Unwind This Weekend With Proteus, a Procedurally-Generated World of Art, Music, and Life
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
The criticism that's been leveled against Ed Key and David Kanaga's retro, artistic, musical exploration game Proteus since its release a few weeks ago probably sounds all too familiar to fans of Second Life (who account for a significant chunk of NWN's audience.) The friendlier discussions are full of questions like "what are you supposed to do", "where do you go" and "isn't this boring" while others have even compared it to a screensaver, or refused to think of it as a game at all.
This is why, even though Hamlet briefly covered Proteus earlier this month, I felt compelled to return to it for a much more in-depth look. Surely if any one community could understand and agree on what makes Proteus so special, it would be ours.
I'd been following Proteus on and off for a few months, and the one thing I was sure of was that this is not a game that you can just write about. The premise of exploration is simple enough, and Proteus' screenshots are beautiful (unless you're unable to appreciate the colorful retro vibe) but that's less than half of what makes Proteus such an enchanting experience and (naysayers aside) such a critical darling. So I did something extra special last night--I streamed my game on Twitch.tv for a few friends from Plurk and Twitter to watch, and sent the resulting footage (nearly an hour's worth) to YouTube so I could embed it here for you.
That's the first of four videos, and you can find the rest in this YouTube playlist.
Even though I'd intended to play for just long enough to give a good sense of how dynamic and relaxing the world was, I ended up playing the game from start to finish. The sounds, the world, the breathtaking moments of sincere wonder all sucked me right in and I completely lost track of time in a way that I do with very very few games. I had no idea how much time had actually passed when I finally emerged. I haven't found something so immersive since Skyrim came out, and even though I had high expectations for Proteus it completely surpassed them.
Interacting with visual as well as auditory aspects of an environment is incredibly powerful, but it's also not necessarily going to be an experience that everyone will appreciate in the same way. Mike Rose (whose name you might recognize from the SimCity traffic experiment I mentioned earlier this week) wrote a piece about Proteus that defined it as an "anti-game", which earned terse rebuttals from both Kotaku and creator Ed Key himself. I don't believe it's possible (or at least quite that easy) to define whether or not a game is really a game based on a laundry-list of subjective qualities, but in this case I also don't think it matters.
At the end of the day I'm not going to play Minecraft if I want a Mass Effect experience, or else I'll probably find myself very bored and very disappointed. For that matter there are plenty of "real" games that I have no interest in or find boring, including most of the key modern FPS titles, even though most are perfectly good and perfectly gamey games. Maybe if you don't like Proteus you just... don't like Proteus. Not because it's not a "real" game, not because it's good or bad, not because you're a horrible uncultured person, but just because we have different tastes.
Whether you think you're interested in Proteus or not, watch a bit of that video. If you find it piquing your curiosity watch a bit more, and then a bit more. Watch the playlist to the very end if you want, because Proteus' procedurally-generated islands are different every time. On my first playthrough the spring sky was bright and clear, but on my second it was oppressively overcast. I found pockets of new sounds, creatures, and landmarks I hadn't seen before, and even realized that I was able to dash through the forest to speed the music up to a frantic pace. It was wasn't a completely new experience, but it varied from and built upon the one I'd just had.
Proteus is one of those games that makes me very grateful to be a gamer, because it's not an experience that could be created or shared as well in any other medium. It's not for everyone, but there isn't a single game (or movie, book, or song) in existence that is. If you feel that Proteus is for you, you can buy it for both Windows and OS X on Steam or on their website here.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.