Part 1: Overview and Backstory
Myth:TFL is a "real-time tactical" game released for Mac and PC in 1997 by Bungie Studios. In defiance of established RTS conventions, it has no base-building, resource-gathering, or tech tree. What it does have is a collection of unusual or groundbreaking features such as 3D terrain, ballistic and collision physics, squad formations, a free-rotating player POV, and hardware-accelerated graphics that (thanks to maintenance from the fanbase) are still easy on the eyes.
It also has the engaging storytelling and gameplay that go into making a classic. Jason Regier, a programmer from the Myth team, described their design document as consisting of two lists -- "Stuff that Rocks" and "Stuff that Sucks" -- but despite (or because of?) this origin story, the end product is not just an incoherent bag of toys. Instead it's one of the most complete and rewarding singleplayer/multiplayer games of its time.
It's on my personal shortlist for Best Ever. And although I played the heck out of it back in the day, I think it's time for a refresher course. I spent most of my Myth:TFL time in competitive multiplayer, or co-opping specific maps, so (like just about every game I've finished) I've only ever played the campaign from end-to-end once. It's about time for me to do it again yeah?
You begin a Myth mission with control of a certain mix of friendly units, and typically you will have to make do with that set for the entire mission. Success or failure depends entirely on how well you can tactically command your troops. This may involve choosing the right battlesite, knowing when to press or retreat, exploiting rock-paper-scissors unit relationships, dealing with goal objects/conditions, setting unit groups into appropriate formations, and micromanaging individual units.
Each mission lasts around 15-45 minutes in the campaign, and games are usually capped at between 8 and 20 minutes in competitive multiplayer. The pace of play is tense exploration/maneuvering punctuated by frantic combat where lots of stuff blows up good.
Myth rewards awareness and decisiveness more than a memorized set of actions. It is (or was) playable over a solid modem connection; quick reflexes are handy, but quick thinking even more so.
And no summary of Myth gameplay would be complete without mentioning the luck factor. Although players bitch about this sort of thing, a little dash of luck goes a long way toward giving newbies occasional success, providing the too-intense player with a handy excuse for losses, and generating funny stories. In Myth's case, the physics system is the main culprit. Murphy's Law of Dangerous Hurtling Objects can be frustrating at times, but more often it's just hilarious. You will see!
I'll post details about the game mechanics after the tutorial video and again after the first mission video.
The story of Myth is the story of the destruction of the known world. The foe is mysterious, implacable, and apparently unstoppable. The armies of the free peoples are engaged in a long retreat, without an end in sight.
A short tale from the game manual brings us up to speed on the situation. It also introduces the anonymous narrator that will be with us throughout the campaign. (Transcription courtesy of myth.bungie.org.)
This sets the mood pretty accurately. We're in a bad way at the start of the game. Don't worry too much though about the story beating you down; keep in mind that Bungie Standard Operating Procedure is to have an epic story balanced by humor in the moment-to-moment gameplay.
The Narrator posted:
"It can't be hopeless."
Two nights ago half a dozen men and I crouched around a campfire, trying to stay warm, and one of them said those words. He'd joined the Legion only three weeks earlier, and started talking to himself after a Ghôl's cleaver removed three fingers from his left hand. He squatted there in the dirt, repeating that sentence. If he was looking for reassurance or sympathy, he came up empty-handed, for no one else said a word.
Tonight I sit by a campfire fifty miles northwest, remembering the way he screamed this morning when four thrall surrounded him, knocked the sword from his good hand, and hacked him to pieces.
I never got his name.
The war in the North is in its seventh year, and I grow tired of writing this record. Force of habit counts for something, but I've written of so many half-hearted assaults, so many retreats - why do I go on? Writing down every detail I could remember - the names of dead men and burning cities and the feeling of heat at our backs as we ran away, again - used to help me sleep at night. Now it's just something to do between fighting and sleeping.
Sometimes the sense of futility is overwhelming. Now that most of this blackened continent belongs to the Fallen Lords and their servants, it's easy to become discouraged. Sometimes I feel that holding on for seven years means nothing, that chronicling this slow death of a world and its people means even less. Our efforts seem to make no difference, and I wonder why I ever thought joining up with the Legion was a good idea. My grandfather always told me I had a bad head. Sometimes he would strike it for emphasis.
In the last month I have dreamt of my grandfather repeatedly, for reasons I do not understand. I loathed him as a child. When I was younger my sisters and I spent summers on his farm, performing the menial labor that any sane adult fobs off on children.
I remember dreading the summer and the bitter old man it brought, lugging his pumpkins a full mile from the field to his slap-dash barn, running in terror from his malnourished animals.
I hated it then, though it seems almost idyllic when compared with this summer. Perhaps that's why I dream of it.
The only relief we had during those summers were the nights when the old man got drunk. He was a sorry drunk; a single bottle rendered him immobile for the evening, and his words ran together like rainwater dripping down the rope that holds a hanged man aloft. Sometimes the liquor ate a hole into the living parts of his mind, and he would forego his usual giggling stupor and tell us stories that had been told to him while he was young: about one named Connacht who delivered the world from darkness.
The way the stories had it, Connacht came out of the east right around the same time that a comet took up residence in the Western skies. At the time the world lived in the long shadow of the Myrkridia - a race of flesh-eaters too horrible to describe to children, or so my grandfather said. I have heard other stories of them since, and it seems that no two people can paint the same picture of what the Myrkridia were or how they were able to keep the land stricken with fear for hundreds of years. I'd dismiss them as a complete fantasy were it not for the conviction - and the fear - in my grandfather's bleary eyes when he spoke of them.
Connacht was the first human in a thousand years to survive a battle with the Myrkridia ...and he didn't just survive, he prevailed. He hunted them down and imprisoned them in an artifact called the Tain, a prison without walls which the smiths of Muirthemne had forged for him. When the Myrkridia disappeared, Connacht ascended to the Emperor's throne and presided over what is now known as the Age of Light. His story fades away at this point. Some say he died, or was assassinated or kidnapped. Others say he left Muirthemne in search of some powerful artifact. Supposedly the immense power of items like the Tain both fascinated and terrified him, and he is known to have sought out objects of similar power - the five Eblis Stones, Tramist's Mirror, the Total Codex.
He destroyed the ones he could, and secreted the rest; in any case, none of them have been seen in centuries.
In fact, all of this is ancient history. But Balor and the rest of the Fallen torched Muirthemne just a few years ago. And I'm reminded with a quick look over our ranks that we are not the brave Connacht's army, but a scruffy rabble in the service of The Nine. I doubt Connacht will swoop in to save us.
Back when I joined up with the Legion there was a mad Journeyman who regaled anyone too tired to move away with his theory about the Edge of All - that line between the land and nothingness out beyond the kingdom of Gower, where Connacht arose. He claimed the world is double-sided and constantly spinning, like a coin tossed in the air, and the living and the dead are held to its surface by sorceries too powerful for humans to master. "...And so the light and the dark hold dominion successively, and the land belongs in turn to men, or to the undead." I grew as tired of his affected vocabulary as I did of his idiotic ideas, but I confess I felt a small twinge of sadness when he died. I never got his name either.
For the last week the camps have been abuzz with the rumor that The Nine have got their hands on something which can change the course of the war. Most of us are inclined to dismiss this as nonsense, but seven years of bloody battles with the tireless and seemingly infinite armies of the undead will do that. I admit it seems ridiculous. A talisman that will keep us alive, that will somehow give us the strength to outwit and outlast Balor? You'd think The Nine would have used it earlier. It's just a rumor anyway, and I've learned not to put much faith in rumors.
The men of the Legion have heard too many promises that everything will get better any day now. No one wants to hear the words spoken out loud, so I keep mine to myself, and I suspect others nurture hope as well, though they may not speak of it openly.
Would we carry on, fantasizing of a future beyond war, if we hadn't a chance?
If this were so, we wouldn't be able to carry on. Yet here we are.
It can't be hopeless.
When you start the game you will see a brief prologue cutscene that references the above tale and will also tie into the game story later. Choose your preferred video host to watch it now:
If you enjoyed the audio, here's the corresponding track from the Myth:TFL soundtrack (even a used copy of which is hard to find these days): 01 Prologue.mp3