My Thoughts On: The Magic Circle

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.

Go play it. Go and play it RIGHT NOW.

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Flu, LEGO and Crowd Simulators

This week I have developed a rather nasty case of flu. A particularly devilish strain of flu  that just happened to seemingly know that this week was the one week I wanted to be firing on all cylinders! As I write this post I’m bed-ridden and shaking like a leaf, but my condition is definitely improving so I should be better for just before Christmas.

On Monday I travelled down to Wolverhampton to stay overnight for a teaching event on Tuesday at Highfields School, normally I’d take an early train down on the morning of the event, but to ensure I’d get a better nights sleep my boss booked me a hotel! I was really looking forward to a relaxing night’s sleep… but that’s when the flu kicked in. Whoops.

I wasn’t exactly running on all cylinders when I got to the school, but I was still taken aback by the sheer awesomeness that surrounded me there. There were no corridors in the school… all the classrooms were wonderfully open-plan and there were canteens and seating areas on every floor. I was incredibly jealous – all the students had access to a cyber-café and had been given free laptops to do their work on. Their product design department had a 3D printer AND a laser cutter – sheer bloody madness!

We then proceeded to start work on the LEGO event for the day – two guys from LEGO Education came in to run the event and I was tasked with aiding the students with anything they needed help with. They were tasked with making robots to do specific challenges as part of the “Green City Challenge” pack, which has several different engineering problems incorporated into it – pushing, lifting and carrying being the main three that were tackled during the day.

Lego Robot

It was good to work with LEGO during the day, I’d not used Mindstorms equipment in years so I was a little rusty. But it’s really easy to pick up and the kids took to it like a duck to water. They didn’t need much help and really got into it once they understood the basic principals of moving the motors on their robot. It was an awesome day apart from feeling really crumby in the physical well-being department.

Other than that I’ve also been working on my dissertation in my spare time. I’m currently working on the model design for my characters in the crowd simulation I’m adding to. Carefully programming in vertices and having them deform and change based on the characters body type. I’ve been wrecking my brains over a bug I’ve been having for AGES and not been able to notice. A bug that meant my little models were rendering in very ‘abstract’ ways:

Vertex Problems

The bug had eluded me for ages until last night when my girlfriend pointed it out to me when I was grumbling through my array of indices: I’d accidentally skipped a few numbers in the array… Whoops! So after changing that I can now declare proudly that my project is now progressing nicely again! I’ll be doing another post about my current final-year project progress as and when I have my model completed and working reasonably well.

Also… today is the start of the Steam Christmas Sale… may we all be blessed by Gaben’s great deals.