I'm toying around with an effect and I'm trying to have an object pass through a dense layer of particles. The particles are all on roughly a single plane and the object would be pushing them aside as if it were wading through water or a ballpit etc. They'd be pushed out to the side and while they'd ideally return to their position, I could work with it if they didn't.
I've tried animating a spherical field moving through the particles in order to simulate this but the particles just seem to flow over/under it as much as anything. Is there a way that I could achieve this look?
Not really. The spherical field is the only way I know of doing this relatively easily. You could try something like a time displacement effect using a ramp to control the timing, but this is WAY too complicated for probably what you are looking for. The best way to do this is to probably file up a 3d program and use a true interactive particular system like pflow in max to achieve this effect.