Game development is a difficult process which can take years to go from concept to release, with major changes and setbacks along the way. Sometimes a game never makes it to release or is delayed countless times due to various reasons including teams falling apart, plot changes, or technical issues that are just too complicated to work out in a short amount of time. We rarely come into direct contact with that side of the games industry, so we might not always be able to relate to these trials, but Question tries to show the game development process through a comedic lens in The Magic Circle: Gold Edition.
This game casts you as a playtester of a game that has been in development for years. Ish, the game’s main creator keeps changing what he does and doesn’t want in the game, while Maze is trying her best to get fired from the project and a third character, named Coda, is trying to help complete the game for her own reasons as well. You’re caught in the middle of this infighting, but a glitch gives you more power over the game than any of the others could hope to have. Alongside you is the game’s AI who is sick of project not getting finished and wants revenge against the team for trapping it for so long.
To do that, you gain control over a lot of the game’s code, and are tasked with making it as ridiculous as possible to embarrass the team. The majority of the changes can be applied to the creatures that populate the game, which you can tweak to give new abilities if you manage to trap them, creating a following of beasts that have no right existing.
My personal favourite was giving a mushroom a melee attack, making it fireproof, letting it move around, and changing its list of enemies to include other mushrooms, but this is just one possibility. You can make creatures fly or float instead of walk, give them ridiculous powers like the ability to blast fire, and plenty more. While the powers and abilities are fun for messing around with, some of them are required to get past a few environmental puzzles. This lets you discover more powers, but also gives you access to more of the creator’s own history and voice recordings about the game’s development woes.
Since The Magic Circle depicts an incomplete game, much of the environment is in black and white, with animals and certain items contrasting against this monochrome background with splashes of colour. There are some environments that are in full colour that do provide a big tonal and thematic shift to the main world, but there’s a rudimentary feel to these areas to serve the plot. Taking that into account, The Magic Circle does look good in what it is portraying, with the world containing distinguishing landmarks.
There’s a lack of hints at what to do in one of the main hubs where there are different places to explore, and it is down to you on how to tackle some of the problems, using the tools and creatures at hand. You can’t fight but your creatures can be set to attack enemies of your choosing. Even if they die, you can refill them with life to bring them back, though the bigger the creature, the more life it will takes. Even so, there was a lot of back and forth here that broke a little of the game’s pacing.
The writing is undoubtedly one of the strongest parts of The Magic Circle. Some of the conversations and comments do inspire laughter, and the delivery is top notch. You can feel the passion of Ish the creator, even though he does come across as someone in way over his head. The obsessiveness of Coda and the utter indifference of Maze come together with Ish’s desires in a way where you can feel the conflict in the fictional studio. Every hidden tape you find adds layers to the plot and help to flesh out these characters. The AI, meanwhile, is a grumpy individual whose deadpan delivery adds to the impact of some of the lines.
The Magic Circle: Gold Edition is a humourous and satirical look at the complexity of game development. At the same time, it’s a fun game that encourages you to experiment with different combinations to reach your goal, leading to a number of bizarre creations, but The Magic Circle: Gold Edition is brought to life by its comedy.
Version tested: PlayStation 4