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10:41 PM on 09.19.2009

The Forgotten: Circuit's Edge

In 1990, between putting out video game adaptations of popular tabletop rpgs like Battletech and AD&D, Westwood Studios developed Circuit's Edge, a pc rpg very closely based on George Alec Effinger's Marid Audran miniseries, which would go on to become canonical cyberpunk fiction.

You, player, are Marid Audran, a street rat of the lowest kind, who lives off of an unnamed city's criminal machinations. You've been framed for murder and must spend much of the game staying alive but courting trouble.

What I loved about this game was Effinger's (and Westwood's) sheer unwillingness to bend to the standard cyberpunk narrative--trafficking in cowboy aesthetics, jacking in to some kind of cyber-world, fetishizing women in quasi-angelic motherbrain roles (see: Neuromancer, Ghost in the Shell). Rather, the game closely mirrored the novels' dystopian vision that bucked the cyberpunk trend of casting the US and Japan as the future tech-hubs, and it instead offered the Middle East as the cutting edge of technology and computer/human interfacing.

The gameplay itself was as immersive as pc rpgs got in 1990. The game operated as a mix of graphic and text-based i/o, working as a first-person / text game / rpg hybrid. It kept my ten-year-old ass firmly in my seat as I explored the town and got into fights with thieves and prostitutes. I don't think I had the patience to proceed and solve the mystery at time, but what kept me interested was the convincing design. I very much felt like I was a living part of the city rather than just a player in a programmed environment.

The 1990s was a decade of the high-concept rpg, with fantastical worlds, globe-spanning adventures, and save-the-world narratives. This game set a good precedent for the low-concept rpg--in which the city, grimy and slow, seemed to slink by even though I was the only real player.   read

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