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Subsurface Circular brings robot existentialism to the iPad

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Subsurface Circular is a short, text-based adventure from Bithell Games, an indie studio that Mike Bithell (Thomas Was Alone, Volume) founded. Though most of the gameplay is through dialogue, it features slick visuals of mechanical denizens in a futuristic city as you play a robot detective investigating crimes in a subway system. It debuted on PC and Mac in August, and now it’s available on iPad.

Bithell’s previous titles, the minimalist platformer Thomas Was Alone and stealth puzzler Volume, were both  Bithell describes Subsurface as an “interactive independent movie or short story.”

“Subsurface Circular was inspired by a bunch of games, books and movies,” said Bithell in an email to GamesBeat. “The goal was to put the player right in the center of an interesting and surprising story, so I looked to great sci-fi TV like Westworld, the [Isaac Asimov] short stories I grew up reading, and a whole bunch of small sci-fi movies. We knew we wanted to tell a concise and confined story, so it was important to look at how previous work had made the most of those limits.”

Like in the TV show Westworld and Asimov’s work, Subsurface Circular interrogates the relationship between robots and humans, particularly in the context of labor and law. Bithell says they decided that a text-based game made sense since that way the player could steer the conversation.

“Our game is about conversation and investigation,” said Bithell. “Text allowed us to do this in a way that the player could actively participate in, making every dialogue choice. There are hundreds of pages of dialogue in the game, from which we pick content based on where you choose to take the discussion.”

Bithell says that from the start, he and his team received requests from players for a tablet version. They had to completely redesign the user interface because of the smaller screens and ratios, but he says that porting the game to the iPad felt like a natural fit.

“Text gives us that fluidity, and on iPad, it makes for an experience that feels like reading and writing a book simultaneously with the author,” said Bithell. “When combined with the art and music the team produced, it makes for a satisfying sci fi experience.”

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