From Dust: 'PSN and Xbox Live have allowed us to do something creative'
30th Mar 2011 | 13:50
From Dust is one of those weird games where you don't have to shoot anyone in the head.
Instead, what Ubisoft's PSN and XBLA title offers gamers is the chance to play God and manipulate Earth itself, giving a lonely tribe a chance of braving the elements.
By shifting sand, water, magma and more in a world where every material moves according to stunningly realistic physics, players can reorganise the land before them to build dams, rivers, mountains and islands to cater for the little people depending on them.
With this intriguing engine sitting in a game of massive visual quality, From Dust offers gamers the chance to tout their hobby as an art-form once again rather than a shallow kill-frenzy.
We sat down with creative director Eric Chahi and international product manager Guillaume Cerda to discuss the industry today, how accommodating it is for creative rather than destructive games and the benefits of low budget titles.
How would you describe From Dust? What kind of influences does it have?
Eric Chahi: It's a tricky question because when we present the game we say there is some influence from Populous and Black and White but it's more to give an idea of how close it is to other games. In the beginning we didn't say, "Oh we want to do something like Populous."
During the creation process this wasn't supposed to be a God game, you weren't manipulating the terrain.
How did it work then?
Eric Chahi: The universe was the same except that each person could use powers in some places. But it wasn't fun because it was really laborious to wave at this man and tell him to "Go here, go here."
Beside this we had a sandbox editor, the simulation was already implemented so we could put some soil here, drop a lot of water and see how it flowed and that was so pleasant - to interact directly with a simulation.
So we said, "Okay, to make the game fun maybe we should try to interact directly with the terrain. Not creating matter but just having the constraint of taking what already exists - taking something there and dropping it there."
We tried this and that was very cool, and because the game was already about obstacles you had to remove it was nice to do this directly. We were scared of the change but with all this simulation and erosion it was easy to put it at the same level of difficulty for the player.
From Dust is about creating rather than destroying. How well do you think the industry today fosters creative titles?
Eric Chahi: Today we have more creativity than some years ago - maybe seven years ago. 2000 to 2003/4 was really a time where there was no independent scene, there were few risks - it was very rare.
But digital distribution, which started on PC then later on the console, was a really, really major step that saw originality coming back.
Guillaume Cerda: Thanks to the downloadable platforms that we have now, there's a way to create some original games such as Limbo etc. So for us it was an opportunity to create something really original and something creative.
Eric Chahi: We think that around 2000 there was no place for small games, there were big games with big prices - a lot of cost and a lot of cost means we want a level of profitability, it was difficult...
Guillaume Cerda: And you can't take risks, it's always the same type of game - a lot of shooting games etc. So if you want to do something original like Eric, we have things now like Xbox Live Arcade or the PlayStation Network.
You took a long time away from development didn't you Eric? Why did you decide to do something now? Did digital distribution allow you to do something you couldn't before?
Eric Chahi: There were several factors; the first one, in 1998 after Heart of Darkness took six years - and six years on one game is too much - I just wanted to spend maybe one or two years... I'm interested in things other than computer games so I wanted to do some things like painting and photography.
So during these two years I saw the industry, like I said before, and didn't feel any opportunity but I had some ideas and in 2004 the industry was changing slightly.
But it was mainly because I had a new idea and I was able to make it real.
Cliff Bleszinski said at GDC that there are two types of game now: big AAA games and indie games and there's no room for anything in between. What are your thoughts on that?
Eric Chahi: Probably, yes there is high budget and low budget. But on the other hand we can see that on the XBLA and PSN the production quality is increasing right now if you compare the games on the XBLA from a few years ago to today. I don't know how it will evolve; maybe we will have bigger budgets for original games, but I don't think it's a goal.
The less it costs the better it is because the less it costs the more creative freedom we have. It's true that there are more creative things on the low budget side than on the AAA side. If you have a graph of creativity it will be lower on the AAA and higher and on the lower [budget] because creativity is not linked to the development cost.
Do you have any ideas for From Dust after it's released? DLC perhaps?
Eric Chahi: No not for the moment, it's not planned. Maybe, but it's not planned because we're focusing on this core experience and right now we will see if this game is successful or not.
People are starting to talk about the next-gen consoles. For the big games people are looking for better graphics, more power. What kind of things do developers making smaller games want to see from the next consoles?
Eric Chahi: If it is easier to programme and to create, it's cool. And if it brings a new way to create then it's cool.