Not pixel junk, but pixel art.
Of all the games I saw at Sony’s Playstation Vita event, the one that has stayed with me the most is Proteus. Perhaps it seems an unlikely choice upon first viewing—a game made up of giant pixel shapes in a rough 3-dimensional world with a low framerate, where the only thing the player does is move around an island. Oh, but that island.
Proteus is the best argument I’ve seen yet for games as fine art; the closest analog I can think of in other games is thatgamecompany’s Flower and Journey, or Q Games’ Pixeljunk Eden, which have similar themes about process and experience being more important than accomplishment. They also challenge the player with alternate, simplified or non-anthropomorphic gameplay perspectives.
Proteus is also similar in its approach to nature. Where Flower, Journey, and Eden used slightly more traditional mechanics to connect the player to the experience of being in nature (item collection, platforming), in Proteus the experience is built in through the exploration of the environment itself.
Visually, at first, Proteus looks like someone took a 3D environment and de-made each frame to look like an Atari 2600 screen. But the abstraction works in its favor, because it’s the soundscape that makes Proteus. As the player moves past blocky abstract trees, flowers, and animals, they begin to produce sounds. As the player moves from one area to the next it becomes a song.
What’s amazing about Proteus is how it guides the player in a combination of video and audio information. It doesn’t have a concrete path, as you can go anywhere. But if you stray too far from the harmonies its creating, it will throw up groups of pixelated plants that bleat in a dissonant alarm to push you back towards the harmonies. It is possible, however, to get lost in places you've already been if you're not careful, in a silent world without sound or direction until you find the path again.
It’s worth it, though, when the giant pixelated sun goes down, and the world fills with blocky white fireflies all headed for a hilltop covered with Stonehenge-like pillars that produce deep and resonant bass tones as you pass them, joining the fireflies in an ever tightening circle that turns the world white. Then the island restarts with new sounds, colors, and paths.
Proteus is currently already available on the PC, Mac, and Linux, and is scheduled for release on the Playstation Vita and PS3 later this year. It’s another great example of the openness and support that Sony is now providing to indie developers for their platforms.