When a game development studio can be credited on titles like the Bioshock series, Dishonoured and South Park: Stick of Truth you know that you’ve got some quality in that studio. Question are a team that comprise of Stephen Alexander, Jordan Thomas and Karin Shin. Stephen and Alexander collaborated closely on the Bioshock series and upon Infinite shipping in 2013, they decided they wanted to make games together. Karin joined shortly after who’s known as a game-play specialist for architecting the AI in Dishounoured.
The class of Question certainly does show in The Magic Circle. It’s clever, witty and a completely different experience to other games in a positive way.
During my play through of The Magic Circle the humour constantly reminded me of the Portal series. The constant breaking the 4th wall with interruptions and interference from the development team during play added a new dimension to a video game. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself there.
Just what is The Magic Circle?
It’s a puzzle game, but there’s more to it than that. You are playing as a game tester for a game that’s in complete development hell. Like Too Human & Duke Nukem development hell. You complete the game upon introduction to the game, or so the trophy that pops up leads you to believe. After a brief credit scene in which you’re genuinely thinking is that it? You’re brought back to the menu screen with a new Pro Mode on it. So let’s begin this mode then. You click it and nothing happens, nothing loads. You then knock your analogue stick and see that you’re moving towards the logo. You’re now in the game playing it from the very opening title menu. This menu is a level.
As you appear into the first real level, it’s a drawn out level in black and white, the game developers are bickering about getting the game completed and out ASAP. The lead developer is passionate about this project and rejects any new ideas that would ruin his vision for his masterpiece. Parts of the level seem inaccessible, this is to ensure the game looks like it’s still in development. Blocky visuals and texture, missing areas and items that look important to the level, but then you hear another voice. This voice guides you throughout the game and explains piece by piece what happened to the game to leave it in this terrible state. You come across cracks in the game world that are full of colour. You absorb this and can then create parts of the level that may have been missing or removed. On occasions when you do this, the game developers question who left this in the game or talk about it being removed. It’s all very clever as you’re essentially developing this old game and testing it without the developers knowing really what you’re doing. They blame each other for what’s happening.
The colour you absorb from cracks also allows you to trap enemies and items in a circle of colour. Hence the Magic Circle. Once these items or enemies are trapped you can then begin to re-code them as you wish.
Now this where it gets fun. Trapping once aggressive dogs or cyber rats and programming them to be your ally and do as you bid. It was awesome fun having an army of once hostile creatures following me and obeying every beckoning call I made. You can program inanimate objects and give them life. Mushrooms, rocks, you can have almost anything follow and fight for you. And the further you progress in the game and more keywords you learn, the crazier your programmed army can be with flying laser rats.
The more things you attempt to interact with and reprogram, the more benefits you get to solving puzzles. One of the areas later in the game some doors were blocked by electrical waves. To get past them you needed to program a floating robot that’s wandering around to be your ally. His antenna on his head attracts the electric from these doors making them passable for your and your companions you’ve acquired.
Another part of the game I enjoyed was how the game world changes in different areas. From the drawn out black and white design phase world to the old school Wolfenstien 3D areas but in space. It all represents a game that doesn’t know what setting it should be in which further enhances the realism of a game stuck in development hell.
And as I touched up on above, the humour throughout the game is brilliant. The voice that guides you all wise and full of advice, then the bickering development team from the lead developer who doesn’t want his dream altered at all, the very frustrated female developer who wants this project over and done with and finally the overly enthusiastic intern who agrees with everything.
The game is a reasonably short play through, you’re looking at between 3-4 hours. Plenty more time can be clocked looking for all the collectibles and fully exploring the areas and trying your luck at programming everything available.
The experience I had with The Magic Circle was an incredibly funny and enjoyable one. It’s an incredibly smart game and I really enjoyed the concept of it. Being able to program your own army is way more fun than you’d think. Seriously I do SQL coding for my full time job, and here I am enjoying a video-game in which the main basis is … coding. I hope that this game gets the attention it deserves and people pick it up to support Question so they can develop more games like this in the future.