Proteus Creators Dave Kanaga and Ed Key

I recently reviewed the unique PC indie game Proteus, winner of awards like  “Most Amazing Game” at Amaze 2012 and Best Audio at Indiecade 2011. I clearly fell into the camp of people who enjoyed and respected the game for its advances in showcasing gaming as a blatantly artistic medium (but, really, who in their right mind disputes that anymore anyway?).

Ed Key, designer and programmer of Proteus, kindly agreed to answer some questions I sent his way. You can check out the responses below:

GU: How did you come up with the initial concept of Proteus, and how similar was it to the final product?

Ed Key: The very original concept was simply to make a game about exploring a landscape, with some kind of deeper attachment to it than it simply being the stage on which the action takes place. I had a bunch of prototypes exploring this idea, and the one that became Proteus was originally going to be some sort of sandbox-RPG with survival elements. I lost focus on this and decided that getting some music in the game would help me enjoy it more and figure out what the mood of it would be. I ended up talking to David who was really keen on music being a part of the gameplay, so the idea of exploring the music in parallel with the landscape came together very quickly at that point.

GU: Were you concerned at all about forsaking standard gameplay elements that many players expect out of what they consider to be “video games?”

Ed Key: Yes, at several points in the project! It was mainly a concern before we starting showing it to people in early 2011. Once we had shown it to some people who were really keen, we knew we had something and it was enough just to refine and expand the concept. I think playing and loving some very minimal games like the original Knytt gave me some fundamental confidence that you could have a charming and engaging game without having to have enemies, etc.

GU: Were you consciously trying to make a statement about the potential of video games as an artistic medium?

Ed Key: Not originally, but the more I think about it, the more I realise that we were. It’s not because of the minimal interaction – I think it’s a trap to think of “art games” just as low-interaction games. It’s more because of how Proteus demands that you discover things for yourself and doesn’t give you any external validation of “+10 Points! Watched the sun set!”

GU: Did you expect the mild controversy that followed the game’s release, mostly from people who had never even played the game?

Ed Key: No! I thought all that had been done with Dear Esther, Journey and 30 Flights of Loving! It’s even funny that I think Proteus is even less of an edge-case than some of the earlier ones. It was a bit annoying seeing people saying it had no ending and stuff like that, but in the end I guess it was great for awareness to have lots of people talking about it, even if it was a bit of an accident.

GU: Are there any rare, obscure interactions within Proteus that you expect many players haven’t encountered?

Ed Key: I’m sure there are! Sometimes I regret not adding some kind of secret stat reporting to the game just to get a better idea of what people find, but maybe it’s more fun to find out be anecdotes and chance conversations. Even if you play all the way through there are a few things that you’ll miss if you rush through. (SPOILER: Probably the thing that we spend most effort on that would be seen the least is the pair of flying snake-like creatures that turn up in Summer.)


GU: What would be your one sentence mission statement for Proteus?

Ed Key: Oh man… I have no idea! Sentences are tough. Do you mean a statement for what we wanted to achieve? If so then it really just came together organically, rather than stating a goal or design principle upfront.

GU: Will you build upon the concept of Proteus in the future?

Ed Key: Currently I’m hoping that we can do an update sometime later this year, maybe late-summer, with a few additional things in the game world and also a “modding and remixing” system. I’m being careful to say that the majority of the development of Proteus has passed, being as it was in a public (but slow) beta for a year and a big part of our lives even before that so (once we’ve tied up the loose ends and outstanding obligations) we’re pretty much ready to move on to other things.

GU: Are you working on any new games/concepts?

Ed Key: Personally, I’m just starting to play around with some ideas for another exploration game, perhaps with some more survival elements and other ideas that didn’t fit into Proteus. I’m hoping to keep a similar sense of place and richness to the world, but the narrative arc within it should be a little harsher, maybe even a bit rogue-like. I don’t want to say too much more as I need to prototype a few things to see if the direction is promising!

I highly recommend anyone interested to check out Proteus for themselves. You can purchase the game for Windows or Mac at the official site.