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One-on-One With Proteus Developer Ed Key

Proteus is all about exploration. The 3D wilderness is peppered with 2D elements, and as you wander the world nature dances in tempo to spacey, psychedelic music. There’s a beta version currently available for Windows, with OSX and Linux versions coming soon. We got in touch with Ed Key, the game’s developer, to learn a bit more.

Game On: How did you come in to game development?

Ed Key: I “went indie” a few years ago after working in the games industry for several years straight out of university. I’m currently living in southwest England and I’ve been collaborating with David Kanaga, a musician and composer in Oakland, for a few years now.

Game On: What is Proteus?

Ed Key: Proteus is all about being immersed in a world in a kind of meditative goal-less way and discovering its secrets for yourself. The island in the game is procedurally generated and there’s a soundtrack composed by David which is dynamically mixed depending on your surroundings to give a new abstract sort of immersion.

One could argue that it’s more like a visual interactive music album than a game, as there are no explicit goals or activities except exploration, but we don’t really mind what you call it. “Game” is a convenient shorthand!

The idea started out as a survival RPG (which I will almost certainly make one day) but morphed into becoming all about the audio, atmosphere and exploration. I sent an early build out to some people and was almost surprised how satisfying it was for other people, and in fact adding goals seemed to cheapen the experience somehow, so we kept it minimal.

Game On: Why should gamers tap into the indie scene— and into this game specifically?

Ed Key: I suppose the cliché answer is “if you’re looking for something different”. I guess Proteus is kind of “out there” on the art/non-game spectrum but still pretty unpretentious. I know an equal number of non-gamers and gamers who’ve enjoyed it, including children and older family relatives. I wouldn’t recommend Proteus if you’re looking for a game of skill and achievements – from this year’s IGF I’d probably suggest trying Spelunky, Frozen Synapse and English Country Tune for excellent and unique takes on “true” games.

Game On: How long have been working on Proteus? And what tools did you use to make it?

I used C# which I was familiar with already and I find to be nice and quick for development, a core game framework mostly written by my friend Alex May and SDL, OpenGL and Lua for various other things. David uses Ableton to create the sounds.

I was checking through old emails recently and it looks like it’s been in development for around 3 years. This was part-time in evening and weekends, and a chunk of that period was lost due to a wrist injury that stopped my from typing, but even then I think the long slow development has given the end result a certain character.

Game On: What sets Proteus apart from other games? And is there anything you wish you could have done differently?

Ed Key: Two main things: The total lack of external goals and the tight integration of the music with the environment give it a unique feel. I’m quite pleased with how the graphics turned out as they took many iterations and still seem to be quite distinctive. There’s nothing major that I’d change, but the codebase is fairly hacky and unoptimised, so I’m hoping to clean and polish it to get it as smooth as possible for release.

Game On: Have you worked on other projects prior to Proteus?

Ed Key: This is my first almost-finished indie project, although I have 2-3 other prototypes knocking around that might yet turn into games. Proteus is probably part of a certain path, but I’m planning on something much more game-like for the next thing, even though I’m sure it’ll share a certain spirit. You can find links to David’s other work via his site, including his Bandcamp. He’s been doing the audio for Dyad which looks and sounds amazing and is due out pretty soon.

Game On: What are your thoughts about the IGF? Looking forward to anything in particular?

Ed Key: It’s an amazing selection of games, really incredibly diverse if you look at what’s represented there. I went last year for my first time, tagging along with my friends at Honeyslug, and it was great to meet so many developers from around the world, hang out, go for meals, etc. I guess this year will be much busier for me, but still making friends and swapping ideas will be a huge part of it. Of the games that I haven’t played, I’m excited to see Dear Esther and I’m sure co-op Spelunky is going to be a riot. It’s great to see Joust there as I’ve played it a few times and it’s guaranteed to create a party atmosphere.

Game On: Any advice for someone interested in indie development?

Ed Key: I’m going to cheat and just link to a couple of fantastic pieces that some friends of mine made recently: You Can Make Videogames and How To Make Your First Videogame.

Those are both excellent resources and cover everything I’d say. I’ll just emphasize the virtue of trying and not being afraid to fail. Try different tools, keep lots of little prototypes on the go, just let things fall into place.

Game On: Where can we find your game?

Ed Key: I’m hoping to get a beta access/pre-purchase scheme up and running in time for GDC. After that, depending on which way the wind blows, there’ll be a final release a few months later in digital and physical formats. You can either check back at the Proteus website around GDC time, follow me on twitter (@edclef) or sign up for an email alert via the site. The initial beta will be Windows-only but the final release should add OSX and Linux versions.