One of my favorite stories in the world of mobile gaming is how Bungie’s classic ’90s first-person shooter series Marathon ended up coming to iOS. Prior to them being bought by Microsoft in 2000 to create the original Halo: Combat Evolved as an exclusive launch title for their upcoming Xbox console, Bungie open sourced the code for their Marathon trilogy and ever since a vibrant community has been porting the games to various platforms and creating mods in similar fashion to what has happened with Doom. Back in 2011 a member of that community named Daniel Blezek worked to create a port of the original Marathon for the iPad as a fun side project, and once we got word of it we were pretty excited.
However, there were some legal questions on whether the game could be officially released through Apple’s App Store with all the various open source licensing, but to everyone’s surprise Bungie themselves found out about the project and worked with Daniel to make it a reality in an official capacity. Thus in July of 2011 the original Marathon launched for the iPad for free.
It was freaking awesome playing through that classic again, and it played surprisingly well on the touchscreen. With the success of the first game it made sense to bring the sequels over too, and so in December of 2011 Marathon 2: Durandal was released and in May of 2012 Marathon Infinity was released, making the entire trilogy available to iOS device owners. Also all three games ended up with Universal support meaning they played on both the iPad and the iPhone.
It was all such a fun story, from the project starting out as a fan-made passion project to Bungie jumping in and making sure it all happened without a hitch. Unfortunately, keeping those games maintained alongside all of Apple’s constant hardware and software releases was a bit too much for Daniel Blezek to keep up with while also maintaining a full-time job and a family life. The Marathon trilogy on iOS stopped receiving updates in 2013 and slowly broke down and became unplayable on newer devices and versions of iOS.
Then at some point a developer named Dustin Wenz showed up on the scene to continue the work on the iOS Marathon trilogy, and beginning in January of this year released compatibility updates for all three games. It wasn’t just getting them to run again though, as these updates also included things like full screen support for iPhone X models and additional options and features. These updates were brought to my attention in April where I gushed about how happy I was to see these classics get the love that they deserve, and even since that time more updates have been released for the game including full support for MFi, PS4, and Xbox One controllers.
WELL, did you know that later this month will mark the 25th anniversary of the original Marathon’s launch? Yep, a quarter century has passed since this groundbreaking series began, and the game’s current caretaker Dustin Wenz is planning on releasing a big update to celebrate the occasion. One of the big features of the update will be OpenGL ES 3.0 support, and since I am a complete programming dullard, I am told this will result in some fairly minor visual improvements including “a true perspective view (looking up and down no longer use y-shearing), lighting bloom, restoration fo the original ‘static’ effect, and more precise texture alignment."
Once it seems there’s no major issues with the update on the original game, the plan is to implement this into the Marathon 2 and Infinity which include data for illuminated surfaces and should provide more noticeable graphical improvement. The update will also include better control customization, improved auto-fire, and a transparent overhead map. Wenz wants to keep a steady stream of updates coming and is open to adding anything and everything that he or anyone else can think of that would make the game a better experience.
Did I mention anywhere that all three Marathon games are totally free on iOS? Because they are. Yes these are truly passion projects of everyone involved, not just in the iOS versions but of the entire Aleph One project in general over the past couple of decades. So if you have’t done so previously be sure to check out all the Marathon games on iOS and experience a big part of first-person shooter history, and look for the newest update to arrive in the next few weeks.