Hello, welcome back volcano-videogame enthusiasts. I am on the PC this time with a game I missed out on playing when I was younger, so was happy to pick it up and give it a go.
From Dust is a short but fulfilling “God” game mixed with survival. You are the “breath”, an omnipotent spirit/God that a masked indigenous peoples command to help them repopulate and survive across 12 unforgiving, hazardous islands. You use the mouse to move the breath around, and click the right button to pick up either certain plants that store water and then burst and can cause a flood if grouped together, or burst forth flames and cause a wildfire or explode when exposed to heat, creating craters. You can also pick up water, lava, earth and the village totem. With the left button, you either drop the object or the element.
You are up against a number of hazards: flooding, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and wildfires. With every village successfully built (if the terrain is not too flooded with water or lava), you gain “powers” drawn from the totem to help make the island more habitable for people. In addition, “shamans”, can be sent out to reclaim lost knowledge in how to keep their villages safe from lava and water, and when in action, these take the form of an instrumental ensemble. Once all villages are safely built, you have to make safe passage for 5 people to the next area via a subterranean cave.
Apart from the sadness by accidentally killing the people and/or destroying villages, this game demonstrates some parts of theory and practice in my area of social volcanology in the form of indigenous knowledge, geoculture and geomythology. I will explain these terms throughout the piece.
As per usual, I had a criteria out of 10, 1 being unrealistic and 10 being realistic:
- Overall plausibility
Results: I could not complete the last level, but learned a lot.
There is quite a bit of lore within this game which you can unlock if you either find a “lore stone” and have a shaman go study it, or when you which 100 % on the vegetation metre, which slowly increases when your people plant seeds on the earth.
We as humans have been living on a hazardous planet for a long time, so we naturally accumulate information about our environment in order to continue survival. Some societies live well in these environments and some do not, it depends on loads of individual, household, community and national tolerance levels. “Indigenous” or “traditional” knowledge would include an understanding of important environmental factors that people would benefit from and know what “signs” to look out for, such as animals, geology, territory and vegetation, covered within this game.
In game, there are further examples of this knowledge, as well as “geoculture” and “geomythology”:
Geoculture refers to the cultural ways in which people cope with geohazards (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis), whilst geomythology are the stories, folklore, myths and legends surrounding recent to ancient hazardous (not necessarily geohazard) events. For example, some believe that the myth of Atlantis relates to an eruption of Santorini (Thera) during the Late Bronze Age and destroyed the Minoan settlement of Akrotiri. We do like to make things dramatic though, so more often than not, the stories you do hear are exaggerated in some way and the truth can be buried. Look no further then modern-day newspaper reports when any sort of hazardous event occurs or is forecast.
Let us jump into the level that first introduces us to tsunamis. I had built my first village in the level when the warning that the Shaman sensed the danger of tsunamis. I did not have long to find the “repel water” lore stone to protect the village. It was a close call between the Shaman getting back and teaching the villagers the song associated with repelling water and the tsunami arriving, but the village survived.
In reality, we cannot escape a tsunami in such a way. But they do occur with their signs. Tsunamis are rare and can be triggered a number of ways. They are triggered by either:
- A high magnitude submarine earthquake for example, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.
- Mass movement (landslide) either from land or sea.
- Volcanic eruptions can also cause tsunamis from flank collapse (2018 Anak Krakatau), pyroclastic density currents entering the sea (1815 Tombora eruption) or associated landslides.
This is all down to what a difference between what a tsunami and a tidal wave is. Whilst a tidal wave is controlled by the gravitational pull of the moon/sun, a tsunami is generated when there is a large displacement of water.
In the game, the tsunami wave appears uniform and only singular, in reality, the waves can be numerous and of different heights and speeds. This what makes them particularly dangerous and unpredictable. However, besides our early warning systems, the most immediate visual sign to know that the first tsunami wave is coming is called “drawback”. This is when the water significantly recedes from the coastline. When this happens, the only solution is to seek high ground and preferably, the highest ground possible. Take the screenshots below when playing a level later in the game, the wave nearly tops the volcano. The highest recorded tsunami wave we know of is the 524 metres (1720 feet) wave that hit Lituya Bay in Alaska, after an earthquake and subsequent rockfall in 1958.
However, we can survive them. If the warning signs are heeded, we can act quickly and get to the highest ground possible. For indigenous knowledge, this even resulted in Simeulue Island in Indonesia surviving the 2005 Boxing Day tsunami.
I will now move onto the volcanism in this game, starting with my first encounter.
The volcano starts off a safe distance from the people, so was able to build the first two villages easily enough. However…then it erupted. And then kept on erupting and slowly, the lava flows were solidifying when it met the only bit of water between the villages and the volcano. Then of course, the lava started flowing over the older lava, leading to wildfires and chaos. But that was not all…the game decides to throw me into a panic and tell me a tsunami was coming. It was intense, to say the least (and this was not even the most difficult level!)
Lava reaching the sea and solidifying to create new land is widely documented, most recently with the 2018 eruption of Kilauea on Hawai’i. The small vent to the left of the larger volcano is also quite realistic. Smaller (or sometimes bigger) cones/mounds/domes/craters that form at the side or on the flanks of the main vent of a volcano are called parasitic cones. These are formed similarly to the main vent, whereby there is a weakened pathway for magma to ascend and sometimes can erupt either in unison or interdependently from the main vent. Here are some of the ones of Mt. Etna, Sicily.
For another interesting look of the volcanism portrayed in this game, we move to another level, where one volcano is doing a lot of things.
Here is a volcano that has two parasitic cones and two fissure eruptions (left and right of the volcano) happening at the same time. The fissure on the left gets more problematic:
Fissure eruptions occur when there is a propagation of magma away from the main vent and then erupt, usually forming multiple linear fissure vents, sometimes also called “spatter” cones. Some examples of fissure eruptions from Iceland include the 2014 eruption of Bardabunga-Holuhraun and the 1783-1784 fissure eruption of Laki, whose magma source was from the volcano Grimsvötn. What is missing is the amount of volcanic gases these types of eruptions give off, which can be deadly. So much so, that the Laki eruption caused high mortality rates in Iceland and across Europe due to the widespread famine caused.
You think this was it and all I had to deal with, right? Well reader, it was not.
Although not as pronounced in the game, the outpouring of lava from the two parasitic cones reminds me of “breached cones”:
Breached cones are the result of lava flowing out from underneath a cone, leading to the undermining and collapse, of the cone. Eruptions that produce some sort of cone, could be at risk of them becoming breached.
Eventually, once I had established settlements at all the totems, the volcanic activity suddenly stops and then it rained, quenching all the lava. I thought I was safe to send people onto the next area but nope. I got this message:
I will move on to a level that took way too many trial and errors to overcome, but had flooding as a more central part of the level. This one includes both flooding and a lot of lava happening side by side one another.
Most of the time, it was the breach of lava on the left that resulted in a game over screen. This was resolved by using the lava to build up a wall and channel the lava flow:
Barriers, either human-made or natural, can divert flow directions to a certain degree. For human-made barriers however, you cannot just stick a barrier in place. You would need to not only understand the rheology of the flow, its current and anticipated flow path, the effusive and cooling rate and among other physical volcanology properties. Then eventually, if you actually have the resources to build, place and maintain the structure(s).
After figuring out the volcano side, I then had to sort out the constant flooding side. With this I certainly paid attention to the topography and the dried riverbed in between the village and the totem. I mainly just had to form a barrier/path for the people. I was quite impressed with the topographic detail, more often than it, because of the way water can erode the landscape, it is sometimes easy to pick out a river valley not just on the ground, but by satellite too.
However, sometimes it can be hard to determine if you are situated in a flooding zone. This maybe because rainfall patterns have changed or like from the example in this level where it comes from a lake, water levels have dropped that they are a less rare occurrence. Essentially, a change in climate.
Natural hazard management in a multi-hazard context is complicated and takes a long time. On top of the multiple hazards one volcano can produce, it takes perseverance. But sometimes, resources are limited, so sacrifices (some known now, some later) have to be made. In the case of one my gaming sessions of this level, sacrificing one village to lava as one was being built in the bit closer to the flooding. It requires some serious decision making, weighing up the costs and benefits. This essentially what risk management is.
I will quickly move onto another bit of volcanism before finishing off on the last level. The second to last level starts on an isolated island, a small bit of lava erupting in the middle of the ocean and a message that something huge once happened here. Most of the lore/knowledge stones and totems were either fully submerged, or on isolated bits of land.
The eruption happening was slowly building up, and then another eruption started next to it. The difficulty was ramped up, so these eruptions were intense and built up quite quickly.
Even though they were relatively close together, both volcanoes became quite different things, and this is what is so interesting about volcanology in real life! Despite all the knowledge we know about how volcanoes behave, there is still so much we do not know.
The volcano on the left (cut off in the second image and in the background of the third image) erupted the most, forming a lava lake at one point but then built up at an astonishing rate, having continuous Strombolian activity with lava flows. The other volcano on the other hand, formed a crater lake (not to be confused with the volcano Crater Lake in the US) and then eventually, stopped erupting (extinct?) and became a water source.
Water tables, the boundary between saturated and unsaturated ground, are found within volcanoes just like anywhere else. Below the table, is called an aquifer but for a volcano, the top of the table is called a “phreatic zone”, if magma reaches this zone, you are likely to get hydromagmatic eruptions. This can naturally lead to river valleys and maybe crater lakes, like at Mt. Ruapehu in New Zealand.
So, last level displays another type of volcanism and one I have not had the chance to complete yet, because it was too difficult!
I was thinking, “Okay, no worries, the rain will not come straightaway, I can at least build one village”. Oh how I was wrong.
The rain and the water plants were relentless. It was more problematic than the lava. I was essentially in an active caldera crater lake, apart from there was nowhere for the water to drain. But, I would like to end on a real life example that has fascinated me ever since I learned about it.
On the Indonesian island of Java, lies a caldera called Tengger Caldera. Within it, are several volcanoes: Mt. Bromo, Mt. Batok, Mt. Kursi, Mt. Watangan and Mt. Widodaren. Only Mt. Batok is extinct and there was an eruption from Mt. Bromo earlier this year. What blows my mind is that within this active caldera, people live within it. Not only that, they thrive. My PhD was looking at coexistence and adaptation in the Caribbean, and I used Tengger as the positive aspects of achieving coexistence. It is down to many complex factors but overall, it is down to the geoculture, how they heed warning signs and how they turn a negative, into a positive.
After this long review, let us go through the categories and give a score out of 10.
- Aesthetics: 7
- It is a beautiful game, regardless of the “last gen” graphics. There is enough detail for the landscape and mechanics for water flow. For the lava, you do see a difference in colour with the outside of the flow being darker, meaning it is cooling, whilst the inside remains orange-red, to indicate that it is hot.
- Accessibility: 6
- You can direct the people closer to the volcano/lava but then a stop and turn around when they realise I am directing them to danger. Or sometimes, the terrain is too hard to traverse that they do not go at all. Smart.
- Viscosity: 7
- The lava flows are very runny and in my opinion too runny to be pahoehoe, but I can appreciate the rheology. The flows do interact with the surrounding terrain and topography.
- Death: 8
- There were numerous occasions where the people were swallowed up by the lava or swept away by a flood/tsunami. Whilst death by drowning is realistic for water, I am uncertain it would be quite the same for lava.
- Overall plausibility: 8
- Bringing together the different types of volcanism and landform features, plus the mechanics of how the tsunamis, floods and water behave with the landscape and topography, in addition to the people’s geoculture and geomythology, and even having a God/Spirit help protect them from harm, I would give it a pretty high score.
You have now reached the end of this review, which I believe is my longest to date. For other reviews by myself or guest blogger Ed McGowan click on the following:
- Volcano-videogame inventory
- The Geology Game
- Spyro the Dragon
- Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 and Lego DC Supervillians
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- Pokemon Silver
Until the next time, happy gaming 🙂