'Volume' developer launches a surprise, bite-sized sci-fi game

Surprise! 'Subsurface Circular' is here.

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Bithell Games
Bithell Games

Subsurface Circular came out of nowhere.

Well, that's not entirely true. Mike Bithell, the developer behind Thomas Was Alone and Volume, tweeted a prescient question in April, asking followers if they'd be interested in paying $5 for a unique, hour-long video game. He didn't mention that his team at Bithell Games was already building Subsurface Circular, a bite-sized, reasonably priced experience for PC and Mac.

Subsurface Circular is a text-driven game about a robot detective solving mysteries on the subway, and it's available today on Steam for just $4.80 through August 24th. After that, it'll be $6.

"I have to admit, that was a cheeky bit of research," Bithell explained on Twitter today. "Because we were making something, and I was glad folks liked the idea. My fear was hype: A hopefully good, polished short game could be ruined if we announced early and set false expectations."

Subsurface Circular isn't a throwaway project for Bithell -- it's impressively deep for such a short experience, raising questions about the nature of humanity and the future of automation. Instead, Subsurface Circular is a calculated foray into a new kind of development pipeline: no hype, quick gameplay and an accessible price point.

"So, would that work?" Bithell tweeted just before Subsurface Circular went live on Steam. "If we just launched a short game, announcing it at the point it goes on sale? Let's find out in 5 minutes."

The previous project out of Bithell Games was also a departure from traditional development. EarthShape was a cute little launch game for Google's Daydream VR headset, starring former Great British Bake Off host Sue Perkins.

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