četvrtak, 28. studenoga 2013.

Twisted Tree Games - Proteus (video game)


Ambijentalna muzička video-igra. Pejzaži i sinestezije.


Proteus Preview: A Musical Odyssey
I had a friend who had synaesthesia. Sounds would form a iridescent fog over her vision, with different sounds creating different colours, and multiple sounds layering over one another; blue could be shot through with silver, or pockets of red would flare in a brown malaise. Most of the time, she said it was actually quite pleasant, as though she was seeing an extra layer to sound that was unique to her. Most of the time, it made her feel special.
Sometimes, when there was too much sound, or too many that conflicted, it would overwhelm. It would make it difficult to see, and difficult to think, with this violent storm of colour covering everything. It was only at those times that she ever claimed to 'suffer' from synaesthesia.
Proteus, a procedural exploration game by Ed Key, doesn't let you see what you hear. It lets you hear what you see.
The totems are on every island, always at the top of a mountain.
Trees have a low bass that takes you by surprise the first time you hear it, but provides a steady musical bed for the higher melodies of fireflies and flowers, or the sudden tinkle and upwards cadence of a hopping rabbit. Synths and beats are laced throughout the entire island that the game generates specifically for you, layering all these sight-sounds over them, so that you have a constant aural texture building and building.
You break from the canopy of the woods, and the tone changes instantly. Without those bass notes everything feels suddenly more open, not nearly so constrained. Wheat fields and daisies have their own notes, too, but they can't match the power and majesty of the trees, or equal the spritely staccato of the animals. They have their own place, and their sound is more delicate, but just as pretty. They're worth visiting.
Playing the unfinished preview build, Proteus feels surprisingly complete, not least because the main structure of the game, where you move through the seasons from spring to winter, is fully in place. Each season has its own wildlife, and its own music, both the synth bed and the tones of vegetation and animals changing to match the march of the year.
At sunrise and sunset the island is washed in pink and orange.
And while you can't actively interact with anything in the world, the construction of melody and sound is enough. It's enough to know that you can go down to that clearing and change Spring to Summer, Summer to Autumn, Autumn to Winter, at any time. It's enough to wander over to a frog and watch it hop away, each movement soundtracked with an electronic buzz. You don't need to pick anything up, or solve any puzzles, to feel involved in a world.
That's the wonder of Proteus, as it stands. That this is a world that feels alive, and it feels as though you're a part of it. It doesn't matter that this is a bespoke island created just for you, or that there's a house with no occupant, or a field of gravestones without any explanation. It's enough to just wander, and have the world sing to you. But it's so much, so constantly, that it threatens to overwhelm. The sounds flood your ears as you drink in the sights, and you can get lost in it all. The seasons, each with their own distinct feel, build a narrative that is bitter sweet at best.
Right now, Proteus is a beautiful, wonderful game. It's unique, and it provides an experience that is quite unlike anything I've come across before. The more that gets added to flesh out these pocket worlds that the game creates for you can only to the majesty of it all. Ed Key, the developer, talks about the game in terms of EPs and LPs, as if they were musical records, and if this is the EP, the small collection of songs that lead into the release of a full blown album, then consider me well and truly teased.
I can't wait to hear it. 

Ambient Works: Proteus EP

By Jim Rossignol on June 12th, 2011 

Proteus EP is a musical exploration game from Twisted Tree Games. It’s an EP as opposed to an LP – there are plans for a larger experience to follow – and as an EP will be a brief exploration experience that blends a pastoral 3D pixel-art world with “reactively mixed” music. Ed Key from Twisted Tree explained: “It’s more of an ambient piece than a game, although there is some challenge in finding the location that allows you to progress, and in finding the other couple of locations on the island that have interesting effects.”
I’ve been wandering around a preview version of it for the last twenty minutes, and I can report that it’s charming, and mildly mesmerising – an experience not unlike that bit in a movie where a child wanders into some weird wonderland and ends up gazing about in slack-jawed delight. (That was me.) No release date yet, but the team are planning to release for around $5, and there’s some footage below.

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.
I caved.
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 scene]
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. - Electron Dance

Proteus Stimulates Your Wanderlust

A wander in digital nature.

You awake in an ocean. In front of you is an island painted in vibrant colours, speckled with woods and ruins, meadows and mountains. You swim towards it. Wading onto the shore causes music to play. This music comprises how you interact with the world, altering depending on where you're stood, the time of day, the weather, the animals you chase, and the season.
Functionally, that's more or less it. How Proteus works can be summarised in a single, brief paragraph. Explaining why it works, however, would probably require some kind of psychological study, because all my prior experience as a gamer tells me it shouldn't.
The developer, Ed Key, explains that this initial response is fairly common: "There's a general thing where someone says 'I played it for 5 minutes and I was about to turn it off. I thought it was pointless. But then something sucked me in and forty minutes later I was still exploring it.' Those times when someone doesn't think they'll like it but they find themselves engaged, those are the most rewarding."

Proteus began life as a more straightforward RPG, but took a dramatic shift in development with the arrival of musician David Kanaga a year into the project. "The music thing came about really quickly." Ed says. "Looking at the exchange of emails between me and David, it was like three or four emails. It was mostly David's idea, that 'Let's try this and see if it will work.' But it very quickly solidified."
This reactive, layered musical score is designed to motivate the player's exploration of the island. Different landscapes and objects emit ambient sounds that gradually shift and build upon each other. Traversing a thicket of trees in summertime generates a score bursting with beats and rhythms and jaunty harmonies. Conversely, stand atop a hill at midnight and the world is eerily silent, with only the rushing wind carrying the odd mournful note across the barren summit.
More direct melodic interaction can be made through the curious wildlife. Frogs hop along an invisible keyboard if you chase them, and bizarre mushroom-like creatures leap into the sky with a glittering trill as you approach. Ed and David are spending a few more months filling it with as much life as possible.
"There's one I'm working on at the moment which has – I totally reserve the right to change this – its own musical system that's inspired by Skylarks, which have a very complex melodic pattern. It's a cross between that and an excitable dog, which runs off into the distance and then runs back to see where you are. So it's a slightly more complex and more sociable AI than most creatures have at the moment."

While there is a form of progression that I'll avoid discussing directly, there's no determinate objective. It's about exploring at your own pace, finding your own rhythm to the game's beat. "I almost hope that I can infect their mind with lazy wandering virus and they'll just go out and wander about," Ed jokes.
There are also plans to make this exploration more sociable by coding screenshots into what are essentially save-games players can share. "There's a little elaboration on that, where there'll be some kind of traces and trails of the person who took the screenshot. So it's like a little bit of memory. The idea is if you then take a screenshot from a world that came from a screenshot and pass that on, then it will have your traces and the other person's traces."
What surprised me most about Proteus was I found myself going back to it over and over. There's something delightfully intoxicating about it, something unique and intriguing about its design and ideas. Most of all, though, it's just genuinely pleasant. That's an adjective that doesn't get used enough when talking about games.

Proteus: the best song I've ever played

Tom Francis
If you ever need to gauge my sense of awe and wonderment, you can check how stupid my face looks. My face just spent forty minutes looking very, very stupid. Try letting your jaw hang, then raise your eyebrows in surprise whilst also twisting them in puzzlement, and smile with your mouth open. This is what Proteus can do to a man.
It's a first-person exploration game in which the components of the music you hear depend on what you're standing near to. And the time of day, and what's going on in the rest of the music, and probably some other factors I'm too dumb to grasp.
You're washed up on a textureless island of mountains and trees, and all you ever do in it is wander around listening to the soundscape change. I was fairly sure I wouldn't like it, because the screenshots don't look all that inviting. But it turns out that all of Proteus's magic happens in the three things a screenshot is missing: motion, music, and interaction.

Seems weird to cite interaction as the point of a game that doesn't even have a 'use' button, but that really is the key. It doesn't feel like all the trees, creatures, shrubs and sparkles in this world are each emitting their own constant tone that fades in and out as you approach. All these things react to you, tensing, springing, shivering and flinching. And what they produce isn't just a sound effect, it's a thread of this evolving song. It doesn't feel like you're hearing these objects directly, it's like there's something in the air. Your presence makes the world react, and the world's reaction makes the air sing.
A lot of oversimplified or outright discordant dynamic music games have trained me to be sceptical of the term, but Proteus is exactly what I was hoping for in those. The soundtrack plays off your actions without being slave to them, so the changes always make sense for the music itself. Instead of feeling like you have to move in the right way to make it sound good, it's more like having an intelligent composer producing this shifting soundtrack to your actions. Your play is what explains this piece, but the piece itself would work in isolation.

I should explain what genre this music is in, but trying to makes you realise how outmoded that notion is in this context. The music in Proteus ranges from electronic to organic, frantic to ambient, melodramatic to chilled. If it's ever a type you don't like, move.
I didn't often find a tune I didn't like, but that relationship did change the way I explored. I'd expected the world to feel empty, but I had almost the opposite problem. Over there, specks of white dust are swirling from all over the island to a single point - what the hell is that? But over here, the forest is coming to an end and giving way to desert - what will it sound like if I go that way?

Even once most of your curiosity is satisfied, your exploration is still motivated by music. It's quiet at night, so I headed to the place that was most frenetic by day: the trees. Their tone and mood is different with the moon out, and it gave my song a new texture. I found an unusual creature and chased it. Each time it ran from me, its movement struck a new cord, one which tinkled on as long as I followed in its wake. It led me out of the trees, over a mountain, through the desert, and finally leapt into the sea. Its thread faded from the music, and as I watched the water glint, I realised the sun was coming up.
The day always brings pace to the music, but this time I noticed something new: a buzz. It happened as I looked at the sun. It was faint compared to the rest of the island's sounds, so I started to walk out to sea. The buzz grew, trembling and changing pitch, and the island sounds slowly fell away behind me. At the same time, the glare from looking at the sun was making the sea and the sky paler and paler.
I kept wading, and kept staring. The island sounds were gone. The screen was nearly white. And the buzz, now building to a crescendo, felt like a music of its own. It felt like a track I'd created - a crazy one, unlike anything my aimless wandering had produced before, but much more purposeful and exciting and strong.
After a few minutes of staring at a totally white screen with an almost unchanging tone in my headphones, inexplicably close to tears, I realised what was going on: I was tripping my balls off.

Even when you're sat opposite Tim howling in laughter at Battlefield 3, and Rich singing his "I am the greatest person in the world" song to Graham over a game of FIFA, Proteus can still grab you, intoxicate you, and hardwire your brain to its pixels and quavers. It is nuts, and magnificent, and engrossing and beautiful. And £5.
PS. Don't press Escape to pause it and write a blog post, because it turns out that quits.

Proteus is a sacred space, it is the English countryside, it is not the English countryside, it is nowhere, it is somewhere you’ve been before. It invites you to explore, eyes wide open as a stranger. It feels almost generous in allowing you to tread upon its lands, albeit within a dream. There is no jumble of videogame assets here, no back story, no audio diary, nothing, just an island, somewhere, with beautiful noise and curious life.
I miss Proteus when I’m not there. I’ve visited when cities blighted the landscape, I’ve walked upon its roads now gone, I’ve visited its castles and I’ve walked its well worn pathways but always, always, it comes back to the island and me. The hills, the trees, the wind, the rain and the sound of something otherworldly hanging in the air. The seasons may change but the island remains a most wonderful dream.
I trust wherever Proteus is to be a safe place. I can close my eyes and come back tomorrow and it will still be somewhere magical.- Rob Fearon (owVideogames)

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