Development Hell: The Magic Circle On Steam Early Access

You can now buy and play Ion Storm and BioShock alumnus Jordan Thomas’s emergent oddity The Magic Circle [The Magic Circle], but do be aware that it’s not finished yet. No, I know that’s the point of the game – that you roam around an unfinished vapourware game, rewriting it from the inside – but I mean it’s really not finished.

The Magic Circle arrived on Steam Early Access today. In all the layers of metafiction, it may be the most The Magic Circle-y version of The Magic Circle you’ll get.

The Magic Circle is a game about a fictional vapourware game, one that’s been trapped in development hell for decades and exists in a horrible scrappy state with a mash-mash of styles from different directions. It’s sort of an emergent first-person puzzler, where you can trap and alter the behaviour of creatures in the world to create your own solutions. As Alec explained in his preview last year:

“So, with simple clicks, I can alter code. I can make the game’s mutant dogs fight for me, I can reanimate corpses and have them deactivate forcefields, I can turn giant turtles into heat-proof platforms to ferry me across lava lakes, or I could simply remove the Movement – Ground attribute from any foe and render it unable to come after me. In what I played, there was never one fixed solution (although in some instances it is simply a matter of giving a specific ability to a creature of your choice), and it was highly systems-driven rather than purely plot-driven.”

Sounds great, that. Developers Question (not a typo: their studio name is Question) expect the game to be on Early Access for six weeks while they add more localisations, as well as respond to emergent solutions players might come up with. “If any of those novel solutions seem like they should be officially recognized or supported with small tuning changes, we will make them,” they say.

The Magic Circle costs £13.49 right now, will go up to £14.99 next Wednesday, and may go up again when it officially launches.

I say The Magic Circle is Jordan Thomas’s, but that’s lazy. I only mentioned him up-front because I thought you might know his work on Thief 3’s Shalebridge Cradle level (the spooky orphanage-cum-asylum), or on BioShock’s Fort Frolic (the entertainment district), or as creative director at 2K Marin on BioShock 2. It’s attention-grabbing. Anyway, Thomas co-founded Question with Stephen Alexander, also from Irrational, and it’s rounded out by Kain Shin, who worked on Thief 3 and Dishonored among others. I thought you should know. Okay. Bye.


  1. Eight Rooks says:

    Bought it, played a few hours, got thoroughly stuck and… I am more than a little disappointed, so far. It’s The Stanley Parable with precious little of the wit and subtlety (and I’m nowhere near as big a fan of TSP as many on this site). The writing isn’t that great, it’s not wildly funny, it whacks you over the head with the LOL U R IN A VIDEOGAME stuff to the extent it starts to make Max Payne look like Tarkovsky… and the game underneath is entertaining after a fashion but slow, fiddly and kind of limited. Christ, Continue?9876543210 was melodramatic and light on actual substance and not a great “game” as such, but it still seemed to evoke far more of a sense of the weird, ephemeral, often terribly sad nature of videogame worlds. I would like to keep playing – I’ve gone cap in hand to the Steam forums to see why I’m stuck, so fingers crossed, and I’m sure the game will find its more enthusiastic fans. But I’m starting to suspect it’s not really for me, and that’s quite the disappointment. Considering the pedigree behind it and how much I loved their other games I was really hoping for more out of this.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      I mean, a particularly damning thought occurs: the “This is totally not meant to be Google” bits in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag seemed to convey more of a solid grasp of how dumb, yet how awesome, making videogames can be, and did so much more elegantly, for my money.

    • aliasi says:

      “Edit a video game from inside” seems to almost be a small genre now, given Hack ‘n’ Slash and this. Although HnS at least was using actual Lua code that you were actually tweaking on the fly, so it was educational, too!

  2. ZIGS says:

    The game’s logo has chromatic aberration, RED FLAG RED FLAG

    But seriously, as with all early access games, I’ll play it when it’s finished

  3. kwyjibo says:

    This game is a meta commentary on Steam Early Access. It will never launch. It will be forever stuck in Early Access as the developer tries more experiments and forgets to regression test.

  4. neverthinktwice says:

    The game itself looks pretty interesting, but the fact that it’s early access makes me cautious. It is worth it to pay more for a complete game that won’t give me palpable frustration.

  5. Not_Id says:

    Were any of these guys involved in that Doom 2 Arcadia wad?

  6. racccoon says:

    Sorry I ain’t wasting money on UNFINISHED bullshit
    All the mugs out there go for it because that’s all you are mugs.
    This is nothing but Begging & a behind a screen & able to get away from it Internet Corporate Fraud.

    • Jamesac68 says:

      It’s your choice not to spend money on things you don’t want. Don’t insult people who do, though. It makes you look like an utter dick.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Utter dick alert. Utter dick alert. Heh.

    • Spakkenkhrist says:

      This comment reflects a lot worse on you than it does the people you are trying to berate.

  7. KDR_11k says:

    Anyone else hate “cel shading” that just consists of regularly shaded 3d models with black outlines? I find it looks terrible.

  8. padger says:

    Super excited about this, but won’t play it until it’s – ah – finished.

  9. April March says:

    I’ve been interested in this game for a long time, but now I can only think of how great Question is a name for a dev. I think that if I ever go into developing I’ll name my company something like Don’t Forget To Look Up Their Name Before Publishing.