I've always had a soft spot for god games of the Populous ilk, and while the genre may have all but died out, its presence lingers on in a host of other genres and franchises. Ubisoft, meanwhile, clearly feel that it's high time the Bullfrog-era genre was given another run out, and so GamesCom sees the unveiling of From Dust, the brainchild of Another World mastermind Eric Chahi (working alongside Ubisoft Montpelier.
Described as a "modern god game where nature is the star", From Dust was demoed in an early form behind closed doors. Early impressions impress, especially from a technical perspective, the player whisking around an Earth-like alien world, morphing the landscape at whim. Terra-forming is key, but this isn't a glorified level editor, rather, Ubisoft assure that they have gone to town on the simulation side of things creating a living, breathing world to play god with.
Lava and water flow, mountains soar, while foliage grows and animals - eventually humans - start emerging. Everything reacts realistically, allowing you to redirect life-destroying lava flows into cooling water, nurture animals and unusual plants in well positioned, well watered forests and eventually aid tribal humanoids as they seek to survive and prosper in this foreboding prehistorical landscape.
Chahi certainly seems excited to be showing off his creation, and despite the early nature of the code there's obvious promise in the epic premise. In one segment we aid a Shamen who is attempting to prevent a tsunami from destroying his village. Morphing the landscape to aid our magical friend, he leaps across previously untraversable terrain to reach a powerful rune stone - gaining mastery of water and the ability to divert the visually impressive giant wave directly around the settlement.
Visually, sequences such as this impress with their scale and vision, even if the detail 'on the ground' is basic when it comes to our human playthings.
While as an omniscient god you have no direct control over the inhabitants of the world, you can guide them and help them as they develop and thrive. For example, we're told that human villagers will gain a variety of powers and as they do so the range of options, the nature of the experience, will progress. Scenarios aplenty, too, when you consider that you can create fire as needed using lava - or you can cool lava to form harder, impenetrable rock.
Normal rules don't quite apply here, Chahi explaining that animals will visibly age as you watch - the life span of a human just the batting of an eyelid for a god.
Impressively, From Dust has been created by a team of just 20, despite which the game is presently scheduled for release next March. There's certainly quite a lot more work to do on the gameplay side of things, but if Chahi and co can successfully meld Populous-like fun with a natural world simulation - and pull off the tricky control scheme issues this could all present on consoles - then From Dust could be a real treat.
Indeed, Ubisoft are clearly thinking big, the developers hinting that if the initial release sells well then user generated content tools could be offered up digitally. We'll be keeping an eye on From Dust in the months ahead.