The Amazing & Astonishing RPS Advent Calendar: Day 15

By RPS on December 15th, 2013 at 10:00 am.

Let’s take a walk.

It’s Proteus!

Alec:Proteus is a game of light and sound that I’ve always recommended but never really written about. Part of that is because I think it’s a game that words can’t represent well, or at least my stock of them cannot, and part of it is because it feels so private to me, so personal. I use Proteus as a balm for emotional wounds and difficult days, which I’m afraid to say I have too many of lately, and not as something I feel I should be judging or even sharing with others.

It’s a tonic for my senses, gently brushing light and sound across my eyes and ears to create the suggestion of nature at its most idyllic, most serene and most welcoming. Oh, I just sound like a dizzy hippy, and that’s precisely why I’ve been so loathe to write much about this game. It makes me feel better. It feels wrong to even describe that, let alone scrutinise it.

Proteus achieves the same effect, for me, as walking along a night-time seafront does: the quiet, the solitude, the moonlight on the water, the whisper of waves, the welcome stillness in my mind. Which is faintly ludicrous, as I live a seven-minute walk from a real seafront, but hey, getting out the house requires an energy I don’t always have.

Whether or not I should be living differently, I strongly resist the idea of ever dissecting what’s in Proteus, or what went into it, or why it does what it does to me. To know this unpretentious but supremely deft magician’s secrets would be to take away all its wonder.

Light and sound, both equally vital forces in Proteus; both forever the foundations of human delight and therapy.

We didn’t run this trailer on RPS as it was for Proteus’ (wonderful) Vita edition, but I think the time’s right now. It’s fanciful, of course, but even so, rare’s the time that advertising is so representative of what I felt, saying all it needs to say without words or melodrama, saying what I want to say without quite having the words to.

I wanted to just run that as my entry in this piece, but much as I admire it, a writer so completely allowing advertising to speak for him would surely be the poorest of form.

I am, truly, thankful for Proteus. I don’t think that’s quite the word I’d use for anything else I’ve written about in this calendar.

John: Like Alec, I find that words only seem to chip away at Proteus, like a sculptor who can’t leave his finished statue alone. The more I write about it, the more I feel likely to knock off an ear, or even crack the whole thing in two.

It is, without question, an emotional experience. As a game (and yes, it is a game) it’s going for a bit of a walk. As an experience, it’s an ethereal, uplifting, affecting and even draining. It’s a game that lifts me out of any doldrums I might have, raising me up until my toes can’t quite touch the ground, and fills me with a glow of hope. God, I feel the same angst as Alec describes above – I sound ridiculous, unrealistic, purple and pompous. And yet, that’s my experience of this game.

It feels like a celebration, an orchestral symphony about the joy of nature, life, existence. And it’s a literal symphony too, the game’s procedurally generated music, played by you and the journey you take, sings along. It connects you to the world in a way that is utterly unique. Which of course only makes the transience of this hour-long game all the more overwhelming.

Ack, words. I think I may have done a better job of this when I reviewed it. Traditionally, when it comes to end of year lists, things that appeared in January tend to have a tougher job of getting recognised. Proteus had no such challenge – nearly a year on, its resonance is still with me.

Adam: Many games are about moving from one place to another, sometimes overcoming obstacles along the way, but increasingly fictional spaces exist for no other reason than to be explored. Proteus is perhaps the purest ‘walking’ game, with no narrative voice to direct the player’s attention, and no intrusions to complicate the experience of existing in its strange and beautiful landscape. When I talked to Warren Spector earlier this year, he mentioned that he wanted to make a game in the style of a cartoon musical. I think his vision contains a lot of singing and dancing rather than the candescent strums and plucks that Proteus produces, but the music in Ed Key’s game of wanderlust is the heart of the experience.

Few things in any game have ever made me spontaneously smile quite as much as my first encounter with one of the island’s plinky-plunky frogs. ‘Plinky-plunky’ may not be in your dictionary, but it is the most accurate description of the frogs that I have found to date. The chickens are wonderful too, painted and vague like the rest of the world, but with ruffled feathers and erratic scrambling that communicates the idea of a complete creature. Every visual element in the game works in the same way – conveying a sense of a thing. Fidelity abandoned in favour of credibility, Too many games end up tumbling down the slippery sides of the uncanny valley, but Proteus takes place on the canniest of archipelagos.

It’s a small game – a stroll rather than a hike – but nothing is wasted. More creatures, events and weather patterns would only be of benefit if they matched the quality of what is already there. I find myself wanting to be surprised whenever I revisit, which is frequently, but the pleasure of Proteus is comforting rather than awe-inspiring. It’s the digital equivalent of a hug.

And occasionally it squeezes just a little tighter than expected. The sky at night wheels and wobbles, and rain plays a symphony on a lonely mountain top. Fields burn, dyed brilliant orange by the setting of the sun. The shadow of the sublime stretches over these imaginary islands, and while the plinky-plunky frogs may be memorably daft and happy, there are also moments of emptiness, stranded at the feet of nature’s vast mystery.

Which is all well and good, but why have I not mentioned the trampoline mod yet? Whee!

Jim: Proteus was the first game I let my infant son play. As such it will always have a sort of resonance to it that other games cannot have – it wasn’t just about my own experience, it was about the early, crucial experience of someone I care deeply about. Watching him see this fresh world respond to his movement, and helping him figure out how the seasons changes and how the simple. flat-shaded world takes on new life, was moving stuff, and I imagine that other people out there – other families – have had a similar experience with it. Proteus might have been a trivial oddity, a footnote, but it has become a treasured memory, precisely because of how it works, and how gentle it is.

Games that are “just a walk” have been a minor battleground for gamers who feel that their pastime is being boiled away by pretension or arty trickery. When your concern is the visual fidelity, technology, and personal mastery of challenging, violent process, I can see why this would matter. Hell, I can see why game designers who sink their lives into building complicated simulations would feel like the attention Proteus gets in unwarranted. But in truth this is the equivalent of brilliant and meticulous portrait artists getting upset by the meaningful daubs impressionism. There’s room for both, and just because we are enamoured with the artfulness of what Proteus has done, doesn’t do anything to undermine the technical accomplishment of the normal-mapped.

Back to the Calendar!

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86 Comments »

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  1. mouton says:

    Best weed game ever.

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    onesandzeroes says:

    By the time I got around to playing this, I had seen so many furious rants about how this was not a game and had no content whatsoever, and all you do is walk around that I thought I had seen everything in the game without even triggering one of those trippy season changes, and promptly saved and exited after doing a reasonably full tour of the island.

    I thought it was great then, and even better once I got back into it and realized how much more there was to see.

    • BTAxis says:

      I had pretty much the opposite experience. I’d read dismissals of the criticisms and repeated claims that, despite the simplicity, the game really was very good indeed, so I tried it myself and got as far as autumn when I realized I wasn’t having any fun at all, and quit.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        I liked the little cute plants that sang to you, but yeah my reaction was of the “I wish there was more to it” variety.

      • guygodbois00 says:

        Pretty much what happened to me.

  3. Turkey says:

    Okay, that eliminates one of my wildcards.

    I’ve only got one more that I can’t figure out. It’s either Knock Knock, the Civ expansion or the badger game. If they go first episodes it could be Wolf Among Us or Kentucky Route Zero too.

    • Darth Grabass says:

      I thought that the general consensus was that the badger game (Shelter) was a disappointment. My experience was that playing Shelter immediately after playing Proteus was a huge letdown, and a largely frustrating experience.

  4. dE says:

    When it comes to these Games, I feel a weird disconnect happening. It’s not just that they simply do not click with me, but that I’m also unable to relate to how others can possibly enjoy them so much. I can respect the joy and impact they feel, but can’t understand how it happens. Proteus for example, gave me absolutely nothing. I tried. Especially when more and more people claimed it to be the messiah of gaming.
    I also find that my disconnect grows with the amount of articles I read about it, as authors struggle with words to communicate what they felt, it drifts further and further into the territory that tingles the pretentiousness senses. I don’t mean that in a nasty way. My brain can’t help but activate skeptics mode on these games. Surely, it says, people aren’t feeling all these things, from that thing which gave me… Nothing. Surely, it’s just one of those elaborate ruses, like people recommending elfenlied as a good anime to troll the living hell out of people. Of course it’s not. But I wonder if this is a similar disconnect to faith. There too I can respect what it gives people, but can never quite relate how.
    So either way,I am happy you folks can enjoy it. I’ll watch on from the sidelines. Bemused, confused, irritated. Like one can only feel when confronted with something that makes no sense to them, at all. And on hopes to not get flamed the hell out of me: there’s not a single insult in this post and none of it is meant to disrespect anyone or anything. I should make that my standard signature.

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      Lambchops says:

      @ dE

      I think it would be pretty churlish for anyone to flame you for that post, it’s perfectly understandable.

      It’s fine not to “get” things. I don’t understand why anybody would want to paint their house lime green. The portraits of master painters leave me cold (prefer a good landscape any day).

      There’s also nothing wrong with actually articulating that you don’t get it either; unless you’re an eejit who thinks that because you don’t like it it shouldn’t exist for other people to appreciate it (which clearly you are not).

    • BTAxis says:

      That sums up pretty well how I felt about Proteus, or, as it happens, didn’t.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Expectation is a very powerful thing – whether its your own lack of it, or that given to you by another person. If you go into the game blind, you may be bowled over by such a ‘novel’ experience and be totally absorbed by that. You want to share this new, amazing thing you’ve discovered. Maybe people will want to be your friend because of it? (*jokin). Alternatively, maybe the grumpy old bast in all of us reads other’s effervescence and inwardly goes “Oh yeah? We’ll see all about that, matey”. Nothing can quite come up to the demand its just set.

      If you read billious negativity about a game, well I don’t think its a stretch to say that on the internet, some of us might get a not-exactly secret joy out of proving others wrong. Lately I have been trying to play games with as little a concept of what it is or how to play it as possible, because I always notice the weight of any expectations or other’s views in the background as I play. With some titles, I am waiting for “that” moment, or secretly wondering if I’m doing something wrong if I am not enjoying it.

      My most amazing gaming experience ever was walking into a grubby game shop, finding a dusty, forgotten copy of some random game I liked the look of but hadn’t heard a thing about, and booting it up and getting lost in this amazing new world. It was my game, that I felt I uncovered. I went back to that world a grand total of 25 times and fell in love with it more and more with every visit. That game was Shadow of Chernobyl.

    • DiamondDog says:

      Well articulated dE, but it’s amazing to me that you have to go to such lengths and even then worry about getting flamed, just for having the audacity to say you don’t like something!

      It should be a given that everyone has different tastes, but these days people seem to take it as a personal insult when you don’t understand something they love.

      For my part I had a great time with Proteus, although it didn’t stick with me quite like it has with John. I love games that present me with something to explore and experience. A game doesn’t have to be built on systems and mechanics for me to enjoy it. It always seems like a horrible way to describe something but Proteus was… nice. A nice experience.

      • dE says:

        The part about flaming was more in line with my difficulties to translate tone into english. I’m occasionally surprised by the reaction I get to some of my posts, when they meant no ill will. So I recently decided to take precautions and make it doubly clear I mean no harm. Especially with a topic that is usually this heated.

        • Moth Bones says:

          It’s a really thoughtful explanation of your response and how you arrived at it. The tone is spot on.

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      AngelTear says:

      Part of it is definitely in expectation. As far as it is sold as a game, you have an expectation of the kind of enjoyment that “traditional games” give you that is radically different form what you get from Proteus. Imagine buying The Walking Dead, and thinking “Well, when do I get to shoot zombies? This is all dialogue, it sucks”.

      The other thing is a bit harder to define in one word: empathy with the game-world maybe? Anyway, as an example of what I mean that may be a more common experience, take a horror game/movie. You can go in it and say “Oh, the blood looks like ketchup; look, that sequence is so scripted; That one scare is so cliche” etc, and that happens more if you are with friends, or if you are streaming and talking over it, or if you don’t really pay attention to the plot and details. You are not entering its world, you’re treating it as a mechanical game system, just scripts and code, and that is not scary. It may be interesting, engaging, challenging, but not scary, and not wonderful (in the way Proteus tries to be wonderful) Part of it is in the quality of the game and how it draws you in, but a big part of it is how you let the game connect with you, or how you let yourself be connected with the game.

      That connectedness, that openness, that curiosity that lets you enjoy something different instead of cynically criticizing it, critically affects your enjoyment of a game like Proteus, just as it does affect how much a game like Amnesia scares you.

      • dE says:

        Amnesia is actually a good point. I enjoyed playing it, but once again found myself unable to feel scared (something for which I envy the many that do). Maybe I have just “unlearned” to connect with games on that level.

        • derbefrier says:

          Maybe we never learned to begin with. I am the same way. I bought Amnesia hoping to expierience it the way many others did and while I could appriciate what it was trying to do to me it just didn’t work. I tried too, many time. Waiting till its well past darkturn the lights off and everything and would start to get into it but then would have to constantly fight my brain telling me its not real. I tell ya that’s quite the immersion breaker. Perhaps that’s why I have never really been able to enjoy a horror movie it just seems so silly to me I without even trying become dissconnected from it. It sucks really I read articles like this and wish I could share that expirience but I guess my brain doesn’t work like that.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        Part of it is definitely in expectation.

        This is actually a really good reason why a critical vocabulary is important, and why RPS’s insistence that “it is a game, it is” is doing a disservice to readers. We could call this a videogame, in that it’s a piece of entertainment/art software instantiated on a computer system (or whatever), but from a design perspective it’s not a ‘game’. A lot of people seem to load this up, discover there’s nothing to do except walk around, and so they get bored. And if their expectation was to encounter game systems they need to learn (a primary attraction of ‘games’), it’s not surprising they get bored. If there were better ways to describe this than some vague descriptions of some personal ‘experience’, I think that would be helpful for everyone.

    • Lucid Spleen says:

      I, too, feel a strange disconnect when it comes to this game. I can certainly respect the fact that people have enjoyed the experience of this game but I will never understand why. I have not and will not play it. It is not about whether this is a game or not, I don’t care about that, more the fact that just looking at screenshots of it is like finger-nails on a chalk board to me, it is so… ugly. What I don’t get is why people would find the experience anything other than jarring, yet people seem to feel the exact opposite and find it in some way soothing. Perplexing.

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      Matt_W says:

      Perfectly encapsulates how I felt about Proteus. I’m very interested in non-traditional game experiences — loved Gone Home and Dear Esther for instance — but Proteus just didn’t do it for me. I think part of it was the pixel graphics, which I just found ugly. I would have been more interested in a contemplative experience if the art was less abstract and/or more beautiful.

    • mouton says:

      Capacity for immersion and our choice of what do we immerse ourselves in are entirely personal things.

      “But I wonder if this is a similar disconnect to faith. “

      That’s quite different – when I immerse myself, part of my mind knows it is not true, yet I do it willingly for the sake of living a fantasy. While some people’s “faith” might work in this way, it is supposed to be a true belief.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      Best way to approach Proteus is as if it’s a video game equivalent of Koyaanisqatsi. It’s mostly visuals with a Philip Glass type score, which seems like Koyaanisqatsi to me.

      Personally, it wasn’t any sort of profound experience for me. It mustly just put me to sleep. And I don’t mean that it was “boring,” I mean that playing it was incredibly relaxing to the point that I could barely keep my eyes open. I sometimes fire it up, find a good spot to chill in, then turn up my speakers and have a nap.

      In fact, I think of it primarily as a relaxation aid, kind of like those relaxation tapes they sell.

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      Oozo says:

      @DE

      It’s not just that they simply do not click with me, but that I’m also unable to relate to how others can possibly enjoy them so much.

      That are almost exactly the same words I used to describe my experience with Monaco this year. A totally new experience for me, and as such, also a bit disturbing. (I tend to think of myself as somebody who can have the necessary critical distance to understand why people would like a game that is not to my tastes. In that case, I didn’t. I could only see a game that tried a lot of things but didn’t succeed at them. Heck, I could not even really understand the texts of people trying to explain me why it’s, so they say, great… my whole mind was screaming all of the time “but don’t you see how this does not work in practice?!”)

      So ultimately, I just saw the limits of my “open-minded” approach. The thing is, I decided not to be furious about it, just a bit perplexed. I ended up just accepting it as an opportunity to learn about my own limits/tastes. Nothing wrong with that, I guess.

    • Lemming says:

      Yeah I’m the same. I think it’s one of those games that would be a great early-learning aid, or perhaps people with mental disabilities will get a lot out of it, but it did nothing for me beyond ‘ah, that’s pretty…moving on’.

  5. uh20 says:

    one of the other good benefits from these games getting packaged into humble bundles, is that they force you into a couple of genres for the money you would rather not spend, never liked bards tale, but proteus, as a game i would not get on a normal occasion, became the game that drew me in with song trees, song trees everywhere.
    the joyful little pixel-critters and my mountain-climbing triumph to watch the stars first made me a little sad, because i was originally expecting to alt-f4 out, but there was so much happy stuff around me to the point that i had to go on checking out new things. after checking out most of the island, i tried the escape key, letting my character slumber off. lack of food, who knows?
    this game does not rack up much time, theres only enough on display to get you to play it every 2 months or so, jumbo steam library whoopdedoop. but the nerves this exploration pokes is much more unique than “finding crates and unlocking your 2000th-reincarnation a new pistol”

  6. Risingson says:

    [Don’t be so rude]

  7. jonnyherbert says:

    I’m sure Proteus is lovely, but I do worry that some of you chaps would be better off going for an actual walk.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Heh heh. Yeah I’m off for one now. Want anything from the offie?

    • haowan says:

      and people who play Wii Tennis should just go and play real tennis, and people who play Stalker should probably just go and try to survive in the radioactive woods of Chernobyl, and people who

      • jonnyherbert says:

        Oh, of course, I mean, tongue-in cheek and things. Still though, walks. Just sayin’.

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        yhancik says:

        Does it apply to people who watch Caspar David Friedrich paintings or read Henry David Thoreau? :p

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        Thankyou both for my Sunday RPS chuckle

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        lowprices says:

        Fun fact: There are actually fans of the game series who break into the Zone of Exclusion for an “adventure”. The staff have a name for them: “Fucking Idiots”.

      • SuicideKing says:

        Dr Who?

    • RiffRaff says:

      I’ll stick with proteus, the weather is better on that little island.

    • Vinraith says:

      Hehe, that was my first though too. The real world is considerably higher resolution, and goodness knows I need the exercise!

    • The Random One says:

      I don’t know what the surroundings of Castle Shotgun are like, but when I go through a walk it’s in a dense metropolis, and nothing like Proteus at all. If there was a metropolis-based Proteus I might never leave the home again though.

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    Lambchops says:

    In counterpoint to the RPS staff I had in fact completely forgotten about Proteus.

    That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate it, I did, and now that I’m reminded about it I’d have no hesitation in recommending people play it (the only walk around game I enjoyed more was the Stanley Parable and that was for entirely different reasons and to bring out the cliches they really are chalk and cheese so comparisons are rather pointless, I’m not sure why I’ve brought it up in the first place!). There’s a joy to be found in the discovery and exploration of the island and the audio is wonderful.

    However I can’t say that it stuck in my mind as much as it did for the RPS guys; I found it cute and throwaway, the “trivial oddity” that Jim suggested it could easily have been. Glad I went into it early doors without prejudice though; I’m glad that I experience it on it’s own terms rather than being weighted down with either expectations of profundity or as an example to be dissected in the frankly tedious arguments of what defines a game.

    My advice, buy it and see where it takes you but try not to go in with any thoughts on what it should/shouldn’t be.

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    lowprices says:

    This falls into the same category as Flower and Journey for me: It’s a great way to clear my head when life is getting a bit much. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to meditation, and it’s a game that has actually averted a panic attack.

    Also, I know it’s heresy on this site, but it really is better on Vita. The closer view and a decent pair of earphones is great for shutting out the rest of the world when you need to.

  10. Guzzleguts says:

    Did Jim just refer to his own son as ‘it’?

  11. Geebs says:

    I honestly don’t understand why game journos have taken against normal mapping so much in recent times. It’s about 20 lines of shader code even if you’re reconstituting your tangent basis in the shader, and it makes things look nice. Normal mapping is not your enemy!

    (On the other hand, yeah, parallax occlusion mapping is, like, totally pretentious and is Ruining Gaming)

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      stahlwerk says:

      I think it’s just a satirical riff on the early 3d acceleration hype buzzwords, circa unreal engine era.
      A pedant would also add that every game that draws surfaces also maps normals, just sometimes to a constant value.

      • Geebs says:

        There’s an ugly whiff of inverse snobbery about it though, which is wholly misplaced if you look into how generous the graphics programming community are with their ideas.

        My major point was that Ed Key obviously had to know quite a lot about graphics programming in order to achieve the (lovely) look of Proteus. However I’m worried about this bogus concept that technical ability and artistic talent are opposite ends of the same axis.

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    DrScuttles says:

    This was one of the only two games I was able to interest a non-gamer (hate that term, “gamer” but I digress) friend in this year. Proteus is something that I can appreciate isn’t for everyone, but can provide a magical time to those who wander its abstract nooks and crannies. Thumbs up out of 10, this one.

  13. Post-Internet Syndrome says:

    It’s a good game.

  14. airtekh says:

    I played it, and it didn’t resonate with me at all.

    If anything, Proteus has taught me that these kind of games are not for me, and I should not buy them in future.

  15. grundus says:

    I liked what I played of Proteus, but after a couple of short goes on it I felt like I ‘got’ it and didn’t need to see more.

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    amateurviking says:

    I spent 30 minutes chasing a bunny then chasing an owl then watching some crabs on the shore as the sun set.

    11/10.

    • RiffRaff says:

      this one time it got to winter and I just sat by the house on the beach for ten minutes waiting for the end.

      10/10 would play again

    • scottyjx says:

      That owl was magical. It is, for whatever reason, the thing that remains with me the most about Proteus, watching that owl burst away from its tree.

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      particlese says:

      I was about ready to go home satisfied when I found a giant tree. Then, nearby, appeared the first owl I had ever seen, which I chased until I encountered my first chicken. That chicken led me to more chickens.

      a/a

  17. PopeRatzo says:

    I don’t know how to make this not sound stupid, but I feel the same way about Need for Speed Rivals.

    I hate driving in real life, but I love open world driving games, especially arcade racers. I don’t care if I’m racing or being pursued or pursuing someone. I just like the open road and tooling along and occasionally engaging in an activity of some sort and then it’s dusk and then night and then dawn.

    I always turn the game music off (especially when it’s not very good as in NFS Rivals) and I’ll put my own music on, maybe Clifford Brown or Kraftwerk or The Stooges and it brings me back to a time of cassettes and mixes and driving around without a care.

    I use these games the same way Alec does in his excellent article.

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      AngelTear says:

      I guess you enjoy NFS the way most people enjoy Euro Truck Simulator =)

    • Aradalf says:

      You should try Euro Truck Simulator 2.

      • PopeRatzo says:

        Good idea. I’m installing it right now in Steam. I like being able to drift around corners, so it’ll be interesting to see how that works in a 14-wheeler.

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    Clavus says:

    Proteus grabbed me pretty easily. I’m a sucker for these kind of ‘discovery’ experiences (Journey is one of the best games I’ve ever played), although I tend to play everything in a single session. Replaying just dilutes my experience.

    It gets close to being art in game form. This also means it’s not for everyone, but plenty of people will get something special out of it.

    One day a game like this will come around for the upcoming virtual reality devices and it’ll be amazing.

  19. Eddy9000 says:

    I don’t see why there is the insistence of stressing the word ‘game’ as if something we interact with on a PC has to be a ‘game’ to have value. I think it would benefit the medium to diversify descriptions of the experiences it offers. I’d consider Walking Dead say to be ‘interactive fiction’ more than a ‘game’, “today I die” is most certainly an interactive poem and I think ‘interactive experience’ would be a much better way of describing many of the experiences I’ve had on a PC. Why stress that Proteus is a game? Would it be some kind of insult to say that it isn’t one, or that the ‘game’ element of it is not its main purpose?

    Although there’s a lot of different definitions, to me a ‘game’ infers something more specific than the way we use it at the moment; I think a ‘game’ involves set rules which must be mastered to reach a desired end or win state. If the main purpose of playing is to experience the expression of the author then ‘interactive art’ might be more appropriate, or if there is exploration of the rules and possibilities without a ‘win’ state being achievable then it is really a ‘toy’.

    It isn’t just pedantry, I think by diversifying the language we use to describe the experiences we have on PC, the possibilities for what is allowed to be created increase, and also the idea that we are ‘just playing games’ might be challenged and the true importance of the medium would be better promoted.

    • NathanH says:

      I quite agree. Unfortunately, sensible discussion about this sort of thing seems mostly doomed to disaster on comments threads, because the arguments get dominated by certain annoying groups:

      1) People who want these sorts of “game” to go away (I mean strongly want them to go away—I want them to go away because I think they take attention from things I like, but I’m not going to be an arse about it and people seem to like them so fair enough). This group tends to use “not a game!” as a condescending insult. It doesn’t really matter that “not a game” oughtn’t be taken as an insult by people who like these “games” because it’s obvious an insult is meant and that’s going to annoy people.

      2) Gamers who have become ashamed of being gamers as they’ve grown up and are desperate to find things to shout “Hey look! PROFOUND!” or “Hey look! ART!”. They naturally want stuff like this “game” to be counted as a game to help their case.

      3) Particularly annoying forms of 2) who think that if you don’t care about PROFOUND or ART you are some sort of troglodyte.

      4) People who think that discussing definitions and classifications is always a waste of time and, rather than just ignoring such discussions, like to butt in and tell everyone involved why they’re a moron for being interested in the discussion.

      5) People who pretend to be in 1–4 just to troll people.

      Edit: To reply with some more relevance to your comment, it’s mostly the group 1) that cause people who like these sorts of things to rally around the “game” banner. My evidence-free guess would be that most people who publicly call these things games either fundamentally don’t care whether they’re called games or actually wouldn’t call them games themselves but for group 1) trolls.

      • Geebs says:

        6) people who think classifying other people into groups gives them moral and intellectual superiority :-p

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      I especially don’t understand the developers who vehemently insist on calling their lovely interactive art “games”.

      They’re definitely videogame-adjacent, but they really don’t resemble games in any traditional sense. They should be recognized and appreciated for what they are, and calling them games is just setting up false expectations.

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        yhancik says:

        Ah naming things… there’s a “Digital Art” that tends to involve stuff like real-time, interactivity, generative processes and stuff. The frontier with “video games” is porous (Tale of Tales used to do Digital Art as Entropy8Zuper), but still, the context, history, mode of distribution, audience of those two fields/world tend to be different.

    • RiffRaff says:

      each object has a different sound or animation that either activates or deactivates according to how the player interacts with that object.

      The day/night cycle and duration of the game is heavily influenced by player choice.

      It has a definitive end point.

      It might not have many rules (and you cant really master them), but the world in proteus does have rules that the player can test and interact with as they wish. Just because the rules aren’t as strictly mechanical and structured as fight games or shooter games doesn’t mean they aren’t there. its certainly as interactive as any typical adventure game, and allows the player more control and choice over the experience than any recent call of duty.

      At the end of the day I think that the industry and players themselves are gradually moving away from the more rigid definition left to us by monopoly, so I suspect you are going to be fighting a loosing battle there. Personally I would prefer to be rid of the word game itself and use digital interactive experience or something, then we can just include everything and instead of arguing definitions concentrate on the value of the thing in front of us. But that definition makes me want to hit myself over the head for being a pretentious idiot, and its obviously not very catchy so I will stick with game.

      A lot of older games don’t have a win state either, you cant actually win pacman, donkey kong, or duck hunt, they just hit a kill screen when the game runs out of memory. You also cant win at tetris, so if you are going to tell me that even that isn’t a game then, well I just don’t know what to say in response to that.

      • Eddy9000 says:

        It most certainly has ‘game’ elements, but if the greatest purpose of the experience is not the mastery of a ruleset in order to achieve a desired win state then I would argue that we are doing the experience and the author a disservice by ignoring the effort that was put into the core ‘non-game’ elements, doing potential purchasers a disservice by describing it in a misleading way and doing the wider medium a disservice by failing to appreciate and promote the diverse functions that an interactive computer experience can have other than ‘gaming’.

        As an aside there is a theoretical ‘infinite’ win-state in pac-man, tetris etc. that the player is motivated to move towards, and mastery of the rule set is measured by how far they are able to progress towards this, i.e. how many points they can score. A win-state does not have to be achievable to be present as the core motivating factor, although arguably the kill screen in earlier games represents a very finite and achievable one.

        • The Random One says:

          Some fifteen years ago, a friend asked me if I played Counter-Strike.

          I said I played it and I was completely rubbish at it.

          “Why do you go so often to LAN houses, then? What do you play?

          “Counter-Strike. I’m rubbish at it, but I like it anyway.”

          Games have never been, for me, ” the mastery of a ruleset in order to achieve a desired win state”. I like to understand its ruleset, but not necessarialy master it; and my win state will not necessarialy be the win state the game sets up for me, or maybe it will become that only after I’ve fulfilled the one I’ve supplied myself. I have, on occasion, restarted races on certain games just as I about to win because the race I had won hadn’t felt fulfilling and I’d like to feel like my victory was earned.

          So I think that’s your problem: you wonder why people are using the word “game” to refer to things that do not meet your definition of games, without realizing that your definition is your own. I have my own, and each one has their own, and most of them are probably very similar to each other, but there are a few who are very different. I have no doubt that Proteus, Gone Home etc. are games because they give me an experience that I have always sought when playing games, and an experience that other games have denied me because they try to meet your definition. So I get angry when my attempt to explore Just Cause 2’s world ends with me being shot to death, or when my story of talking to weird aliens in Mass Effect is put on hold so I can shoot at some dudes for a while; when a game does what I like and understands that’s all it has to do, I cherish it.

          • Eddy9000 says:

            Obviously there is always some personal meaning in the language we use, but it’s important not to be too relativist about it. Words are given use by a consensus of meaning, I could use the word ‘banana’ to refer to a car for instance, but nobody would know what I was talking about. There is a certain consensus around what constitutes a ‘game’ and what is signified by this word, as there is all words so I don’t think the “yeah well that’s just your meaning” is that helpful. Again there are lots of words we could use to describe the experience we have when using interactive media and it is limiting to privilege the term ‘game’ to describe such diverse experiences. Interactive experiences have diversified beyond the point where the term ‘game’ is meaningful and new labels are needed.

            Also: Counter-strike has a win-state and pre-ordained rules, the understanding and mastery of which will help you achieve the win state; it’s primary function is as a game whether or not you only ever use it to walk around empty maps and look at the scenery; I could use my copy of Heroquest to put hot mugs on but it wouldn’t make it a coaster, it would be a game I’m using as a coaster.

          • RiffRaff says:

            I don’t think the ‘greatest purpose of the experience is the mastery of a ruleset in order to achieve a desired win state’, in fact I disagree with that description entirely, its cold and mechanical, and for me doesn’t describe what a game really is. Imagine writing a book review where all you do is mention the spelling and grammar, people would think you had gone mad. A book is more than its words and grammar, a film is more than its sets and actors, and a game is more than a rigid set of rules and systems.

            ‘A win-state does not have to be achievable to be present as the core motivating factor’

            that s just, no sorry I gave you examples of games that have no win state, period, it really sounds like you are changing the goal posts to suit yourself here because you are uncomfortable with including proteus and games like it. You cant win sim city, you don’t beat eve online, you cant finish the sims, there is no end state for minecraft, and I really don’t agree with the idea of inventing some theoretical win state just to satisfy your point. If proteus isn’t allowed into the club neither are any of those games.

            And to reference your point about language, well I had a longer paragraph here but honestly, insisting that there is a collective consensus around what the word ‘game’ means, when its painfully obvious that there is a big change going on in front of you does look a lot like pedantry. There is this thing called semantic change, its a thing, it happens, it probably already has happened with the word ‘game’.

          • The Random One says:

            That’s the problem, Eddy. Language has meanings, but each person ascribes their own meaning to each word; when I say the word ‘dude’, you probably imagine a dude, but your idea of a dude is probably different from mine, even though if you could see my idea of a dude you would also recognize it as a dude. With games, though, you have your own idea of a dude, and when you look at my idea of a dude you say “That’s not a dude – he’s not blonde!”

            Your idea of a game has always been tied to a win state, while mine haven’t. For you, a game is about the win state, and its other parts exist for you to decide how to best reach it; for me, a game is about exploration and discovery, and a win state exists only as a foil so the player has reason to move forward. So now, when there are games that are doing away with a win state entirely, you think that they are straying away from what a game is, while I think that they’re moving closer to what it is. None of us are wrong, at least not until you start to say my definition is wrong!

            (Incidentally, I have an actual problem with the word ‘travessa’ in my first language, which translates to something like ‘lane’. There’s no hard definition on what is the difference between a ‘travessa’ and what are other kinds of road, but because there was a travessa right next to the street I grew in and that was the only street nearby that had tiles instead of asphalt, I’ve internalized the belief that a ‘travessa’ is a tiled street. I know that is wrong and has nothing to do with the word’s real meaning, but every time I hear that word I imagine it refers to a tiled street and have a brief moment of confusion when it doesn’t.)

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    SuddenSight says:

    I liked Proteus well enough. But this was my thought process playing it:

    “Okay, WASD moves, does space bar jump? No. Oh, nice island. Pretty. I wanna jump. Why can’t I jump? There’s nothing to break by jumping. I love bunny hopping so much. Sometimes I do it in real life. Ooh, that’s weird and prettyI wanna jump. Jump Jump. Why can’t I jump? New season? does it let me jump? I wanna jump soooooo bad. Please let me jump. Neat animals, they would be cuter viewed from a slightly higher angle for a very brief moment. Oh God I love jumping. Please let me jump. Arrrrrgh jumping.”

    And it continued until the end, at which point I still liked Proteus well enough, but I do wish I could jump in that game.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Dear Aperture Science. Your corrupted Jumping Core has logged onto the internet again. Please can you close down his router connection. Or alternatively buy him a pogo stick.

      Only kidding. Jumping is totes amazeballs :)

      • Geebs says:

        Jumping Core 2.0 is the future. It can double-jump.

      • Premium User Badge

        SuddenSight says:

        I think my favorite game for jumping ATM is Knytt Underground. You can turn into a bouncy ball. I would cross the entire map while holding down the up button so the game would make a dudududududududududu noise as you bounce off the ceiling and the floor.

        Games like Proteus make me wonder if it’s a problem that I enjoy certain controller configurations. It’s feels constrictive for me to play a WASD game without jumping. Similar to playing an RTS without an idle worker button. I jam that button all the time – especially in AoK where your workers would frequently use up a resource and then silently wait for new commands.

        • dE says:

          Did you play Within a deep forest? The game that came before Knytt. You play a ball. Within a deep forest. It has lots of jumping and with the ability to change the material of the ball, you get all sorts of different jumping, with a satisfying whomp or crrrk each time you bounce off the ground. Just be careful when you use the glass material.

          Might be your kind of game, although you probably know it already.

    • tormos says:

      this is the Horse Master Dream Review of Proteus reviews

  21. Laurentius says:

    I thought i would like this game as i very often love to chill out in games, often more then pushing game forward: prouncing around forest lake in Witcher 2, watching night sky from a top of mountain in Skyrim, driving around Librety City while listining to new Aracde Fire album in GTA4. But it turned out it only works when I set it up for myself but when the game like Proteus does it for me, it doesn’t work at all and I’m bored immediatelly.

  22. Premium User Badge

    Siresly says:

    I don’t think it looks pretty or interesting with its incredibly simple visuals and randomly generated worlds. There being zero direction and barely anything to interact with makes it aimless and dull.

    When I see people write about the enchanting emotional experience Proteus apparently can be, there is that disconnect that makes you sound like a bunch of hippies, but I know what you’re talking about though since I felt similarly about Flower. And there were people like Vinny of Giant Bomb who didn’t get it and thought people like me were a bunch of hippies.

    I get why people can think games like these are marvelous, but this particular attempt did nothing for me. It’s peculiar how things resonate so differently to people.

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    psepho says:

    It was also the first grown up game my daughter played. She refers to it as “the chicken game” and is still talking about it almost a year later.

  24. Fiatil says:

    Definitely one of my favorite games of the year. It strikes a chord very similar to Euro Truck Simulator 2; as just about the entire crew said it’s the best game to relax to and the best game to make you feel better on an off day.

  25. futabot says:

    I feel like Proteus could be better explained as a really good tech demo that demonstrates to developers that you don’t need to invest that heavily into your art budget to create an immersive experience. If anything, all that really needs to be done is ensuring the all the relevant environment props respond to the player with a visual and an audio element. That’s it.

    Look at Proteus’s props individually. They’re basically the RPS starting avatars, but they’re cohesively ugly so they suddenly turn pretty when mashed together.

  26. Wedge says:

    It was ok for what it was I guess, but what it was didn’t amount to much (and certainly not a $10 game). I went it to it looking for something fun to explore and discover, and that is there for about an hour maybe, and then you’ve seen it all. I feel like the whole generated world aspect is utterly wasted, as there’s nothing unique or different to find between playthroughs.

  27. Darth Grabass says:

    After reading through all the comments, I find myself wondering how many people (even those who enjoy the game) have played through to the end. It’s a really short game, but most people who gave up early might not even be aware that there is an ending. I found it to be really transcendent, but I haven’t read any discussion about it.

    • Premium User Badge

      Surlywombat says:

      You earn the ending of proteus, any discussion would spoil it.

      The game didn’t fully click with me till I finished it. So when I recommend it I always say, “play till the end, you’ll know when you get there”.

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    sonofsanta says:

    After reading this article, and others of recent days, I feel this is an important thing to say.

    /hugs for Alec

  29. Jexiah8bit says:

    I grew up in the deep woods so I am pretty numb to nature, if only because of years of hunting and such with my pops. But even so, it is hard for me to gain an emotional response to games like this, or even The Walking Dead for that matter. I am sorry to even write this, but I generally only get a strong connection with a video game (character or story) if it is intense, well written, and filled with unique comedic and/or tragic moments to cement that connection. I am sort of ADD with emotions – I can lose the momentum very quickly and stop caring, as was what happened with The Walking Dead. I loved the game, but I just didn’t care who lived or died by the end. And this is coming from someone who’s all-time favorite fantasy novel is The Silmarillion.