The Magic Circle…

A real game about a fake vaporware game… After the break…

The Magic Circle…

Not every computer or video game that starts production ends up as a finished product. There are whole websites devoted towards games that had articles written about them only for them never to appear. Computer games are sort of like CGI movies: They take years to make so that, by the time an article in a gaming magazine or website is written about them, the game might have already been cancelled. Take, for instance, the 2004 LucasArts version of “Sam and Max: Freelance Police.” By the time that the LucasArts executives convinced themselves that the PC gaming market could no longer support adventure games, preview articles for the game (complete with screenshots) had already begun being released in game magazines. Talk about awkward.

Most cancelled computer games, though, never make it to a stage where they are “release candidate” or “beta stage” or even “alpha stage.” A lot of games end their life as nothing more than “tech demos,” proposals that are handed to publishers in order to obtain funding or are handed to a publisher to ensure that the developer has attained a certain ‘milestone’ (that they’ve made significant progress) in the creation of a game. The very last creation that Troika Games, the developer who created the cult classic RPG “Arcaneum” and the ambitious but rushed “Vampires – The Masquarade: Bloodlines,” made wasn’t a completed game but a 3D 3rd-person RPG tech demo harkening back to the days of Fallout 1 & 2. Ironically, the ‘real’ Fallout 3 (the one being developed by Black Isle before Interplay collapsed) was little more than it’s own tech demo… Not even an alpha stage and, supposedly, was being rushed as a means of convincing Interplay to continue finding the funds in order for the game to continue development.

Tech demos, cancelled betas, cancelled alphas, release candidates that had never “gone gold” (as in, a gold master disc is made, signifying in the olden days that the game had achieved a 1.0 release)… We hardly hear of them because of non-disclosure agreements and professional courtesy amongst game developers and publishers. To use a saying about American politics, “People who know, don’t talk; People who talk, don’t know.” The same is true, to a certain extent, with the gaming industry: It takes years before a developer or designer leaks word that they worked on, say, a System Shock 3 proposal for nine months before the funding and development fell through.

We know of these worlds from the outside, as a player. What, though, about the world from the inside… As a character in a world never to be played… In a world never to be completed?

“The Magic Circle” is an upcoming game about a perpetually-in-development game (insert your own Duke Nukem Forever jokes here at your leisure) where the partially-developed hero takes matters into their own hands to complete the perenially-incomplete game world that he is trapped in.

There is nothing new about video game characters breaking the fourth wall of the gaming world. There have been several games where the video or computer game characters “know” that they are in a game (not in a simulation, mind you – They know that they are in a game and that you are controlling them) and not in their own, separate reality (“Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon” immediately springs to mind but I can also remember that there’s a Grand Theft Auto or a Vice City that’s sort of close to that premise as well). There is also nothing new about games breaking through the fourth wall. “Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion” has you enter an incomplete painting to accomplish a quest. “Tron 2.0” has characters leaving a ‘gaming grid’ (much like what happened in the first, and far superior, TRON movie) and traveling in areas they normally would not be able to go.

There is, of course, the subgenre of “creepypasta” (I still can’t understand why they just can’t call it “haunted video games” but that’s the Internet for you) where people create fake video games that are meant to horrify you. It’s sort of like a video game equivalent of the Japanese horror movie “The Ring” where, somehow, the video game can influence real life events outside of it as though the game is a living, breathing entity. Yet all of these stories are about games that aren’t real or of photoshopped aspects of the game that aren’t in the retail version of the game or of mods for games that aren’t real.

“The Magic Circle” is being created by people who have also been involved in the BioShock games and the Thief series. The premise is certainly nifty: You, the hero, are on a quest to complete your own reality where the fictional developers couldn’t.

We live in a world littered with games never to be. It would be refreshing if the Internet ever received even a portion of these games into open-source development. Could you imagine the results that would occur? “The Magic Circle” attempts to answer that question. Let’s hope that the game itself doesn’t become vaporware.

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