Ubisoft also invited us to see the presentation of From Dust, a new game by a certain Eric Chahi. How could we refuse such an appealing proposition. For more information, you need to follow me inside.
As I was about to enter the room, I was almost overwhelmed by emotion at the prospect of meeting the man that had created the very cinematic Ouf of This World (aka Another World) and the challenging and unforgiving Heart of Darkness. So many hours spent playing these games as a teenager, feeling for the first time that such games were almost movie like. And it's true, Chahi was somehow a visionary when he decided to included cutscenes to his game, to tell a real story and immerse the players into fascinating and disturbing new worlds. He certainly helped games become what they are today and that's why he was not interested in doing the same thing when he started to work on From Dust. As a man of experience, he wanted to try something different, thus creating a God game as a homage to the likes of Populous and Black and White, but From Dust is also more.
Nature is at the core of the gameplay experience, each element you see in the world is simulated to allow the player to interact with every little thing. Chahi wanted to bring back simple pleasures from our childhood such as building sandcastles or playing with the waves at the beach. With the left trigger, you can take some sand and put it anywhere you like on the map. Same goes with water, which reacts dynamically to what you do. If you drop it and there is a slope, it will flow down until it reaches a flat area and creates a puddle. Along the same line, take the sand that surrounds a pond and you will see it flow very realistically. It is actually possible to mold the environment and play with natural elements to grow trees, create lakes or even mountains etc. Even the sound effects are dynamic and should you decide to make a waterfall, you will be able to hear it the second it's there.
The world of From Dust is a sort of extreme version of ours. That's to say that things always happen on a bigger scale than in reality. Natural catastrophes are many - all things considered they tend to be more frequent on earth too - and nature will sometimes be your enemy, sometimes your best ally to take good care of the tribe that is under your responsibility. The player's decisions will actually affect the way events unfold and cause turmoil at times. With great power comes great responsibility someone once said. Playing with the elements means you need to accept the consequences, good or bad. During the presentation, the shaman of the village foresaw a tragedy: a tsunami was heading to the island and threatened to wipe out the whole clan. A time bar appeared at the bottom of the screen, showing the player how much time he had left to find a solution. Thankfully, the island is full of magic secrets and there are power stones that can grant the person who touches it new abilities to defend his people.
To get it though, you need to accompany one of the villagers making sure nothing happens to him on the way. A green line indicates when the passage is clear and it gets red when there is an obstacle like water for example. Once you have acquired the new power (here it was water), you still need to help the villager get back home safe. You can take the long way, or try a shortcut. In our case, the developer demoing the game chose to swim back to the village, which was not the safest way as the poor man could have drowned - we were told it had happened a few times before. Fortunately, no casualties for our presentation, the man got to the village in time and all the inhabitants could start to dance and chant. We then saw a sort of transparent protective dome appear as a huge deadly wave was about to reach the village. Once again, it allowed us to notice the very realistic behavior of the liquid as it flowed around the dome.
Other powers will obviously be available, like for example being able to freeze water for a given time and play with it like jelly. You can also use lava to put an area on fire but everything you do, you do it at your own risk. Little by little, the tribe will grow and some villagers will be able to settle in other camps (your objective to reach the next map can be for example to make 4 villages for the community). When that happens, your role is to help them migrate to their new destination and protect a whole group this time.
The ultimate goal of From Dust is to explore the world and find the perfect place for your people to settle and live happily ever after. Quite logically, as the number of villagers increase, your job will get more complicated and there will be more challenge. Although we mainly talked about natural elements in this article, that's not to say that there will be no wildlife, on the contrary. Just like the rest, it will be possible to interact with animals, which will not be all black or white either. To see how it is going to work, we will unfortunately have to wait until next time, as the presentation was only focusing on the basics of gameplay this time.
From Dust will only be released digitally on Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network and Steam, but it does not make it any less of a big game. Eric Chahi's new creation aims at providing a rather orignal single payer experience. That being said, they do not entirely rule out the possibility of adding multiplayer later on if the game is a success. The developers told us they had plenty of ideas and they would be pleased to experiment. One thing is sure, we are now really looking forward to trying the game, because we think it might just be the perfect revival of the God games of yore, with a very nice touch of ecology on top of it.