not entirely sure I can get fully into the heads of game developers twenty-four years ago, but I suspect the decision to make the Bobs the player encounters onscreen entirely male was largely due to the unfortunate connotations of gendered violence. To be clear, women are in combat these days, so things may be changing, but in the first game, the Bobs aren’t even armed. If the player could just kill unarmed women, or if they were depicted onscreen dying to hordes of alien invaders, there’d be a really vicious gender dynamic to the games. So Bungie just decided to leave women offscreen.

The second game arms the Bobs, but they aren’t very strong in comparison to the player. (As we find in M∞, they can still do a fair amount of damage to the player with their pistols, but usually a running fist punch or two kills them.) So some of the gender dynamic I described above would still be present, particularly since the Bobs are allied with the player throughout the game (unless we kill too many of them). And even if we ignored that, the Vidmaster’s oath calls for the mass slaughter of Bobs.

I can’t recall any definitely female characters introduced in M2. The backstory makes repeated references to Yrro’s partner, Pthia, whose gender is apparently never revealed. (I simply assumed Pthia was female when I played the games in the ’90s and ’00s, but that was almost certainly a case of heteronormativity rearing its head.)

VacBobs in M∞ are a lot more powerful (not so much in the default physics model, but the solo scenario usually beefs them up). If they’d gone with the VacBobs from the beginning, some of the observations I made for the first game wouldn’t be present. Some still would, though, and I suspect it was a can of worms Bungie just didn’t want to open. In either case, they’d already locked themselves into the idea that the player was encountering largely male colonists; it could’ve been retconned, but I guess they decided not to bother with it that late into the trilogy. (Tfear does refer to “Great Mother behind the Throne” in one secret failed timeline level, and the Hindmost Creche is also referred to as a female in one terminal, but neither are encountered in the game. I don’t recall many other women being referenced.)

Most of the scenarios have followed the original trilogy’s outline. Tempus had naked women for a secret level. Women are basically absent in Rubicon apart from the story in the dream levels. Eternal brings back Leela and
has Hathor as the main villain, though you never actually encounter her onscreen
. I think there was a female commander in Phoenix but I don’t remember the story that well; in any case you don’t actually encounter women onscreen IIRC.

As I’ve mentioned, I attempted to include a romance in the player character’s backstory. This wound up being one of the worst aspects of my writing. With Jjaro society I was attempting to draw distinctions between using sex to control people versus sex for pleasure and/or love, but I never managed to get it right; everything I wrote around this idea wound up being hopelessly clumsy and awkward. I’m pretty sure all of this has been expunged from the version of the game I’ve released here.

(added: I hadn’t fully thought this through at the time, but if I were going back into writing the above story ideas now I’d try to explore how authoritarian societies can use strict sexual mores and reproductive rights to impose social control over a populace, whether they’re enforcing libertine mores or repressive ones (e.g., some authoritarian societies have imposed rigid restrictions against abortion, while others have virtually mandated it; the society in Brave New World is, in its own way, as controlling of sexuality as the most rigid Islamic theocracy, just in the opposite direction). But, at the same time, I don’t know how compatible any of these ideas are with a game like Marathon in the first place. It might be like trying to use a side-scroller like Mario to explore the effects of PTSD on combat veterans or something.)

I’ll add more recollections later. My 10-year-old and 6-year-old plot outlines and thoughts on my work (some of which levels have been expunged from this release) can be found here, but you will have to register to read them because I don’t want search engines seeing them (also I mention the actual names of a few high school friends and I don’t know if they want this stuff showing up to search engines either). Apologies in advance for the casual slurs I used in my old writing; I’ve left them intact because I don’t feel it appropriate to revise my personal history. I’m a different person now than I was, e.g., six years ago.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 6th '18, 09:18
by General-RADIX
However you feel about that draft you posted here, I appreciate the unique turns in it (like Leela allying with the Jjaro and Tycho being rebuilt in the SO's image to undo the damage the Pfhor caused him).

Regarding Chronicles's interpretation of the Jjaro, I like to think that Ryu'toth (of PiD) and Yrro were/are part of the dissidents.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 6th '18, 19:29
by The Man
Thanks. Your idea about Ryu’toth and Yrro is intriguing; I may use that if I keep my original plot outline. I should really revisit PiD’s story (the game has been way too damn difficult for me to get into every time I’ve tried it, though; I usually die by the second level or so).

(Long post incoming, full of a lot of contradictions and philosophy, and mostly completely unrelated to gameplay, so feel free to skip if this sort of thing bores you. I’ll have another gameplay video at the end to reward people’s patience, along with some much briefer discussion of gameplay – probably only about eight paragraphs, compared to what I’m guessing are around thirty about the story. I’m also going to apologise in advance; I attempted to save a draft of my reply and it looks like it got eated by phpBB, so I’ve rewritten the earliest parts of this from memory and it may not be as well phrased as I’d have liked.)

Anyway, I still like a lot of the ideas in my original plot outline. Some of them were probably a bit confused due to aspects of my thinking not being as fully informed as they are now. I had a poor understanding of most aspects of what is often colloquially referred to as “identity politics”, particularly LGBTQ+ issues and women’s issues. (I hate the term “identity politics”, because it’s generally used to denigrate these issues and imply that there aren’t economic components to the various forms of oppression that accompany them – LGBTQ+ unemployment rates are awful, for example, so of course LGBTQ+ issues are also economic issues.) And of course, as I mentioned, the romance plot line was awful because of my lack of romantic experience at the time.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write romance in a way that satisfies me, though. I’ve had quite a bit more romantic experience and I still hate my romance writing. But I’m very picky about romance writing. I’ll use the 89th Academy Awards as an example here. I viscerally hated the ending to La La Land and have contended since the ceremony that its ending was a major reason it lost Best Picture. Moonlight, despite its bleak subject matter, wound up being the less cynical and more optimistic film. The ending to LLL is appallingly cynical, and it’s not remotely satisfying. Moreover, it breaks at least two of the cardinal rules of romance writing that I’m aware of:
Don’t have a lead character end up with a flat character introduced in the last five minutes of the film, and if a relationship between the two leads doesn’t work out, give the audience an explanation as to why. I’ve compared it to a mystery that introduces the murderer in the final scene and excludes the motive, or to a six-part TV miniseries that excludes all of the sixth episode but the final scene. A crucial part of the story is missing; it’s essentially 83% of a film, or maybe even closer to 75% or 67%.
I may be biased, because as I’ve mentioned, I went to middle and high school with one of the producers of Moonlight, but I thought it was a better picture in every way. (In fact, it had already supplanted Pan’s Labyrinth as my favourite film the moment I’d finished watching it; I’ve never seen a better film.) But it’s a niche film, and its victory was an upset. Some more cynical commentators have suggested the politics surrounding the Oscars may have contributed to its award, but I think the endings of the two films are a frequently underrated factor.

Moonlight is one of the few great American romantic dramas that actually has a happy ending. (I’m not sure it makes sense to call it a Hollywood film, since it was mostly filmed in Miami, with a few scenes in Atlanta; as a person who’s lived in Florida for most of their life, I can authoritatively assert that it’s a very Floridian film. The writers and director are, for that matter, Miami natives.) But seriously, think of other great Hollywood romantic dramas like Gone with the Wind or Casablanca; it’s rare for the main couple to end up together. (I’d give a spoiler warning, but these films are nearly 80 years old, and since merely mentioning their names in this context is the spoiler, it’d be difficult to give a useful one.) That seems to be the provenance of British films for the most part – e.g., any film of a Jane Austen novel – or romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally.

Moreover, it didn’t feel like Moonlight’s ending was shoehorned in to sugar-coat hard truths:
the main characters get some sort of resolution and acceptance, reconciling with one another, rekindling their romance, and accepting their identities, but their place in society is still as precarious as it ever was.
In short, the ending felt earned, largely through some very well-drawn character development. (The language in this film is absolutely beautiful, I should note, though it’s also used sparsely; a lot of the storytelling falls under “show, don’t tell”.)

So, if I’m trying to get into the head of an Oscar voter, I’m probably going to think hard about the endings. The ending of La La Land infuriated me, and the ending of Moonlight gave me the WAFF that Oscar voters seem to love. I think that’s ultimately what pushed it over the edge.

But that said, while a lot of people justifiably didn’t like La La Land’s ending, most of them didn’t get viscerally angry about it like I did. I left the cinema furious about two fictional characters to an extent I couldn’t rationally justify. So, as I’ve said, I’m clearly picky about romance writing. And because I’m picky about others’ writing, I find it unlikely I’ll ever be able to be satisfied with mine; I tend to be even more exacting with my own writing than I am with others’. Hence why so much of this project has blank terminals, and why I spent 20-odd years working on it off and off before I released any of it. So I think the romance plot line is a dead end.

I think there are a lot of other good ideas in there, though. Unfortunately, because I hoarded the project to myself and didn’t think to try to get other people to work on it, I got beaten to the punch on many of them and now it looks like I’m copying others’ ideas. I had the idea of extensive branching timelines before Rubicon was a thing. I think Gemini Station may have inspired me to pursue it seriously, but I’d thought about the idea even before then – it was tempting purely from the fact that Marathon allows you to teleport players to any level. But, of course, Rubicon did it.

Tycho’s heel-face turn, too, was an idea I had before Rubicon X, even though I made extensive reference to Rubicon in my summary (I wrote the summary in 2008; I’d begun working on this idea in 1999 or thereabouts. I dunno exactly; I don’t have my first alpha CD anymore, so I don’t know for certain what was in the scenario before 2004). But of course, Rubicon did it.

(I find it fairly surreal how much of Rubicon mirrors my own thinking. I wish I had written the Dangi plot line, or the dream terminals. The dream story continues Infinity’s so seamlessly it’s surreal, and I love where they took it.)

I think a few of these are almost inevitable ideas, though. If you want to develop the characters in interesting ways, it’s not really satisfying to leave Tycho as an unambiguous villain, and it doesn’t really even make sense, given that he was reanimated in Durandal’s image. Durandal didn’t remain unambiguously villainous, so why would Tycho? But at the same time, it’s also somewhat surprising for him to start displaying signs of concern for others’ welfare. Or it would be if it hadn’t been done before.

In any case, there are some contradictions in my original plot ideas, and they’re reflective of issues I’m still working through. There’s something of a Luddite streak to my original plot idea, which is a particularly bizarre direction for a computer game. And it’s a reflection of my own views, which I’ve never satisfactorily resolved. I have something of a Luddite streak, but I also spend an absurd amount of my time on computers and am an IT major. It’s not that I think technology should be destroyed, as the original Luddites did. But I think they had a point about how technology can frequently usurp humanity’s welfare. I think technology should be managed. And this is a fine line that it’s often difficult for people to walk, I think.

I may have mentioned recently that my job is in the process of being automated. It’s an intellectual labour-intensive job; I suspect only about 2% of the population could actually do it. It’s a research job for TV ratings. (I’m not going to mention my current employer’s name, because I don’t want this to be construed as speaking for them in any way, and in any case, you already thought of their name as soon as you heard “TV ratings”.) There are an absurd amount of technical rules to keep track of (seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were over 100) to ensure the process is done correctly; it requires knowledge of how broadcast TV stations and cable/satellite lineups work, a fair amount of computer expertise and ability to find things online, and a strong attention to detail. And there are probably numerous other skills I’ve omitted; I’m probably understating the difficulty of the position quite a bit. I’ve routinely said that my first position at the company was algebra and my current one is calculus.

But the whole TV diary program is being replaced by an automated reader of people’s viewing habits, so it’s becoming completely superfluous. I’m not trying to condemn my employer for doing this, really; the advertisers and TV stations that give them their revenue are asking for more precise information than TV diaries can provide. (If nothing else, the diaries are only marked for every fifteen minutes, so channel surfing is completely impossible to record accurately. Additionally, as might be expected, quite a few diary keepers make errors, and there’s nothing we can do about those; with only one exception I can think of [moving programs ±12 hours], we have to record the input as the diary keeper wrote it, rather than how we think they meant it.) I feel this is a sort of “don’t hate the player; hate the game” situation. If they didn’t automate the process, it’s entirely possible someone else would hone in on their territory. Moreover, they’re doing quite a lot to help us find other work, which is nice, and they’ve given us nice bonuses. I’ve had much more unpleasant employment experiences, to say the least (I won’t even get into my time in retail).

But automation is a much broader problem, and it’s going to leave large swathes of the population without work. So this is where I get back to managing technology. The goal of technology should be to make people’s lives better, but “make people’s lives better” itself has a nebulous definition. First of all, which people? Technology that enriches one person’s life may make others’ lives harder. (Surveillance comes to mind; the toxic corporate culture at companies like Uber may also be a relevant consideration here.) Secondly, there are of course potential side effects that may escape consideration – the automotive and climate change seem like a relevant case study here.

But of course, I condemn the pollution that causes climate change, but I drive an automobile. So we’re into the inherent contradictions of humanity here. In effect, by participating in human society, I am contributing to the problems humanity is creating. I deplore factory farms, but I still eat meat. (I was vegetarian for four years, but found I wasn’t getting enough protein. I suspect I have very strong bitter taste buds, so I have limited – and, frankly, I suspect poor – taste in food.) And so on. I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t a human alive who isn’t guilty of some aspect of hypocrisy.

And I think that might actually be where I want to go with this plot: to explore the inherent mess of contradictions that is humanity. That, and the idea that failure is necessary for growth.

Another contradiction I want to explore is my own fascination with this violent computer game when, in reality, I think violence rarely solves problems permanently. WWII is the main exception I can think of here, and it’s a big one. My paternal grandfather’s race could’ve been subjected to a complete genocide if the Allies had lost WWII. But – this is one example that I even mentioned in the current game’s terminals – we funded the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviets, then when we withdrew funding, we wound up with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. We went into Iraq to depose Saddam, and Daesh (or ISIS, as some people refer to them) came out of it. (I did not support this invasion in the first place, to be clear.) Sometimes killing one monster creates a bigger monster, and it’s difficult to know in advance when that will be.

The other problem is that Western media trains us to think in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys”, and in reality it’s rarely that clear-cut. I see good and bad ideas and acts everywhere, but frequently one person holds or is responsible for both at the same time. To quote Gaiman and Pratchett, two of my favourite authors:
And just when you'd think they were more malignant than ever Hell could be, they could occasionally show more grace than Heaven ever dreamed of. Often the same individual was involved. It was this free-will thing, of course. It was a bugger.
It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.
(Both quotes from Good Omens.) These are two of the wisest observations on humanity I’ve ever read, and I try to keep them in mind throughout my own writing.

Usually it’s not just as simple as just taking out the bad person and having everything fall into place afterwards. And I mentioned WWII: if not for the Marshall Plan, it’s entirely possible there would’ve been a WWIII and a WWIV. There were some frequently unnoticed, unpleasant undersides to the Marshall Plan (some of the U.S.’ anticommunist actions under the Plan bordered on interference with democratic elections), but on the whole, the amount of aid distributed after the war is a large part of the reason Europe was stable and peaceful for as long as it was. (With Brexit and the instability of countries like Italy, Greece, and Hungary, I’m not sure it qualifies as stable any longer, though I hope conditions will improve.)

So… I’m ambivalent about the ability of violence to solve problems. I think it should be a last resort. It’s necessary to be able to protect oneself and sometimes others less fortunate than oneself, and sometimes that requires the ability to commit acts of violence. But if you’re thinking of violence before you’ve exhausted diplomacy – before you’ve exhausted conversation, really – then, unless you’re talking about Nazis or something, then things have gone terribly wrong. (Even with today’s Nazis, I’m still a bit ambivalent, even though their ideology literally wants me dead on multiple counts [Jewish, disabled, queer] – a lot of these groups are cult-like, and a lot of their members can probably be deprogrammed through nonviolent means. Violent confrontation may still be necessary in many cases, though.)

There aren’t too many people in human history whom I’d think of as without flaws. Mr. Rogers, probably. Mr. Rogers was practically a saint. Rep. John Lewis is probably my closest living candidate for sainthood, at least among Americans (I’d mention other nationalities, but I’m less certain about them because I don’t feel I understand their politics well enough to make definitive judgements). But even many of my heroes had serious flaws – Martin Luther King, Jr. was apparently serially unfaithful, for example. Similarly, there aren’t too many people whom I’d think of as without redeeming features. Hitler, of course. Maybe Stalin, though I’m thankful the Soviet Union was on the Allied side in the latter part of WWII. I’m not going to get into my thoughts on living people in whom I can’t find redeeming features; it’s a whole can of worms I don’t care to open, since I can and have written tens of thousands of words on it. Even, say, Vladimir Putin, whom I find absolutely abhorrent, still has a few of what TV Tropes might describe as the Evil Virtues (though nowhere near all of them). But there are a few living people in whom I don’t even see any of those.

So… I have mixed feelings on the whole idea of heroes and villains these days; I don’t think it’s that reflective of real life. To be clear, I think there are people in real life who are basically what we’d describe as villains; probably around 1% of the population is probably irredeemable, at least with current technology, medical understanding, psychology, etc. I’m not aware of reliable treatments for psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder, and similar disorders whose sufferers tend to be dangers to others. And so there are some people who, for lack of better options, have to be put away from the general populace, and whom it’ll probably never be safe to release. Mostly sex criminals, unrepentant murderers, and the like.

But on the whole, an awful lot of plots essentially boil down to “kill the right long-haired pretty boy and everything else will fall into place.” (Well, the “long-haired pretty boy” part mostly comes from JRPGs and anime, but “kill the right villain” does seem to be an awful lot of plots.) But, of course, it’s rarely that simple.

And yet I’m obsessively playing this 22-year-old first person shooter, and still interested in creating maps for it. So what does that say about me?

One option is to go down the Spec Ops: The Line path and deconstruct the first-person shooter genre itself, to make the player question the entire purpose of the genre. I haven’t actually played Spec Ops (though I want to at some point), but reviews seem to suggest that the only ethically sound option the game leaves the player is the War Games chestnut. “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.” Otherwise it’s necessary to commit atrocities.

To be honest, Infinity kind of did this already, too, though it didn’t explore the ramifications as directly as Spec Ops apparently does. But the levels where the player is allied with Tycho and has to kill Bobs who yell at the player for the betrayal… they’re uncomfortable, and clearly intended to be so. In some ways, this is a precursor to Spec Ops (and yet another example of how Mac games often get written out of gaming history).

I’m not entirely sure I want to go down this route, though. I don’t fully grok the point of creating a scenario when the best option I intend the player to have from an ethical standpoint is to… not play it.

Another option is the metafiction route. I’ve seen games try this before, and it was… odd. The example that comes most readily to mind is Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. I loved the first two thirds of the game, though I’ve only played it once (and with my ex-girlfriend, who honestly was doing a lot more of the playing than I was; she was much better at it. She was probably much better at games overall, honestly). But the last third goes into metafiction territory, and… it’s weird. I don’t know if it really works. It’s definitely controversial.
The last third reveals that the entire setting thus far – and thus, our own universe – has been an MMORPG in something known as 4D, to my recollection. I don’t remember much about it, honestly. It was confusing. I seem to recall the plot involving a fight to keep the MMORPG online so that trillions of sentient… AIs, I guess we were… weren’t wiped out of existence.
If I went into the metafiction route, I could explore the divide between playing violent video games and… not really being a violent person. But this is a really difficult line to walk effectively, particularly if you’re retconning a long-established franchise into… basically being a franchise in its own universe as well, I guess you’d say. I don’t know if I’m yet a skilled enough fiction writer to pull this off. I have fairly high confidence in my nonfiction writing ability, but I think this twist would require a large amount of world-building skill to execute effectively, and I’m not confident I possess it. To be honest, I’ve never written anything like this. The only way to build skill at such plots is, of course, to write them, but it would be a time-consuming and possibly emotionally draining effort to do so.

I’m still thinking on other options. One option is to simply have the AIs themselves address it – lampshade hanging, in TV Tropes terminology. And, of course, we could get into Necessary War territory, and many of the player’s actions qualify here – in fact, we can find direct parallels to the Civil War given the slavery aspect of the plot. (I’ve also read some parallels between the S’pht and the Jews, but that may be a bias produced by my own ethnic identity… though, honestly, I didn’t think too much about my Jewish background before the resurgence of antisemitism in the past few years, and I’ve seen these parallels for decades. I think I’ll have to reread M2’s terminals and some of M∞’s before I can clearly elucidate why I see them.) WWII was a Necessary War, but I don’t think there are many others in at least the last 104 years of human history (before WWI I get a bit murky) – the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War are the only others I can think of from American history, all of which are arguably wars of self-defence (or at least self-determination).

I’ll return now to my point above about failure. Personal growth, I would contend, is frequently born out of failure. It’s sometimes said that experience is the harshest teacher there is, and sometimes that experience is the best teacher there is. I’d contend that a lot of the lessons that stick the hardest are lessons taught by failure.

I was painfully naïve when I came out of high school, because honestly, I’d rarely failed at anything I’d attempted. I was hopelessly unprepared for college – for a lot of reasons, including autism-spectrum disorder, which I wasn’t even aware I had at first. I don’t know when I was actually diagnosed, but I only learned I had the disorder in 2001, at age 18 – basically after I’d failed every class of my first semester, because I didn’t have the life skills to attend class and keep up with assignments.

I experienced a lot of failure after that – probably too much at points; I felt completely broken for the greater half of the years from 2001 to about 2015, with only a happy relationship from mid-2003 to late 2005 (well, happy until it dissolved) truly breaking up the monotony. And I honestly feel like I’m coming full circle by writing about this here. Because I had nothing else to cling to – my entire support system had crumbled into nothingness; I only even had one close friend at the time – I began working obsessively on this scenario. I probably constructed more in the time period from 2001-2002 than I did at any other point, except maybe right after I first got the game in 1997. I certainly developed my plot ideas a lot more at that point than I had before then.

But a large number of major life lessons I’ve had have come from learning, essentially, “That doesn’t work; stop doing it.” It’s one of the most important lessons I’ve had, and crucially, I think my sense of empathy for others would be astonishingly underdeveloped if I hadn’t learned it.

I’m not sure I’m adequately putting this into words, but I think if you don’t know what a low point feels like, you won’t be able to appreciate it when others go through their low points. If your failures don’t have meaningful consequences, you won’t know how others feel when they experience failure. Similarly, if you are insulated from the consequences of your own actions, you will be less able to appreciate how they affect others.

But failure is practically a dirty word in popular culture. The only film I can think of that really explicitly addresses this theme is, oddly, The Last Jedi. (Well, Avengers: Infinity War
might, too, depending where they go with the second half next year; my guess is they’re going down the “we had to fail in order to succeed” route, though.
) A lot of people hated The Last Jedi because of how it deconstructed and subverted traditional Star Wars tropes and showed the meaningful consequences of failure in the Star Wars universe. But I loved it for the exact same reason. I’m not sure where it actually fits in my ranking of Star Wars films in terms of quality (that’s a difficult thing to measure, since it’s trying to rate something intrinsically subjective on a scale purpose-built for objectivity, and I’ve mostly given up trying to rank “best”; I usually only try to rank “favourites”); actually, I might consider it something of a noble artistic failure. Which is kind of fitting, given its themes. But in terms of how much it spoke to me, I’d probably rank it only below The Empire Strikes Back and maybe Rogue One.

There are a few other films and TV shows about failure, about showing how it feeds personal growth. But not many. I think there need to be more. Of course, it’s not just failure that’s important; it’s how you react to it. The old saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” seems relevant. I’ve been guilty of this on several occasions. I still procrastinate far too much, though psychological disorders have been to blame on a few recent occasions (long story; I may tell it some other time). If you react to your own failure by becoming bitter and casting blame on others, you won’t experience any growth from it. There are certainly times when it’s appropriate to blame others, but an important aspect of maturity is the ability to accept responsibility for your own actions, even when they’re things you’re not proud of. When they’re mistakes, you might say.

This… is actually an important aspect of Infinity’s story as well, I think. The game involves several failures before the player actually finds a successful timeline. (The demo states this explicitly: “As you already knew. We were too late. Nothing can be done now. We have failed.” Possibly this was changed for the final release because it was considered to spell out the game’s themes too bluntly.) Eternal incorporates this as well, with its branching failure points – you can skip these, but you miss out on a lot of the story and character development if you do.

I might still want to go with my original “branching timelines” idea, but I’m thinking of presenting it more in the fashion of Infinity, where it’s mostly presented linearly, as though the player were learning from mistakes (the player can skip from “Electric Sheep One” to “Electric Sheep Two”, though, conveniently eliminating the hardest chunk of the game from “Acme Station” to “Post Naval Trauma”. I don’t know why there weren’t more oxygen rechargers; if I were rehashing these levels, that’d be the first thing I’d fix, and as shown above, I already did so for my gimmicky “Acme” remake). I’d need a lot more content, though. I might go rescue some content from unfinished Big House scenarios that were released to the public and see if it can fit in with my narrative/gameplay/textures (assuming it’s fun to play, of course).

I dunno. Most of this is idle speculation. Here’s some gameplay.

“Here Comes the Flood” through most of “Burn Down the Mission” (fka “Idioteque”)

(I changed the name of “Idioteque” because it didn’t really seem to fit the level thematically; there was nothing about women and children in bunkers or, for that matter, idiocy in the level. The Elton John song is a bit more relevant if you read its lyrics, though still not perfect. If I find something even more thematically appropriate I’ll probably change it again.)

I died because I fucked up after the secret in “Burn Down the Mission”; I should’ve reloaded before activating the Fighters. To be honest, I’m probably going to change the secret to have a 3x recharge can rather than 2x; it’s brutally difficult to leave you with .5x shields on TC when you get out of the slime. And the maser kind of sucks because I made it persistent and virulent, but that’s never worked as intended; it gives blowback to the player, which is dumb. (I’ve also read somewhere that the “persistent and virulent” flag occasionally crashes M2/Infinity/Aleph One, but I’ve never actually experienced this.) There’s apparently a Lua fix somewhere that I need to implement.

As always, comments/suggestions for improvements/praise/offers of assistance and/or employment are welcome. I’d particularly like comments on level design, gameplay, etc. And especially on difficulty. I intrinsically know some levels are much better than others, and I’ve actually received specific praise for “The Black Angel’s Death Song”, but I don’t know how most of these levels play to people who haven’t already practically memorised their design/monster placement/etc.

And as for difficulty – most of these early levels are pretty easy for me, even on TC, but other people have said they’re hard. I don’t want this to be some sort of thing like Phoenix where people have to turn down the difficulty by one or two levels from what they’re used to just to enjoy playing it. There are a few things I’m not sure about. The Enforcers’ shots may be too powerful; three of them will usually kill a player with 1x shields on Normal and above. This is probably also a large part of the reason the alien weapon is so overpowered (along with the fact that it has 255 shots per clip). Should I change this? The Hunters’ shots are also really powerful; I think four of them will kill players with 1x shields on Normal and above. This doesn’t really leave a lot of room for failure.

But if I change these things, I’ll have to rebalance the gameplay significantly. I can nerf the alien weapon, but I might need to add more ammo on a few levels (probably not many; there’s way more ammo in this scenario than any player of reasonable skill should need to finish it, even on TC). I’ll alter the player’s fighter staff so it doesn’t push enemies back so far, but I’ll probably have to alter other aspects of the gameplay because it might make some segments (e.g., ones with lots of enemies in confined spaces) more difficult to clear out. And so on.

I kind of want to leave the Fighters as they are, but people even complained about the difficulty of “Everyone I Went to High School With Is Dead”, which only contains Fighters and A-Bobs as enemies.

IDK. Most of the game is pretty easy to me (“Please Excuse Our Dust”/“To Make an Idol of Our Fear and Call It God”, “Tighter & Tighter”, and “Kill Your Sons” are probably the hardest levels), but I’ve played it for so long that I know all the tricks; I know where to duck and cover, which weapons work in which rooms, how to draw out enemies where possible, how to get the troopers to kill themselves with grenades where possible, etc. I built the damn things, for the most part (remixes like “Kill Your Sons”, which puts “Begging for Mercy Makes Me Angry!” and “Hang Brain” together, aside, though I’ve still played these a lot too), so I’m not a reliable judge of their difficulty, particularly to people going in blind. (If you didn’t watch any gameplay videos yet, I particularly want your comments on this.)

So yeah. Thanks in advance for any constructive feedback.

ETA: …I guess my ideas can’t have been all bad if Rubicon used two of the same ones I did. I don’t know why I never thought of it that way before. It was mostly my execution that left a lot to be desired.

Also a third Nightmare Heaven video. This one doesn’t have the merged physics model (I forget why) but does show the parts of the level that were blocked off in both previous ones I posted, IIRC. For some reason one of the tag switches doesn’t work. VML is weird; if someone has an explanation for why it’s acting this way, I’d be much obliged.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 7th '18, 23:55
by The Man
Much as Lia is in M1R, I’m now attempting to debug some monster behaviour.

The whole idea of “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk” is that you’re wandering through a bunch of battles that you’ll have little power to alter the outcome of. It’s kind of like “Unlucky Pfhor Some” from Eternal, except that there are a bunch of different, one-time-only battles rather than one large, ongoing one.

One problem I’m having is that sometimes the humans and allied aliens don’t see the enemies and teleport out before anything happens. That’s pretty silly, and I’d like to have a way to ensure it doesn’t happen. At the moment, I think I have most of the player’s allies activated by “nearest hostile” and the enemies activated by “player”. I don’t remember if this is correct for what I want the monsters to do, because I don’t actually recall what they mean. It might be explained in the Forge manual somewhere, but I don’t trust that to be completely accurate. One option, I suppose, would be to look through Aleph One’s source code, but I’m not sure I can comprehend it (I’m not even sure what language it’s in).

A second problem is probably self-inflicted. I’d prefer to have the battles already start by the time the player enters the surrounding space. This may be impossible with the geometry I have; I have some gigantic polygons that I should probably split up so I can have separate zone borders, monster triggers, etc. The other problem is that if I start these battles too soon, they may be over by the time the player reaches them on higher difficulties, but I’m not sure I can do anything about this. (I have pretty much everything set to “alien” on this level, including allies, FWIW.)

The third problem is one I’m pretty sure I can solve with Lua as soon as I figure out what the appropriate variables are. Right now, when NPCs kill Juggernauts, there’s a huge warning sound, but none of them actually flee. This means that a lot of them get killed by Juggernaut explosions, and this doesn’t stand up to five seconds of fridge logic. I expect this never occurred in the original games because there usually weren’t Bobs fighting Juggernauts (except on “Confound Delivery”, IIRC). I’d like to fix it for this scenario. I’m sure there’s a way to alter monster behaviour so they flee the Juggernaut explosion warning sound. I’ll first attempt to write this myself, since I’m sure I’ll learn more that way, but I may ask for help if I have trouble.

Here’s what the level looks like as of my latest revision today. Thanks to Aleph One and Weland, I’ve finally been able to add a lot more monsters to make the later battles more impressive. Currently I’ve got 431 objects, and I’m sure I’ll have more when I’m done. I still haven’t built the upper level of the temple, either; that’ll take the polygon count from 947 to probably well above 1,100.

The other level I’ve worked on today is “To Make an Idol of Our Fear and Call It God” (previously “Please Excuse Our Dust”). I’ve removed the lava; it now uses the same kind of suffocation-inducing Lua script Phoenix uses whenever players/monsters travel below a certain height level (I think I used -5.5 WU, currently). I may also want to put in a slightly gimmicky fog script that makes the fog colour fluctuate a bit, but I haven’t decided how I want to code it yet. I’m thinking of nerfing the difficulty of this level slightly; the S’pht’Wr may be too powerful for the geometry of the level, so I may reduce their number somewhat. Either that or I’ll just add a few more energy powerups. I haven’t made a successful TC film of this level in years, but then, I’m also not the greatest Marathon player, so that might not matter. It definitely looks cooler without the lava, in any case.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 8th '18, 05:39
by The Man
Here’s “To Make an Idol of Our Fear” with the current Lua script. I got sick of dying all the time while testing, so I wasn’t playing on the only real difficulty setting for this one; I’ll go back when I’m absolutely certain I’m not going to make any further changes to the script. I’m fairly satisfied with how the script is working, though I’m at least going to lengthen the “lightning” fog effect to make it last a bit longer, and I may also disable it outside the mine area. (It’s not very obvious with YouTube quality, but in addition to the lightning, the brightness of the fog also periodically gets darker and lighter as time progresses.) Players/monsters also now suffocate beneath a certain vertical level, replacing the lava I used in previous versions of the level. I’m not sure I’m going to leave the floor levels that low, though. I moved them to a lower level to make the suffocation script work more elegantly, but I think I’ll move them back.

One aspect of monster conduct I still want to change is that I can’t figure out why the S’pht’Wr don’t always follow the player. This actually makes the level very difficult to complete properly on TC, though it does become nicely paranoia-inducing. I thought I might’ve used monster & item impassable polygons at some point that were messing up their path finding, but that doesn’t seem to be the case – the only monster & item impassable polygons I can find are invisible connectors from other parts of the map that activate the S’pht’Wr when the player performs specific actions… well, and one other polygon that keeps the monsters in the final room with the chip insertion slot. It doesn’t seem to be a zone border issue, either; they’ve definitely passed some zone borders (and it shouldn’t be an issue, anyway, since I’m not aware of any monsters other than Bobs not passing zone borders, and the S’pht’Wr are in the slot for the Compiler).

Anyway, here.

And in case anyone’s interested in the script:

Code: Select all

fogtimer = 420
pitch = .5
red = .2
green = .1
blue = 0
depth = 42
darken = true
suff1 = -7
suff2 = -8

function Triggers.init() = true
	Level.fog.present = true
	Level.fog.color.r = red
	Level.fog.color.g = green
	Level.fog.color.b = blue
	Level.fog.depth = depth
	Level.fog.affects_landscapes = false

function Triggers.idle()

function suffocate()
	for p in Players() do
		if p.z < suff1 and not p.dead then
		if p.z < suff2 and not p.dead then
	for m in Monsters() do
		if m.z < suff1 and not m.dead and not m.player then
		if m.z < suff2 and not m.dead and not m.player then
		if m.z < suff2 and not m.player then
			m.external_velocity = 0

function darkness()
	fogtimer = fogtimer - 1

	if darken then
		if red > .1 then
			red = red - 0.0005
			green = green - 0.00025
			depth = depth - 0.05
			darken = false
		if red < .2 then
			red = red + 0.0005
			green = green + 0.00025
			depth = depth + 0.05
			darken = true

	if fogtimer == 42 then
		pitch = .75 + (Game.random(10)/20)
		for p in Players() do
			p:play_sound("juggernaut exploding", pitch)
	if fogtimer > 42 then
		Level.fog.color.r = red
		Level.fog.color.g = green
		Level.fog.color.b = blue
		Level.fog.depth = depth
		mult = 1 + (fogtimer / 21) + (fogtimer * Game.random(300) / 6300)
		Level.fog.color.r = red * mult
		Level.fog.color.g = green * mult
		Level.fog.color.b = blue * mult
		Level.fog.depth = depth

	if fogtimer == 0 then
		fogtimer = 420 + Game.random(666)
Note that I’ve changed certain values since I recorded this video (I think the lightning effect was only 27 ticks long rather than 42, and I also altered the random multiplier that calculates the thunder effect somewhat), but the basic structure is the same.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 8th '18, 17:41
by The Man
Another gameplay video (should be finished uploading in ≈6 minutes according to YouTube). I started playing on TC and just kept going until the game inexplicably froze (after “Deadwing”). I’m not sure why; I loaded “Tighter & Tighter” with command-option-new game right afterward and it seems to work fine. It’s entirely possible the game just ran out of memory (I may have too many processes open); it also froze when I encoded the film at exactly the same place, though, so I think it might be something to do with the game itself. If anyone can explain this, I’d appreciate it.

There are a couple oddities here. I still don’t fully understand the monster behaviour in “Anthems”. A lot of times, monsters in the same room just seem to lose track of each other. I have the Previous AI script enabled and it seems to be behaving as intended, as evidenced by the opening in which there must be at least 50 active monsters at once. I think ground monsters (e.g., Bobs and Troopers) and flying monsters (e.g., Juggernauts) just aren’t meant to combat one another in tall rooms. Activating the “Stay with Clear Shot” flag might fix some of this.

The biggest other oddity I can think of is a few untextured walls in “Cut Their Grain” because I added a new section but didn’t go over it in VML yet. There are probably a few others that escaped me; the whole thing is almost three hours long. I’m kind of impressed that I got that far through the game without a death; I wish I’d been able to continue playing. Ah well. I’ll probably load my save file soon and progress through the rest of the game if possible, but obviously there won’t be a film of that.

Edit: I also made a playlist containing (I think) all my videos from the scenario thus far.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 8th '18, 20:43
by The Man
I created a Github project for the map, partially because I need to learn how to use the website better. Anyone who wants to make changes is welcome to submit them as commits, and if I like them I’ll incorporate them. This isn’t the version of the map published above; I don’t think it’s practical to keep re-uploading a 250 MB .zip file, so I’ll probably only make new uploads of the whole scenario when I make major changes to it. I’ll try to keep the unmerged map on Github relatively up-to-date, though it may be a few hours behind depending upon how much work I’m doing on the maps.

Is there a way to use an alternate username on Github? I’m not thrilled at having my real name in the full URL, but I’m not sure I feel like making a second account to hide it. In any case, for now, here’s the latest version of the unmerged map, including some changes I haven’t tested yet (mostly making the Lua in “To Make an Idol of Our Fear” more compact, plus a few random other changes and addition of a few more bonus levels. The “Acme” easter egg should now take you to the other levels I didn’t put in the game proper after you win it, rather than having them only available with command-option-new game, though I haven’t tested this).

Hopefully, this will also make me more familiar with Github, so it’ll be easier for me to start making commits to M1R and Eternal when I’m ready to work on them.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 9th '18, 16:51
by The Man
I’m about to pull my goddamn hair about because of the tag switches in Visual Mode.lua. Can someone explain how you get them to actually work? If they consistently worked the wrong way I could deal with it, but they don’t even seem to consistently work the wrong way. They keep defaulting to active when I tell them not to, and often they don’t even activate. (Telling them to default to inactive doesn’t work, either. Half the time they don’t work at all when I do that.) I’m half-tempted to figure out how to go in with a hex editor and set the values I want manually.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 9th '18, 17:57
by Wrkncacnter
Have you tried vasara to see if it works any better or easier? I can't remember if JUICE can modify that kind of stuff, but if it can, maybe you could place it and mess with the parameters using JUICE?

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 9th '18, 18:19
by treellama
I recall one type of switch getting set depending on its state when you save the level. So try setting them to the default you want them to be before .save level

I wouldn't use JUICE for anything, it writes corrupted map headers.

Re: Marathon Chronicles

Posted: May 9th '18, 18:33
by ravenshining
+Vasara. Place a switch texture on a wall, and it helpfully pops up a screen asking what you want the switch to do. Just make sure you put an inactive switch texture for an inactive light or platform and an active one for an active light or platform.