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6:11 PM on 02.02.2013  

A Stroll Through Proteus

Proteus isn't so much played as it is experienced. I'm not really sure if it is a game at all in the strict sense of the word. It has no explicit objectives or narrative, and chooses instead to let the player's wanderlust direct the experience.

The game (for lack of a more apt discriptor) has players explore a randomly generated island in first-person. As the player moves through the pixilated landscape, his actions and proximity with certain objects influence subtle changes in the musical score. Cherry blossoms note your passing with the synthesized chime of an old sound chip. Frogs and squirrels bound from your footfalls with a florid rhythm that bleeds right into the soundscape. Wind whistles through a canopy of trees, and an owl lets out a hoot that sounds like it came from a Casio keyboard. And it all feels perfectly married to your actions and location on screen in Proteus.

Itís similar to the way music is procedurally generated is Portal 2, where as a player progresses through a puzzle, different instruments enter and exit the orchestration. In that game the correlation is simple: the more cacophonous the music, the closer the player is to solving the puzzle. It denotes progress. This is not necessarily the case with Proteus, where progression is a bit more nebulous and my song might vary vastly from yours. In Proteus itís proximity rather than progress thatís serves as the musical triggeróor rather harp string.

Though for as nebulous as the game is, itís not without at least some semblance of progression. Certain eventís trigger shifts in seasons, and over the course of an hour, most players will have seen them all and played the game out to its completion. I played through twice. The first time took the better part of an hour, the second time around 45 minutes.

The game is short, and frankly thereís not a lot the player can actually do in the world. All player actions are done through proximity. There is no action button. There is no jump button. You just walk around. And some reductionists will say thatís all it isówalking around on an island. The concern is that without the trappings weíve come to expect in our games, many will be left unsatisfied with the experience. To be honest, I fought some of these impulses myself. I had to readjust my mind (Not with psychotropic drugs or anything like that. That's not really my jam. Though this game seems particularly well-suited). I forced myself to stop thinking of Proteus as a game, and start thinking of it as an interactive art piece. Is it a painting that sings, or a song that's been painted? Iím not really sure itís more one than the other; a credit to the gameís creators, Ed Key and David Kanaga, to unify these elements into one cohesive whole. No solitary screenshot or audio clip can do it justice. It needs to be played, or at the very least watched as someone plays it.

Proteus is short, but downright gorgeous. Making its $10 price point the most prohibitive factor to an otherwise pleasant experience. If asking price isn't too high, and you don't feel the need to shoot people in all your gaming experiences, then give Proteus a go. Truth be told, if it were any more relaxing I'd be comatose.   read

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