It's always difficult to look at a game that really challenges modern design concepts and what qualifies as being fun. From Dust is a game that was recently shown at GamesCom 2010, and it already has me wondering how well it will sell. The concept looks fantastic, the graphics look great, and the replay value seems endless to me. But then again, that what most 'God Games' look like. In theory they sound, and sometimes even look great, but in practice things tend to fall apart. Does From Dust have the potential to be its own natural disaster?
The most recent failure in creationist-gaming (in my opinion) is Spore. The game promised the idea of taking a creature from one end of evolution to another, while at the same time displaying its insignificance. In the end, the most interesting phases of the game were far too short and a large majority of the game is played in a very modern/futuristic setting.
For a game that promised so much from evolution based gameplay, there was really very little evolution, and this is where From Dust has already won its first point. There's really no promises.
Making a game that doesn't guarantee anything aside from an 'experience' sounds cheesy and lame, but there's certainly a lot of merit in the idea provided it's done right. If the purpose of the 'creator' in-game is to complete a series of very well defined objectives, then it's no longer a sandbox title and more of a RTS. Likewise, if the game gives too little direction then it's hard to even figure out what to do that would be fun.
From Dust takes a unique standpoint, somewhere in the middle. Watching civilizations expand and fall through the constant shifting of the world lets players be creative in their own right, but still very much objective based. The goal is to be a child subtly helping ants in an ant farm, rather than objective god-like dictators.
Another extremely unique selling point would be the game's system of interaction, the environment. Rather than influence the world actively with creatures and other races, players have simple control over the terrain. Action/reaction gameplay may not sound like the most thrilling type of gameplay, but it can often times be the most rewarding, particularly in the case of From Dust where visuals are part of the experience. Being able to actively change the world, and proactively take part in the development of civilization is what will make the difference here. It's not the same as commanding an army to take over a particular area, but it's just as effective and equally cool.
Games like From Dust exist to me in the same vein as games like Katamari Damacy. Unique, but extremely effective. Perhaps the overall strangeness of Katamari will distract from the comparison, but putting aside the obvious difference both games have a lot in common. Reasonably 'loose' objectives that must be met, memorable gameplay and challenges, and the overall feeling of power. One will apply that feeling through the way you shape the world around you, while the other grants power in the form of rolling over all life forms; but the general feeling is still there and it's extremely easy to identify with.
So what expectations should be set for a game like From Dust? Extremely high ones. Perhaps in some ways going into any game praying for a life-changing experience isn't the best route to take, but very rarely does a game come out that offers something provocative enough to warrant such hope. From Dust looks engaging enough to really present players with something genuinely different, and extremely memorable. Most importantly it does so in very subtle, creative ways. I find it hard to imagine anyone would disagree.
Check out our full preview in the coming days, after all, we've seen this game first hand.