It began because I really enjoyed From Dust.
And then I met an industry friend, one who works for a major triple-A developer, for lunch at a café.
Little did I know that these two things would lead me into the secret underbelly of secret game industry where shadow developers wage a cold war of espionage and sabotage.
As is the case whenever I really get into a game, I couldn’t stop turning every conversation to From Dust.
“Man I really liked that game,” I was saying to my friend. “I mean, the aesthetic visuals are great, just the graphical design is fantastic. I love the Pacific influence on the characters and the villages. One of my favorite things is just zooming in on those little guys and watching running around the world I created. And I love those masks, I don’t know why.”
“You’ve mentioned that,” said my industry friend.
“I mean, yeah, I know, but, I mean that’s one of my favorite parts of the game is the world building. It’s this really simple, fast, smooth way to build up the world, make it in your own image. It’s great. I mean one of my favorite things is just spreading the vegetation across the continent; turning the desert islands into lush vibrant jungles.”
“You know that’s actually one of my favorite parts as well. There’s just something great about seeing the whole world change in front of you.”
“Yeah! It’s just really great to build up the world so that it becomes a safe haven for your villagers.”
“And wherever there is jungle that’s a place that your villagers can safely travel.”
“Exactly. There is this tangible sense of pride when you look over a level you’ve completely terraformed and altered. It’s this tangible visual recognition of the positive effect you have on the game’s world. And I kind of wish more of that was in the game. As the game progresses it starts to focus more on puzzle solving and quick reflexes.”
“Yeah, I was surprised when I started needing to micromanage real fast in order to beat levels.”
“True that. What I was saying though is that I love spreading jungle over a continent; even after I got the one hundred percent vegetation goal on each level I would still try spreading more vegetation because it just looked so great. And it’s fast, you just plop down some sand and then the forest spreads. I kind of wish there was more of that world building aspect, and maybe less of the puzzle aspects that later levels have.”
“Yeah, I guess. But the game is still good as it is.”
“Oh definitely, I’m not knocking it. But it did get me thinking.”
“About why more games don’t have constructible environments.”
My industry friend tensed up, but I didn’t really think much of it at the time. “What?” he asked.
“Constructible environments, like the opposite of destructible environments. Permanently destroying terrain or geometry is really cool, and people tend to like it a lot.”
My friend nodded guardedly.
“I was just thinking that more games should have that. Like, I played this indie game called Caster once, where you play this magic-cyber-kid with cool weapons and abilities. You start out pretty weak but when you level up all the way you can run on water and practically fly through the air, and when you max out your weapons the shots will deform the terrain, which was really cool, felt really powerful. But one of the best parts of the game was how when you shot dead trees they’d spring to life and grow. The plot was something like, that these monsters were ravaging the world, so all the land is dead and lifeless. But when you shoot the trees they grow, gain color, and blossom with leaves. So you fight in some dead forest and leave it looking lush and vibrant. Essentially it’s like From Dust in that you get this fast, tangible way to change the game’s world for the positive. You just click and then everything grows. I wish more games did that sort of thing.”
“Kind of like SimCity.”
“Nah. It takes to long to reshape the world in SimCity. It’s an arduous process that could take days in real time. With these other games it’s really fast.”
There was a pause. My friend looked at me, seemed to make some decision, and then leaned forward. “Have you ever heard of the Sublime Society?” he asked.
“No, I’ve never played it. Does it have constructible environments?”
“It’s not a game.” “I’m asking because everything you’re saying is straight from the mouths of the Sublime Society.”
“What? So it’s an actual society?”
My friend leaned in conspiratorially. “It’s a secret society that moves through the games’ industry. There are rumors about it everywhere.”
“Wooaah… what do they do?”
“Apparently they’ve got pull in every studio and with every publisher. They try to secretly influence trends in gaming and push for certain game mechanics.”
“Then why aren’t all games the same as each other, then?”
My friend gave me a meaningful look.
“Oh right,” I said realizing, “most games are the same as each other these days.”
“Yeah, but listen. Apparently the Sublime Society isn’t alone. There’s another secret society called the Opponent and they’re in some sort of secret war with the Sublime Society.”
“A war over what?” I asked wide eyed, my jaw hanging open.
“Ideas? The landscape of the gaming world? The souls of gamers? I don’t know, but apparently there are some big hitters on both sides. Apparently a lot of legendary game designers are members of the Sublime Society.”
“Well, the man who was behind From Dust, Eric Chahi, for one. Apparently also Peter Molyneux which doesn’t surprise me.”
“That’s soooo crazy. You’ve got to tell me more.”