Bungie's Mac history

News analysis: MacCentral's Peter Cohen explains the new Microsoft property's legendary status among Mac gamers.

For many Mac gamers, Bungie Software Products Corp. stands as a figurehead. The Chicago company has been making Mac games for most of the past decade, and its titles are widely regarded among the all-time classics for the platform.

To get a better understanding of why its acquisition by Microsoft Corp. has evoked such a strong emotional reaction from many Mac gamers, MacCentral has assembled a brief history of Bungie.

Bungie President Alexander Seropian created his company in the spring of 1991, working out of his apartment. Bungie's first product was a Mac-based tank-combat game called Operation Desert Storm. Although the tank game has been relegated to obscurity, Bungie's next effort would forge a partnership that has continued to this day -- Minotaur: The Labyrinths of Crete.

An action-adventure game featuring colorful graphics and multiplayer capabilities, Minotaur was the first game developed by Jason Jones, a programmer who would ultimately have a huge effect on Bungie's future. Jones would later create the Marathon and Myth series, as well as Bungie's forthcoming third-person 3D action game, Halo.

A little more than a year later, Bungie Software released another game that would prove to become a legend -- Pathways Into Darkness, a first-person 3D action game. Building on the popularity of the then-novel, first-person-shooter genre, Pathways Into Darkness was one of the first games for the Macintosh to feature innovations such as panning stereo sound and texture-mapped graphics.

In Pathways, users assumed the role of an adventurer who had to descend into the bowels of an ancient pyramid to save the planet from hordes of invading alien forces. Pathways Into Darkness laid the groundwork for Bungie's next work, which would ultimately become a legend in the annals of Mac gaming.

A year and a half after the release of Pathway Into Darkness, during the holiday season of 1994, Bungie Software would release one of the games it's best known for: Marathon, an innovative first-person shooter that featured a detailed story line, high-resolution graphics and network multiplayer capabilities.

It's hard to imagine now with the plethora of realistic 3D action games on the market, but at the time of its release, the game broke new ground with the ability to move in three dimensions. (Most 3D games were still trapped in a 2D environment, with the ability to move forwards and backwards, but rarely up or down.) Marathon introduced an engine that provided a real 3D physics model. Meanwhile, Marathon would spur a whole industry of enterprising programmers to develop their own mods and improvements.

Bungie would spend the next two years capitalizing on the Marathon phenomenon. Throughout 1995 and 1996, the company released sequels to the original Marathon. Marathon 2: Durandal followed first. The game built on the success of the first Marathon by continuing the game's intricate story line. It was also the first game in Bungie's arsenal to be ported to Windows. The next year, Bungie produced Marathon: Infinity, which, for the first time, made Bungie's own editing tools available for public use.

1996 was also the year that Bungie tried -- with only marginal success -- to act as a publisher for other developers' products. Bungie published a side-scrolling action game called Abuse; the game was originally created by now-defunct game developer Crack Dot Com. Bungie also took one of the products from Bugdom maker Pangea Software under its wing, publishing the QuickDraw 3D-based fighting game Weekend Warrior.

1997 was the year that Bungie set up a satellite office in San Jose, Calif., called Bungie West. Since then, that team has been working on a game that many Mac and PC gamers have been awaiting with anticipation: Oni. Oni is a third-person action game that focuses on close-range combat. Stylistically inspired by Japanese animé, Oni features a purple-haired female protagonist named Konoko. The game has gone through some conceptual changes since its first inception -- there will be no multiplayer version in the final release, for example -- but it's still on many gamers' wish lists.

During the 1997 holiday season, Bungie brought the world Myth: The Fallen Lords. As with Marathon, Myth: The Fallen Lords breathed new life into an existing genre of games -- in this case, the real-time strategy (RTS) game.

While many RTS titles focused on resource management, unit creation and some of the other mundane aspects of strategy gaming, Myth focused purely on troop control. Myth incorporated Bungie's trademark in-depth story line and high-quality production values to create an experience that would be lauded by reviewers and gamers alike.

Bungie followed up its enormous success with Myth: The Fallen Lords by producing its sequel the following year, Myth II: Soulblighter. Sporting a reworked engine and a plethora of improvements, Myth II would prove to be an enormous success as well. With multiplayer capabilities in both games provided by Bungie.net -- Bungie's own free proprietary online service -- both games became favorites of online gamers.

Like the Marathon series before them, Myth and Myth II would spawn an entire industry of enterprising mod developers. Using available editing tools, hordes of hobbyists, enthusiasts and serious developers would create their own map files for the Myth games. Many would also create total conversion packages that included new units, maps and sound effects. Myth conversion packs continue to be a popular diversion today, with many new packs coming into creation week in and week out.

Bungie Software's most recent product announcement occurred a little more than a year ago. First shown to print-media journalists behind closed doors at E3 Expo in Los Angeles in May 1999 and later debuted to the world by creator Jason Jones at Macworld Expo/New York in July, Bungie Software's magnum opus is Halo, a groundbreaking 3D action game.

Bungie's demonstrations of the Halo engine technology show that the game features a stunning 3D physics engine and 3D graphics rendering; it also appears to have the same in-depth story line for which Bungie's previous releases are known. The game's release date has not yet been scheduled, but it is confirmed for Macs and PCs, and Bungie's comments following its Microsoft (msft) acquisition suggest it will also produce a version to run on Microsoft's forthcoming X-Box game console.

What's made Bungie so popular with Mac gamers is that the company has remained loyal to the Mac. For almost half of its existence, the company was a Mac-only developer. Even following Bungie's successful foray into the world of PC game publishing, Bungie has consistently offered its software simultaneously for Mac OS and Windows. Oni, which becomes a Take Two Interactive Software property following the Microsoft acquisition, but will continue to be developed by Bungie, is also planned as a simultaneous release for Mac OS and Windows, with a PlayStation2 version to follow.

Mac gamers are fervently hoping that Bungie's acquisition by Microsoft won't mean the death of Macintosh game development at the company -- and if Jason Jones' early comments are any indication, Bungie will be left to make its own decision about Mac support for future titles.

Peter Cohen covers gaming for MacCentral's MacGaming section.


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