Tuesday 12 February 2013


Proteus is a game that is only an aesthetic and a mechanic, and as such the goal of playing it is in the playing itself, rather than any achievable sense of completion.  It is the kind of game you play until you are done playing.

The style takes 8-bit (or even earlier) 2D video and audio assets and uses them to populate a world in 3D and high fidelity.  The pixels are large and crisp and the sounds are a generation above PC speaker played on new sound cards.  This throws back to a time when sounds and pixel lumps didn't mean anything until you interacted with them in context, then we would recognise them anywhere.

The mechanic is simple: You walk and you look and the world notices that you are there, and in just being there you play the island like a musical instrument.  This seemingly limited interaction ('just being there'), like in the real non-super-pixel 'nature' (aka 'The Environment', aka where snakes live), is enough to get a kick out of your surroundings.  And just like in that same real non-super-pixel 'nature', 'just being there' is also enough to harass the local wildlife.  Except the owls.  They don't seem to care.  It could be described as an interactive ambient sound generator presented through a game engine.  Actually, that is exactly what it is.

Is the game meant to be simultaneously reminding us of our impact on the natural world as it reminds us of a time in the medium when context was everything?  I don't know, but I can tell you that Proteus is an anagram for 'pot user'.

Friday 8 February 2013


As a boy I played The Legend of Zelda, in which appears The Lost Woods.  A forested area that repeats unless a specific path is taken, effectively trapping our hero in a non-euclidian nightmare.  What followed for my young mind were actual non-euclidian nightmares in which sections of what I perceived to be the real world repeated (often infinitely), making it impossible for me to escape disorientation.  I lost sleep, and my psychological state deteriorated.  In this state of increased fragility a wrong turn into unfamiliar territory could induce extreme anxiety. I became obsessed with maps and avoided streets that did not run parallel as often as possible.  I traded the game away, but the dreams never stopped.

It is 2013.  More than two decades have passed since the cartridge left my possession, and in that time I have played a number of games that have toyed with unmappable areas, and changing space, but there is something so base about what happened in those woods.  My dreams had grown worse, and these games couldn't keep up.  The real-world had been stripped back and my repetition was now hued in one shade each of pink and blue that consumed the black as they built themselves into the infinite.  No shadows.  No detail.  No texture.

When I first saw a video for Antichamber, I recognised something.  Something that held greater familiarity to me.  It was the very core of those dreams.  When they were at their darkest.  A world stripped back to the only things I would ever need to be afraid.  Everything styled as close to nothing as it could ever be.  If Escher had made horror movies they would've looked like this.

The game itself feeds you the pavlovian crumbs of small victories to keeping you moving, but the process repeats and a whole new level of cyclical gameplay is revealed.  At every point you are taunted with hints to solutions that you have just found, all delivered in the smug tone of a fortune cookie. It even has the gaul to give you map.

Antichamber is consistent in everything that it does, from the moment you launch the game to the moment that you quit.  It is the perfect nightmare.

I highly recommend it.