360 Degrees of Development: A Review of The Magic Circle
There are games that invite you into a world and want you to live in them. Some games question the world that they live in. The Magic Circle, from Question Games, wants you to question everything. Not only on how you play the game, but how the public views game development. The main point of this game is showing the world that creating a video game is hard work. The Magic Circle shows players there are times where developers won't see their loved ones, they won't eat for hours on end, and it shows the struggles between creators and story makers when they can't see eye to eye on the same vision.
As for the story, you are a play-tester playing an unfinished game in "development hell". While playing you discover a rogue AI character who has been trapped, just as you are, and wants to be released from his polygonal jail. He guides you along as you "hack" random NPCs and you create solutions to your problems. You are not the only person in this game with these abilities. The developers, which are shown as floating eyes, are creating the world as you play it. They are also fighting with each other to create their own vision, but nothing ever gets solved. During their fights they joke about Kickstarter, a host of gaming tropes, and the game journalists who review games. It's both funny and insightful, giving a slight look behind the scenes of how games are made and digested in this culture. The Magic Circle is listed as a dark comedy, and certainly shows it in the quality of writing, it can be heavy at times but leaves you laughing the next second.
Like He-Man once said, "I HAVE THE POWER!" In The Magic Circle you do. You have the power of a game developer, by gaining the ability to rip apart the creatures of the world, you can tamper with their programming. For example, trapping and altering the behavior of these creatures can lead you to new and inventive solutions. A rock may aid you in your quest after changing who their enemy is and adding flight to their movement. Entering into the creature to change these abilities is similar to rewriting the code, but there is no ripping out and replacing the code with your own. The coding is in spirit only, but it gets the point across. In The Magic Circle, your creativity is the real key, like when I created my favorite flying rock with helicopter blades attached to its sides, which was shepherding me across the open world with its flight capabilities.
Graphics and Sound
Here lies is the problem in The Magic Circle, sometimes you are spoken to a lot but there are also long stretches while traversing the land where you hear nothing. This can be a problem for some as there are points where you can't skip dialog where you really want to.
There is an unfinished soundtrack that you hear, along with the composer who is speaking to the orchestra. I found hearing the score being composed "live" to be a fun touch, adding a sense endlessness to this unfinished game. The graphics are not meant to be the best, but are shown this way to forward the notion you are in this unfinished realm. As the player you see the aura of color surrounding you, but you never see it fill the world. It would have been nice for that to happen once you either beat the game, or as you hack the world.
The Magic Circle is a critical look into the game development world. By tackling the common tropes within games as a whole, The Magic Circle flips the script to make the player create a game they want to play. While the writing can be heavy at points, and the surrounding world is washed in black and white, this is an exercise in game development. This game puts you in the developer's chair for the 5 or so hours that you will spend in this realm. After completing The Magic Circle, I now have a new appreciation for all levels in the development cycle.
The Magic Circle is out now for PS4 and Steam, with an Xbox One version coming at an unannounced date.