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OST(?) Case Study: Proteus


On the 30th of January 2013, Proteus had it's official release. Prior to this, it had won Best Audio at the 2011 Indiecade Awards, and was a finalist in the Nuovo Award category in the 2012 IGF. Upon it's release, it was received well by critics but also scorned by skeptics. Due to it's non-traditional design and brevity, people doubted it's identity as a video game, going as far as to call it an anti-game. Proteus is a great example of an idea boiled down to it's most pure form. Exploration and autonomy are the driving forces on the small island. It's simplistic commodore64-esque visual style and robust audio make it an experience I believe everyone should have. 

David Kanaga created the audio for Proteus. Kanaga is a prevalent voice in the world of interactive audio, having also worked on Dyad and various other smaller projects throughout his career. In this article we're going to look at the sounds of Proteus to understand how and why they make it such a special experience. 

Upon generating a new island, the player is begins in the ocean, with the land mass directly ahead. There is very little sound as the player approaches the island. Only the occasional splashing of a small wave can be heard, but as soon as the player steps foot onto the island, the sonic journey begins. The sonic feedback the game gives the player is absolutely tremendous. Not a single object on screen isn't accounted for in the overall sound scape. Even then, objects off screen will still give make sound if interacted with. The harnessing of diegetic sounds (sounds with a source from within the world) is what gives the world life and allows the designers to strongly guide the players emotions. 

Interaction is a key part of Proteus' gameplay, however there are no button presses. All interaction is triggered by proximity. As you walk close to a frog, it will hop away, walk up to a castle and you'll hear it's bagpipe like song, enter the water to rid yourself of all environmental buzz and have a quiet moment. Because there's no "direct" interaction with anything in the world, the sound becomes one of the key components of the world reacting to you. You'll only know the bees have stopped chasing you once the buzzing has stopped, The rocks strewn about the island will give off a deep tone only when brush past them and you'll be able to find your way to particular areas by listening out for their sound and moving towards it. 

Proteus doesn't just do this on a micro scale, but also macro. Some areas will have particular sounds to them. On the mountain tops you can hear the howling wind, and standing under a rain cloud adds an extra layer to the overall soundscape. Not only this, but as the game progresses the player experiences the cycle of seasons, which all have variants on the soundscape. 

The seasons are helpful to highlight the final sonic aspect of the game, music. Having such an abundance of diegetic sounds, Proteus doesn't rely too heavily on music but uses it instead as an emotional framework for the player. Each season has a distinctly different feel musically and this makes the overall progression of the game very effective in my opinion.  Spring has calming drones  and wandering leads, which then leads into Summer. It's solid rhythmic pattern and multitude of melodic patterns makes summer the most energetic season. All the creatures are wandering around the island and even the flora seems to be moving along with the music. Autumn has a very solemn tone, with woodwind instruments accompanying the now dulcet syths playing a long forgotten melody as the player wanders around the now mysterious landscape which is slowly but surely moving to a more quiet state. Winter is the final season and is devoid of the life. There is very little sound to be heard at all, but as night falls, angelic voices can be heard as the game draws to a close. 

I'm not really one to have very emotional responses to games, but no matter how many times I play it, Proteus always has a strong impact on me. The haunting paradise, always familiar yet alien. Filled with charming sounds and a sense of welcome no other game has really displayed in my opinion.  Proteus is the best example of interactive sound in a game I can think of. There's no real "sound track" to this game. Only an aural experience you can really get from playing the game yourself. I hope other games can take inspiration from Proteus' wonderful use of sound because it makes for a truly unique and personal experience. 

What do you think? Do you have any interesting stories from your time with Proteus? What other games would work with the sonic ideas Proteus puts forward?What are some things you feel you took away form the game? I'd love you hear your ideas. 

If you want to read more about Proteus' sound there are a bunch of interviews with David Kanaga to read:
The Daily Portal
That Damn Pixel
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About Oscarnoone of us since 5:23 AM on 02.25.2014

Hello I am Oscarno and welcome to a rad Video Game Music blog on Destructoid!

I'm way into Video Game Music, and with these blog posts, I hope to provide an investigation into and discussion about Video Game Music and how music affects video games as a creative medium.

I write weekly, usually posting on Thursdays. Most weeks will be OST Case Studies, looking a the music of a particular game and pulling it apart to find why it works so well. Sometimes, however, I'll just post a shorter opinion post or perhaps an article looking into other areas of Video Game Music.

If you wanna talk to me or follow me on Twitter ,you can.(but tbh it's pretty boring)

Also you can check out some of the music I make on my Soundcloud!