Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around
hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

The return of a master: Eric Chahi's From Dust

7:00 PM on 10.02.2010 // Jonathan Holmes

Do you know who Eric Chahi is? If not, then it's time to bone up on your gaming history. Chahi was the lead developer on Out of this World (known as Another World in Europe and Japan), one of the most under-appreciated, influential games of the 16-bit era. Suda51 (No More Heroes), Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear), and Fumito Ueda (Shadow of the Colossus) have all declared publicly that Out of this World is one of the greatest games ever made, and that without it, they wouldn't have created the games that went on to make them famous.

Yes, Eric Chahi and his games are a big deal, and after more than ten years out of the gaming scene, he's back with an all-new title. It's called From Dust, and it's a striking departure from his previous work. Chahi was on hand to show his new game off to the press, and I had the chance to check it out with him. My first thought upon seeing the game was that From Dust looks like it could be Chahi's Pikmin: an otherworldly contemplation of nature by a elder statesman of gaming. His response? "Pikmin? I love that game."

We were already off to a good start. Read on to find out how things went from there.

From Dust (Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, PC)
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Publisher: Ubisoft
To be released: 2011

When I asked him why he went from creating 2D platformers to creating... whatever From Dust is, Chahi said, "I like to play with sandcastles. It's a simple thing, a childlike thing, but there is also something profound in the -- the meeting of man with nature; man's ability to create, working with, or against, nature's tendency to independently recreate itself. In that space between man and nature, that's where the unexplained and the magical hides."

With that, we had our definition for From Dust: it's a high-concept sandcastle simulator. The game combines an extremely realistic physics engine with an earthy, mystical narrative, one that is told to the player and by the player in equal measure. The game takes place at an undisclosed time in Earth's (or maybe-not-Earth's) history, and focuses on the survival of a small group of masked villagers. It may sound pretty standard, but that's just the foundation. Just as Out of this World sucked players in with very realistic character animation, then slowly eased in increasingly otherworldly events, From Dust starts off by giving the player a real world to play with, and slowly sucks them into something much more fantastic.

By moving the cursor with the analog stick and holding the left trigger, you can grab sand, forest, lava, water, or any other naturally occurring element you can find on the planet's surface. From there, you can add or subtract things from the environment as you see fit. Just as in nature, you may not always see the full effect of your actions right away. The butterfly effect plays a big role in how the game works. Add a little bit of water to a pond, and it may erode surrounding levees, with could lead to the formation of a waterfall, which in turn could drain that pool, leaving more room for a local volcano to expand, which could then lead to a forest fire, and so forth. As some sort of godlike spirit, you wield enormous power, but it will take time and practice to use that power to its fullest potential. There is some skill building and technique to it, but it's more about coming to understand how to best form a relationship with the world around you, not unlike how a painter must learn to form a relationship between the paint, the brush, and the canvas. 

That kind of gentle, artistic (some would say "French") atmosphere presides over everything. You are never forced to do, or think about, anything that you don't want to, though there may be indirect consequences to that. You may be goofing off with the Earth for a while before you even notice the villagers that work as the "main characters" of the game. These sexier, browner, more realistic Shy Guy look-a-likes are your people, and you must protect them. Later in the game, there will be threats from animals, and maybe other "advanced" beings, but at the start of the game, your main concern is natural disasters.

In the portion of the game that I saw, there was a tsunami on its way. Initially, the villagers appeared defenseless to protect themselves against it. All the obvious strategies to stop it won't work. You can build up a wall of sand and forest, but the tsunami's hundred-foot-tall, thousand-foot-wide wall of water will just barrel right over it. You can sit and watch as they're slaughtered by the incoming natural disaster, or you can take a leap of faith and make an attempt to do something about it.

What does that mean? According to Chahi, the way to survive crisis (and in doing so, advance your villagers' civilization) is to "seek knowledge from the world around you" and to "take something back from the Earth and integrate it into the culture of the people." What that means in concrete terms is that you must explore the world by drawing a path for one of your villagers to walk down. Though your villagers are smart and sturdy, capable of swimming short distances, traversing dense forests, and pushing aside some rocks, you may still need to help clear the path for them by moving some water, sand, and volcano around. But what are they looking for? Well, a lot of things, but for the tsunami problem, they need to find and collect a glowing blue rock, then return home to the village. From there, they will begin... jamming. They sing, they beat the drums, the whole deal. That's not what I expected, but in the context of the game, it inexplicably made sense.

I sat in awe as the huge tsunami approached their meager little jam session. I felt a real tingle of fear on the back of my scalp as the ocean rose into the sky, lurching over the seemingly defenseless natives below. The game had done such a good job of making the world feel real up until that point that I was totally absorbed in this seemingly impossible turn of events. I was equally moved when the gigantic wave parted itself around the village, sparing its residents' lives, while drowning the surrounding area in a wash of ocean water. Magic and music had apparently saved the day, but again, there was more to it than that.

The villagers' song had fundamentally altered the physics of the ocean water. It was now thick and malleable, almost like jelly. The effect was temporary, but it lasted long enough for the player to empty out a section of the now semi-solid sea, and allow a villager to walk along the ocean floor. Again, this only felt striking because up until now, the world had felt so real. Inserting this sort of magical thinking into the game's reality felt special only because everything else until that moment was so believably normal. Chahi promised that this pattern of building a suspension of disbelief, and cashing in on it with amazing events, would only push towards greater heights as the game continued.

So why is Chahi back into game development after all this time? Why is he pouring all of this time and effort into creating this strange little game? It's all in an effort to cause the player to contemplate man's relationship with nature. That tsunami I told you about? Chahi stressed repeatedly that it's "not the enemy," and he went as far as to demonstrate that if you accidentally cause a forest fire that's too large to put out on your own, that the tsunami is the only way to douse the flames before they engulf your entire village. The tsunami can kill you, or it can save you. It all depends on how you interact with it.

Then who is the real enemy of this game? Who is the player in relationship to the villagers, and the world around them? I'm asking you, because these are the questions Chahi asked me, and I couldn't answer them. He seemed pleased with my confusion, with a mischievous, childlike grin plastered on his face. I know I'll be looking further for the answers when game launches on XBLA, PSN, and PC next year.

Photo Gallery: (9 images)
Click to zoom - browse by swipe, or use arrow keys



Jonathan Holmes, Bad Joke Uncle
 Follow Blog + disclosure Tips
"Where do dreams end and reality begin? Videogames, I suppose."- Gainax, FLCL Vol. 1 "The beach, the trees, even the clouds in the sky... everything is build from little tiny pieces of stuff. Ju... more   |   staff directory



 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding *.disqus.com to your whitelists.

 Quickposts
Status updates from C-bloggers

TheKodu avatarTheKodu
So I'm hearing the UN called Japan in to discus "Banning the sale of video games or cartoons involving sexual violence against women " Which by Anita's standards = any Violence able to be done. Japan sent a 40 page long NO back to the UN in reply.
Amna Umen avatarAmna Umen
Why did I have to read that Austin Grossman was going to be one of the writers on a cancelled Half-Life 2 episode?
Parismio avatarParismio
Dammit its 3 and i cant stop reading cute gay romance mangas.
Nekrosys avatarNekrosys
Going to be honest; I love out-of-context anime screenshots. They're... kind of incredible.
Jed Whitaker avatarJed Whitaker
Retweet of the year goes to President of Worldwide Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc., Shuhei Yoshida.
Voodoome avatarVoodoome
Just got home from Deadpool and ... it's not good. I liked the jabs at Green Lantern and the previous movie Deadpool, but that was about it. The rest was just painfully forced dick jokes. Wife fell asleep.
Nathan D avatarNathan D
Larxinostic rule34
CoilWhine avatarCoilWhine
Looks like I'm not gonna be able to 100% Tearaway Unfolded until Monday at the least. I'm definitely writing about it this weekend and am trying my hardest to get my screenshots off of my PS4 (especially hard as I don't do social media anymore)
Darth Wachen avatarDarth Wachen
I've never done a blog before, so I may as well try one with a review of Stranger of Sword City....well, when I get entered into that contest of course
ikiryou avatarikiryou
Shakedown Hawaii is giving me good GTA vibes. I missed the topdown GTA games when they were a thing. I have to decide what platform to get it for since it's coming to 3DS/Vita/PS4/PC (probably the Vita version for moi).
TheBlondeBass avatarTheBlondeBass
You think your art sucks? Here's the rule34 I made of Larx yesterday. Look at it and despair.
Nekrosys avatarNekrosys
Hey Dreamweaver? If you think your art sucks, you should have a look at my magnum opus. It's of Cloud from the popular game, Final Fantasy: All the Bravest.
Agent9 avatarAgent9
I never thought this would happen, but here I am. all of my 700+ pokemon gone in one day. My cart stopped working and there's nothing I can do. I quit, you can't just rebuild all that. Time to find something else.
taterchimp avatartaterchimp
Tom Collins is a pretty great drink, and well suited for poutine. consumption
Solar Pony Django avatarSolar Pony Django
It may be because I've been drinking but... We need some dung beetles from ark for the front page. Move that dung on out.
CoilWhine avatarCoilWhine
Does anyone know how to get PS4 screenshots onto a PC without needing a flash drive? I don't have a spare.
Dreamweaver avatarDreamweaver
This is an example of how bad my drawings are. I honestly think drawing stick figures would've been easier on the eyes. :( The worst thing about this image is that this was made after I got BETTER. Trust me, you don't want to see my earlier stuff. T^T
ChillyBilly avatarChillyBilly
So I received a mysterious box in the mail today. When I opened it I was blown away...The friends I've made here on Destructoid are amazing (More pics in the comments).
Parismio avatarParismio
FRISK PACIFIES YOUR FACE!
MeanderBot avatarMeanderBot
Woe is me. This month's Cblog theme is basically an excuse to draw pretty girls, and here I am with no time.
more quickposts


Contest!


Seriously

Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme


Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo



Back to Top


We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -