Marathon for iPad
'Frog blast the vent core!'
iGamer To hear PC gamers talk about how first-person shooters don't work on consoles because the machines don't have mice, you'd think that's how it always was.
Not a bit of it. A lot of us playing in the early to mid-1990s on the first FPS games made do with just two handfuls of keys.
Marathon: back from the early 1990s in all its eight-bit graphics glory
I say this because the proof that FPSes are not at all dependent on a keyboard-and-mouse combo is the number of such games running on tablets; and if they can be played successfully there, they can be played on anything, console, PC or whatever.
The latest to do so is Marathon - doubly relevant here because, although little known now, it was one of the pioneers of the FPS genre. Its developer, Bungie, went on to create a title you may have heard of: Halo.
3D environments... 2D sprites
Marathon arrived in 1994 about six months after Doom hit the PC, and its lack of fame wasn't so much because it was under the shadow of its meatier, more visceral rival, but was rather a result of being released on the Mac.
Doom's real success lay in its multi-player mode. Marathon had that too, but it was really a single-player game, and one that lifted the genre right out of the 'kill monsters, find key, open door' gameplay with a developing storyline that was a worthy piece of sci-fi in its own right.
Pfhor whom the bell tolls
You start off fighting alien slavers who are out to plunder your colony ship - the eponymous Marathon - of its human crew, the born on board BOBs. But soon you discover, by tapping into the ship's many display terminals - no cut-scenes in those days - that they've been called in by one of the ship's computer, and gone "rampant" - become self-aware.
The cliché is confounded when it turns out said mech, Durandal, isn't bonkers but has been in communication with one of the slavers' pawn races, the fnarr-ly named S'pht, and has set the whole thing up to bring them there because they can free Durandal from his integrated circuit bondage.
Terminal case: the story unfolds through computer screens
In return, the S'pht get freed from Pfhor subservience, and you, a proto-Spartan cybernetic construct built out of the body of a long dead man - hence your ability to reanimate when 'killed', a phenonomenological paradox ignore by most games - prove to be Durandal's pawn to keep the Pfor off his back.
Which involves much bloodshed, dispatching Pfhor warriors, various slave races, damage Marathon defence droids and more.
Next page: Terror on Tau Ceti
Works? Sure. Well? Not really.
"To hear PC gamers talk about how first-person shooters don't work on consoles because the machines don't have mice, you'd think that's how it always was.
Not a bit of it. A lot of us playing in the early to mid-1990s on the first FPS games made do with just two handfuls of keys."
Well, sure, but none of you were very good, I'm afraid. ;) There is no significant competitive FPS player from the first few generations of FPS games who used keyboard-only controls, as far as I recall (and I was there, man). There were a few second-tier Doom speedrunners who used keyboard only, but all the top-tier players used keyboard and mouse. I can't recall a single notable deathmatch player who used keyboard only. It's just inarguable that the mouse represents a better control mechanism for rotating the player.
"I say this because the proof that FPSes are not at all dependent on a keyboard-and-mouse combo are the number of such games running on tablets, and if they can be played successfully there, they can be played on anything, console, PC or whatever."
I'd disagree here, too. I'd rather use a touchscreen than a keyboard or joypad to control an FPS, I think. I played a few FPSes on the Nintendo DS and found they played rather better than FPSes I tried on consoles with joypads. The touchscreen has many of the benefits of a mouse for player rotation - most significantly, you can easily perform a very small rotation or a very large one in the same amount of time and with quite a precise degree of control. Neither a keyboard nor a joypad is capable of this. I'd say it's sustainable to argue that you can play an FPS better on a tablet than on a console with a joypad.
Don't even joke about that.
Not after the damage 'Daley Thompson's Decathlon' caused....
I remember my first network FPS games were playing Marathon Infinity on a Mac Quadra and a G3 Powermac with me and my brother storming through matches with double shotguns. Good times...
Marathon had a tough learning curve compared to Doom and Wolfenstein at the time, but once you learn that you are not invincible (and that running while punching does more damage, HINT HINT) you can get through the earlier levels and get the strategy foundations right for the later levels, which sport more grenade spitting enemies than you can shake a Phfor fightstick at. The fact that the backstory and the ongoing narrative within the levels is absolutely top notch adds to the experience, plus haunting music and lots of dark corridors with scratchy, alien noises. And THAT motion detector lovingly stolen from Alien (the triangles, they come!!) . In some cases, this is even akin to pre Portal-esque AI humor:
"P.S. If things around here aren't working, it's because I'm laughing so hard."
Durandel, Quarantine, terminal 2 message 1
Oh god, I don't care if I've played it all through Aleph One - to the app store!