For anyone who was suspicious about the fact that my Project Proteus competition coincided precisely with April Fools’ Day, you were on to something. At this point, having put together an online April Fools’ prank every year since 2013, I’d be a little disappointed if nobody was expecting one! For anyone who actually entered that competition, though, you may have had a tougher time spotting this year’s than most, effectively because it’s you who’s been pulling the prank this year!
Played just once, on just one device, Project Proteus appears to be a perfectly ordinary interactive story. If played again, it appears exactly the same. You can load the game up as many times as you like, and you will always have the same range of options to click through and explore.
However, the story experienced by another player on another device is probably not the same as yours.
If you’ve played Project Pandora then you may have some idea what’s going on behind the scenes. Project Proteus behaves in a very similar manner, except that rather than lock you out of the game the moment you complete it, it locks you into one particular storyline the moment it’s assigned. The reason I chose to organise a competition is that while individually not everybody will discover an April Fools’ prank in Project Proteus, as a community there’s a chance for everyone to get in on the joke. And if you entered the competition, you contributed to the project by bringing in people who probably won’t have been expecting an April Fool at all.
Given the heavy element of chance in all of this, I’m actually not sure how well the joke delivered. However, the competition itself has gone even better than expected. Though I was primarily hoping for stories that would simply draw in new readers, the three entries are really quite remarkable: especially considering the ridiculously short time available to write them. In no particular order:
PROJECT PROTEUS: EVIDENCE FILE #056 by MillieBee is splendidly creepy. Where the storyline it’s based on is most concerned with simply surviving a crisis, this story takes place some time after it’s ended and pulls at a lot of loose ends left by the original. The fact that this is “File 56” also hints at other, similar scary happenings. I’m quite a fan of the radio transcript format too.
Mascot of the Revolution by G. Deyke presents itself as the newspaper article that Project Proteus‘ journalist protagonist is expected to write, and is a faithful enough report of that storyline’s events that I’d recommend playing for yourself before reading it (though the odds of you being assigned the specific storyline it’s based on are comparatively slim). While I was pleased to see an article-style entry, I was particularly impressed that the accompanying comments (presented as a note to the editor) make for an outside-the-box solution to that storyline’s central puzzle.
Project Proteus by jdeyke is noteworthy for being a humour piece, despite being based on by far the most horrible storyline in the game. I particularly enjoyed the line: “Project Proteus”? Sounds like some crappy prog-rock group! Again, this is an interesting follow-on to a story that left a lot of loose ends, but instead of aiming for the most plausible way of continuing the plot, it uses the fairly open ending of the original to take things in a completely new direction. I was hoping to see at least some funny flash fiction come out of this, and jdeyke’s piece doesn’t disappoint!
It’s been far more difficult to choose a winner than I expected, but after a lot of thought I feel as though G. Deyke’s entry was my favourite by a narrow margin. Attempting the sort of newspaper article that would come out of the game’s events must have made for a challenge–and I feel as though the fact that this story is a straightforward retelling is something of a flaw–but the voice used in the article and the twist presented in the note to the editor more than make up for that: particularly as a different take on the article probably would have ruled this out.
I’ll be contacting G. Deyke about the mention in this year’s Flash Fiction Month nearer the time, and sending the deviantART points very soon. However, as the original competition was a bit of a trick, I’ll also be sending all three entrants a link to an “unlocked” Project Proteus with all the storylines readily accessible.
If you didn’t enter the competition but are curious about what the regular Project Proteus is hiding from you, you can either try playing on a different device, or compare notes with other readers. There are also a couple of ways around the mechanism that locks you into one particular storyline, but I’ll leave that as another puzzle for you to solve by yourself.