Analyzing the implied story of “By Committee” in Marathon Infinity

“By Committee” is one of my favorite levels in Marathon, I love prison escape levels, but the Volunteers entry on this level misses a lot of what’s going on here.

The analysis of “By Committee” fails to answer several questions we should be asking while playing this level. One glaringly obvious question: Where are the Enforcers? We’re in Pen 13 Garrison which contains a prison and a dungeon both of which fall within the domain of the enforcers. There should be Enforcers everywhere in this level, up in the guard towers, looking down from balconies, standing guard outside the prisons, etc. So, where are they? There is no sign of them except for one alien gun lying on the ground. Let’s figure this out.

On Marathon’s storytelling in general:
The storytelling in the Marathon games isn’t perfect. For example: in Marathon: Infinity, by far the most sophisticated of the Marathon games in terms of level design and story, we’re told by Tycho that “The Enforcers, as you may remember, are not vacuum enabled”, but then we see enforcers hanging around on the vacuum level “Post Naval Trauma”. What the hell? Are they holding their breath? And then, in “By Committee”, take a look at what Tycho says in one of the terminals: “You will be cutting the power for the entire complex, and the Pfhor will likely notice soon thereafter. I warn you they are an extremely riled bunch of alien slavers. Access a terminal after they are disabled…” Haha! What?!? Based on that sentence structure Tycho is telling us to access a terminal after the alien slavers are disabled. Oh Tycho, we’re trying to disable the power substations, not the Pfhor, silly AI.

So, things aren’t perfect in Marathon’s storytelling. The story can be sometimes misleading and can sometime contradict itself, which can make accurate analysis difficult. It’s something that should be kept in mind but it shouldn’t prevent us from having fun exploring Marathon’s mysteries.

First things first. Does this level add to the conspiracy surrounding #7?
Yes. “By Committee” is a prison break level and is level 18. In Marathon 2, “the Big House” is also a prison break level and is also level 18. 1 – 8 = -7 !!!! CraaaazzzyyyyY

In the dungeons, each curved hall has four (Pfhor) cells hanging off of it for a total of 52 cells in the dungeons. 5+2=7

On this entire map there is 1 security Bob, 7 science bobs, and 21 engineering bobs.
The Possessed Drone Vignette:
At the start of the level we see an off color drone flying around, the doors of our prison cell begin to open, and the drone fights a Pfhor fighter. The drone is obviously possessed by a benefactor, undoubtedly Tycho who needs your help in becoming free.

A possessed drone

If we explore the initial prison area we will come to a lava basement with drones “reading” terminals. If we walk over the lava along the planks this will trigger a pistol and ammo to teleport into a deactivated outbound teleporter pad; we will also trigger some drones who teleport in next to the pad.

The Volunteers page refers to this place as a “drone-programming” room, which I think is a valid analysis. The terminals are above the lava so clearly they were meant for drones/compilers only; most likely this is how the robotic units receive their instructions. It is crucial to notice that there are five terminals and four drones; this implies that the possessed drone who freed us is actually the fifth drone from the drone-programming room.

This then suggests that Tycho was able to hack the drone THROUGH the terminal which, along with his ability to leave you a message, means he has some small influence over what happens in the facility.

This vignette tells us some things about this level but also brings up some new questions. Why didn’t Tycho hack more drones? Perhaps because a move that big would be noticed by the Pfhor, but we can’t be sure. An even more interesting question: if Tycho can possess the drone on “Committee” then why didn’t he possess the drones on “Poor Yorick” when he was staging his coup against R’chzne? The most obvious meta-answer is that Double Aught didn’t want Tycho to control every Pfhor unit because then you’d have no one to fight but Enforcers and that would be boring; but let’s not cop out with meta-answers. On “Yorrick” did Tycho just not find drones useful, as was the case with the troopers (“No need to go easy on any of the troopers… there’s no room for them in the new regime.”)? Can Tycho only hack drones through terminals in real time, as opposed to sending forged commands to terminals to be read by aggregate combatant units? As far as I can tell it’s not quite clear.

The Mysterious Door Vignette:
There is a large door in this level which doesn’t open even though it has a switch right next to it.

The “door” I refer to can be seen in the southwest section of the map. The “door” separates a courtyard with some cyborgs from a courtyard where A-bobs teleport in. In terms of polygon types there is no door, but Double Aught did go out of their way to use split polygons on two walls to let us know that a door exists and is meant to connect two areas.

Map editor view of this portion of the map.

A switch is next to the it but it activates a door in the dungeons where we find a large stash of weapons and ammo.

What’s up with this?

It might have been that this used to be an actual door but the level design changed. Whatever the case, I think Double Aught is having a bit of fun with us here. I think their intention was that we’d hit the switch expecting the door to open, but nothing happens. Psych! We look around trying to figure out what we activated but no answer is apparent. Double psych from Double Aught! It takes some effort to figure out what that switch actually does. First you have to mentally connect the closed door in the dungeons to the mystery switch. Then, you have to figure out that to keep the dungeon door open you need to use the “double tap” trick with the switch, and this is made difficult because of the door’s weird speeds. Most doors in Marathon have a speed of about 1 world unit per second; the door in the dungeons moves at a wopping 4 wu/s, which is the same as the other doors in the dungeon but that’s beside the point. While most doors in Marathon have a delay of about 4 seconds (the amount of time the door stays open before closing again) the door in the dungeon has a delay of 0.4 seconds. So, you’ve got to figure out that the dungeon door and switch are connected, and then you have to figure out you need to tap the switch a second time during the .4 seconds that the door stays open. I get the feeling that whoever was designing this was giggling their butt off.

If there is a narrative explanation for this I guess it would be “Tycho”. He clearly has some power within the facility and he teleports ammo and weapons to you periodically. I think that Tycho somehow managed to reroute the courtyard door’s switch so that instead of connecting the courtyards it instead activates the dungeon door and gives you access to more weapons and more ammo. My guess is that the Pfhor just happened to be storing human weapons in that dungeon cell for lack of a better place to put them, which in a way is reminiscent of the human weapon cache on M1’s “Eupfhoria”.


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