The Magic Circle

Well, here's something different.

The Magic Circle is a text adventure from the 1980s. Although some work was done on it, it was never completed, and languished for years as a partial --

Wait. No. Sorry, what I meant to say is that The Magic Circle is actually a graphical remake of the earlier unfinished text adventure. Unfortunately, even this version wasn't completed, either, as the developers couldn't agree on what should go in it. So although much of it is a fantasy world, there are pieces of science fiction code still to be found --

Er. Nope, sorry again. The truth is that The Magic Circle is actually a game about this unfinished graphical adventure-from-a-text-adventure game. Really. For real this time. I think.

The idea (as far as I can tell from Tom Bramwell's Eurogamer description of it) is that you are the unfinished hero inside this unfinished game. You somehow have the power to alter the AI behaviors of actors within the game, remaking how the game itself plays.

As you do so, you'll uncover more of the story of the original games in which you're acting -- how they were created, and how they failed to be completed. And you'll see that as you play -- that is, as you rewrite the behaviors of actors in the game world -- someone or something outside the inner game world is rewriting things, undoing your changes, altering terrain and objects. Who is doing this, and why, and what you will do about it, will presumably be the core narrative loop of the game.

The lead behind this madness is none other than Jordan Thomas, designer of BioShock's "Fort Frolic" level and the oft-referenced "Shalebridge Cradle" of Thief 3. His goal in The Magic Circle is to build a world filled with dynamic systems (object AI behaviors at a minimum) and then let players creatively combine these systems in different ways to solve the various gameplay challenges.

That kind of "play how you like" design, joined by the narrative process of discovering story logs, emphatically recalls to my mind the real pleasure of the two System Shock games, as well as Ultima Underworld and Deus Ex to some extent. I enjoy that kind of game design, and The Magic Circle sounds like it's meant to be a modern gloss on that kind of game. This makes me happy.

I'm not so delighted by the decision that this will be a short (<20 hours) game; the world of their game sounds like a place I could spend a fair amount of time exploring happily. But there are three developers working on The Magic Circle, trying to ship their (not unfinished!) game sometime in 2015. So the limits on content are understandable.

If this kind of thing also appeals to you, please read the Eurogamer story, then come back here and let us know what you think.

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