Videogame (1990). Westwood Associates. Designed by George Alec Effinger, Michael Legg, Michael Moore. Platforms: DOS.
Circuit's Edge was scripted by George Alec Effinger, and is set in his Budayeen milieu – a twenty-first-century slum in a Cyberpunk future dominated by Islam – with a story which takes place between Effinger's novel When Gravity Fails (1987) and its sequel A Fire in the Sun (1989). The player's character is the protagonist of the novels, the tough yet damaged Marid Audran, making the game an integral part of the Budayeen sequence; Circuit's Edge is a rare example of a broadly successful game closely based on written fiction. The fact that it was codesigned by the author of the novels is undoubtedly helpful here, as is its status as an original work in the series rather than an adaptation, which made it possible to construct a story better suited to the medium. The game is, however, only moderately convincing as a work in its own right; players who have not read the books may find aspects of its world hard to grasp. In design terms Circuit's Edge combines elements drawn from Computer Role Playing Games, notably the movement and combat systems, with the puzzle-based gameplay of an Adventure. The player, in the role of Audran, finds themselves involved in a murder mystery which they have limited time to solve, in a world which is represented through a combination of textual descriptions, static illustrations and a two-dimensional overhead view.
The game effectively conveys the ambience of Effinger's Budayeen, a carnival of Drugs and Sex and casual violence, populated by vulnerable tourists and transsexual prostitutes, where the use of a cybernetically implanted artificial personality is a common lifestyle choice. Curiously, however, players who respond to other characters' frequent offers of sex and drugs will find themselves punished by their employer – an underworld boss – for their lapses; this is apparently the result of a somewhat unhappy compromise between the milieu as described in the novels and the developers' reluctance to endorse dangerous habits in a mass market Videogame. Other Computer Role Playing Games have generally chosen to ignore this issue, allowing players to do as they wish. A more serious problem is presented by the storyline, which proceeds in real time rather than being turn-based (as in a typical Adventure) or only advancing when the player has reached an appropriate point (as in most CRPGs). This puts the player under considerable time pressure, since if they do not solve the mystery quickly enough the situation can deteriorate rapidly. The end result is that the gameplay can feel forced and awkward, despite the modular options available in the broadly linear plot (see Interactive Narrative). Nevertheless, Circuit's Edge remains notable as one of the few convincing attempts to create a Videogame which is an integral part of a sequence of written narratives, as opposed to being set within a world devised by a novelist. [NT]
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