A game of audio-visual exploration and discovery by Ed Key and David Kanaga

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Proteus 1.2 patch (Windows/Mac/Linux)

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stones and spheres

Hi all,
We’ve just released a small update for Proteus on Windows/Mac/Linux. This is mainly to fix a crash (or very long hang) on first run on OSX Mavericks, and to greatly improve the framerate on all versions. (This was due to me leaving in some terrible debug code many months ago… there’ll be stricter code-reviews around here from now on, let me tell you)

If you had no framerate or crashing problems, the main update is that I’ve added some of the “wilder islands” features from the PSVita/PS3 port. Some of these are subtle, some aren’t, and they’re all locked until you play through once, then are randomly applied on future islands. They are all purely visual or “structural” things. You can also change the “Wildness” setting in the “Other” options menu if you want to force “normal” islands or maximum wildness.

Here’s a list of changes:

  • Fix for crash on startup on OSX Mavericks
  • General framerate improvement
  • Slight tweak to title screen animation
  • “Wild” islands have 10 or so new possible wild traits
  • “Wild Islands” setting in the menu is now “Never”/”Maybe”/”Maximum”
  • Fixed a bug where a certain creature sometimes didn’t appear in summer
  • Winter and ending sequence timings improved
  • Various small fixes and improvements to audio mixing

Once again, big thanks to Jon Brodsky at Lucky Frame for battling the OSX crash problem and Ethan Lee for the Linux support.

The Steam version should update automatically, but the ones on Humble or IndieGameStand will need to be re-downloaded.

If you bought via Humble (or before) and have lost your download information, please use the Humble Store Key Resender to retrieve it.

Other news:

Artifact Edition and Soundtrack

These are still in the works. Coordinating work is hard but we’re making definitely progress. We’re using A-to-Z Media to print and package them, and we building up a collection of what’s going in them, filling in DTP templates etc. There’s a wild zine-like booklet and a card game. If you’re one of the people who pre-ordered and are sick of waiting, let me know (ed@visitproteus.com) and I’d be happy to refund you. It’s proven much harder and slower than we thought, but we are still working on it.

Playstation 3 and PS Vita Version

I failed to write an update about this at the time, but Proteus is now available on PS3 and PSVita thanks to Curve Studios. It’s cross-buy (i.e. pay once and get it for both platforms) and you can find out more here.

Humble Indie Bundle 8

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We’re excited to announced that Proteus is currently available as part of the Humble Indie Bundle 8! Pay-what-you-want for Proteus, Hotline Miami, Dear Esther, Awesomenauts, Capsized, Thomas Was Alone and Little Inferno, plus a bunch of soundtracks.



A Note on the Bonus EP/Soundtrack:

The 10 minute track included with the bundle is the same as the one that you currently get with regular Proteus orders: An abstract story related by one of the creatures of Proteus, weaving together some memories (that is, early soundtrack sketches) of the island from the days when it was still called Nodeland.

The full album-length arrangement of the soundtrack is still work-in-progress and will hopefully be available later this summer. It’s a big part of the delayed “Artifact Edition,” so will probably be exclusive to that at first, then released via Bandcamp soon after.

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Version 1.1 now available: Linux, Steam Big Picture support



I’m happy to announce that Proteus is now available for Linux, both on Steam and via the Humble store. For Windows and Mac this is also a “1.1” release that is mostly minor tweaks, bugfixes and user-experience improvements.

Apart from the Linux build, the most notable addition is full support for Steam’s Big Picture mode. This simply means that everything is now controllable via a joypad, including the menus.

Here’s a rough list of the smaller changes and fixes:

  • Added option to affect behaviour when running in the background: running or paused, with audio on or off.
  • Options screen now available in-game (press F1)
  • fixed mouselook not working on some systems
  • graphical improvement to horizon
  • fixed horizon type planes getting cut off under camera when looking down and FOV very wide
  • volume control now works
  • rotation speed setting now affect keyboard rotate
  • slightly reduced walk speed
  • invert Y now off by default (oops)
  • improved mouse-smoothing and general mouse control (hopefully)
  • added a setting for mouse smoothing on/off
  • minor sound tweaks
  • adding missing credits
  • Fix for OSX case sensitive file systems

Once again, big thanks to Alex May, Jon Brodsky, Ethan Lee (Linux porting maestro) and the Linux testers for making this happen!

Next up: Continuing to try and get the Artifact Editions designed and produced, preparing a talk for AMAZE and working on a secret console port of Proteus, due out later this year. David is currently working on the soundtrack album…


…And spring is finally here!

Go outside, listen to the birds, look out for flowers!

Seven-day Roguelike Wrap-up


The annual Seven Day Roguelike competition was going on last week. I made an incomplete game called “Forest Story” about foraging and trying not to poison yourself, but didn’t finish to my satisfaction. Regardless, I thought I’d write something about how I felt it went, what I’m thinking of doing with this idea in future and naturally to make the “7 days” build available to download.

First: If you have no idea what a roguelike is, check out this amazing primer and list of fine examples on Indie Statik.

Second: Here’s what I had at the end of seven days, in all it’s wonky unfinishedness:

(Getting to the edge of the map is probably the closest thing it has to an objective in this state)

This is actually one of a family of prototypes investigating this same idea of exploration, survival, expedition-planning and dying alone on a mountainside with a broken leg after eating the wrong plant whilst cornered by a bear. Clearly none of this would make sense in Proteus, but equally there’s more to explorating and figuring out a relationship with the natural world than just carefree wandering. Here’s an old version that was inspired by Lords of Midnight.  Here’s a more recent pen-and-paper iteration. There’s not much in common except the general theme. Here’s something that looks like the Giant’s Causeway. I often feel like I’m designing stuff just to scratch an itch, and I’m still not sure if this is the best way to do things. The current specimen (the 7DRL linked above) is rather indulgent and over-literal, and was feeling a bit lost (ha!)

However something just happened which rekindled my enthusiasm for this: I played Adam Kałuża’s new game “The Cave,” a strangely peaceful game of competitive cave exploration. I’m not sure how it stacks up as a regular game for groups (we were playing 2 player) but it absolutely nails some things that were cumbersome or ill thought-out in my previous paper version. The way it deals with food and inventory management is so similar but much neater than what I had, but also I feel like I had some dynamic stuff going on that could have added a lot. Now I’m convinced that I should make a mash-up of 2 of my previous versions whilst learning some design lessons from The Cave. I’m undecided about whether this should be a physical board/card game first, or another digital iteration. Either way, it’s not going to be my main focus again for a while until various Proteus-related tasks are out of the way.

Normal Proteus service will be resumed this week. If you’re waiting for an email or other reply from me I’ll try and get on that in the next few days! Apart from communication backlog, I’ll be trying (with Jon and Alex) to get the 1.1 patch out before the end of the month.

Happy Birthday Proteus!


It’s exactly one year since the Proteus beta was released! The original FastSpring store went live on February 26th 2012 whilst Tamsin and I were in the air on the way to GDC, where Proteus was shortlisted for the IGF’s Nuovo Award. Confusingly, some clever people had already bought it by the time we landed, so we only had time for the briefest of high-fives before heading out to meet David for a celebratory beer and burrito in San Francisco.


Like most things, Proteus had lots of beginnings. Perhaps its real birthday is 17th February 2010, when David and I first started discussing the project in its current form. Here are the first two emails we exchanged, which give a good idea of the direction we set out in:

from: Ed Key <xxxx@xxxx.com>
to: David Kanaga <xxxx@xxxx.com>
date: 17 February 2010 12:12
subject: Slow-burn game music project

I just read your post "Scenes from Arcturus" (and listened to several of the
mini-albums) and wondered if you might be interested in a project.
It's a kind of ambient exploration game, perhaps with some survival
mechanics. You can see the almost-current state of it here:
(BTW the block-colour graphic style is close to "final" but there are a lot
of rough edges that could be improved)
The choice of music on the video clip [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2OqQ6-ESp4 ]
is significant... it's probably my favourite album, and is also associated with 
exploring virtual forests from having constantly had it on in the background whilst 
playing Ultima 7 when I was young.
From your tunes, "Pool" (from The Nymph) and "Lusion Plain" 1 and 2 are
probably my favourites when thinking about this project :)
If you are really looking for something like ElectroPlankton, a "music
game", then this probably isn't it...
However, if you're interested in some kind of gentle reactive ambient music,
I hope this would be a good vehicle for it!
Some elements that might be associated with musical elements/moods/themes:
- entering a forest clearing
 - weather conditions and transitions from rain/sun etc
 - times of day
 - looking out to sea
 - climbing through the cloud layer and exploring the mountain peaks above
 - discovering ancient ruins, stone circles, overgrown statues, etc
 - finding some ambient wildlife
 - entering a village
 - falling asleep in the forest and waking up surrounded by spirits 
 (maybe... http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a3/Mononoke_Kodama.jpg )
You can see some of these in the video. The rest are planned features, with
the "spirits" being the only speculative one. The main thing missing from
the design at the moment is some motivation for the player to
explore/inhabit the world so that it's a bit more compelling than a screen
saver. I don't have any clear idea for this, but maybe the music could be a
part of it?
If you're interested I can send you a build, although I will do a bit of
cleaning-up work on it first to make it more presentable.
Also, I felt I should qualify it with "slow-burn" as it's not really
progressing much at the moment (injured my wrist so can't do a lot of
computer work) but it is definitely alive and well, just hibernating...
hopefully it will be back on track in a few months.
Regarding money, my plan was to make it freeware. If it seems to have the
potential maybe it could be sold at some point, but that's some way in the
future, it's too much of an experiment at the moment.

from: David Kanaga <xxxx@xxxx.com>
to: Ed Key <xxxx@xxxx.com>
date: 18 February 2010 21:54
subject: Re: Slow-burn game music project
Hey Ed,
Your game looks beautiful--I would urge you to not change the graphical
style at all, as it is one my favorite visual designs I've ever seen (no
kidding!) :).
Anyway, I'd definitely be interested in doing some gentle reactive ambient
music for this. You said "I don't have any clear idea for [developing player
motivation], but maybe the music could be a part of it?" -- I definitely
think that if the music is reactive enough to give the player a sense of
"performing the landscape," that it could provide a good deal of motivation
for play. For instance, when I see all the different types of vegetation in
your game world, right away I imagine them having (subtle) musical tracks
which get louder as the player approaches them; flowers could produce some
sort of soft chimes, the yellow trees could have a different sort of musical
character, etc. This sort of detailed musical-play in conjunction with the
larger structures you listed in your game-elements-to-associate-with-music
list I think would give the player the sense that they are experiencing an
interactive musical/environmental composition at their own pace, which I
know is something that I'd very much like to do :)
It was a very inspiring video; I'd love to write music for the game whenever
you feel like continuing work on the project (and I'd love to play a build
of it, which I'm sure would get me even more inspired :)).
Hope your wrist feels better soon! :)
- David

Here’s that old Proteus test video. The “Nodeland” refers to the terrain generation method, but it turns out it’s a place in Sweden too. An inbox search turned up that someone there bought Proteus, which tickled me.



(Another cool thing about the 17th of February is that it was my last day working at my regular day-job in 2012!)

I’m making a note here

We had some great days during the (admittedly slow) beta period. I think the biggest sales (and interest) spike was in August when the boss of 2K games argued that photorealism was essential for “emotions” in games. Watching the editorials pop up talking about Proteus over those few days was amazing and totally out of the blue. Also really heartening to see it used as a counter-example in this discussion. I guess we did something right!

During those 11 months we sold about 5200 copies, 300 of which were preorders for a special physical “Artifact Edition” (more on that below)

So many times I thought “surely everyone who could ever want to play this will have played it or heard about it by now” and that was doubly true in the run-up to the launch in January. I was wrong! It’s now sold about 23000 copies since launch, which seems insane for the odd thing that it is. Maybe it’s proof of that slowly maturing development process where we could feel our way along and only add what felt right, mostly without feeling too much pressure to rush and to add extraneous things. Perhaps a “lessons learnt from Proteus” should be a whole other post. I feel like it needs a lot more thought. For now, the greatest news for me is that I can carry on making games full-time. It’s a very lucky and privileged position to be in.

Current Status

Now I’m in an odd post-partum limbo. I’m finally almost on top of emails. I’ve been doing some patching work with Jon and Alex. Tentative inquiries about ports have been made. A Linux version should be out on Humble fairly soon,  courtesy of Ethan Lee. We’re also recharging: David is writing an essay-cum-fanfiction on Infinite Sketch (hopefully *in* Infinite Sketch) and I’m planning a weekend amongst some hills and thinking about prototypes for future stuff.

Artifact Edition

The major piece of unfinished business from the preorders is of course the production and shipping of the Artifact Editions. We’re going to get onto this in March now, and just want to reassure anyone who ordered one that we haven’t forgotten. Due to CD and printing costs it looks like we’ll produce 500 copies and reopen orders for the remaining 200. They were originally priced at $30 but I have no idea what they should be post-launch yet! The soundtrack album that will be part of the Artifact Edition will also go up online shortly afterward. David is making exciting noises about the soundtrack already :)


This post turned into a monster! It’s got me all sentimental now, so it feels like a good time to thank everyone who make it possible: David for the music and design philosophy, Jon Brodsky and Alex May for invaluable coding assistance, Erik Ravaglia for creating the launch trailer, Tamsin for putting up with the ‘joy’ of living with a game developer (I’m transcribing) and everyone who bought, played, critiqued, steered, wrote about, talked about and tested Proteus, especially the hardcore of 4-5 beta testers who really helped push it towards the launch.

Thank you all!


(Coming soon: a reviews and videos round-up post?)

You can never go back

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I find this rather burdensome to write, but it feels necessary to set out my thoughts given recent rumblings, and specifically to respond to this article and its comments.

I don’t call Proteus an antigame* or a notgame. I call it a game, but obviously I am at pains to make it clear that it doesn’t have explicit challenge or “winning.”

I’m also absolutely not against game mechanics or traditional schools of design.

If you want to narrow your definition of “game” for purposes of academic study or personal taste, then that’s fine, but the vagueness of the term itself has been around as long as things that we call games. “Snakes and Ladders” is my favourite example of this inconsistency: it involves no decision making and therefore is well outside of many of the stricter definitions, but clearly is a boardgame as far as society is concerned. More recently, videogames like The Sims and SimCity are also “not games” according to some.

The stricter the definition of an inherently nebulous concept, the more absurd the implications. Should Dear Esther and Proteus be excluded from stores that sell games? Not covered in the games press? Since Sim City is either a toy or a simulation, that should be excluded too, along with flight simulators.

Are all comics “comical?” Meanings are fluid. Most of the words we use don’t mean what they originally meant – that’s just how everyday language works.

If you are a game designer and you are focusing on a particular formal definition or have a guiding principle to your work, like Sid Meier’s famous motto “A game is a series of interesting decisions” then go ahead. Insisting that your definition is the definition is a foolish obsession.

Proteus doesn’t have or even aspire to the same systemic complexity as SimCity, but it does have systems. It’s just 95% optional whether you engage with them and it generally doesn’t give you any confirmation when you do. There’s a design reason for this. But, as the other headline went: Who cares? Would adding more game-like elements improve it? Or would it just be a box-ticking exercise that would harm** what it’s designed to express?

Outside of academic discussions, encouraging a strict definition of “game” does nothing but foster conservatism and defensiveness in a culture already notorious for both. Witness the raging threads on the Proteus Steam forum, most of which are posted (and re-posted and re-posted) by people who don’t own the game. There’s a huge difference between this kind of “activism” or claiming something is the Emperor’s New Clothes and individual people trying something and deciding it’s not for them.

Proteus was certainly made by a game developer (and a musician), working in the context of videogames, using game design and development techniques to express a particular set of things. None of that is really important, because the proof is in the playing.


(* I’m not accusing Mike of misquoting me here, as that part of our conversation was fairly ambiguous and more about my insistence that I don’t subscribe to the term “notgame” rather than signing up to a new term)

(** The emperor of the South Sea was called Shu [Brief], the emperor of the North Sea was called Hu [Sudden], and the emperor of the central region was called Hun-tun [Chaos]. Shu and Hu from time to time came together for a meeting in the territory of Hun-tun, and Hun-tun treated them very generously. Shu and Hu discussed how they could repay his kindness. “All men,” they said, “have seven openings so they can see, hear, eat, and breathe. But Hun-tun alone doesn’t have any. Let’s trying boring him some!” Every day they bored another hole, and on the seventh day Hun-tun died.Zhuangzi)



Thanks for the comments. It’s worth reiterating that the looseness of the word “game” is actually the original state rather than some limited formalistic definition, which perhaps originates in the “game theory” of the 20th century. I had forgotten about Wittgenstein’s classic use of “game” as an example of the concept of family resemblances – thanks Lana Polansky and Chris McDowall.

Despite not subscribing to the term “notgame”, Michaël Samyn’s manifesto is a good, provocative read.

Old friend Simon Brislin pointed out something I should have made a bigger deal of in linking to the Gamasutra post: Who on the internet needs reassurance that it’s ok to share their dislike of something?

Finally, I’m not feeling brought down by this whole argument, though it’s regrettable to me that Proteus is being used as such a prominent example. We’ve had such an amazing wave of nice messages and good write-ups that the number of people who dislike it feels irrelevant. From a practical point of view, it looks like it should make enough in sales to pay for development time on a new project. After a long and uncertain development, and a very stressful January, it feels amazingly freeing.

1.0 “Final” version released on Steam and Humble



I’m happy to announce that the “1.0” build of Proteus is now available to download on Humble and Steam. If you bought a beta version, see the instructions below for how to get a fresh download of the standalone version or a Steam key or both. My brain is fried so this is kind of a short post, but there’ll be more soon, including a partial explanation about the nature of all things. Some of them anyway.

For now…

Information for Beta Purchasers

If you bought the beta via Humble, you can simply re-download from your Humble Library to get the new build.
You should also find a Steam key on the game page for Proteus. If these aren’t immediately visible, give it a few minutes for the changes to filter through. The keys are already on the system, just waiting for the link-up with Steam to go live.

If for whatever reason you can’t find your download link, enter your email into the Humble Key Resender and that will send you links for everything you’ve purchased via them, including Proteus.

If you bought via FastSpring, you should have received an email last year with a link to a Humble download, but if if this got lost somehow, just use the link above and you’ll get an email with a download link exactly as if you’d bought via Humble.

Artifact Edition

If you preordered the physical Artifact Edition of Proteus, thanks for bearing with us for so long. We recently had to divert all our efforts to hitting this date, so design and production work will resume in February. We’re still excited about the contents, even though we’re probably going to make a net loss on it. Ah well! Thanks again for your patience, and we hope you like it when it arrives. We should also have a small surplus of these, depending on production runs, so expect another chance to get hold of one

Proteus Tourist Board, circa 1930

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Proteus_Print_reducedA poster for a tourist destination that never existed, Created by AJ Hateley after I enquired about some cool stickers I saw at GameCity. I’m hoping to have some exciting news about real physical posters and other good stuff sometime shortly after launch!

Incidentally, her period styling was especially nice, because an inspiration for the summer afternoon palette in Proteus was this Art Deco poster of Central Park, New York:


Proteus Leaving Beta, Coming to Steam: 30 January 2013



We’re excited to finally announce that Proteus will being leaving its “beta” period and coming to Steam on 30th January for Mac and PC!

Since the start of the beta we’ve been refining and expanding Proteus and have reached a point where it feels right to call it “done” (at least until we’ve had a rest and thought about another update).

The current beta release is still available here for $7.50 until the 30th of January when the price will switch to $9.99 both on this site and on Steam. All existing and future purchasers will get a Steam key and the version on the Humble Store will remain DRM free.

If you’re a journalist or blogger, you might be interested in our presskit, and you can reach me at ed@visitproteus.com or on twitter. If you’re already on my list of contacts, you’ll be getting an email sometime in the next couple of days with info on review copies and maybe a more formal press release if I can figure out how to write one. I just hope there’s enough snow.

Big thanks to Alex May for bravely helping with the last chunk of work (and the inscription above), Jon Brodsky for tireless work on the Mac version, George Buckenham for website help and as always to everyone who has patiently given their support, encouragement and feedback since the start of development.

Keep an eye out for more updates over the next few weeks, including a new trailer!