Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-05-29 16:42:04
Proteus and Gaming Ambience
At the time of writing the Humble Indie Bundle 8 is running, and I highly recommend that everyone picks this one up. Every game in the pack is a gem, with such recent cult classics as Hotline Miami and Dear Esther making the cut. Another game within the bundle is Proteus, and I'd like to talk a little bit about this game.
Proteus isn't a traditional gaming experience. There are no linear objectives and there isn't a clear-cut conclusion to any grand narrative. Instead, your nameless player character arrives on a procedurally generated island and has to go exploring. Because of the randomised nature of these explorable environments, every playthrough is slightly different; you'll encounter different weather effects, trees and animals in varying locations, and, of course, randomised landmasses and topographical undulations.
The bulk of the experience is made up from audio cues that guide the player around the island. Animals chirp and harmonise; rain comes down in audible torrents; and the game's soundtrack adapts to the particular location the player is in. The volume of the music fades in and out depending on location, but there is always music playing in Proteus to some extent. It's alarming how much of an impact the music can have on the ambience of the game, which is, at its heart, little more than a series of colourful blocks put together to create a sense of unadulterated voyeurism.
These blocks are also integral in shaping how personal the world of Proteus can be to the player. Cherry blossom trees made up of big blocky pixels drop equally blocky petals; clouds are giant white cubes in the sky that can completely envelop a player. It's all very Minecraft-esque and serves to make Proteus into a game where the player doesn't have to put much time in to get a lot in return. Day and night and seasonal cycles come quickly, altering the way in which the game world behaves, and while it doesn't take long to see all that one island of Proteus has to offer, it is worth playing more than once to see the differences on your island a second time around.
Proteus is an exercise in minimalistic gaming. There isn't anything in the way of a challenge, and some gamers may be put off by the tranquility of the game. The euphoric qualities of Proteus, however, are difficult to deny: witnessing these colourful islands and chasing frogs and owls around is as cathartic as it is inspiring; and, while the game doesn't have much staying power, it's the kind of thing you'll boot up every now and then for the emotional respite it provides.