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Video Game / The Magic Circle

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The Magic Circle is an extremely metafictional game currently available on Steam.

In-Universe, The Magic Circle is a widely acclaimed text-adventure game from the glories of gaming's past. Featuring an incredible world, rich, detailed text and a number of innovative gameplay features, Circle went on to become one of gaming's greatest treasures.

That was then. This is now.

Cut to 30 years later—the lead developer of Circle, Ishmael "Ish" Gilder, has decided to remake his game entirely as a 3D RPG in the first person perspective, and has a number of coders, artists, composers and a budget a mile-high behind him. Unfortunately for him, he has no idea how to make one of these games. After a number of years and constant failure after failure, the world that comprises the game is in an unfinished, broken state. The developers argue and change things at random, playtesters come and go, and the game is undeniably a total mess.

That's where you come in. One of the game characters - known only as the "Old Pro" - has achieved sentience and wants the game to be finished so he can live his life in the game. He bequeaths upon you, a playtester in over their head, the ability to rearrange and manipulate several assets of the game in an attempt to get you to finish the game before it's cancelled for good.

The Magic Circle provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Artificial Intelligence: The Old Pro. A series ofvery out-of-the-way messages from Lief Troper, one of the devs, explains how the Pro came to be self-aware.
  • Airborne Mook: The Whirlybirds, flying robots who can't be trapped. Once you gain the flight power, you can edit any mook in the game to be airborne.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Comedic version; Assuming the player is at all successful at making their own level, Maze decides to join up with you as a new, far less Ishmael-run studio...and brings along the entire original development team, plus a lot of other, often completely extraneous people. The last shot is their voice chat drowning each other out before the player has a chance to react.
  • Cast From Hitpoints: Life is not only equivalent to your health, but is also used to trap enemies and restore deleted objects.
  • Character Blog: Maze has her own twitter account, and there's a fake site for the game, with its own failed campaign on a Kickstarter-parody run by Ish and Coda.
  • Control Freak: Ishmael is absolutely obsessed with crafting his narrative, refusing to allow the protagonist so much as a sword lest they harm his beloved creations. His policy to his dev team is pretty much the same.
  • Creator Breakdown: In-universe, pretty much the entire development team. Especially Ishmael.
  • Creepy Child: Starfather's child. Played for Laughs, and you can make it even worse by modifying it.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The fantasy world, except areas with Life or areas near living entities. And, uh, the developers' avatars.
  • Development Hell: In-universe. The fictional game has been in it for twenty years!
  • Dummied Out: In-Universe. The player is able to interact with and restore objects that have had this happen to them.
  • Enemies Equals Greatness: Evelyn really enjoys the fury she incites in her foes by just being better than them.
  • Faceless Eye: How the developers manifest in the game world. The Old Pro calls said avatars "Sky Bastards."
  • Freudian Excuse: As you learn from the developer's commentary in the sci-fi world, Ishmael has a huge inferiority complex over his sterility. This is the source of at least a third of his issues over perfectionism and overprotectiveness of his game script.
    • Additionally, his hatred of player agency can be traced back to Maze's guild killing everyone and turning the original multiplayer text game into a 'murder simulator', in Ish's own words.
  • Gameplay Ally Immortality: Apparently averted. When his story demands that a particular NPC survives, Ishmael just cuts all weapons from the game. Subverted for your allies, as well: while they can be killed, Death Is a Slap on the Wrist for them and all it takes to bring them back is a bit of Life.
  • Gamer Girl: Evelyn, whose hobbies include collecting the misogynistic rants of the men she defeats to listen to, simultaneously, as her "chorus of the damned".
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The three main "gods" are a flawed bunch, but each has their good reasons:
    • Ishmael is a washed-out, jaded Control Freak, and the de facto villain. He hates gamers (implicitly including the player) with an astounding passion. But his control freak tendencies are due to severe issues with his personal life and negative experiences with the gaming community.
    • Maze Evelyn is the player's reliable ally, and really just wants to get fired (she can't quit due to contractual complications). But she's also an aggressive, arrogant professional gamer who heaps scorn and contempt on the idea that games can be anything more than competition, and her old multiplayer guild used to slaughter everyone else for fun, not letting anyone else enjoy the game in their own way.
    • Coda is a manipulative schemer, but she sincerely believes, perhaps correctly, that the only way to save The Magic Circle is to get rid of Ishmael, and does whatever is necessary to do so.
    • The Old Pro himself is nothing but friendly to the player and values creativity and productivity highly. But he doesn't give a damn about anyone but himself and possibly you, and is more than happy to ruin the lives of the other developers in order to be happy.
  • Hacking Minigame: Your main tool is the ability to modify the code of the creatures you encounter to do your bidding.
  • Hello, [Insert Name Here]: The aforementioned mechanic allows you to rename the enemies. Cue some players immediately giving them inappropriate or silly names, like "Chungus" (Jim Sterling's choice), or "Jim Rossignol's bumhole" (the choice of Marsh Davies from Rock, Paper, Shotgun).
  • Heart Container: Picking up a 'copy' of your Player Character (amusingly represented by just a cylinder with arms) increases your maximum Life.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Exploited Trope. You can hack practically anything in this game and make the characters join (or oppose) any side you desire.
  • Hive Mind: An ability called 'Group Think' has implications of this, though its main use is controlling behaviour of all other enemies of said type.
  • Instant A.I.: Just Add Water!: The Old Pro, the sentient former protagonist of the game when it was still sci-fi, still within the Dummied Out content and wanting out.
    • Also implied the Player themself is one according to the game's hidden documents.
  • I Was Beaten by a Girl: Many of the recordings on Maze's "Chorus of the Damned" were from people who got angry when they found out they had been beaten by a girl.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: The Old Pro looks down on all the developers, though he's pretty supportive of you.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: While she's cynical and fatigued, Maze Evelyn is pretty friendly and jocular with the player, and it's made clear her issues with Ishmael are legitimate.
  • Keystone Army: May happen to you, if you use Group Think to replicate particularly useful behaviors to the whole group of mobs — if one bearing Group Think is killed, they all revert to their former state.
  • Kill It with Fire: One of the most basic creature attacks is Fire Burst.
  • Level Editor: The final part of the game has you creating a level for the Old Pro to play through.
  • The Minion Master: You can defeat and recruit every enemy in the game, allowing you to Zerg Rush through most hostile enemies.
  • Meaningful Name: All the developers have first names that reflect their personality and role in the story.
    • Ishmael is the story-focused head, and wants to cut the player completely out of the narrative of the game, making the player into what is effectively the original Trope Namer of First-Person Peripheral Narrator, Ishmael.
    • Maze sees the key to a good game as making it a problem to be solved by the player, like a maze, and she feels trapped and lost in her contract.
    • Coda is the last developer added, much as how a coda brings a music piece to an end, and her presence ultimately brings an end to the whole sorry affair.
    • The name of the game itself refers to a concept in game design where the rules of reality are put aside and replaced by the artificial reality represented by the game.
  • Mood Whiplash: Some of the logs can evoke this, especially the one revealing that Ishmael's issues stem at least partly from his infertility. For those who have been through a similar ordeal, that can be a sobering moment in a game that otherwise revels in absurdity.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: It's a video game about making video games.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Inverted by the Old Pro. He's more or less the hero of the game, at least, in the original vision, and also an entity none of the developers are even aware of. (Even Evelyn assumes the player acts alone.) How were any of the developers supposed to know one of their AIs had become sentient and wanted to use the game to escape?
  • Postmodernism: It's a game about creating games, taking place in an "unfinished" fictional game, where "glitches" are intentionally included and the player hacks into entities as their main ability. A few have compared the game to something Abed would make.
  • Programming Game: You can only attack directly by hacking an enemy and rejiggering their programming to make them see you as an ally, effectively turning the enemies into your Mons.
  • Psychological Projection: During his rant, Ishmael basically says that the one thing gamers really just want is control. In truth, the rant perfectly describes him, an embittered, self-loathing, depressed man who abuses and manipulates his staff to deal with his many, many personal problems without ever confronting them directly.
  • Promoted Fanboy: Deconstructed with Coda; her growing disappointment with Ishmael soon results in her mutiny for the sake of the project.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Old Pro very much despises his creators and sees them as a joke and blight on his own existence.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Ishmael gives the player one when his E4 presentation is ruined by their deeds.
  • Shock and Awe: The Lighting Rod module.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: That above-mentioned "The Reason You Suck" Speech? The Old Pro isn't impressed by it.
  • Supporting Protagonist: The player mostly just helps the Old Pro and watches the developers melt down in various ways.
  • "Stop Having Fun" Guy: Evelyn, though she's a fairly sympathetic incarnation (she honestly believes the game is more fun the more competitive it is, and that story does little but annoy the players with things they can't be involved in and aren't real anyway).
  • Take That!: An obvious Kickstarter expy is called Kickbacker note , mocking the many scams and unfinished projects that litter modern crowdfunding efforts. And the game as a whole starts mocking the trend of unfinished "early access" games and their angry fanbases.
  • Take That, Audience!: Coda makes Ishmael make TMC open-source, and invites all the fans to participate. It implodes into chaos within seconds.
  • Troll: Maze gleefully revels in the fact that a significant portion of gamers can't stand the realization a lady beat them.
  • Retraux: The pixelated sci-fi areas.
  • Straw Fan: Coda is a more sympathetic portrayal than most; it's not her genuine enthusiasm that's bad, it's her manipulative way of showing it — and her opinion that Ishmael's gone mad and is the main problem with his own game probably isn't wrong.
    • There's also the fans that Maze beats in online games and records their reactions to learning she's a woman. It seems to be a large amount, judging by how she calls it a "Chorus of the Damned".
  • Take Your Time: No matter how long you take, the E4 demo won't start until you've sufficiently screwed up the settings
  • Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup: The plan by Coda to crowd-source the development of the game implodes within seconds because of this. It isn't helped by the fact that, unlike the demo team, she didn't vet anyone who came in at all, meaning there's no scarcity of people who can't code to save their lives.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: If you care enough about your game to make it a 10/10 experience, you get to listen to Old Pro and Coda having the time of their lives.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Ishmael at E4, when the player ruins his presentation.
  • Why Fandom Can't Have Nice Things: In-universe. Some of Ishmael's hostility towards the players comes from having to deal with death threats from his fans.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Ishmael is the game's main antagonist by default, but he's also in the midst of a truly pitiful Creator Breakdown, and the truth is he did devote twenty years of his life to this game.
  • You Bastard!: Deconstructed and mocked. Ishmael's rant at the player interests absolutely nobody in-universe, and as the Old Pro points out, it has more to do with the fact he couldn't accept that a video game is never entirely about its developers.