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From Dust

The earth would shift at your whim and the seas would tremble at your touch. You could raise mountains, divert rivers, and transform dry deserts into lush forests. From Dust grants you these powers and more, and it's satisfying to wield them as you try to safely usher a small tribe of humans through a perilous world. Yet, for all your world-molding abilities, you are not omnipotent. Like the villagers you shelter, you must contend with the inexorable power of nature. From the subtle influence of gravity and erosion to the devastating forces of volcanoes and tsunamis, nature compels you to adapt to survive.


Developer(s) Ubisoft Montpellier
Publisher(s) Ubisoft
Designer(s) Eric Chahi
Writer(s) Laurent Genefort
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows, Xbox Live Arcade
Release date(s) Xbox Live Arcade
27 July 2011 Microsoft Windows
17 August 2011
PlayStation Network
September 2011
Genre(s) God game, sandbox
Mode(s) Single-player
Rating(s)
  • ESRB: E10+
  • PEGI: 12
Media/distribution Download, cloud computing
             From Dust is a video game, designed by Eric Chahi and developed by Ubisoft Montpellier. Ubisoft described it as a 'spiritual heir' to Populous, a British game developed by Peter Molyneux and Bullfrog in 1989. Announced on 14 June 2010 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Ubisoft published the game on Xbox 360, 27 July 2011 as a part of XBLA Summer of Arcade event. The PC version was originally scheduled to be released at the same time but was delayed to August 17 due to undisclosed reasons. From Dust is distributed online via Steam, OnLive, GamersGate, and XBLA.
         You slither around the world of From Dust as a small wormlike cursor called the Breath. Your basic ability lets you gather substances into a hovering ball, move them wherever you please, and then release them. You begin with simple applications of your skill, like gathering soil and building a land bridge across shallow water or sucking up water and dousing a fire. The Breath acts as a holding tank, but once you release a substance, it conforms to the laws of nature. Water flows, soil settles, and lava hardens into implacable rock. In addition to exhibiting these natural tendencies, the three substances interact with each other in important ways. Flowing water can wash away soil, and lava evaporates water even as the water cools it more quickly.
In From Dust, players assume a god-like first-person perspective from which they manipulate an archipelago environment in an effort to save, and enlighten, a nomadic tribe. With a spherical cursor, the user controls certain types of matter - namely soil, lava and water - in real time. Lava cools to form solid rock, vegetation propagates in soil and spreads naturally once a village is built, and moving water quickly erodes terrain. Physical changes to the world occur extremely rapidly, allowing players to restructure islands within minutes.
Watching your early attempts to manipulate the landscape get balanced out by natural order is not only instructive, but also visually pleasing. Water sluices down hillsides, resisting your control, and deposited soil spreads out, diminishing your earthen works. Lava is a particular highlight. It oozes and flows, changing density and temperature, and watching its mottled glow cool into shiny rock is a delight. These natural processes are accompanied by rich sound effects that punctuate your every action. Grinding and sucking noises give your substance-gathering efforts some weight, while an outburst of birds cawing and flapping signals that disaster is imminent. If you toggle your view in closer to the action, you can hear fire crackling, villagers singing, and the creaking, burbling flow of lava.  
            Campaigns in From Dust are structured as a sequence of missions, whereby completing certain objectives expedites the tribe's progress and bestows additional powers, such as the capacity to jellify water. Tribal shamans alert the player to natural disasters, notably tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, shortly before they occur. These disasters can be inhibited through creative, physical manipulation of the environment: a tsunami can be jellified, wildfires extinguished, and lava flows diverted. Although there is no 'explicit sandbox' mode, Chahi stated that each mission features a distinct map, which the player can return to and manipulate further.

In addition to the power of breath, there are a few other helpful elements. Stones grant villages the ability to repel fire, lava, and water, and sending a villager to retrieve this knowledge from a stone is often your best hope for survival, especially when tsunamis roll in and volcanoes erupt. Unfortunately, this is also where you can run into problems with From Dust's pathfinding logic. You can only set destinations for the humans; it's up to them to get there. Though they are generally good at finding any bridges you have built, they are sometimes stymied by a puddle of water or a small hitch in the terrain. These obstacles can sometimes be tough to identify, especially given the (admittedly realistic) translucence of water. Traveling villagers do recalculate routes in an effort to take the quickest path, and though they are often successful, they also take some baffling walkabouts. Furthermore, because the game automatically determines a knowledge bearer's return path, you might watch him run right by a village that is threatened by lava to first deliver the protective knowledge to another, safer village. Depending on your current situation, these pathfinding problems might merely irk you, or they might derail your plans with disastrous consequences.

Mechanics

An essential aspect of From Dust is the environment simulation, which underlies the player's interactions with the world. Developers intended that the world appear as a 'living thing', a dynamic and spontaneous entity, irrespective of the player's actions upon it. Chahi emphasised the difficulty of balancing this technical simulation with individual enjoyment, commenting that sometimes 'it would take days to find the right value for gameplay that's also aesthetically pleasing'. Montpellier accommodated this dynamism through a system of rules, which govern the elements of the simulation: flowing water and moving soil result in the emergence of rivers. Lakes at the base of a volcano accumulate sediment, which increases their viscosity, and similar rules govern volcanic eruptions, lava flow, and the spread of vegetation. With each rule, the layers accumulate to the point at which the developers are able to create an entire landscape.

Expansion

In August and September 2010, Montpellier designers indicated that a variety of expansions were under consideration, including a weather simulation, world editor, and multiplayer capacity. During an interview with Gamasutra editor Brandon Sheffield, Chahi posited that the developers would eventually complete a 'real-time weather simulation', although may not package it with the initial release of the game. In September 2010, Chahi stated that From Dust was a 'solo experience', although if the game's sales were promising, he indicated that the team would consider 'adding an editor and a multiplayer mode'. Digital delivery methods, such as Steam, enabled the developers to price the solo experience at 'around 15 Euros or so', while also providing the option to enhance content later in the development cycle. He stated that he had 'many ideas' regarding new features, and a possible franchise.
Also Ubisoft created a separate iPad version exclusively for OnLive which will allow players to play From Dust anywhere with the completely custom touch and controls, and OnLive new universal controller which allows players to sync it up to any wireless device that run OnLive

Development

On 14 June 2010, Ubisoft announced the development of From Dust at E3, and the appointment of Eric Chahi as the Creative Designer. Following the announcement, the company released cinematic, in-game footage featuring a variety of characters, terrains, and user interactions, with a vocal narration of some of the story. On 16 August 2010, during Gamescom and the European Game Developers Conference in Cologne, Ubisoft unveiled technical footage, showing the game's physics engine in detail. In the technical sequence, a narrator explains the user's interactions with the environment, and the effects of each physical element upon the other. During the conference, Chahi presented a lecture, entitled 'Creating a High-Performance Simulation: A Dynamic Natural World to Play With', demonstrating the world editor that underlies the environment simulation. On 6 May 2011, Ubisoft released footage detailing the various influences on, and artistic direction of, From Dust.
Ubisoft's decision to release the game via the Internet was taken partly to reduce costs, but also to enable creative options for the team and allow for future features, such as a world editor or multiplayer.Guillaume Bunier, Ubisoft's producer, acknowledged that 'some people will not be able to play it', but argued that the majority of individuals interested in the game would be using PSN, XBLA, and Steam. In the event of From Dust being a 'huge success', Bunier suggested that the company could do another, disc-based version. When questioned about the suitability of the game to the console market, he responded by observing that other atypical games were successful on such platforms, notably Flower on the PlayStation 3 (PS3). The OnLive game system, the PS3 and the Xbox 360 were 'powerful machines', and From Dust would utilise their greater capacity to operate the simulation. On 7 July 2011, Ubisoft announced that From Dust will be released on PC and Xbox 360 on 27 July 2011. However when pre-ordered on the Ubisoft Store, the release date order is listed as "pre-ordered release date: Wed Aug 17 00:00:00 CDT 2011". The Ubi Store was updated to show the PC release as August 17 a day before the previously announced July 27.

Watch From Dust game trailer for more details.




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