TheIndieJar: Proteus Review
Dev: Ed Key/David Kanaga
Genres: Atmospheric adventure
Platform: PC, Mac
Release Date: 30/01/13

TheIndieJar: Proteus Review

Site Score
Good: Lots of room to explore without limits
Bad: Could be dull if you have no imagination, you have an imagination, right?
User Score
(5 votes)
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Rating: 7.8/10 (5 votes cast)

There is a place called Proteus I like to visit; it’s really pretty and the sounds of the trees and weather are spectacular. I spend most of my time there exploring. You see, Proteus can change each time you visit – it’s always the same place but not consistently the same island (is Proteus an archipelago?), because they are procedurally generated. It’s very much like going somewhere you know well and discovering something you didn’t realise existed. There is a lot you won’t see or understand the first few times you load up Proteus because it’s a place you grow to understand and interpret in you own way; it becomes your own secret garden paradise. In this way Proteus exists at a point between the natural and the unnatural.

ProteusAt its heart, Proteus is a pure experience about an environmental narrative you create by being there – it only exists by observation. There are no game mechanics; nothing you can interact with on a higher kinaesthetic level than moving around, sitting down, watching and listening at least – you simply feel the landscape and soundscape when floating around. The flora and fauna change with the seasons, which makes for a soundtrack that is never the same as it moves to match the surroundings. The soundtrack replaces natural sounds with electronic and orchestral instruments that represent the ambience of the place, object or animal. Everything that surrounds the player comes together in a wonderful mix of noise; occasionally the music is subtly dissonant and still sounds great.

I always enjoy seeing a squirrel out of the corner of my eye and chasing it until it disappears up a tree with a scampering sound. My favourite moment so far has been after I floated away from the island to explore the sea. The night came and the sea bed started to sparkle. I watched it for a while, then looked back up to see an Aurora filling an entire half of the sky.

ProteusThere is a clear mix of the natural and unnatural in Proteus. Obviously it’s a computer-generated island made of bright colours with instruments replacing most of the ambient ‘natural’ noise. On the other hand this gives you enough room to fill in the gaps yourself and see past the pixels. For me it feels like a scaled down version of the unfettered British countryside you see out of the train window or as you’re walking around the Peak District. That is mostly because its what I’ve experiences in my life. Other people might be able to see the vistas they’ve visited in the rolling hills of Proteus. Some effects are exaggerated, such as the meteors, but nobody cares because it works. Ed Key and David Kanaga create the notion that this place is still fictional and part of a game, while evoking past life experiences.

Magic exists in a folklore-ish way. I don’t really want to spoil it for you but on certain nights when the season is right, there will be a long night with magic in the air. In certain places there will be inexplicable visions that appear, to amaze and confuse. As fast as you can try to think through what is happening and why, they are gone. Many of them are quite eerie…

Proteus is what you make it. It always shows the beauty in the environment, even when it’s the bleak winter, using movement, colour and bright sounds. Secrets are everywhere, whether magical or rare. The things you notice can really make you smile. Ed Key and David Kanaga have created a wonderful place that is always worth revisiting because without a doubt there will be more to see!

- Lots of room to explore without limits

- A calm place but still active

- Looks and sounds beautiful

- Simple enough for anyone to play

- Could be dull if you have no imagination, you have an imagination, right?

I had some trouble coming up with that number. You can play it for hours and still not be tired of a single island. There are no faults I can make with Proteus so it might deserve a 10 really but I don’t feel the conviction to say that so this is what I came up with!

Are you an indie? Get in touch

Josh Mathews

A happy little British ludophile. Likes big words, weird music and beer. A firm supporter of indie games and their developers while getting up to all sorts of larks on Youtube.
TheIndieJar: Proteus Review, 7.8 out of 10 based on 5 ratings

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  1. Anthony Richardson
    February 7, 2013, 10:05 am

    This reminds me of that weird 6-axis flower game on PS3. Played it with a Hangover after EGE last year.

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If I had to describe Proteus in two words I would pick ‘Beautiful Simplicity’. Your entire interaction with this game is through what is presented in front of your eyes and ears. It is even more interesting to know that the two are intrinsically linked; the music, provided by David Kananga, has layers that are added depending on your surroundings.

When you start, your character opens their eyes. You are floating on an ocean, and the island you can explore is just on the horizon – glide over to it and an ambient soundtrack takes hold. What you encounter on this island will modify a layer of the soundtrack depending on what it is you find. For example, a ruined castle that towers over you will have a subtle but noticeable effect. If you climb a mountain and pass the clouds it will take on a much more airy melody. Some places have spectacular events that can change the island gradually (I don’t want to spoil any of them though), and then there are the creatures that inhabit the island. Rabbits, owls and the very rare squirrel all add different sounds to the landscape that are more energetic and louder than the static places.

The island has a timeline – if you spend long enough there the seasons will change, and you guessed it, so does the music. Different animals can appear during different parts of the day and in different seasons. Jenn was playing in the spring and saw a group of white insects flying around. She really enjoyed the way they looked and sounded so she stood looking at them for a moment. After a while however, their music and their little sprites died; she was really sad to see them fluttering pathetically on the floor. Everything on the island has a life cycle.

If I had to describe Proteus in two words I would pick ‘Beautiful Simplicity’.

I recommend using headphones if you don’t have an amazing speaker set up. Proteus is exploration in a landscape and soundscape brought to it’s logical harmonious conclusion. It’s currently in beta so there are more features and possibilities being considered, but the simplicity of the game means that even in this state it’s fully playable for hours on end. Last time I played it I went into a kind of Zen trance because the game only has move buttons and the mouse. Your ethereal character floats at walking pace and it is very calming to see the pixelated trees and animal sprites live and move around you. There are no high definition textures here, only bright or pastal colours and sprites that let your imagination fill in the details.

I would place this game as one of the most important game to be created in the last ten years. It takes real guts and expertise to pull off something that nobody has tried before. The fact that it is such a relaxed game to play sets itself aside from action packed adventures that seem to be flooding the market lately.

“My Rezzed 2012 Game of The Show” -Jenn

Josh Mathews

A happy little British ludophile. Likes big words, weird music and beer. A firm supporter of indie games and their developers while getting up to all sorts of larks on Youtube.
TheIndieJar: Proteus Review, 7.8 out of 10 based on 5 ratings

I Am Indie continues with our interview with Ed Key – former employee of a large video game developer who wanted to create something different. The result is Proteus; a game of pure exploration and discovery, with a reactive ambient soundtrack by David Kanaga. Find out a bit of Ed’s gaming industry past, the Skyrim of text adventures and if he feels that being an indie is a curse or a blessing.


Follow on Twitter: @edclef

Are you an indie? Get in touch

TheIndieJar: Proteus Review, 7.8 out of 10 based on 5 ratings

I’ve done this thing for as long as I can remember. Wherever I go there will always be a mountain, a valley, a forest or river that I look at and imagine what it would be like to reach the top of it or travel along it. Most of the time I’ve got something more ‘important’ to do, and I wish for some time without an objective. On the few occasions when it’s possible, the walking up a hill or across a field can be a day well wasted. In reality there has rarely been a point to hiking to the top of a mountain, but when you are up there, scale becomes apparent and reveals beautiful detail that you can’t see from anywhere else.

This is something that games can express better than any other medium. Watching Spiderman swing from the Empire State Building looks impressive but doing it yourself in a game is better. The journey makes it all the sweeter. You aren’t there because Spiderman wants or needs to be there but because you do. It’s a very personal experience because everyone will do it their own way and enjoy different parts of the adventure. They might even choose to go to a completely different place to you.

Four British indie developers have taken this desire and made it the biggest part of their game. The Chinese Room has already had great success with Dear Esther but I’m going to focus on what I played at the Eurogamer Expo. Proteus, Dirac, Dream and Kairo were all at the expo this year and I must admit it wasn’t the ideal place to play them. They require a chunk of free time that you don’t mind losing and being slightly unsure where it all went. Proteus by Ed Key and David Kanaga already has a written preview on TheGameJar, but it bears repeating that the sights and sounds on the island of Proteus are mesmerising. Random generation means you wont see the same place twice, which is a shame if you see something you’d like to return to but there are so many things to examine you won’t mind.

Dirac by Orihaus is similar to Proteus but has an entirely different atmosphere. The islands that you discover by walking through huge metal portals are oppressive and bleak. Obsidian peaks on a still black sea are dotted with floating polyhedrons and large metal structures, and most disorienting of all – there is no sky. Things are there to discover, hidden behind the contours of the hills with minimal interaction. It is all very mysterious and despite not reaching the end (if there is an end) I really want to see more of these islands and understand what on earth is going on.

Kairo by Richard Perrin takes a narrative and entwines it into the puzzles and places you encounter. A ‘show, don’t tell’ story is there for the people that notice it, while some might just be happy to take on the puzzles. If you’re up to it there are some secrets to find in the expansive structures and magical architecture. It is more colourful than Dirac and there is a greater sense of fun. One of the rooms I found was purely a floor piano and I entertained myself for five minutes jumping around on that.

Dream by HyperSloth also has a narrative. I’ll give you one guess where it’s set! The demo had oddities to investigate, like huge stacks of TVs and amps. Collectable bits of paper have short snippets of strange story or those explanations of what things in your dreams mean. The areas are quite big and after you’re satisfied seeing it there are four mazes with lights in that you must turn off as you get chased by black smoke monsters! The horror sections are done well and gave me a few jumps running round the corner, only to have my screen engulfed in black.

I can’t fully explain why Britain seems to have a monopoly on this style of game. As I talked to the developers they offered up explanations, such as the story telling traditions of writers like Tolkien and the wonderfully varied landscapes of the UK itself. It could be culturally ingrained or just a coincidence. I do know, however, that they all share a sense of permanence in my mind – that the buildings and terrain have been there a long time and will remain long after I have passed through them.

Josh Mathews

A happy little British ludophile. Likes big words, weird music and beer. A firm supporter of indie games and their developers while getting up to all sorts of larks on Youtube.
TheIndieJar: Proteus Review, 7.8 out of 10 based on 5 ratings