A breakdown of the canceled Vicious Circle (arcade)

On my Twitch channel, there have been a couple of times that I’ve shared my experience with the unreleased game Vicious Circle while playing MAME-emulated arcade titles. I’ve put several hours into breaking the game down and discovering hidden fatality moves, and now I’m finally getting into sharing that knowledge, as requested.

Vicious Circle is an Atari project for arcades that got canned in the mid-90s. The Vicious Circle prototype ROM that floats around the internet has a stamp of 1996, and when you enter the game’s internal menu, it has a version 2.03 OS update at March 25, 1996, and “MAIN” update at March 29, 1996.

viciouscircletitle

The Vicious Circle title screen in its March 1996 prototype form.

The little information available about the game pegs it as a planned COJAG title, or “Coin-Op Jaguar.” Loading the game in MAME gives a report that Vicious Circle uses a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) @26MHz as well as a Digital Signal Process at 26MHz, which reflects the dual setup of the “Tom” and “Jerry” chips housed inside the Atari Jaguar home console.

However, COJAG arcade hardware isn’t quite as simple as sticking an Atari Jaguar inside of a standup cabinet. COJAG games came with a slightly-updated CPU set, additional RAM, a 64-bit ROM bus and – most importantly for Vicious Circle – a hard drive. Area 51 and Maximum Force are examples of COJAG titles that actually saw the light of day, but others such as Freeze and Vicious Circle never left the prototype stage.

Vicious Circle reportedly utilized the hard drive to house its extensive use of CGI in the game. A variety of stages use moving backgrounds, which are videos streamed from the hard drive. The game’s fatality segments, opening movie and arcade ladder progression are also viewed through CGI videos.

At face value, Vicious Circle is Atari’s attempt at developing a fighting game in the style of Rare’s Killer Instinct – it is chock-full of CGI imagery and has a move linking system that allows players to piece together combination moves. Even some of the character sets are borrowed, with Edge the ninja clearly being inspired by KI’s Jago and Vicious Circle having a werewolf-style character a la Sabrewulf. The Vicious Circle character Stiletta has the biker-short look like Orchid in KI, but does a spinning backfist instead of a spinning handstand kick. Edge even carries over a Wind Kick move and can utilize a sword, so Vicious Circle skirts the fine line of carbon copying elements of Killer Instinct while providing “familiar elements” to help fans of KI jump into the game.

viciouscircleplay

I’m not certain if the internal menu is ripped from another Atari game, but it is hard for me to describe the controls in this game because of the controls test screen. The MAME software settings let you map six different attack buttons, which indeed execute different attacks within the game. However, the controls test screen only lists “FIRE,” “A” and “B” buttons, along with test indicators for “START” and the coin switches and auxiliary functions. Despite this, the internal menu repeatedly references a “QUICK PUNCH” button (what the controls test refers to as “FIRE,” or “Button 1” as you map it within MAME) to select options. The “A” button is “Button 2” in MAME, and “B” is “Button 3.”

The most interesting thing about the internal menu, though, is its STATISTICS feature, which provides a surprisingly deep list of stats. General stats break down stats such as total game time, times players continued and how many sessions were for 1 or 2 players. There are also histograms that show the average play time for games, average match and round times, number of times each character is selected, how far a player progress on average before continuing and a breakdown of wins, losses and combos done by each individual character.

The histograms also reveal a development note about Vicious Circle – there are stats for a character named “Gunnar,” but no such character name is in the game itself. Given the other character names included, the process of elimination indicates the character Chainsaw was originally named Gunnar (or who knows – maybe Chainsaw is the placeholder?). It is also of note that the character select screen has a space that is occupied by the game’s logo. At this point it is uncertain if it is a placeholder spot for another character, or perhaps it’s a space players could put codes in for more characters?

The game options are very basic, offering toggles to reduce or eliminate blood, fatalities and gore. We do get the cute setting of “Vicious” for the game’s highest difficulty. Language toggles indicate translations for Japanese, German, Spanish and French. Oddly enough, in my experience, changing these toggles doesn’t effect much of anything. Turning the blood to “OFF,” for example, still results in Killer Instinct-levels of blood dumping from the characters during hits and combos. Once you get a grasp on the game, the Vicious difficulty isn’t extremely challenging, and I sometimes wonder if the AI even changes depending on the setting.

Despite what the internal menu states, six buttons are in use in Vicious Circle, but their implementation isn’t as straight forward. Five buttons act as basic attacks that have different properties based on whether the character is standing, crouching or jumping, which doesn’t serve as anything original. However, “Button 4” (as mapped in MAME) activates a “berserk” mode. As the match unfolds, attacks fill up a meter stationed below the character’s life bar, and a whistle sound effect will play when players can trigger this mode, which I’ll detail a little more a little further down in this story.

There doesn’t appear to be any throws in Vicious Circle – even taking command moves into account – making it even more like Killer Instinct. Vicious Circle features classic rounds within the matches, so, perhaps the one aspect it doesn’t yoink from Killer Instinct is the latter’s health system. Once a player depletes the opponent’s life meter for a second victory, the defeated character enters a stun state for a short time to allow for fatality move inputs.

If players understand the basics of Killer Instinct, they actually get shoveled over into Vicious Circle. Players can execute an “opener,” which can be from a selection of normal and special moves, and then utilize a pre-determined normal move to link from the opener. At this point, players can throw out other pre-determined moves – another normal akin to how KI has manual links or another special to continue the linking process, or a special that ends the combo with a knockdown hit.

The “berserk” mode is pitched into Vicious Circle, though, as a way to give even a beginner player an instant gratification method of landing longer combos. With enough meter, players can tap “Button 4” to send the character forward with a dash attack, and, if it hits, the player enters a sort of “custom combo” state where every single normal links together and they can also opt for linking specials and end the combo with a knockdown special. The meter slowly depletes when activated, giving the player a “timer” to go wild with these combos.

beserkmode

The glaring issue the combo setup is, as of the March 1996 prototype, there is only one bizarrely-chosen safeguard to keep players from endlessly linking their combos. While it is indeed necessary, this safeguard only prevents players from executing 100% juggle combos – you are allowed three juggle hits, and, after that, the game nixes a fourth attack with a block spark and pushback on the player. While you’re on the ground, though, the sky is the limit.

With so much borrowed from Killer Instinct, I expected there to be some sort of “combo breaker” mechanic, but no matter what I’ve tried, which included raising the difficulty all the way to “Vicious,” the computer AI generously eats these touch of death combos with little sweat to the player. Again, I realize the game is still only a prototype, but I was led to believe the game was being tested, so it’s odd to believe these situations wouldn’t have been remedied in some way as a means to keep the quarters flowing. With what little we know about the development and inner workings of the game at this point, once you find the two or three moves you need, any character becomes a death-dealing machine.

Even so, some characters such as Edge and Chainsaw get a leg-up because of attack power. I’ve toyed with Stiletta a few times, and she has a couple of cool moves to use, but she needs to do about 20-30 more hits in a 100% combo to get the job done. When you consider the fact that the timer runs down fast, Stiletta’s infinites become more of a timer scam tactic unless you can initiate the touch of death early in the round. Furthermore, it seems that characters such as Chainsaw and the boss, Dredlok get a bit of a health buff as a “defensive stat,” which adds to how viable a character can be with dealing 100% damage. There is also clearly a damage scaling mechanic worked into the game, but, again, it doesn’t matter much to characters like Edge who can still get a chunk of damage out of his wind kick.

When you tackle the arcade mode, Edge strats boil down as such:

  • Edge can normal link “Button 5” (lunging palm strike) and special link “Button 2” Wind Kick (HCF + Button 2) infinitely.
  • To open a combo, Edge can use a jumping attack (air 5 is good as Edge swings a weapon that gets great range), grounded Wind Kick or even use a “Button 6” shuriken (QCF+6, which is a slow-moving projectile that can also be done in mid-air; Edge can even have multiple shurikens on screen for extra hits/stun to follow up on) followed by one of the other moves.
  • This makes a combo execute as opener>5>5>Button 2 Wind Kick>5>5>Button 2 Wind Kick … repeat until round is over.
  • Edge can even extend combos by mixing in normal kicks from Button 2. Edge gets a ton of combo freedom, but many of the hits do so little damage, it’s typically just better to alternate Button 5 and Wind Kick to get to the bigger damage quicker and reduce possible input errors.
  • For some reason Taera is the only character the palm strike won’t reach unless you have her in the corner or cross her up. However, playing the CPU, if you still throw out two palm strikes, she seems to let herself get hit by the second palm each time, letting you keep the attacks going while getting a nice damage scaling reset.
  • The sub-bosses, Waryar, fight on a stage that doesn’t scroll, giving you limited space to get your combo started. I’ve found that a neutral jump 5 is the most effective way to open Waryar up, but any opener will work if you can manage the hit. Dredlok is tougher to open up, but if you start the match by jumping backward and firing a Button 6 shuriken right above his head, he’ll try to do the “Fulgore uppercut projectile reflect” and whiff, giving you a moment to throw out a combo opener. Dredlok is tough to manage on the ground because he has a high-priority shoulder charge attack.

Within a few tries, most fighting game players should be able to 1CC Vicious Circle pretty handedly once they know the couple of strats they need for their character.

Noting the easy 100% combos in Vicious Circle, this makes the “berserk mode” as worthless as a mechanic can be in fighting games. Sure, they’re still there for someone who doesn’t have Killer Instinct combo-branch knowledge, but, 23 years after the fact, I doubt anyone is playing Vicious Circle unless they are purposely expanding their obscure fighting game experience. When you consider the opening strike for berserk can be blocked and the damage scaling nerfs the hell out of your berserk attacks, there is zero reason to use it outside of the audio-visual pageantry.

In this prototype version, a player squares off against every character on the roster (mirror match included), two sub-bosses, Waryar, that appear to be a variant of Kl’Klakt, and the boss character Dredlok, who looks like a marriage of Fulgore from Killer Instinct and a Predator. When you conquer Dredlok, you get a short CGI video of a menacing winged insect with the words “To be continued.” This leaves a lot to the imagination on how the game would actually end, but, still, I think the arcade ladder progression, which is told through the player progressing through a hall in first-person as fighters emerge from chambers along the hallway, looks really cool. When you start arcade mode, Dredlok is shown on a throne and the camera pans down the entirety of the hallway. In 1996 standards, Vicious Circle didn’t reach the graphical heights of Killer Instinct in the arcade, but it still looks pretty good overall. If the music equaled that quality, Vicious Circle could have had a really impressive presentation for players.

dredlok

Dredlok waits at the end of the Vicious Circle arcade mode ladder.

The lack of real endings also leaves a huge question mark lingering on what the story of the game is supposed to be. There is an opening video in attract mode, and, if I’m interpreting it correctly, it seems to have done the RAGE storyline a good decade before Mortal Kombat Vs. DC ran with it. An evil energy is shown emanating from a structure in a city, and, when it embeds itself inside someone, they are shown going into a full rage and engaging in a fight with the closest person. I would guess the player chooses one of the subjects caught up in the battle, eliminating other fighters until only the source of the energy is remaining. A second attract loop shows the image of a woman entrapped inside a crystal, but it is unclear whether the woman is integral to the story, or just a victim of circumstance in the game’s premise.

Lastly, for at least the first version of my Vicious Circle page, I’ve put in enough time to uncover what I believe is about half of the possible fatalities in the game. The fatalities are shown through CGI movies, and, instead of recording several movies to pair every fighter combination, Atari went the route of implementing two different ways to finish off an opponent. The first is a fatality, for which the player can enter a command based on the character they are controlling to have them do a finishing move. The second is a mutilation, for which the player enters a command based on the character they are fighting against to roll a short clip of that character eliminating themselves in a variety of ways.

I predominately play as Edge when I’m showing off the arcade mode on my stream, so I have found his fatality, but I need to sit down and try to find others. Coincidentally enough, I have found mutilation commands for all of the standard characters other than Edge. The commands are done after you have won a second round in the match and the opponent is groggy. Thankfully, in Vicious Circle, all attacks are disabled so you can’t accidentally hit the opponent. Also, the commands can be input at any distance from the opponent, and, again for reference, “Button X” refers to the button mapping in MAME.

Vicious Circle fatality list (as of July 11, 2019)

  • Edge fatality – Sword barrage – down, down, down, Button 2
  • Kraav mutilation – Decap – down, down, down, Button 5
  • Taera mutilation – Hand slice – quarter circle forward, quarter circle forward + Button 6
  • Lo Chi Sun mutilation – Branding – down, down, down, Button 2
  • Stiletta mutilation – Icicle dance – quarter circle forward, quarter circle forward + Button 2
  • Chainsaw mutilation – Clean shave – forward, forward, forward, Button 5
  • Kl’Klakt mutilation – Torso slice – forward, forward, forward, forward, forward, Button 5
  • Bolok mutilation – Arm snack – half circle forward + Button 6
  • Mallus mutilation – Migraine – motion the joystick 360 degrees away from the opponent

Notes:
*If you notice, the commands for Edge’s fatality and Lo Chi Sun’s mutilation are the same. It seems a fatality overrides a mutilation, so, if you are Edge facing Lo Chi Sun, and you press down three times and Button 2, you will get the Sword Barrage animation.
*Stiletta’s mutilation is extremely interesting. When the CGI footage plays, the character model for Stiletta looks nothing like it does in-game. It’s unclear whether this was an original design that was changed, if the in-game model was going to change to this, if it’s for a character that didn’t make the final prototype cut or any other possible theory.
*The input for Mallus’ mutilation is my best guess, but, when I do it, I am circling the joystick/pad away from the opponent 360 degrees until the movie triggers. There is no button press, and it doesn’t matter if your character jumps while doing the input.

stiletta

The Stiletta character model in-game (left), versus the Stiletta character model during her mutilation scene.

There is still a ton to discover in Vicious Circle, so I hope other people decide to give it a shot and pick it apart. Even though it’s hardly a top-notch fighter, there is a ton of charm and some interesting ideas at play. If you find something new to share (or you worked on the game and would like to shed some light on a couple of items *fingers crossed*), please let me know in the comments or by reaching out to me on Twitter (@djtatsujin). Have fun getting vicious!

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Categories: GemuBaka Feature

Author:indiesnack

Indie Snack is a video gaming Web site focusing on independent developers and game releases. Indie Snack will also soon have services made available to independent developers to include tools aiding them in public relations and game marketing.

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One Comment on “A breakdown of the canceled Vicious Circle (arcade)”

  1. ishwilliams07@gmail.com
    July 18, 2019 at 10:53 pm #

    Okay seems interesting.
    next time, you can do more fatalities for all characters.

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