Proteus launch – Q&A with Ed Key
Proteus is a game about exploration and finding your own goals. Or it is a game about music and time passing. Or it is not a game but a non-game, or… It is fair to say that Proteus can be a lot of different things to a lot of people.
Released early this year for PC, Proteus received positive reviews but also created debate on what actually defines a game. Now that debate is being brought to the PS3 and Vita, with its release on PSN, and to mark this Curve Studios – who have brought it to the new consoles – and original developer Ed Key held an event earlier this week at the Odeon in Leicester Square.
The choice of a cinema was simple – a large part of the title is about the experience of sound and visuals, and so the set up at the screen was probably the optimum way of demonstrating it. And while few of us may have quite this set up at home, it was still emphasised that the PS3 version may have an advantage over the PC, with what was described as “that couch and big screen experience.”
The game is still at heart as it was on the PC, exploring a randomly generated island as a semi-disembodied entity, where the things encountered – plants, animals and structures – all play little pieces of music. Developer Ed Key grew up in Cumbria, before moving away and returning in recent years, and described the region – especially his memories of walking the hills – as some of the inspiration for the game.
(and indeed, this was also turned into a live-action trailer for the game filmed by Stray Dog Video. Having a live-action trailer for an indie game was acknowledged at the event as something unusual, but with the hope that it captures something of what the game is about – that it “explains the game”.)
Indeed, getting across what is – and perhaps importantly, isn’t – involved may be the game’s key hurdle. Key said how when placing the original PC release on Steam the only genre box that seemed to fit was “indie”, and that the game gets a “Marmite response”.
There is no clearly defined goal, no markers on screen trying to lead you ahead, and even the actions that make the seasons advance – perhaps the closest thing to traditional gaming levels – are kept under-wraps.
There is a hinted at mythology in the world – statues making up some of the scenery and trophies giving short quotes. Even the game’s name has a reference in mythology (‘Proteus’ being a Greek Titan, a formless god of the sea – and this formlessness fitting the randomised terrain of the island), but there is nothing explicitly stated for the player. If there are any stories found while exploring, they are ones the player fits together from random pieces and their own experience.
Key says the game is not trying to replicate the real world, “it’s distilling it”. With the extremely stylised visuals – recognisable as simple trees and hills, but drawn in unshaded, pixelated colours, Key describes it as the alternative to “looking at a tree trunk and trying to see the seems. [...] [The] abstract art style frees up development from pursuing unachievable levels of detail.”
“It’s not trying to replicate the real world, it’s distilling it. [...] If you look at the skies in Proteus then the real one, they are enhanced for the comparison.”
He and Rob Clarke of Curve made it clear that it’s not a game for everyone, with Clarke adding that the PlayStation has a very action-oriented community who they don’t want to mislead. However, the popularity of both the original release on PC, and of indie PS3 titles like Flower and Journey does also show there is an audience for alternative games regardless of platform.
Key demonstrated the title, playing through the first season. And observing the audience of journalists and developers was perhaps as fascinating as watching the game. The game is a very serene experience, and those watching just went quiet… watching and listening, and otherwise making no noise. This was only broken when spring was changed to summer, resulting in a trophy popping in the top right corner, and there seemed to be a release of some emotion, laughing at the brief display of on-screen text in contrast to a game with none.
Proteus is available now as a cross buy title for the PS3 and PS Vita; the original release from January this year is available on PC and Mac.