A few years back I remember reading a few news pieces about a new arcade game Sega had made that used sand. It was a kid's game, available in a bunch of sites in Japan. A trailer was released and it was pretty clear that this was never going to make it to Europe. It never did. What a crying shame.
Seriously, this game looks wonderful. You have a little tray of special sand that doesn't stick to you and get annoying. You move the sand around and an overhead projection system of some kind reads the sand and turns it into landscapes in real time. Dig a trench and the projector will turn it into a river. Dig a mountain and you'll get grass on the slopes and all that jazz.
This is very special, I think. There is something about games that seem to focus on playing rather than anything like rules. There is something about games that encourage you to lose yourself in the moment. I can still imagine picking up lumps of sand and making boulders, spending hours on a landscape and then sweeping it away.
It broke my heart a little that the game never came over here. But I feel like I got to play something very like it, anyway. From Dust takes the pleasures of material physics and gives you a nice chunk of real-estate to work with, allowing you to bring in tidal waves and volcanoes too. And then there's Toca Nature, perhaps my favourite of all Toca games. Toca Nature gives you a little slab of land and you can do whatever you want with it. You can raise mountains, dig rivers and seas, and plant trees. There's lovely stuff about the interaction of different ecosystems going on, but really I can just play it for hours ignoring all that, exploring, sculpting, channeling.
We've spent a lot of this week trying to get at what Sega means to us, what we take away from the games we've played and the memories we retain. But this game, this sand game that I have never played and will never play, that has no blue skies, no rollerskaters or hedgehogs, seems to get at the heart of what I love about Sega most of all. They see potential everywhere. The game never ends.