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How 'From Dust' turns manipulating nature into a game

Kyle Orland

We already know quite a bit about how From Dust (née Project Dust) uses a few layers of basic elements to create a highly realistic and malleable virtual world. What's been less clear was how Eric Chahi and his team were going to make an actual game out of this lava-filled sandbox. Until today, that is, when Chahi and producer Guillaume Bunier presented the first details of From Dust's gameplay in a Gamescom demonstration.

Gallery: From Dust (first screenshots) | 6 Photos

After a quick demonstration of the player's basic world-changing abilities (see above video), Chahi and Bunier showed off a group of savage-looking villagers underneath a warning message: "The shaman is predicting a tsunami will hit the shores soon." To prevent the potential catastrophe, a villager has to climb to the top of a mountain, where a glowing blue stone will grant him the "power of water," which he can use to help save the village if and when he returns.

But that can be a big if, especially if the player doesn't do anything about the river blocking the villagers' path to the mountaintop. Of course, building a land bridge to get by is no problem when you have god-like terraforming powers. What's less simple is getting the newly water-powered villager back down to his village before the tsunami actually hits. It's a good thing water-powered villagers can swim, because it turns out washing the villager out via an impromptu lake and waterfall combination is one of the quickest ways to get him back down the mountainside. Once he's safely home, the water-powered villager can pass his power on to his neighbors, who then band together stop the tsunami in its tracks with some rhythmic chanting and drumming

Completing single goals like these will grant the player limited-use super powers, Chahi explained; for example, the ability to gather up all the water in the world in a single hovering ball, or to instantly turn all the world's rock into lava. Protecting the villagers also helps you towards the overarching goal of establishing and connecting a set number of villages, and then guiding all the villagers towards to the next island via a "migration ritual."

Gallery: From Dust (concept art) | 5 Photos

This gameplay might seem pretty simple, but the team insisted it could get more complex with stacked disasters that come at a quick pace, or with tasks that focus on building suitable sites for new villages that involve certain types of vegetation and animals. Exploration of new areas and maintenance of the connections between a growing network of villages will also factor into the final gameplay, the creators said.

It's hard to judge just how well this gameplay works without a chance to try it out ourselves, but the concepts on display in this short hands-off demo have us pretty excited to play god when the game hits Xbox Live Arcade, PSN and Steam early next year.

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