Bungie's Marathon ARG is gorgeous, extensive, and how the hell do people work this stuff out anyway

Marathon cinematic still
(Image credit: Bungie)

The announcement of a new Marathon by Bungie is one of those moments you can't quite believe. I've been a Bungie fan for a long time and in the early 2000s in particular was a frequenter of the studio's homepage, always an amazing place and at the time the motherlode for everything Halo. As well as the humour, and the constant ARGs / teases (anyone remember ilovebees.com?), there was an occasional running gag about Marathon coming back or being the studio's next project: Because it just seemed so unlikely.

This new Marathon is obviously going to be very different to the originals, but Bungie itself… it's still Bungie, still teasing, still having fun with all us silly meatbags who just love their stuff and cannot get enough about whatever they're doing. The announcement came alongside various official accounts, and following breadcrumb trails (such as which accounts the Marathon account was following on Twitter) leads to more breadcrumbs and, eventually, the odd slice of lovely bread. Luckily, we can all just sit back and wait for internet sleuths to do the hard work.

The first fruits of fan investigation are a behind-the-scenes documentary where Bungie staff discuss the high-level concepts for the game and show off a lot of the superb artwork. The studio is clearly proud of the Marathon aesthetic and it should be: this game looks like the absolute business.

The new Marathon is PvP-focused, with no single player campaign, and an extraction shooter. You play a runner, some sort of very cool bio-augmented shooty person who goes into dangerous places, blasts away, and re-emerges with shiny loot. The game's set on a planet called Tau Ceti IV and the idea is that players are uncovering the story as Marathon's seasons unfold: The example given is one team finding a key that unlocks a new zone, and having to work out how to unlock that zone for all players.

Another tidbit from the behind-the-scenes video is that Marathon is currently in alpha and the team is now going to hunker-down until the next big announce, which will feature gameplay, but on release it will have cross-play and cross-progression across all platforms.

Now, the video is just the tip of the iceberg. If you like ARG-y stuff, please treat yourself to a look at this amazing public document where fans are tracking all the hints, puzzles and other fragments Bungie has hidden on the internet and elsewhere. It is 56 pages long. You do read this thing and wonder how on Earth people solve some of this stuff: A particularly notable example is a composite image formed from multiple images sent to different people, which when complete is interpreted as if it were an old-school IBM punchcard. That in turn led fans to a stream that, at 7,777 viewers, unlocked the above documentary.

The work is ongoing: As you can imagine, established Destiny streamers are racing to get in on the hot Marathon action. The ARG includes several beautiful websites including Sekiguchi Genetics and Traxus Global that, with the right passwords (all in the doc), will reveal in-universe emails and purchase orders that hint at what's going on between all these huge corporations in the world of Marathon.

Bungie has always been a special studio. The love and attention-to-detail in its games has been there from day one and, if you love the developer's work, there's enough in there you can just get lost. Marathon may not be the most familiar name to contemporary players. But for Bungie this is where it all started. If it's decided to finally go back, you best believe that this is one to watch.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."