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iConcept art.
© Ubisoft 2011.

From Dust is a video game created in 2011 that allows the user to interact with a primitive landscape and to shape it to one's taste in order to allow the tribe to complete its evolutionary course. A demiurgic interaction with anthropic aims

It is most probably only by pretending not to hear the earnest invocations of the tribal wizard that the true nature of From Dust can be discovered; only by pretending not to see the nice suggestions of the game tutorial that that the quietness needed to create can be found: like a painter, with a cosmic brush and a palette of water, sand and lava standing in front of a live and pulsating canvas.
From Dust is a video game from 2011 with the aim of conducting a primal human tribe through an evolutionary journey that will allow them to acquire the necessary knowledge to build more and more safe and sophisticated shelters, very necessary in the wonderful but deadly nature. The tool that is given to the player is a kind of dropper represented by a dancing light, it can be moved around the territory of the island with the game controller. The dropper can absorb an element and allows the player to drop it wherever it is needed. For example, in the first chapter the tribe has to reach an ancient monument but the path is blocked by a stream of water that the savages cannot cross. By transporting sand from the beaches of the island it is possible to build a temporary strip of land that will allow the men and women of the tribe to get across. If you want a more lasting but labourious solution, it is possible to deviate the course of the entire river in order to have dry land where needed.
In From Dust, nature is in fact often ruthless and it periodically threatens the tribe with volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters. From their hand, the humans of the tribe are capable men and women learning ancient knowledge little by little: these mysteries express themselves in the form of songs and music often with magical properties that the tribe sing every time to help the build of their shelters or to create invisible barriers that will protect the village from the next natural disaster.
The range of colours on our virtual palette gets bigger, and chapter by chapter, offers new materials. Lava is constantly erupting from the volcanos on some of the islands and offers a dynamic material to fluidly shape structures that harden in a few seconds. Structures such as dams for example in order to protect the village from tides and tsunamis.
Water is available since the start of the game but it reveals its true potential especially when the lava invades and burns forests and sometimes villages. In these cases the screaming of the savages will tell us to use our tool as the best firefighters would do...
Every new technologic discovery brings a physical passage that conducts the tribe to a new island, with new vegetation, new natural disasters and further knowledge to be reached and discovered. During the game, we progressively discover the islands colonised by the ancients, each with its characteristics and its discovery mission. While the narration flows, there is however scarce information about the origins of the world or the population that we see pulsating and agitating on screen, and in my opinion, the end does not complete the picture in a satisfying way. From the one hand, the aesthetic variety and especially the brevity of each mission help the player to follow the thin narrative thread that holds together the entire experience. From the other hand, as said above, only when the player manages to forget about tribes and tsunamis the beauty of the interactive work can be understood: the player becomes the orography maker, the master of water and fire.
The range of landscape moulding possibilities is way bigger than what can be understood from its trailer or reviews. Some improvements could instead be done on the precision of the moulding tool and the control of movements and points of view. This would definitely improve the game experience especially when exploring the full potential of the interactive world represented. To be fair, it needs to be taken into account the fact that only with the adequate time and patience, creativity can be freed from rules and tutorials. It is similar to the more famous Minecraft, but with a watercolour touch to reward to eye.

[ Emanuele Siboni ]

iA frame of the game.
© Ubisoft 2011.

iA frame of the game.
© Ubisoft 2011.

iA frame of the game.
© Ubisoft 2011.

iA frame of the game.
© Ubisoft 2011.

iA frame of the game.
© Ubisoft 2011.

vGAME SHEET

title From Dust
devices Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC Windows, Google Chrome
developer Ubisoft Montpellier
publication year 2011
art direction Eric Chahi
script Laurent Genefort
music Tom Salta


The video game trailer.

iA frame of the game.
© Ubisoft 2011.

i
Concept art.
© Ubisoft 2011.

RENDERING TECHNIQUES: OFFLINE AND REAL-TIME

The main characteristic of video game image rendering is that each frame shown is generated in real time. The difference with cinema image rendering is that cinema frames have already been created during the film editing and they are simply reproduced in real time.
It is known that the illusion of the moving image in cinema is generated by the persistence of vision and by the speed of the film frames rolling in front of the spectator's eyes. The standard in cinema is 24 fps. In video games the standard confirmed in the past few years is 60 fps. This means that the system executing a video game (console, PC, tablet, smartphone, smartTV, etc.) has only a thousandths of a second to generate the next frame. On the contrary, the pre-rendered frames of the digital video, for cinema or TV, do not have a time limitation to be ready; in fact for scenes denser in AFX one single frame can take several minutes to be produced. This is why the perfection of cinematographic special effects, such as those seen in P. Jackson's movies inspired by J. R. Tolkien's novels (The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit), requires an elevated calculation power as the time available is reduced to milliseconds.
For example, the image published below reproduces a partial render of the tridimensional models used for the game characters. It is a work in progress image created following the drawing visible on the background of this panel as a reference. If the same models were used to produce a cinematographic image in its artistic current stage, they would definitely be more realistic than what can be seen in the second image published below and in the one where the trailer panel is shown. They would almost seem real, as the ogres and dragons in Jackson's movies mentioned above probably seemed.
However, it is important to remember that G. Moore's 1965 hypothesis (also know as Moore's Law) – that is to say the observation that microprocessors performances would double approximately every 18 months – still continues to be empirically confirmed; For this reason, year after year, the difference between the offline rendering and real time rendering gets thinner and thinner.
In 2014, with the introduction of the 8 th video game console generation, the quality if the frames generated in real time has exponentially improved. It is possible that in the next couple of years software developers will be able to take full advantage of new console hardware and we will probably understand if it is possible to replicate the quality of renders by Hollywood cinema or if this is going to be done in the next generation…

iA frame of the game.
© Ubisoft 2011.