South of the Circle gets some of the best games I've ever seen

South of the Circle gets some of the best games I've ever seen

Doug Cockle once said something that stayed with me. When he recorded his lines for The Witcher games, he played the English Geralt of Rivia. He never recorded with any of the other actors, however, I find it so odd. I still do. But I find it. I understand that in order to give meaningful dialogue choices, you must reduce performances so you may stick them back together again in the same way that the player wants. And the greater the interactivity, the more you must do it.

The problem with this is that pauses in discussions where there would normally be none, a mismatched tone where there would usually be no. Sometimes it''s obvious, sometimes it''s not. And when the performer and direction are, the result is never exactly what it''s aiming to be: natural. Because it''s not.

South of the Circle had me back thinking about this again. It''s a smallish game that was available on Apple Arcade a couple of years ago and that has now been released on PC and Switch, and I''m very pleased it did, because it has some of the best performances in a game I have ever experienced.

Several things to do with the actors, for sure. They have all made a name for themselves in Hollywood. They include Anton Lesser (the creepy Maester Qyburn from Game of Thrones), Olivia Vinall (Laura Fairlie in The Woman in White), Gwilym Lee (Prince Harry in The Crown), and Michael Fox (Andy Parker in Downton Abbey). But their selection is a big draw because they are advertised as movie stars.

Another huge part of the game is to play with how South of the Circle plays out, so a lot of it plays out without you doing anything, and you jump in to make choices in dialogue and control some light exploration.

The result of the game''s dialogue choices is uneven, as long as there''s one option, and the reaction you can have on the overall outcome is accidental. Clearly, there''s a story the game wants to tell and you can''t get too much in the way of it, thus the game can go the other way.

There is a way for scenes to flow, although I wasn''t quite sure how they recorded the game until I found a ''Making Of'' interview with the developers of State of Play. And it was a pleasure to hear that they wanted characters to be talking about each other, and they then rehearsed scenes rigorously to find this, as groups.

The result speaks for itself. It''s not showy or gaudy, but it''s, slowly, real. It actually reminds me a lot of watching a play (I think it''s the length of the scenes and the space in which actors are often in) true. But a play can, perhaps even more, increase your interest in it all. But it''s also the human interactions and emotion that drive the game through.

It''s observing two characters stumble closer and closer until one of them makes the relationship more complex, then the tender promises they attempt and hold it together. It''s noticing a stranger take a risk to assist another in a time of desperate need. It''s recognizing that these human moments, powered by exceptional performances, are so moving and successful that South of the Circle is. It''s narrating, though, that it might be impossible to be aware of.

Is there always room for more interactivity better? It''s a worrisome process.

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