[Cult Another World/Out Of This World creator Eric Chahi has returned to development, creating the ambitious From Dust for Ubisoft, and Brandon Sheffield sits down with him to find out the development concepts behind the impressive simulation that it offers.]
Having not worked on a game since the late '90s, notable French game designer Eric Chahi seemed to have disappeared into the art world -- becoming immersed in theater and photography rather than game development. But he has recently come back into the fold with From Dust [YouTube link], an ambitious new downloadable title.
The new Ubisoft-published title is a god game of sorts, in which the player manipulates the terrain, water, and lava in order to shape the world, guiding and protecting a tribe of humans who dwell there. It simulates the world in real-time, which creates a number of complexities -- and a lot of opportunity for discussion.
In this interview, Gamasutra delves into the underpinnings of the title, Chahi's tactics for dealing with the complexity of the simulation, and how players will interact with the world of From Dust.
In the game, I noticed there's a perpetual cycle of green and fire. The fire burns the plants, and the plants regenerate. That seems to happen in a constant loop. Do other things in the world do that? Was that planned, or is that an accident?
Eric Chahi: It depends on the spaces. We have spaces that don't start, that are resistant to fire, where fire will be slower. We have evolution of the environment, so the longer the place will stay without being stressed, the more it will be resistant because there will be more trees.
Normally, we wouldn't have an infinite cycle of fire growing by itself. It starts again because there is a source of fire somewhere.
But to answer your question, you are talking about a cycle of things. Cycles are an important theme of this game because it's a way to tie different environments. You have a tide cycle, so you can imagine that when the tide is high, part of the Earth is covered by water. When the water is going out, then plants can grow there again. The village can go there in the low tide, and maybe when you get the people to resist water, and stay there inside the high tide place.
And we have an eruption cycle -- volcanic eruptions. So you can have a cycle of eruption, plant coming, and then it's destroyed; this kind of loop. What is cool is that the player can anticipate the process. We have a desert environment where we have a kind of slow-moving ground with water moving slowly from one place to another. The player can play with this moving thing.
We have a high-level species -- I was talking to you about a kind of fern. Why does it take in water? There will be a special plant that will be a kind of tree, a big plant, that will be able to set up some fire or to help, to change, to create a lot of interaction between the environments. It will bring a new level of tool and of interaction.
I noticed when you're guiding the tribe from one place to another, it seems like the simulation is always pretty solid, but there's some potential for frustration with AI pathfinding.
EC: The player just controls the obstacles on the terrain. It would be very frustrating if the player can't anticipate what the plan is. I think the fact that the player knows where the person will go is a cool thing to anticipate. The tricky thing is when it changes a lot from one pastime to another. We are doing playtests around this. It's not a big issue, but we have to be careful of it.
Everything else seems so smooth so far; that's the only thing I see that could potentially be an issue.
EC: The cool thing is that, okay, maybe the AI will have a change of mind in moving this direction, because it's faster for him, but indeed we've put a lot of power in the player's hand regarding the terrain. He has the ability to react fast.
It will be frustrating if the player has a low grip on the mechanism. One year ago, when we didn't have this very direct interaction with the terrain, and when you were just asking for people to go there or there or there, you didn't have the power to change path of the guy. That was a really difficult issue at the time, but now it's resolved.