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.

Beginnings

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

Hi,
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:
http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=6168.0
(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.
cheers!
Ed
------

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 :)

Thanks

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?)