E3 2011 Hands-On: From Dust - Preview

By Nick Pantazis, June 13, 2011
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From Dust is a spiritual sequel to Populous from legendary game designer Eric Chahi. If you don’t know Populous or Eric Chahi you’re probably under 20 years old, but I’ll take a bit of time to fill you in anyway. Populous is one of the first games in the “god game” genre, developed by Peter Molyneux more than 20 years ago. Eric Chahi is the designer of the cult sensation Another World, also about 20 years go, and he really hasn’t done much in video games sense. So his return is kind of a big deal. You probably have a better understanding of all the hype behind From Dust now, so let me get straight into the game.

Like any good god game, From Dust is based around manipulation of the world rather than direct control of the NPCs. Your goal is to enlighten and protect your civilization, and you must do it with only one real tool: the ability to manipulate elements of your island. This is done with a very simple system of gathering and releasing certain materials on the island through a circular cursor. This works for lava, water, sand, soil, and vegetation, but does not work on solid rock. These elements interact as you’d expect with one another. Water washes away sand, and can solidify lava. Lava can catch things on fire, including your villages and the vegetation.

The demo I played had a simple goal system in pre-set environments. In the first environment I had to get my citizens out of a valley which was under constant threat of volcano and tsunami before they were destroyed. The exit of the level was blocked by a rush of swift water, and apparently despite living on an island the tribe cannot swim outside of very shallow still water. I managed to get my troops across by damming up the waterfall with magma. This allowed my tribe to cross to safety before the elements overwhelmed them, and started another mission.

In my second scenario I also had to get my citizens safely off the island, but this time a bridge was a more effective solution than a dam, as they were surrounded by water on all sides. I also gained a new temporary power this time, in this case it was the ability to “jellify” water, and manipulate it in cut blocks. This power would eventually run out if I used it too much. Again I used lava with water to create solid land. Through experimenting I found sand would only be washed away in the current, and I was a little disappointed to see the solution was so straightforward, but this was also early in the game.

From Dust’s element manipulation is simple and easy, but it’s also slow. The game takes patience and persistence, and you will not be drastically changing the environment quickly as you may have originally believed. There is also no “sandbox mode” where you have an entire island to play with, just specific scenarios, each in their own environment with their own challenges. In spite of these few shortcomings, From Dust is shaping up to be a great comeback for Eric Chahi, and a welcome entry in the god game genre. You can get it on Xbox Live Arcade on July 20th, and on Windows and PSN later this year. 

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