Welcome to the second installment of my Summer of Indie series. Now I know I said I would be talking about Proteus and Dear Esther but I really didn’t like the latter as much as I thought. Maybe in a later piece I will try to articulate why, but for now I want to talk about the much underappreciated Proteus, whose creators Ed Key and David Kanaga have not gotten enough attention despite the multitude of indie awards they have received. So today during the Summer of Indie lets talk about Proteus.
Before I get too deep here, I want to say that I am still not quite sure that Proteus is a game so much as a simulated, three-dimensional oral and visual experience. That’s a lot to take in, I know. What I mean by this is Proteus puts you in a strange and surreal local where you are not tasked with any particular end-goal, which is very different than most other games out there. I guess the most popular comparison would be a game like Minecraft, in which you simply find yourself in a world and it is up to you to decide what to do next. Yet unlike Minecraft and other crafting games, Proteus does not give the player any sort of abilities besides walking through the environment, looking around and taking screenshots (which I did liberally, as all of the following are from my game). So without further ado, I am going to dive into this bright, and above all, joyful world.
The word “giddy” kept coming to my mind while playing.
The opening to Proteus really sets the stage for the 45 minute to an hour and a half experience. Upon starting up Proteus, the screen slowly irises open, like an eye opening from a long nights sleep. Your character is standing ankle deep in an expansive, pixellated body of water. In the distance looms an island populated with a few trees with a tall mountain scraping the sky behind them. That said, it is impossible for me to say what exactly will greet your waking eye when you play because each experience is unique in Proteus. The popular term is “emergent gameplay” and while it is hard for me to connect Proteus to a word like “gameplay,” this game is completely emergent. Much like Minecraft‘s expansive worlds, Proteus also creates an entirely new landscape that you get to explore each time you boot it up. For example, the second time I roamed Proteus my island had a massive tree in middle of it, which I called the “world tree” just because I could. The first time no such tree existed but there was a large stretch of mountains that ran along my islands edge.
Your world will probably look nothing like this. Don’t hate.
But back to that start, upon “waking up” I instinctively started moving towards the island. Once I made it to the shore, I noticed a neon pink pixellated tree shedding square leaves on the ground. The soundscape changed as I approached, the synthetic strings of the ocean was mixed with tinkling tones that grew louder as I approached the tree. Moving from there up the side of a hill dotted with yellow flowers, the sound changed again to include birds chirping and a light bell. I soon ran across some creatures I might describe as bright orange chickens, pecking at the ground. I must have startled them because they soon moved away, making lights digital beats as they moved off to the distance. I chased them around for a while until I got distracted by a mountain I wanted to climb, or a large tree, or a bunny that bounded off when I approached. It went on like this for a good ten minutes until the sun began to set, the sky shifting gradually from blue to orange to grey as a storm rolled in with the onset of night. I could climb a mountain to escape this cloudy night and look up at the night sky decorated by stars and a massive moon or look look at the shifting clouds below and the mountains peeking out above the clouds. It was simply beautiful in that this world was simple and yet beautiful to look out upon.
I hesitate to write further about my experience after this point because it was so uniquely mine and each event I experienced I found on my own, guided by my own natural curiosity instead of a quest tracker or other traditional game device. But Proteus is not simply one randomly generated landscape; this experience does have a beginning, middle and end. I am not giving away much when I say that the island shifts between the four seasons which is activated by a subtle game mechanic in the world that you have to discover for yourself. Each season offers its own unique soundscape and visual landscape despite keeping the same island layout. While these seasonal experiences are interesting, I was happy that the timer for each day is about 15 minutes, because some seasons like winter are rather barren (understandably so). But I want to say again, Proteus has a proper ending, which I must say left me breathless, a feat that doesn’t often happen in video games, or in other media for that matter. Seriously, Proteus isn’t over until you hit the title screen again, and until you do keep playing; the ending is totally worth it and something I will not spoil for you (though I would love to talk about it in the comments section).
“If only stuff like this happened in real life,” says the geek.
So in the end is Proteus a game? I am not sure but I am also not sure I care. Proteus is a digital world that is entirely unique and completely player driven. I could see many people getting bored with it and stopping thirty minutes in just because the sense of joyous awe might begin to wear off, but for those of you that love to get lost in nature, or for those of you that love to play games simply to experience another world, then I can’t recommend Proteus enough. Keep in mind that once you have journeyed on Proteus‘s island once, maybe twice, you will probably not feel the desire to again, which might be too much of a constraint to spend the ten bucks on, which is the game’s full retail price on Steam. But, if you catch it on sale (like say during the Steam Summer Sale) or in a bundle (like I did) then Proteus is totally worth it. Trust me, no cup of coffee offers the same experience as a hour or so exploring the stunning, joyfully designed world of Proteus, which is why I am giving Proteus a solid Pick up on Sale.
So, what do you think? Have you played this indie gem? If you haven’t would you consider it? Should more games like this be made? Leave your comments below and let me know what you think!