The music- and exploration-based Proteus
is a perfect example of minimalist game design. It has few defined goals, and exists primarily to let players wander about its atmospheric, pixelated world.
However, the game almost became something quite different. During an in-depth postmortem at last year's Game Developers Conference Europe
creator Ed Key explained that he and musician David Kanaga threw around some complex ideas when creating this dynamic musical experience.
"We were looking at ways to give players the tools to make music within the game, so they could arrange objects and you'd have a synthesizer or sequencer," Key said. "But I think the reason we didn't go any further with it is because it felt like it would feel too useful
; it'd feel too much like a creative tool rather than a mysterious game world to explore."
Key wanted to create a game that players could appreciate like a work of art, and he felt a game based around complex systems would just complicate things and distract players from his original intention. Instead, he set out to make a game with almost nothing but exploration, allowing players to take in the world in a much more thoughtful and meaningful way.
"There's this concept of uselessness," Key said, "You might have something like a mountain tree, which is completely useless; there isn't any fruit, you can't use the wood, and the only way to engage with the object is to engage with it in this indirect, poetic, almost passive kind of way."
Key and Kanaga set out to refine that theme throughout the game's development, as they strove to create a game that was not about its mechanics, but about the experience it presented. You can learn more about the origins of this unusual indie title by checking out the full postmortem in the above GDC Vault
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