Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Proteus: Graphics and Exploration

I'd like to start off with a nice video walkthrough/commentary on Proteus.  Just in case my gushing and images aren't enough, this walk-through will give you some idea of what it is like to play Proteus.  That said, this video is basically one big spoiler.  So if you haven't yet played Proteus... maybe just ignore me until it goes on sale (I'll let you know), and then buy it and then play it.  

RockLeeSmile highlights indie games in a series of videos called 'Indie Impressions.'


I've played Proteus through a couple times now, and I think I've made some basic determinations about this game:  Proteus is an easter-egg hunt.  No one is keeping score - and there is a complete lack of achievements.  The purpose of the game is to play it and enjoy it, the player decides how much they enjoy it.  I am one who has decided to love it.  There are others who decided not to.  That is ok with me.  But if you choose to play, you can spend your time looking around, and you will find some things that may catch your attention and interest, and possibly provide you with some delight.  

Actually, funny thing--  I have been thinking about making a game based on the causeway which connects Sacramento to Davis.   I ride over this causeway on the train all the time, and when I'm looking out the window, I have observed a lot of beauty and subtle differences.  Because I love games and thinking about gaming, I've wanted to depict this environment through gaming.

My initial idea was to make a minecraft of the causeway.  This I still may do if I come into a boatload of time and patience.  The things that I observe from out the train window are mostly:  the weather and the animals.  The causeway is sometimes foggy, sometimes clear, sometimes flooded.  Sometimes I see egrets and ducks floating in the water, sometimes I see geese in the air, and little swarms of tiny birds.  Sometimes I can see the mountains in the distance and snow on top.  Sometimes the fields are full of wheat or squash or some other plants.  The colors can be many shades of brown, or contrasting shades of bright green, blue mountains, stark-white farm buildings and bright blue sky.

As I've observed the world of the causeway through the window of a train, I've wanted to share this form of peaceful joy with the world.  And as I imagine an artistic rendering of this landscape, I've thought of doing so with a video game.  This video game would need to pay special attention to the landscape, animals and weather.  The purpose of the game would be to travel through and observe a world of beautiful sights and sounds.

Proteus has done just that.  My playing experience is akin to looking out the window at the causeway, imagining what it would be like to wander around there and take in the sights, sounds and smells.  It really is amazing to me, to capture such a sublime experience, and I am very glad I found this game. Sorry to gush.  

Two of the most outstanding features of Proteus are: the practiced restraint on the part of programmers, and the synchronization of the sound and visual space.  There are musical cues triggered by the environment in a variety of ways.  Some triggers come from being near something: the hoot of an owl, the croak of a frog.  Some are triggered by looking at something, such as the sun on a hot summer day, or a shooting star.  

Sometimes I think that Proteus is too sparse, and could use more of everything.  More birds, more bugs, more trees, more weather.  But one thing it does wonderfully is to balance what it does have into a consistently interesting gaming experience.  I believe it is through restraint on the part of the game designers, that this balance is achieved.  I would be very sad if there was a sequel or expansion to Proteus that, perhaps with a zeal to improve and expand on the game play, was to disrupt the balance so that the sense of wonder and joy were lost or significantly diminished.    

It is possible that this game can be so much more than it is, but it is also possible that what Proteus is - is the best thing it can be, and that this feeling I've gotten from playing, of so much more, is best for me to hold, and relish and used for inspiration to create something beautiful myself, rather than to demand it from the creators of Proteus or the industry in general.

I think it may be that the very sparseness of Proteus lends itself to the need for a player to explore.  For example, if I'm feeling aimless while playing, I find a good strategy is to chase a frog until I find something that catches my interest.  Sometimes this leads to finding something unexpected.  

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