In From Dust you're God, and God, in turn, is a vacuum cleaner. He's a frantic, over-worked, middle-managery kind of vacuum cleaner, if that's remotely possible, and one that's locked in constant, hectic mediation between populace and environment. You know, just like a vacuum cleaner.
Heavenly influence is indirect here. As you try to coax your people into moving from one ancient monument to the next and then ensure they actually get there, drilling paths across the sea or sucking up huge balls of sand and earth when they block the way, it feels a little like Katamari Damacy - if Katamari Damacy had been designed by Moses, which I'm almost certain it was not.
The game was born, like so many other things, from a form of volcano worship. Eric Chahi, the creator of Another World and Heart of Darkness, found he needed some time away from the video game industry towards the tail end of the 1990s, and so he ended up messing around with art and photography and eventually volcanology.
"As a creator I'm excited by a lot of things," he says. "I love the mineral world, where there's a lot of geological features, and the biggest thing for me during this part of my life was volcanoes.
"I went on actual active volcanoes. I wasn't even aware that was possible at first. It was a real passion to be there to see the earth erupt and become alive. You see the earth breathing, and watch as lava flows create incredible landscapes. To see lava just feet from you is amazing. It changed my understanding of the world, and it really influenced From Dust."
Chahi's latest tells the story of an amnesiac tribe seeking to rediscover its past. This plays out, for the most part, as your followers pick their way across a series of roomy maps, building villages around a series of ancient totems and gathering a sense of their history and cool new powers for their deity as they go. For the player, it comes down to directing your AI-controlled tribe from one spot to the next and then nannying them in creative ways.
It sounds like an endless grind of escort missions, but From Dust is actually quick-witted, entertaining stuff, and the central mechanic feels a little bit like debugging, as you blaze a trail, one obstacle at a time.
The path-finding AI of your tribe is surprisingly good cut off a route, and they will try and work out a new one organically and that's pretty handy by itself, but what's even better is that the game always makes your followers' intentions enviably clear. Set a waypoint in the distance and the path your tribe will take to get there is emblazoned across the ground in the form of a spectral white ribbon. When the intended path reaches a geographical feature that your charges won't be able to cross without intervention, the ribbon turns red, highlighting the areas that need your attention.
That's where you come in. At first, the trials this particular god has to face are fairly simple: you'll have to get your worshippers past a small body of shallow water, which can easily be achieved either by bringing in sand to create a bridge, or building up the walls to create a lake, and then draining all the water out.
As your powers evolve, however, and the environment become increasingly complex and dynamic, challenges become much more interesting. Later levels offer up complex peninsulas for you to pick your way across, or places where your ultimate targets are buried under the sea or threatened by oozing lava. ("Listen to the lava," says Chahi. "We captured that audio from a real volcano.")
Equally, your own movements influence the entire simulation, and it's easy to be caught in strange little feedback loops as you scoop up mud to form a bridge only to discover that the mud you've used was actually holding back another body of water.
While the environment grows more elaborate, the basic toolset remains fairly constant. Don't worry, you'll unlock crazy new God skills like the ability to jellify water as the game progresses, but the simple power to grab and drop stuff remains surprisingly satisfying and thought-provoking over long periods of time.
With a 360 controller in your hands, it takes seconds to get used to the stick controls your roving cursor, while the left trigger gathers up any substance you're currently hovering over and the right trigger dumps it and such a simple interaction encourages you to really experiment with the materials at your disposal, yanking up huge dust clouds and then watching how they sag into slowly collapsing hills when you deposit them elsewhere, or pulling together angry red donuts of lava and then dropping them on foliage to see it erupt into flames.
Almost all puzzles have multiple solutions if you're fending off lava, you can force ocean waves over it to turn it to stone, move sand around to direct its flow, or even cover it with magical jelly water in a manner that would make some Ph.D in a tweed coat over at the Open University choke on the end of their Biro and because it's a genuine simulation, these solutions don't feel forced or overly prescribed.
The simulation aspects might be the most fascinating part of this entire project, in fact, as Chahi's team creates a convincing environment built of fire, wind, earth and water, all constantly fighting for some kind of balance, and endlessly trapped within the same intriguing cycles.
Over the course of a level, it's not uncommon to discover that a volcano off to the side of the map has slowly created a new plain of rich black rock as the magma oozes into the ocean, for example, while I lost a couple of minutes just dumping sand into a shallow river and watching the way that little deltas and rivulets emerged and washed away again.
This is nature at double-speed, for sure, as channels forge canyons and volcanoes erupt and slip back into dormancy in a matter of seconds, but it's perfectly tweaked for messing around with, and once the campaign has been finished, Chahi's still left you with a wonderful digital fish tank to peer into.
As for the campaign itself, From Dust is shaping up to be a God game that feels uncommonly religious - albeit in an indistinct, cross-cultural non-denominational kind of way. The soundtrack blends rising organ blasts and pensive strings with the sounds of shells being clicked together, while your exit posts for each level resemble everything from Anasazi Kivas to the puttyish spiritual musings of Gaudi.
Fittingly, as with so much else in the game, this reverent tone seems to have emerged organically through the interaction of From Dust's various moving parts.
"It's funny, really, because we didn't want to take it in this direction," laughs Chahi. "There's a level early on in the game where you have to part a sea to get your tribe across, and you're basically playing as Moses. We really didn't want to have this kind of obvious thing in the game, but the game kept pushing us back to it.
"The crazy thing is that the religious aspects of this just emerged."