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You only get one chance to play Upsilon Circuit

S. Prell, @SamPrell

Upsilon Circuit is an upcoming PC game from Legend of Dungeon developers Robot Loves Kitty, but you might never get the chance to play it. In fact, only eight people will ever be playing the game simultaneously, and once one of those players dies, that's the end for them; in Upsilon Circuit, you only have one life. Ever.

Think of it like Twitch Plays Pokemon meets Diablo 3, as televised by The Running Man, playing a game of 1 vs 100. Yeah.

Upsilon Circuit takes place in a world where the borough of Manhattan disappeared in the '80s, and there is now a game show hosted by what Robot Loves Kitty founders Calvin Goble and Alix Stolzer refer to as "Ronny Ray-Gon," a floating head that merges Ronald Reagan with fictional, virtual host Max Headroom.

The game will only run for a few hours at a time, and only at certain times of the week, to emphasize the TV show aspect of Upsilon Circuit's lore - though there will be off-air "clips" and ways to recap for those who can't participate at those times. While the game is running, host Ray-Gon will interact in real-time with both the audience and players, sometimes mocking them or cracking jokes. If you're at PAX Prime, you can directly interact with Ray-Gon, who will address you by name (if you share it) and talk about you. "Sam has great hair," Ray-Gon told me as I stood at the booth, his synthetic voice cracking, looping and stuttering like a damaged CD.

(By the way: Thanks, Ray-Gon, I just got it cut.)

Having to "tune in" for a game sounds like a chore, but Robot Loves Kitty is trying to turn being an audience member into an active part of gameplay, which will in turn cause people to enjoy watching as much as they enjoy playing. "I want people to say 'I can't wait to watch,'" Goble told Joystiq.

Participants of Upsilon Circuit take on one of two roles: they can be chosen to play as one of eight heroes – divided into two teams of four – or audience members. Heroes are customizable avatars that explore randomly-generated dungeons full of monsters and a boss to defeat, and gameplay follows the conventions of the action-RPG genre: an isometric camera angle, skill trees and special abilities are all here and accounted for.

However, where a standard ARPG hero might take time to sort through menus to level up and choose their abilities – "the boring stuff, the stuff that's not fun to watch" as Goble put it – Upsilon Circuit puts such actions in the hands of the viewers. For example, while the hero does the heavy lifting of killing monsters to earn experience points, it's the audience that decides where that experience goes and what skills are unlocked.

Another example Goble gave was that a hero might slay a special monster that would be holding a piece of a puzzle that could only be solved by the audience. Or, taking a page from The Hunger Games, an audience could send a hero they favor special items to help them on their journey.

Active audience members also have the greatest chance to be chosen as players, as Robot Loves Kitty will be using "algorithm trickery" to see who is contributing to the experience and who isn't. Stolzer said she would like to take advantage of people who troll, and turn even those who spam into a type of gameplay experience for the audience.

Goble and Stolzer said they're constantly brainstorming new ideas and surprises, but they've yet to figure out exactly which will be implemented in the final build. A beta, which is tentatively planned for early 2015, should help sort out what works and what doesn't. There's a lot of uncertainty tied to Upsilon Circuit, but it's exploration of the unknown that makes the team excited.

​And if they fail, well ... as Stolzer said, she and Goble "can always move back to a treehouse."
[Image: Robot Loves Kitty]

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