The Magic Circle
In The Magic Circle you’re a playtester of a game that’s been in development for 20 years, with no end in sight. The project director seems out of touch with the people he works with, as their conversations break down into drama and backstabbing, with no consensus on what the game should be. The project has become the most important thing in his life, but he can’t decide on what it’s supposed to be. Over the long development a part of the game seems to have gained sentience, and wants you the player to take over and finish the game yourself.
You explore an unfinished world, full of half done or abandoned designs, reaching back to the early 90s. The older designs look like System Shock 1, while the new one is a fantasy adventure. You solve puzzles by capturing creatures and objects, and modifying their properties. Even though the game is broken, your method of interacting with it is quite nice! This game was made by Jordan Thomas, best known for making The Cradle in Thief 3, Fort Frolic in Bioshock, and then as Creative Designer on Bioshock 2. By now he knows how to make a game, and The Magic Circle feels like a game made by an expert. There’s no newbie design mistakes, and the game does all it can to make the experience as smooth as possible, without sacrificing complexity. There’s often several solutions to puzzles, so you’re unlikely to get stuck anywhere.
To make a game as meta as this requires the developers be smarty pants. And so they were, invoking authenticity in all the dialog and notes you come across. The references in the game clearly come from Looking Glass, Irrational Games, Ion Storm, and Origin. The closest comparison to this would be The Stanley Parable and Portal 2, but it’s more ambitious than either of them. It only dawned on me after I’d finished it just how much this games does, and how well it succeeds in all it tries to do. If you like to read behind the scenes stuff about game development, The Magic Circle will be a treat.