The Magic Circle that may have topped my list of “The Most Meta and Self-Aware Games of All Time” (If I had such a list… which I don’t…) You may have seen me gushing about it on Twitter to the developers and getting ridiculously excited as I played it.
Needless to say expect spoilers as I talk about this game. If you’ve not played it yet, please go play it right now. You’ll enjoy it. You can get it on Steam right now in Early Access – but it’s pretty much feature complete right now other than language localisation.
The Magic Circle is the story of a game that has been so long in development that the creators have lost sight of the original idea, piss-poor planning has lead to an ever evolving piece of vapourware that will never be released. The player is trapped within the game, guided by an angry AI who is also trapped within the game.
The game itself is ridiculously self-aware and owns it. It looks at a tonne of different aspects of game development, even including a trip to a fictional parody of E3. The player can edit the games code to their advantage in order to cause chaos and bend the software to their whims.
Needless to say the game was absolutely beautiful and made excellent use of the black and white world with splashes of colour to bring out life. There was lots of places to explore (I’m not sure if I’ve collected and see everything as of yet – but I’m definitely close…) and the game really challenges you to think creatively to get access to the more difficult to reach items and locations.
The games voice acting is absolutely spot-on and really brings the characters to life. Its all excellent and the use of environmental storytelling, hidden files and audio-logs allows the player to piece together the history of The Magic Circle through exploration.
The story of the obsessive and somewhat egotistical game developer Ishmael really got to me on a whole bunch of different levels. His downfall towards the end of the game made me feel that suddenly I was the bad guy, destroying something that was his. Then again I completely understand how angry his fans were getting, I was the same with Molyneux and GODUS. Ish puts his whole soul into the game because it’s all he has, I tend to put all my spare time into my games because they’re part of me too – you’ll always notice that I’ll do a lot more game development when I’m upset or lonely because they’re how I cope with a bunch of different negative emotions. For me, game development has always filled the gaps that other things leave (for everything else, there’s bees…).
The game asked some pretty hard questions: at what point does a game become more the fans than the designers? Do the fans of a game deserve to control the future of a project they’re interested in, what gives them the right to get mad at a designers choices? Is it okay to tell the person who created something that it is no longer theirs to control? If a Kickstarter fails to pull off what it promises does that mean that the developers didn’t care enough, or did they care too much? How far can feature creep go before it becomes a major issue?
As a game developer I feel that my games are my own to work on, and although I’m a big fan of getting the public involved in decision making I like to think I’m the one who makes the final decision on anything – I’d be heartbroken if a project was suddenly commandeered by someone else because it wasn’t necessarily going the way they wanted it to. If suddenly tomorrow someone told me they were taking over Hashtag Dungeon because it was taking too long to come out I would probably have a mental breakdown.
There aren’t many games nowadays that really capture my attention as much as The Magic Circle. It was a humorous but thought provoking romp into the world of game development gone haywire. My only wish is that it had lasted longer, I would love to see a larger world with more puzzles, elements and plot-points to listen to and enjoy. Kudos to the developers for making a game that I can say I truly loved.