Proteus is an exploration-based piece of interactive art by Ed Key and David Kanaga. In it, players take a walk through an abstract procedurally-developed island as relaxing harmonies play and react to your movement. After winning a smattering of gaming conference awards and a nearly year long beta-testing period, Proteus has finally gone gold!
The basic gameplay of Proteus is simple movement and observation. The default controls will use [WASD] to move around with inverted y-axis mouse controls to look around, but it's best to take a trip to the options menu before starting and decide what you'd find comfortable. After that, travel to the island and get exploring. Also note that Proteus is a game where having the sound on is a must.
Analysis: It's always a curious thing when art tries to capture the beauty of nature. Life and experience is impermanent, which is why some artists try to immortalize it in a a painting or a symphony or a game. Clearly something will always be lacking if all these works do is try to directly recreate the dimensions of a flower. However, it's hard to deny that it is possible to capture something of the essence of nature in art. Proteus offers the essence of a visit to an island that never was, and may never be, and it offers it beautifully and without pretension.
The world of Proteus is generated for each user, so this reviewer can only speak for his own island, but man, it was awesome to explore. It started as just a hazy image on the horizon of the sea. Approaching it, the blurs form into trees and flowers and cliffs. After pausing on the sand to troll a group of drum-beating crabs, I ran through a a field of pixelated cherry trees, the chirps of chiptune notes and chords sounding as I collided with the falling blossoms of spring. There was a green creature there who leaped away at my approach, and after following him for a while, he led me to a path that ended at a cabin. By this time, night had fallen, so I climbed to the peak of nearest mountain to get a look at the land surrounding me. This turned out to be the perfect place to view a meteor shower, and to see the clouds of the rainstorm that had traveled to the far side of the island, the sound of its droplets plinking against the ground barely audible over the soft winds of the peak. Sunrise came quickly, and I spotted pieces of light swirling near a circle of stones. I walked there (accidentally interrupting a flock of chickens, who dispersed to the sounds of an organ grinding), and upon my arrival the world began to spin, sounds and colors blended into each other. Then it was summer. I had barely scratched the surface and I wanted more.
In Space Quest IV, one of the boxes Roger Wilco finds in the Galaxy Galleria's Radio Shock describes a game that lets you "wander through" a world with "no other characters, no conflict, no puzzles, no chance of dying, and no interface." In context, this was a send-up of Lucas Arts' Loom, but it's actually a pretty good description of what Proteus has to offer. Some will love it, some will be bored by it, and some will argue it doesn't qualify as a game at all. That's a matter of definition. But while Proteus is probably not going to challenge the conception some have of artistic games as low-rez inaction-fests, that niche of gamers who'd be interested in a chill 45-minute retro vacation will find it a place worth hearing, and a song worth exploring.
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