A breakdown of the canceled Vicious Circle (arcade)

**This feature was updated on Oct. 18, 2020, and Jan. 13, 2021, to add contributions including photos/videos of the Vicious Circle prototype board and a few comments/details provided by a couple of developers of the game. This additional content is highlighted below, following the list of finishing moves in the game (which has also been revised Oct. 22, 2022). We have also recently come across developer documents for Vicious Circle – under the codename “Hero” – thanks to an online archive hosted by Gary Stark. That trove of information can be found on our Vicious Circle developer document page!

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.


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.


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 progresses 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.


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 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.

**Update to the fatality list made April 16, 2020**

Up through July 2019, I had found all mutilation moves other than the one done to Edge. However, on April 16, 2020, a bizarre button mapping I had never thought to try out was pointed out via a YouTube video done by Gruntzilla94 – a heavy kick button does exist, and, for reasons beyond my understanding, it is done by pressing your players COIN BUTTON. Of course. Thus, the video reveals you can mutilate Edge with the input of forward, forward, forward, coin (heavy kick).

Unfortunately the video yields no new fatality moves, and it adds the claim that the sub-bosses and Dredlok can’t be mutilated.

**Update made Jan. 5, 2021**

Following a LordBBH stream of Vicious Circle, he had difficulties doing the Taera mutilation using the command. Upon checking it out for myself, I found the move can simply be done with a dragon punch motion (forward, down, down-forward) + Button 6. I suppose the final three inputs of doing two quarter-circle forward motions does the dragon punch input, so that explains how doing the double QCF motion worked for me. Also, as noted in the Gruntzilla94 video, Lo Chi Sun’s mutilation only requires two down inputs – thus, Edge can in fact do a mutilation on Lo Chi Sun.

**Update made Nov. 9, 2021**

Thanks to site reader DB, who left a comment, we finally got a lead on Taera’s fatality command! While I’ll have to tinker a little more to see if there is a more abbreviated command, if you input down, down, down, back, back, Button 3, you’ll trigger her fatality animation. DB also cracked Kraav’s fatality input, which is down, down, down, forward, forward, Button 5. Thanks again DB!

**Update made Dec. 9, 2021**

Also thanks to site reader DB, we have discovered there is actually a third fatality type in Vicious Circle! These lead to the announcer shouting “Brutality!” so that is the label we are giving the moves here. For right now, we know the exact command for Edge. No matter who you do the move on, the cinematic shows Stilleta (in her “ice form”), but these moves interesting enough bring both characters into a finishing animation. Edge’s is also notable because he seems to have his original “urban ninja” costume design. We have seen the animation for Bolok’s brutality as well, but we’re still determining what the exact command is that triggers the move.

**Update made Sept. 14, 2022**

Thanks to site reader segatailstrident, brutality inputs have been found for Mallus and Stiletta!

**Update made Oct. 20, 2022**

A number of updates, including a series of new fatalities, was done in our latest video on Vicious Circle.

**Update made Oct. 22, 2022**

A fast update that provides three more finishing moves courtesy of DB! Unfortunately, each of these is a copy of another fatality. There are most likely a handful of fill-in animations at this point in development as the game’s staff was working to finish the game. This has us down to one final input to discover – Mallus’ fatality. Thanks again DB!


The finishing commands are done after you have won your 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 (variable)” refers to the button mapping in MAME.

Vicious Circle fatality list (as of Oct. 20, 2022)

  • Edge fatality – Sword barrage – down, down, down, Button 2
  • Edge mutilation – Pin cushion – forward, forward, forward, coin button
  • Edge brutality – Slice ‘n’ dice – forward, forward, forward, down, Button 1
  • Kraav fatality – Heart rip – down, down, down, forward, forward, Button 5
  • Kraav mutilation – Decap – down, down, down, Button 5
  • Kraav brutality – Heart Rip – down, down, forward, forward, back, Button 5
  • Taera fatality – Face melt – down, down, down, back, back, Button 3
  • Taera mutilation – Hand slice – forward, down, down-forward + Button 6
  • Taera brutality – Face melt (same as fatality) – back, back, down, down, forward, coin button
  • Lo Chi Sun fatality – Beatdown – back, back, down, down, forward, Button 2
  • Lo Chi Sun mutilation – Branding – down, down, Button 2
  • Lo Chi Sun brutality – Dragon’s flame – down, forward, forward, back, back, Button 2
  • Stiletta fatality – Deep freeze – back, down, down, forward, forward, Button 6
  • Stiletta mutilation – Icicle dance – quarter circle forward, quarter circle forward + Button 2
  • Stiletta brutality – Ice hatchet – back, forward, back, forward, down, coin button
  • Chainsaw fatality – Stomp – forward, down, down, back, forward, down, Button 3
  • Chainsaw mutilation – Clean shave – forward, forward, forward, Button 5
  • Chainsaw brutality – Stomp – down, down, back, down, down, Button 6
  • Kl’Klakt fatality – Acid spray – down, down, back, down, down, Button 1
  • Kl’Klakt mutilation – Torso slice – forward, forward, forward, forward, forward, Button 5
  • Kl’Klak brutality – Acid spray (same as fatality) – down, down, up, down, Button 1
  • Bolok mutilation – Arm snack – half circle forward + Button 6
  • Bolok fatality – Devour – forward, forward, forward, down, coin button
  • Bolok brutality – Vice grip – back, forward, back, forward, down, Button 3
  • Mallus mutilation – Migraine – motion the joystick 360 degrees away from the opponent
  • Mallus brutality – Chemical burn – forward, down, down, back, forward, Button 5

*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.


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!


Vicious Circle board media and developer update – Oct. 18, 2020

When I initially posted this feature on Vicious Circle, I made sure to end it by putting out a call to people willing to share new information about this game. More than a year later, reader Chance Palmer did exactly that and reached out to me after receiving a game board. On top of owning the board, he was able to make a few contacts that allow us to greatly expand on the known aspects of Vicious Circle!

Chance said he was able to recently obtain a Vicious Circle board, adding there are two other boards he knows of in existence. Photos of the game’s marquee have also made rounds, showing character portraits obscured by the game’s title logo. As seen in one of the provided photos of the board, the game is attached to a drive that is clearly marked “Vicious Circle.”

The two images on the marquee that really stick out for me are, one, the appearance of Stiletta as seen in her mutilation animation in the dumped ROM version, and two, the character displayed in between the “C” and (second) “I” in Vicious. I find him to have very similar facial features to ChainSaw, who is included in the game. However, if you recall, all statistics information in the game’s internal menus list a “Gunnar” character for ChainSaw’s stats. Right now, my theory is that this marquee character is supposed to reflect an alternate Gunnar character. Given the shades of green clothing, and his G.I. Joe-like appearance similar to a character like Duke, I’m betting this theory isn’t too far off the path.

So, on the marquee, from left to right, there is Mallus; then there is who I believe is Dredlok based on the curved blades coming off the arms, mask and hair; “Gunnar;” Lo Chi Sun; Kl’Klakt; then, based on the tip of hair at the top of the character, I believe the next character is Taera; next, the character appears beast-like, which makes me believe it is some form Bolok’s design, but, if you notice, the character on the marquee has pointy, werewolf-like ears, which Bolok doesn’t have; and then Stiletta. Off to the right, there is some random demon-looking character that is cropped off the side. Nobody has any idea on this one.

Chance said his board was confirmed to be the same version that is available for play in MAME, but he was hoping there would be a difference as he obtained his board from Europe, where a person purchased prototypes while Atari offices were closing.

Up until recently, the most robust information about Vicious Circle originated from a post made by username Stiletto on the MameWorld forums. Among various online mentions of the game, this post contained verifications of three different people previously from Atari who cited working on the game out of an estimated team of 10.

One of those people was Alexander Villagran, who detailed some of his work on the game in an online resume. In this information, Alexander is listed as a programmer for Vicious Circle, creating the routines that make the AI, background movies, animation and inputs function in the game.

In this information, Alexander accounts an interesting detail of how the CPU AI fights players.

“Pioneered an original AI fight engine that makes the computer highly aggressive and always on the offensive, which is unique to any existing fighting game. Computer has anger levels dependent on how the fight is progressing, and powerful defense capabilities.”

His information also further confirms the use of the CO-JAG hardware for the game, noting he programmed all of the low-level routines that communicate to the hardware. He also details work put into the pre-rendered 3D Studio backgrounds and animations routines that range from health bars to the high score tables.

On top of the Vicious Circle work at Atari, Alexander also states working on utilities, engineering audio routines for an “arcade version of the Sony Playstation,” and programming animation routines for “Hoop Fighter.” Up to this point, I had never heard of Hoop Fighter, and a deep search took me down a rabbit hole of learning about this game, a “fighting basketball coin-op arcade game.” Perhaps that’s a story for another time …

I had personally attempted to reach out to a few of the listed Vicious Circle team members last year to no success, but, Chance sent some contacts out this week and was able to hear back from David March. David confirms working on Vicious Circle as part of his online bio.

Perhaps making sense of the inconsistency of the characters featured in the game, March said the characters were still being finalized as he left the company.

“There was some animation, some characters, some rudimentary moves, but mostly what was finished was the core game code, not the final graphics or even the final characters,” he wrote.

Vicious Circle was in development for two years, with David’s online bio stating he was responsible for rigging and animating the characters.

“The graphics were static rectangular images coupled with 2D skeleton data,” David wrote. “I don’t remember the format, but, every graphic format has a header with the width and height in it; either I used a standard format or something really simple (like, 32 bit width, 32 bit height, all the data). Somewhere I must have had an index but it wasn’t anything standard. Probably just a list of images and sector numbers. Geez, haven’t thought about that for a few decades.”

David spoke about the game’s hard drive, which he said would include all of the graphics, animations, backgrounds and descriptions of elements included in Vicious Circle. He said if someone were take an image of the hard drive and root through the data, it is likely a complete list of characters considered for the game could be located.

David said he has no recollection of what the final character list was determined to be.

“I remember there was a focus group and they had to cut a few … But, it’s a certainty that everything was on the hard drive,” he wrote.

In a bit of progress, it has been determined that character IDs can be located in the game data that make Dredlok and Waryar playable in the game. However, at this time it is still unclear if they can be made playable through traditional means such as an unlock code and button input.

Other information about Vicious Circle that was recently discovered:
*The game’s audio programmer was said to be Gunnar Madsen, likely the inspiration for the “Gunnar” character name.
*Vicious Circle never made it to a location testing. It was said, when Midway bought Atari, one of the Vicious Circle cabinets was placed in the Midway lunchroom. This was recently supported to Chance by Mike Vinikour, a current staff member of Stern Pinball who worked as play tester for Midway for multiple arcade releases.
*There is much speculation online over why Vicious Circle was canceled, including it being an “ego cancelation” by Midway when it purchased Atari. While there is no detail to the account, it has now been stated that a dispute with the company that would have produced the CO-JAG hardware for the cabinets played a part in its cancellation.

I can’t thank Chance enough for taking the time to help me out! There are still a number of mysteries surrounding Vicious Circle, and, if more information happens to be discovered, you can absolutely bet this feature will be updated!


Vicious Circle board media and developer update – Jan. 13, 2021

Following the discovery of the online Atari document archive, and, again, thanks to Chance, we had some more developer comments trickle in!

Dave Menconi said he remembers writing the collision code for six weeks, along with other parts. He didn’t recall writing low-level code for the game, suggesting the base of Vicious Circle could have indeed come from Primal Rage.

From Dennis Harper: “All the top designers and producers were invited to (game initiations). I went to this meeting because I designed the Primal Rage combat and combo system, which was critically-acclaimed. Honestly, I thought Vicious Circle never really got it. It was very choppy in the action. Also, it was too close to Mortal Kombat, and at the time Midway owned Atari and didn’t want anything to complete with its own fighting game. That’s why Vicious Circle was never launched, and exactly why Primal Rage II was canned. PRII was killing it in the arcade, but Neil NiCastro shot all of Atari’s fighting games in the head.”

From Alexander Villagran: “I am glad it is on YouTube and that it works in MAME! It was designed to be like Killer Instinct. When it started, there were three engineers on the project, and when it was shuttered there were only two left. What I told everyone at the time, anything that wasn’t about the character’s animation or collision detection, I had developed. The other engineers worked on the timings and hitboxes, and integrating new character art. I did everything else! So background animations, character select screen (one of my favorite parts), the button interface, health bar indicators, even the AI. Towards the end of the project, there was a big layoff at Atari Games. I was transferred out of the group and moved to work on a truck driving game. So the last set of changes that were done when it was in the field, I had no knowledge of. A good example is the berserker. I had not implemented that, and I was surprised to see it added to the game. So there might have been things they were trying, but I was not privy to them since I was no longer on the team.

“I wasn’t on Hero from the beginning. The two engineers needed someone to fill in the gaps, so that is why I did everything else. I did the stuff they didn’t want to do. Since I had worked on the Co-Jag from Hoop Fighter, I took over the graphic engine parts. The lead from Hoop Fighter (Charlie) went on to do all those shooter games using the tech that we had for the backgrounds for Vicious Circle.

“When I joined, that is when they changed the name to Vicious Circle. I figured out the background stuff looking at how they did things with Killer Instinct. It isn’t surprising that the operator screens were updated since the engineer that was left didn’t do any of that work. That is why it probably wasn’t updated. Some of the different characters you saw could have been their alternate outfits. We had two outfits so when you had to fight yourself, it would look different.”

Brian McKee was identified as the person who had the “I want my two dollars” message  printed on the board.

In talking with developers, it seems the confusion about the button layout is a MAME error. It was recalled that the start button while in play would execute the berserker mode, leaving the sixth button for the heavy kick attacks.

From Nick Stern, one of the artists on the game: “I was acting animation department manager when the project was being put together. I remember the core team spending hours watching fight movies and, of course, playing competitors’ fighting games. Steve Blevins drew those amazing character designs and they held focus groups to decide which characters to proceed with.

“Chuck later told me that the pose of the character in the illustration really swayed the reaction of the focus group. For example, kids chose the vampire because there was blood on the ground, but they really didn’t like his character.

“I think the main problem with the game was that no one in the team was a real fighting game fanatic, not even the designer. They tried to make a game without really believing it in their hearts. Since no one was a fighting game player, they left many important decisions to the game designer, who was very young and inexperienced.

“I joined the team as they were being trained on the 3D animation system. I recall being told that each setup cost the same as a Mercedes car – whatever that cost back in 1994. The software was pretty basic compared to what’s out there now.

“We had trouble keeping the characters’ feet from sinking into the ground plane. As I recall, after the poor test results, the game was entirely redesigned to look more like a Japanese game, but, even that couldn’t save it.”

Along with the developer comments, Chase also sent over a short video of Vicious Circle running on the actual prototype board:

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Arcade enthusiast and game collector. Affiliate Twitch retro streamer and games archive writer at Gemubaka (http://gemubaka.com). For business only: gemubaka at gmail


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58 Comments 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.

    March 15, 2020 at 6:42 pm #

    Very interesting article. I have a huge interest in both Atari and Midway arcade protos from the mid 90’s.
    Looking back through magazines of the day, I cannot find any evidence of a Vicious Circle cabinet ever used in a location test. Do you think the game even made it into a cabinet at the time or was probably an early internal alpha prototype?

    The game does seem to be very early in development.

    A location test with the game in this state couldn’t have proved popular imho.

    • March 18, 2020 at 3:20 am #

      Thanks for the comment!

      Given that options changes seemingly do nothing in-game, it is very likely the game never actually hit a testing location or an on-location cabinet. It’s likely something we’ll never know unless someone gets a chance to talk to a person that was on the development team.

        March 18, 2020 at 4:11 am #

        It would be great to glean more info on this game and other obscure Atari protos like Tenth Degree.
        The stories behind ‘classic’ prototype games like Marble Man, Primal Rage II and Judge Dredd are great stuff but it’s this mystery stuff that’s got me curious.

        The UK developed arcade protos Zool and Rise of the Robots are two others…

  3. Glenn Stubberfield
    August 13, 2020 at 11:53 am #

    Hi indiesnack.

    We spoke some time ago about the possibility of Vicious Circle never even hitting a test location.
    I found an old forum post that supports this to some degree:


    I know we need to take info like this with a pinch of salt, but if the poster is genuine then it does support the likelihood of VC never even making it to an arcade…?

    Unless there is a more recent revision out there, and The Guru on KLOV seems to have a PCB for sale.

    I’d be interested to read your thoughts on the Rise of the Robots arcade version prototype- very bizarre game as it does seem this game did make it to location test and in the state it’s at as well.

    I would have thought it would be much more complete with bug fixes and play balance issues ironed out?

    Especially since the basic gameplay and assets were already available and based on the home version…

    • October 14, 2020 at 4:39 am #

      Apologies for the delayed response …

      For Rise of the Robots, I have not been able to check out that prototype, but, very recently, Dumple, who does a wide variety of arcade 1CC playthroughs discussed it. I believe I need to track down a few more .bin files to actually get it working on my computer.

      However, I recently pulled my 3D0 system out of storage and put a lot of time into the Naughty Dog fighting game Way of the Warrior. In reading magazine coverage of the game, it seems the lead tester mentioned multiple times that WotW was lined up for an arcade release.

      I actually believe this could be true because the canceled Beavis & Butthead game runs off modified 3D0 hardware. There is a prototype cabinet of Beavis & Butthead playable at Galloping Ghost Arcade, and, when you power on the game, there is a 3D0 splash page as the game boots. This splash screen is referenced on this web site in the story at https://gemubaka.com/2020/01/03/the-best-of-gemubaka-in-2019/

      This post made on the Galloping Ghost Arcade Facebook page also references how the 3D0 plays into this cabinet – https://www.facebook.com/GallopingGhostArcade/posts/1014268585288868

      Now, with all of that roundabout on the 3D0, to get to Rise of the Robots, I’m inclined to believe that arcade 3D0 hardware was planned to run a 3D0 variant of Rise of the Robots. I can’t confirm that or base that on anything, but given how the 3D0 was apparently slated to run arcade variations, that makes the most sense to me. With it being based on a home game, I would imagine it would be very playable even in test form, and, like you said it probably could have received more robust feedback with the amounts of people that could play it in an arcade for bug fixing and balancing.

      As for Vicious Circle never hitting arcades for testing – that’s probably something we’ll never confirm unless someone on the development team steps forward and makes any statements. I’ve tried reaching out to a few names I’ve seen included in credits, but have never received any responses, unfortunately.

        October 14, 2020 at 3:23 pm #

        Hey no problem at all 🙂

        In my Rise arcade research I now know that it uses an obscure pc based arcade board called Rasterspeed.
        This system was also to be used in an arcade version of the Amiga classic Zool.

        There’s a fair bit of info on Rasterspeed around the net these days but it is still rare and obscure.

        It was to be co-developed by ATD (of Rollcage fame) and Bell Fruit Manufacturing.

        BFM would have handled the release of the product.

        It was eventually used in at least one commercially released BF quiz game called Football Crazy.

        However although not confirmed anyway it does seem that even if the 3DO version of Rise wasn’t to be the basis of the arcade version, it did use some assetts unique to that version which is interesting

        Like you I have an interest in the cancelled Way of the Warrior arcade cab and ALG were also working on a game called Mazer which only saw release as a home verison and an arcade exclusive (which may or may not be a prototype as well) called Orbatak.

        A non working Orbatak was found some years ago and it’s been documented.

        Of course as you say we know quite a bit about Beavis and Butthead from GG’s original machine.

        AN amazing find! 🙂

        Thanks again for the response and let me know if you get anywhere with Rise arcade.

        It is a bizarre curiosity to say the least…


      • October 18, 2020 at 6:41 am #

        Looking up Rasterspeed does bring up some good information about Rise of the Robots! It does seem some improvements were made to the fighting. I’m sure they’re not enough to make the game great, but it’s definitely a fascinating thing to learn about. 😀

  4. DB
    November 8, 2021 at 2:52 pm #

    I know it’s been a while, but have you unearthed any new fatalities by any chance? I happened to stumble once on Taera’s but forgot how to input it. Like the Edge one, the announcer states “In your Face!” but hers was throwing around her “glitter”. Not sure if this is correct but I tried going down and hitting Button 3 in MAME, don’t really remember I was just button mashing. Also it seems like cheats were made for Vicious Circle in Pugsy’s Cheats but don’t work in MAME.

    • November 8, 2021 at 7:24 pm #

      I haven’t played the game in quite some time, so, I’m afraid I don’t have any additional information at this point. I know Chance was working with some people on an “all-purpose” FAQ for the game, but I haven’t heard an update on that either. I’ll likely have more time during the holidays, and, if I think about it, I’ll return to the game to see if I can figure out anything else. Thanks for reading!

      • DB
        November 8, 2021 at 10:06 pm #

        I believe I might have uncovered how to perform Taera’s fatality! Down, Down, Down, Back, Back, Button 3. I tried this technique a few times and it seems to work, maybe you have a better way of executing it. You can PM me if you have any questions and I’ll let you know if I find any more.

      • November 9, 2021 at 4:57 am #

        That command appears to do the trick! I tried substituting quarter circle motions and other alternatives, but D, D, D, B, B, 3 seems to be what triggers it each time. Thanks for the information!

    November 9, 2021 at 11:28 am #

    Excellent follow up article.

    I’m glad it’s been cleared up that game is confirmed to have not made it to a standard location test.

    Unless there had been a further along proto, it would have made no sense to release the game to even a limited public audience as it is.

    Imo at least.

  6. DB
    November 9, 2021 at 12:53 pm #

    I found a few more developments on this game. First, I also found Kraav’s fatality! It’s Down, Down, Down, Forward, Forward, Button 5. Also, I believe Kl’Klakt’s mutilation can be done with any button after the 5 forwards, it just matters that you do the 5 forwards first, at least when I’m playing it on MAME. I also saw Bolok’s fatality but am having issues executing it. I’m going back and forth with the joystick a few times and I know it’s a Button 3 that finishes the sequence. From the few times I’ve seen it, his fatality is really cool, he strangles the other player (Taera in my instance) and their head comes flying off and lands on the ground. It’s a difference from the few other fatalities uncovered in that it actually shows the other player rather than one general finisher for the character. I hope this information helps and I look forward to seeing if you can uncover more if you have time or myself finding any more.

    • DB
      November 9, 2021 at 1:51 pm #

      Update: Tried Bolok’s finisher a few times, I’m moving the joystick left and right, and it finishes with Button 3. There could be a quarter or half circle in there that I’m not catching though. Now with the audio on, and a few more chances at seeing the video clip (this time as Stiletta as the opponent), the announcer says “Brutality!” as Bolok strangles whoever his opponent is. Also if you do this brutality against Stiletta, she looks EXACTLY the same as she does in her mutilation, in her “ice” form. It could be possible that Brutalities are another form of fatalities that may be within the game, because the announcer says “In your Face!” for the others.

      • July 18, 2022 at 5:17 pm #

        I was able to figure out the combination for Bolok’s brutality, which is B, F, B, F, D, D, Button 3

      • segatailstrident
        September 13, 2022 at 8:21 pm #

        Hey, I was actually able to find two more cool brutalities from this game. Stiletta still uses that weird model in those cutscenes.

        Mallus Brutality: D, D, B, F, Button 3
        Stiletta Brutality: B, F, B, F, D, Coin

      • September 13, 2022 at 11:14 pm #

        Thanks for commenting! I was able to confirm the Stiletta Brutality, but I seem to be having issues getting the Mallus command to work. Do you have any input as to why I might be having a problem getting it to work?

      • segatailstrident
        September 13, 2022 at 11:23 pm #

        I realized that it was button 5, not button 3. Oops.

      • segatailstrident
        September 18, 2022 at 12:33 am #

        I have found a finisher:
        Chainsaw Fatality: D, B, F, D + Button 3

  7. Mad Conservative Crimefighter
    July 11, 2022 at 7:11 pm #

    Galloping Ghost Arcade has Vicious Circle on the arcade floor for everyone to enjoy.

  8. September 11, 2022 at 12:04 am #

    There should be Chainsaw’s brutality move in the game.

    • segatailstrident
      September 16, 2022 at 11:33 pm #

      Hey! I was not able to find his brutality yet, but I was able to find his fatality.

      Chainsaw Fatality: D, B, F, D + Button 3

      • DB
        September 18, 2022 at 10:18 pm #

        Thanks for uncovering Bolok’s brutality! I was working on it (along with others) a while back and things came up so that project got put off to the wayside, but I couldn’t seem to get a consistent move down. I had a similar issue with Stiletta as well. I didn’t even uncover Mallus’s so that’s awesome seeing a new one! After seeing some new ones come in I revisited some of the ones that I was working on and I got techniques down for a few more.

        Taera Brutality: B, B, D, D, F + Coin button (her brutality is exactly the same as her fatality, which is a bit of a letdown.)
        Stiletta Fatality: B, D, D, F, F + Button 6
        Lo Chi Brutality: D, F, F, B, B + Button 2
        Bolok Fatality: F, F, F, D + Coin button
        Kl’Klakt Brutality: D, D, U, D + Button 1

        I tested these out a few times, so these should work. I also tried out Chainsaw’s fatality you uncovered and the button inputs don’t seem to be working for me. Again, thanks for uncovering the ones you did find!

      • segatailstrident
        September 19, 2022 at 7:39 pm #

        That’s pretty cool, so I checked out why it isn’t working for you, and I guess I got it to work consistently after I did the move set again! The input would actually be D, B, F, D, D, B, F, D + Button 3. I am a bit surprised at how weird this is, but that’s the move input that works all the time.

      • DB
        September 25, 2022 at 3:58 pm #

        Your updated command definitely works! I did try a simpler command for the Chainsaw fatality that was F, D, D, B, F, D + Button 3 which should work as well. I have in the meantime also discovered one more fatality, this one for Lo Chi.

        Lo Chi Fatality: B, B, D, D, F + Button 2

        This leaves only 4 undiscovered finishers left in the game! (Kraav brutality, Chainsaw brutality, Mallus fatality, and Kl’Klakt fatality). Mallus’s fatality I believe is also a Button 5 finisher but I’ve only done it once or twice by luck. I have a feeling Kl’Klakt’s fatality when found is going to be the same as Taera where it’s the same animation for both the fatality and brutality.

      • September 25, 2022 at 4:41 pm #

        I’ve been out of town over the past week. Once I get back into doing things online, I’ll make sure everything gets updated. Thanks again everyone!

      • segatailstrident
        September 28, 2022 at 8:13 pm #

        DB, I did noticed that Kl’Klakt’s brutality has that cheesy guitar riff as the music, so I would agree with that theory.

      • October 11, 2022 at 9:25 am #

        Thank you for finding that. Somedays we will find Chainsaw’s brutality

  9. October 11, 2022 at 5:10 am #

    Hey SegaTailsTrident, do you know the input for Kraav’s Brutality?

    • October 22, 2022 at 3:47 pm #

      Its Down Down Forward Forward back Button 5. It is the same as his fatality.

  10. October 11, 2022 at 9:14 am #

    Is it possible to perform a fatality or brutality on Dredlokk?

  11. October 11, 2022 at 9:15 am #

    Did you know that Kraav’s Heart Rip fatality is the same as Kano’s fatality from Mortal Kombat?

  12. October 11, 2022 at 9:19 am #

    Hey SegaTailsTrident do you know the input for Mallus’ fatality?

  13. October 11, 2022 at 9:24 am #

    I think the brutality is where Lo Chi’s dragon tattoo comes off and the dragon breathes fire at the opponent.

  14. October 11, 2022 at 9:28 am #

    I really think Stiletta’s fatality is where she blows the opponent a kiss which freezes them. I found another fatality where Bolok swallows his opponent alive, and there was even another fatality where Lo Chi punches and kicks his opponent which causes the camera screen to be broken. I think these fatalities are so cool!

  15. October 11, 2022 at 9:31 am #

    I wanted to say thanks DJ Tatsujin for uncovering Lo Chi’s brutality and fatality, Stiletta’s fatality, Bolok’s fatality, and Kl’Klakt’s brutality on Twitch. I think somedays we could make videos of Kraav’s fatality and brutality, Mallus’ fatality, and Chainsaw’s fatality and brutality if that’s a great idea.

  16. DB
    October 16, 2022 at 10:41 pm #

    I saw your Twitch video and it was nice to see most of these commands working. I did revisit Chainsaw’s fatality myself and it is a 5 button input like most fatalities, in fact it’s the exact same command as Mallus’ brutality but using Button 3 instead of 5, so it should be F, D, D, B, F + Button 3. This should work more consistently. I also discovered Kraav’s brutality, and unfortunately, it’s another “placeholder” brutality like Taera and Kl’Klakt, but anyways, here’s the command.

    Kraav Brutality: D, D, F, F, B + Button 5

    I tend to use my directional inputs on my keyboard for a more accurate input. I also noticed that the Dredlok/Waryar character select cheat is working again, but am uncertain they also have finishing moves or can be activated on the character select via a hidden input.

    • October 22, 2022 at 3:46 pm #

      What’s Mallus’s fatality input and Chainsaw’s brutality input?

  17. October 17, 2022 at 8:51 pm #

    I found out Chainsaw’s fatality is where he stomps the POV of his opponent, causing the camera’s lens to shatter, and the screen fades to black at the end.

  18. October 21, 2022 at 1:44 am #

    Hey SegaTailsTrident, do you have inputs for Mallus’ fatality and Chainsaw’s brutality moves?

  19. DB
    October 22, 2022 at 6:40 pm #

    I have discovered 1 more fatality and brutality! Here they are:

    Chainsaw Brutality: D, D, B, D, D + Button 6
    Kl’Klakt Fatality: D, D, B, D, D + Button 1

    Chainsaw’s brutality is the 4th “placeholder” brutality that I’ve found. I was hoping for something more gruesome as a finisher 😦

    Kl’Klakt’s is the regular fatality with the same animation as the brutality.

    All brutalities have been found! With that, you can definitely tell that brutalities were a work in progress, as only 4 incorporate the other character in the game. The other 4 are placeholders, and Edge’s is the cinematic that always shows Stiletta. The only move left to discover a command for is Mallus’ fatality, which is different than the brutality. I saw the animation once last year but am trying to get a command down. I have a theory that Dredlok and Waryar may not have finishers, because when you use the regular characters against them, you cannot perform a Brutality on them, only a fatality.

    I also submitted Kraav’s brutality last week in the comments, please update your info to reflect that. Thanks!

    • October 22, 2022 at 10:32 pm #

      Much appreciated as always! Everything should be up to date now.

      • November 6, 2022 at 6:48 am #

        Will you pls submit Mallus’ fatality after you find the command?

    • October 23, 2022 at 4:50 pm #

      So whats the input for Mallus fatality?

    • November 6, 2022 at 6:46 am #

      So what’s the command for Mallus’ fatality? Does it start with button 5?

  20. October 30, 2022 at 1:39 am #

    Hey DB, how do you perform Mallus’ fatality?

  21. October 30, 2022 at 1:48 am #

    Is there any stage fatalities in the game?

  22. November 6, 2022 at 6:39 am #

    Hey DB, what’s the command for Mallus’ fatality move?

  23. November 6, 2022 at 7:26 am #

    I found some moves for the characters

    Head Clap — Back, Back, Button 6
    Charge — Forward, Forward, Button 6
    Bear Trap — Forward, Forward, Button 3

    Flipping Hammer Kick — Down, Forward, Coin Button
    Knee Blade Charge — Down, Forward, Button 2
    Blade Slap — Down, Back, Button 3
    Blade Beatdown — Down, Down, Button 6.

    Axe Chop — Down, Down, Button 6
    Spinning Punch Charge — Down, Forward, Button 6

    Chain Saw
    Chainsaw Toss — Down, Forward, Button 6
    Crouching Chainsaw Spin — Down, Forward, Button 3
    High Chainsaw Stab — Down, Back, Button 6

    Lo Chi Sun
    Flaming Dagger Throw — Back, Back, Button 2
    Machete Stab — Down, Down, Forward, Button 6
    Alternate Flaming Dagger Throw — Back, Back, Button 6
    Alternate Flaming Dagger Throw #2 — Back, Back, Coin Button

    Scythe — Down, Down, Button 6
    Katana Slide — Down, Down, Forward, Button 1
    Shurikens — Forward, Forward, Down, Button 1

    You should update this info with the moves i found.

  24. November 6, 2022 at 7:36 am #

    More moves for the game

    Head Toss — Down, Down, Button 1
    Skeletal Hand Grab — Down, Down, Button 3
    Throat Blood Spray — Down, Down, Button 5

    Purple Fireballs — Down, Forward, Button 5
    Sparkling Sickle Leap Attack — Down, Up, Button 6
    Dark Magic — Down, Down, Button 5
    Forward Cartwheel Kick — Down, Down, Button 6
    Sickle Slide — Back, Down, Forward, Coin Button

    You should also update this info too, DB.


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