This is a follow-up to last week's article “For The Explorers” on exploration in games.
At this time of the year, Great Britain loses its sunlight pretty early, and I realised the current incarnation of the Little Harbour Master, three years old and fairly articulate, had not witnessed the world at night. So, last weekend, I took him out for a walk to the local corner shop at 6 o’clock when night was falling.
He delighted in pointing out all the houses and shops with lights on as well as directing my attention to illuminated doorbells. His world is still one of continual construction upon a relatively blank slate. Whereas adults often need to travel far and wide to see things that surprise them, the Little Harbour Master sees such things right outside his door.
I think that’s why the explorers amongst us find joy in virtual game worlds as they allow us to become children again: not in terms of play but in reviving the process of learning about the world.
Is it possible, though, to boil a game down to pure exploration? Dispense with the puzzles, points, rewards and any hoops to jump through?
And so, Proteus.
In the comments on last week's article about Richard Perrin’s Kairo, Armand wrote that Proteus was at the top of his list of exploring games. Doug Wilson of the Copenhagen Game Collective also piled the pressure on, tweeting that I should really, really play Proteus.
Proteus is an exploration game by developer Ed Key and musician David Kanaga, an album of ambient music reconstructed as a procedurally-generated island. But this fails to articulate its other-worldly fabulosity. I probably have to start making words up.
Proteus is a difficult game to talk about. A game is the experience you have and never the compiled bytes of code flying over the internet. In the example of Proteus, that personal experience of feeling your way around the island is what the game is about. To tell you about it is to mar that experience for you. What I can tell you is that there is virtually nothing to do but walk around.
So how can I explain to you why it’s worth your time?
After I’d played the old version of Proteus that Key made available in February, he sent me a copy of his latest build. I wasn’t intending to play through it until later this week. But on Sunday afternoon, I found myself entertaining the Little Harbour Master on the PC for a few minutes and thought he might find the new version of Proteus diverting.
A fascinating thing happened. Instead of the Little Harbour Master simply watching Daddy play, he participated and issued instructions about where to go and what to look at. We were exploring together.
This led to a brainwave: the game reflected in a child's eyes would be the perfect way to convey Proteus’ beauty without real spoilers - what a child sees in Proteus is not so different to what an adult sees. So I recorded our conversation while we played.
If you loved the Little Harbour Master's scathing critique of Portal 2, you will find four minutes of his Proteus observations enthralling.
So don't read about it. Don't go hunting videos about it. Just go explore it for yourself.
You can download a very old version of Proteus from Ed Key’s tumblr site. There is a dedicated Proteus site but there’s little to see there right now. Key is planning to sell an “EP” version of Proteus later this year and, if successful, work on an “LP” version next year.