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Proteus: A musical amble through retro wonderlands

If there’s one thing we have plenty of in games right now, it’s everything associated with violence. Violence, swearing, punching people in the mouth and staving their heads in with the butt of an AK-47. The environments are typically as dreary as can be – grey, grey and more grey, boring as hell and guaranteed to depress. Look! Over there you can see a dog being sick! Can’t see it? It’s right over there beside that mass grave. The one with a few more headless bodies being slung into it by those filthy terrorist scumbags you’ll soon be blasting in the face with a shotgun.

It’s enough to make the average gamer quite literally die out of sheer boredom – shocking scenes rendered moot through seemingly eternal repetition. So Game A has a few more pixels detailing the exposed chunks of brain slopping out of someone’s skull than Game B? Hoo bloody rah.

Into this world comes a new game designed by Ed Key and scored by David Kanaga which brings the simple joys of merely going for a walk in a beautiful environment back into videogames. Leave that pistol by the door, you filthy murderous scum. We’re heading out to smell some roses and step in some puddles and shit.

The curious thing about Proteus is that it’s not really about exploration, as I’d originally presumed. Sure, you can go a-wandering over hills and peeking under bushes, but there’s not that sense of scale inherent to something like Dragon’s Dogma. The real reason to visit Proteus is really to just hang out in a sweet, non-photo-realistic environment for a while and chill out to the ambient sounds that occur whilst ambling around, essentially like a form of virtual tourism in a pleasant, if oddly landscaped rural area.

It has some striking visuals, too – though in a very peculiar and unique way. It’s tough to recall exactly what it reminds me of, coming across as an old Commodore adventure title but with those static backdrops of old having come to life in fully animated fashion. As nice as a lot of modern games look, half the time you’d be as well walking over to the window and taking a look outside instead. Proteus is something else entirely, however. Colours are thick and vibrant, edges and objects often heavily digitized and pixelated.

The game typically starts with your invisible avatar coming to after an all night bender. At least, it’s assumed there was a shit-load of alcohol involved as the crazy bastard is lounging around in the ocean as the game starts for whatever reason. And, like a drunkard, you find yourself unable to accurately control his movements after waking. Every direction you can try inexorably pulls you into that neat, randomly generated island for a bit of exploration related tomfoolery.

From here, the world is your retro-styled oyster. Feel free to walk back into the sea, or check out the Cherry Blossoms nearby. While you can’t perform any physical interactions with the environment (which means that sadly there’s no simulation of actually lying down on the grass and gawping around for a while) there is a twist to all this – everything in the game world has a musical aspect associated with it. Those trees all have their own little tune that will weave into the medley of your individual journey, and this is a large part of why it’s so incredibly easy to simply veg out and relax while playing Proteus.

Hike up a mountain and the background music will recede as the sound of the wind whistling past your ears pushes its way into the aural forefront. Scamper over to what looks like the remains of a ruined castle and the strains of digitized bagpipes will begin seeping into your head. The trees will sing as you approach, the unique animal noises providing additional layers of sound as you interact with the delightful little fluff muffins in a non-sexual manner and assuming that natural progression is being made, bells will tinkle as the seasons drift by. Day turns to night in a particularly impressive manner – the use of bold primary colours and clever aural tricks alongside the smooth colour gradients makes it feel like the temperature actually drops significantly during these moments.

Naysayers might argue there’s not really a great deal to do in Proteus other than ambling around looking at pretty digital things. While there are happy, chirping birds and assorted wildlife inhabiting the island, you can’t just stuff them into a sack and excitedly invite all your online friends around to proudly show off your new collection of sack inhabiting chums. You’ll never tumble down an icy ravine and snap both your legs off at the knee, crawling miles using your hands and teeth before meeting an ignominious end at the paws of a hungry mountain lion. And naturally, you’ll never enter into a conversation with owls and angrily demand that they teach you the secrets of flight, the selfish flying bastards.

That said, despite the lack of clear goals to work toward, there is a definitive ending to the experience. This means that there is, in effect, an eventual conclusion you will come across – though I’ll leave the details of such for you to discover on your own, as it’s not something I’d want to spoil.

It’s important to note that Proteus is still in Beta phase right now, with a tentative launch date targeted for early January 2013. Things will undoubtedly change between now and then – for instance the inclusion of additional environmental effects, unique seasonal features and the like are detailed as being worked on but have yet to be implemented into the game.

Proteus undoubtedly isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste since there aren’t bad guys getting gut-shot and spewing up their livers every ten seconds, but for those with an open, inquisitive mind and a taste for trying out a singularly unique musical exploration title there’s a lot to be said for it. There’s not a lot on the market quite like Proteus right now, so if you’re interested in checking it out and seeing how development is coming along, check out visitproteus.com for more details and the opportunity to check it out for yourself – after all, a whole new world awaits.

3 Comments

  1. Really need to get my hands on this. David Kanaga’s work on Dyad really impressed me, and, everything else seems right up my alley.

    Recently, Key and Kanaga played the game live, and, Kanaga put together a pretty incredible mix for the performance which you can download at http://www.visitproteus.com/proteus-live/

  2. I’m really looking forward to this! Any news on a steam release?

  3. I can almost certainly confirm that it’ll be available on Steam – at least once it’s out of Beta.

    Until then the in-development Beta version can be bought from visitproteus.com, but I’m not sure whether that comes with a Steam Key or not. As It mentions being DRM free, I’m assuming that it’s entirely standalone.

    I could probably find out for you, if you’d like?

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