Proteus Case Study

What is the game?

“Proteus” by Ed Key and David Kanaga (2013) is a poetic game that combines audio and visuals into an ambient exploration piece.


How did I feel when I played the game – was I relaxed?

When playing Proteus, a mixture of presence, awe, happiness, wanderlust, relaxation, sadness bad mournfulness may be felt.  The player is transported wholeheartedly to the island space of Proteus, forgetting the real world that they left behind in pursuit of the discoveries that the island appears to offer. This study was somewhat difficult to conduct, as the researcher was constantly drawn away from the research as a sense of presence and relaxation was developed.


Which elements of the game contribute to the relaxed feeling? Conversely, which elements of the game stop me feeling relaxed?

Audio design contributes greatly to the relaxing mood of the game. Kanaga creates a delightful procedural soundscape that is built up as the player approaches different points of interest. Proteus makes use of both ambience and atmospherics within its sound design to support the artistic vision of the game. Sound effects, which tie into visuals and animation, are used to cement the reality of the game, with small animals producing relevant sounds. These sounds serve the visual art, in that they give meaning to otherwise abstract artefacts.

With the audio design being a major contributor to the ambience of the game, there was a concern that the visuals were lacking in comparison. In order to test this, the game was played without sound. Despite the game being played in a loud living room around other people, without audio the sense of presence and relaxation remained. The contribution of the visuals to presence and relaxation will be discussed in the visuals section.

In addition to the ambience supported by audio design, the soundtrack is used to create atmosphere. When playing with the sound switched off, the player feels relaxed, present and occasionally awestruck, but when the sound is switched on happiness, excitement, loneliness and mournfulness is added into the mix. These emotions draw on the theme of changing seasons that Proetus employs to add a new dimension of feeling to the game.

Exploration and Progression

The setting and initial moment in “Proteus” (Key, Kanaga, 2013) is incredibly important. As the game opens, the player opens their eyes and can see an island with a large mountain. Having the island presented to them in this manner introduces Proteus’ setting as a liminal space (Stuart, 2013) where the player can explore their inner self. Being the tallest element in the composition, the mountain draws the player’s eye, with them instinctively walking towards it and knowing that journeying to the island will begin their adventure. This initial goal telegraphing combined with a spectacle has been referred to as a “wow moment” within the project. Upon this introduction to the game, the player is greeted with the sound of running water, a common motif in meditational media. Use of this motif sets the player’s expectation for relaxation before the relaxing visuals are introduced.


Use of Colour and Shape

The pure relaxation and happiness that the game radiates is in part delivered by the colour scheme. It is bright and saturated, utilising colours like green, blue and yellow which are cool and calming.


The simplified forms of the artwork in “Proteus” (Key, Kanaga, 2013) also lend to its calming nature, as the scene is very easy on the eye and each element separates nicely. This design echoes the visual deprivation found in meditational imagery, as it takes away unnecessary details to let the viewer focus.


Whilst exploring the landscape, the player is drawn to elements that stand out from the others. Shape and colour of individual assets are juxtaposed against modular ones to create clear points of interest within the game, effectively leading the player without their knowledge.

There is one tree in the game which is larger than the others, whose branches create a canopy that the player can walk under. This is an example of using shape to create interest. The large size allows it to stand out against other trees, whilst the soft, rounded canopy that encompasses the player draws on shape psychology to create a sense of peace, safety and relaxation. Whist in this safe area, the player watches leaves and particles drift by, the arcs of their animation creating ovals as they fall. Whilst these shapes may not be consciously registered, the curvilinear arcs add to the mood of protection and calm.


The drastic temperature and saturation differences between colour schemes in the levels notify the player of their progression, whilst moving the theme along and diversifying the emotions produced by the game. In summer, the highly saturated blues and greens engage the player, leaving them happy and awe struck. Autumn is decidedly more subdued, with the colour pallet being restrained and saturation being reduced. The contrast here allows for both a sense of presence and relaxation to be developed, with the player’s focus being drawn in summer, then being made calm in autumn.


Contrast also provides points of interest for the player, as high contrast areas draw the eye and pull the player in. This is especially prolific in the Summer level, where complimentary colours  lime green and pink are set against each other to create bright areas that pop, inciting the player to journey in that direction.

Use of FX and Animation

The subtle movement of the environment when coupled with the fantastic ambient soundtrack make the world come alive, using ambience to make the island feel like a true place to explore. The moving animals give the player something to follow if they are unsure how or reluctant to proceed without direct instruction. This is important as many game players are used to being given explicit goals and directions, and can become confused or give up in a more experimental experience.

The main method for telegraphing the player’s goals is though a stream of particles that forms a ring where the player must travel to. The particles start to drift in from all over the island, so that the player can start to follow them. These bright white particles stand out well against the hues of the environment so are easy to find. Their slow, bouncy movment compells the player tzo The start to spin quickly in a ring shape, using the cirular motif to make sure the player remains happy, but using the tummulnous movment to suggest that something exiting is about to happen.



The use of fog effects in Proteus adds greatly to the player’s sence of presence. The fog acts in a similar way to black areas in meditational film, where a barrier is created between the player and what they’re looking at to isolate them and deprive their sences. This allows them to become fully focused on the limited view that they do have. This is employed in the opening of the game and at key points in the poetic narriative, places where the player is being specifically guided, though due to the environmental nature of the fog, they are unaware of this.

Proteus3 proteus_2

Effects in Proteus are used to create both awe and calm, drawing the player into the experience and then relaxing them. As the player first transitions into the night time, a shooting start flashes acorss the sky. As well as continuing to exite the player, this leads their eye towards the area they should be heading to in order to progess. In contrast to this exiting effect, the curvilinear arcs of slowly oscilating leaves, as mentioned in the shape and colour section, are used to create a sence of calm and peace in the world of Proteus.


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