From Dust is the latest project from acclaimed developer Eric Chahi, the man behind Another World and Heart of Darkness. Chahi left the gaming space entirely for several years after a long period of arduous development in the 90s, but was inspired to return and revive the god-game genre after he became fascinated with volcanoes. From Dust represents Chahi's attempt to recreate our physical world and give players considerable influence over the elements that shape it.
The game's concept appears very simple, but the mechanics behind it are quite deep. As mentioned above, players take on the role of a godlike figure, able to manipulate the elements - water, lava, earth, etc. You must use this great power to keep a small, nomadic tribe alive in the midst of natural disasters at every turn. For example, if a village is threatened by a flooding river, you can divert the flow of water by pilling extra earth in its way. This type of scenario could apply to any element.
The interactions between these elements are executed in an incredibly realistic way. Everything ebbs and flows within the world as you would expect. Dirt pathways gradually and subtly erode against the force of a river, lava quickly hardens into earth when it comes in contact with water, the list goes on. The beautiful audio/visual presentation also goes a long way in making the world of From Dust feel familiar.
Our demo tasked us with saving the small, fragile group of villagers from extinction in the face of a giant tsunami careening toward their island. Taking dirt from the mainland and creating a makeshift bridge allowed one villager to gain the ritualistic knowledge necessary to stop the wave from engulfing the town. This had to be done under tight time pressures - a couple minutes to be precise - resulting in failure on our first attempt, as we were distracted by From Dust's elemental playground. It was a brief but satisfying slice of the game.
From Dust appears to be an intriguing take on the god-game genre, updating its core concept with modern physics and a pleasing visual polish. Look out for Eric Chahi and Ubisoft Montpellier's latest project when it hits PC, PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade in the summer of 2011.