I’ve long been a person who has subscribed to the very rare school of thought that the advancement in gaming graphics was largely unnecessary. It felt like this whole stride towards more realistic graphics was born out of constant developer one-up-manship. Developer A starts to implement atmospheric lighting so Developer B improves it and adds bump mapping. And to catch up with this constant stride gaming technology has had to become more and more expensive, driving the price up both not only for consoles but the cost of development cycles as well. Games ten years ago could have been made on a fraction of an average AAA game’s budget today, and most of that is because modern games have to employ more artists and invest in more expensive render farms. Then there’s the game play impact. Modern games can take up well over ten gigabytes of space and most of that space is for graphics. Fans of the Elder Scrolls series have constantly sat by and watched as the depth and sophistication of the games were lost to fit in more space for the new shiny graphics, all of which would become hideously obsolete in two years anyway. Even the size of the games have decreased. Oblivion had a smaller map then Morrowind, which in turn had a smaller map then Daggerfall. Sometimes it feels like this advancing graphics is not only adding nothing to the games, but are taking away from them; space for game play is sacrificed for space for graphics. Until this came along.
From Dust is a god game NOT from Peter Molyneux. In it players are tasked with helping a wandering group of non-denominational island people reclaim their lost culture. You do so by reshaping the landscape around you, creating islands out of water and diverting the paths of rivers and volcanoes. What makes From Dust special is that you can only control the land, by picking up undulating orbs of dirt, water, or lava and using it rescultp the land. You can also gain the power to jelly-fy water so you can protect your islanders from the random tsunamis that are to this game what Creepers are to Minecraft.
So what does any of this have to do with graphics? Well, simply put I don’t think that with the processing and graphical powers modern PCs and consoles developed to keep up with the rapidly exploding graphic technologies, From Dust would have been possible. From Dust is not a game that uses its visual technologies to enhance the experience like in Crysis, it needs those technologies for even its most basic mechanics to function. At the heart of the game beats a highly advanced real time terrain deformation system that allows the game to radically reshape the geography in real time. Remember when people lost their shit over how you could suddenly create a volcano in Magic Carpet was back in ’94? Well now we have volcanoes that start as little fire spewing mounds that will transform into megalithic mountains that will ran lava and ash all over the place. Rivers naturally carve their way across the landscape, sticking to the contours of the geography. And then you have all the little AI controlled villagers running around. Even without the pretty graphics there is a lot of processor heavy stuff going on here, and I don’t think a game like this could have been possible even five years ago. Graphics are the game here and the game is the graphics. The two are occupying the same code and the same software and you can’t separate them, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
From Dust is available on the Xbox Live Arcade and is coming to the PC August 17th and to PSN…er…soon.