Tonight's game on OpenPOWER: Aleph One and the Marathon series

I had mentioned in the article on SheepSforza, our OpenPOWER port of classic MacOS emulator SheepShaver, that the famous Mac shooter Marathon and its sequels run fine under emulation. Marathon, the first big product from Bungie who went on to create Halo, was a 2.5D game with texture mapping, lighting, sprites and sectors like Doom, but did Doom better by having room-over-room levels (using a portal renderer and polygon tags), free look, a complex plot told through in-game terminals, and a more sophisticated physics model including low-gravity and vacuum environments. Marathon 2: Durandal introduced a more advanced engine with fluid environments you could swim in (often not to your benefit) and larger, more expansive outdoor levels; this version of the engine was licensed for a couple other titles like the bizarre messianic shooter ZPC, and used with minor changes in the third installment, Marathon Infinity. For my money M2 was the best of the series: the original Marathon was understandably a little underdeveloped, and Infinity's convoluted time-shifting plot was very hard to wrap your head around, but M2 had just enough story complexity to be interesting and a bit more varied gameplay to keep you engaged through the tougher parts.

Also like Doom, Bungie eventually released the source code, in this case to Marathon 2 which was the only version of the engine to run anywhere other than the Mac. Marathon Infinity was also later released in source form, and both games became the nucleus of a modern reimplementation, Aleph One. But again, Bungie did Doom better: they also released all three games' assets for free too, so you don't need to hunt down a CD to play it legally. I happen to own a copy (bought new back in the day) of the Mac Action Sack, but this is even better — especially because I don't remember where the canvas bag went.

Aleph One runs all three official installments, plus a number of total conversions, hobby scenarios and even a port of the Wolfenstein-esque Pathways into Darkness, Bungie's banner 3D game prior to Marathon and arguably in the same universe. (It was also one of the first games to run native on the then-new Power Macintosh, so it's special to us here in OpenPOWER land.) Strangely, one game it doesn't run is ZPC, which is a bummer because it's truly one of a kind. However, I think Marathon 2 is (again) the best Aleph One game as it has the fullest selection of high-resolution textures from the Xbox Live Arcade remaster; the other two games don't look nearly as good.

For this brief tutorial we'll assume you're playing M2 (the process with the others is similar). Download game assets and unzip them to ~/.alephone/Scenarios/Marathon2 (such that you see all the .???A files, Music.ogg, etc. in that directory). Put any plugins (the high-resolution assets are plugins) into ~/.alephone/Scenarios/Marathon2/Plugins (I unzipped them also, but strictly speaking this isn't necessary if you have all the requisite libraries when you build the actual game binary).

Now build the game engine. The Github build instructions work out of the box for Fedora 35 on my Talos II (and presumably should work for Ubuntu), and other distros should be similar. However, I built Aleph One with CFLAGS="-O3 -mcpu=power9 -flto" CXXFLAGS="-O3 -mcpu=power9 -flto" ./configure to give it a little extra juice, and then make -j24 (or as your number of cores permit). To start the game, assuming you have the Github in ~/src/alephone, ~/src/alephone/Source_Files/alephone ~/.alephone/Scenarios/Marathon2 will transport you to Lh'owon. I recommend turning on all the graphics options under Preferences (the screenshot here has hi-res textures for everything along with lighting bloom); with the Raptor BTO WX7100, the game runs like butter, so take advantage of it. In particular, make sure the frame rate is unlimited and filter and antialias all the things if you have a GPU. On the other hand, with an AST2500-only OpenPOWER system, set the rendering mode to Software instead of OpenGL and you'll get a decent (classic) experience, though you may wish to not use the hi-res version for speed purposes.

The only good BOB's a dead BOB.


  1. This could be interesting, too


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