E3 Preview From Dust: Resculpting the landscape
When I look at From Dust I see the vast, treacherous deserts plaguing an aboriginal society. I see people literally walled off by rocks formed from years of volcanic ash. I see a lifestyle of forced reliance on the temperamental flooding, life-giving waters. I see a microcosm of human history, and it’s all under my control.
Launching this summer, From Dust is a god game where players will have to keep their villagers alive without directly controlling anyone of them. Instead players will have to shape the landscape of the earth to make inhabitable for their people. A typical interaction requires players to create a pathway from one totem to another, before a timer runs out. Players can pick up and drop sand, water or lava and utilize these in any combination to accomplish their goal. Should they be unsuccessful a roaring flood will wash away their village and they will need to start over.
In one early segment of the game, I was tasked with creating a pathway for my people across a river. I was told by creator Eric Chahi that I could accomplish this in numerous different ways. For example, I form a sand barge that served as a bridge for my people, but that took constant attention from me, as the water continued to erode away the sand. I was told I could have used lava to create a damn or even reroute the river by digging a trench in a different direction.
At after I reached the totem, I was given a new ability. Throughout the various levels, totems exist that will grant players new abilities. This one allowed me to gelify the water. So when I needed to cross the next river, I clicked a button and then removed the water. It was as if I was Moses parting the red sea for my people. They immediately scurried along to the next side before the jelly effect was undone.
At this next point, I needed to use lava to create a pathway to for my people to reach their next location. If the lava got to close to any plants, a forest fire would break out. This would spread and destroy my village without my immediate attention so I grabbed a giant pool of water and doused the roaring flames. My people eventually made it to their final location and I was left in awe of what had just transpired.
The beauty to the game outside of the gorgeous visuals and sound effects is really in its physics engine. The game boasts one of the most robust fluid simulations I have ever seen. Sand, water, and lava all flow as expected. Players must take into account the real live interactions of the different elements. A giant blob of sand that is dropped will gradually spread and lose its height, especially when water erosion comes into play. If one picks up a glob of sand, the surrounding sand will flow into the now vacant crevice. The same goes for water and lava. The difference is the flow rates, which react as one would expect. Water flows much faster than lava. And Lava will eventually cool and form rock.
I then asked what players could expect at later levels. And Eric Chahi skipped ahead toward a later portion of the game. The landscape that had previously been filled with small trees now had larger interactive plants. Some of these plants absorbed water, as if they were a giant sponge-like cactus and when placed near a heat source they would release their reserves. This added even more control to the players, as they could route a water source to these plants, absorb the water and then move the plants. There was another plant that seemed to do similar effect, but with fire. Thus, players could utilize the different plants to help with the needed outcome.
All in all, my experience with From Dust was groundbreaking as it appears to be the perfect combination or fun, innovative gameplay, beautiful art, and impressive technology. Eric Chahi and his team have created a masterpiece. Eric referenced his two main influences as being travel to natural environments such as the Sahara desert and theater. While they may seem like an interesting combination, if the result is a game like From Dust we highly encourage more developers to look toward new inspirations for their games. We can’t wait for Eric Chahi and Ubisoft to uncover more details as the title approached release.
From Dust Launches will release on XBLA this summer as part of the Summer of Arcade Promotion. No price point has been officially announced.