Creation is something the gaming community excels at, even within the closed systems of consoles – you only need to look at the wildly diverse inventions whipped up by the thriving communities of building games like LittleBigPlanet and Minecraft and you’ll have your proof.
In saying that, creation within games like those two is naturally bound by limits – to gameplay, or simply by the number of assets and creation tools available. According to Media Molecule, Dreams is all about breaking those boundaries, allowing you to craft, design, and share whatever pops into your mind without the coding, design, or programming knowledge needed from those hunkered down inside a development studio. “I think with Dreams, you can create whole massive traditional game experiences without ever studying game design or art or anything like that,” says Media Molecule studio director Siobhan Reddy.
That sounds great in theory, and should certainly have the attention of budding designers and hobbyists alike, but such promised freedom surely brings with it a slew of challenges and hoops to hurdle for the UK studio.
Right from the announcement of Dreams, it’s been a hard graft figuring out what it really is. Having spent 30 minutes watching the game’s creative mechanics in use, first to sculpt a character and then to make it dance, it seems Dreams is entirely about creative expression. It's a platform you can use to express yourself and craft whatever pops into your mind.
It operates a little bit the way LittleBigPlanet does: you’re given a suite of tools and you can dive straight into the creation process if you wish, or you can play pre-made levels to get you accustomed to the world and design of the game. The pre-made levels were collectively referred to as the Molecule Adventure, and they also act as small templates, showing you how to make a level work, and how incredibly detailed level creation and design in Dreams can be.
In our hands-off session, we were greeted by a plethora of differing worlds and spaces. These landscapes were all designed for PlayStation Experience by various Media Molecule developers, and each had its own theme. One was completely devoid of life and reminiscent of films like Gravity and Moon, whereas another was shaped around a World War, with a soldier looking through smoke and towards some ruins. Each was created just a couple of weeks prior to PlayStation Experience.
On the creation suite side of things, I was particularly overwhelmed by the number of options, and I worried that it may all be a little overbearing for some just starting out. But as I watched the team slowly craft a very small, intricate forest area by dragging, dropping, adjusting, and cutting with a handful of tools, I began to understand that creation in Dreams – like LittleBigPlanet before it – will be easy to pick up, but rather hard to fully master. We are also told something similar to LittleBigPlanet’s Pop It system will play a part.
There's also the question of who it is for. “A big part of Dreams for us is going to be community, and we’re absolutely fascinated to see what people are going to be doing with the tool. One of those uses obviously can be educational,” says Reddy. “Because the tools are so easy and they’re so accessible, it feels like it’d be a natural fit within existing educational curriculums.”
Hopefully this is where Dreams will find its feet. There are a lot of exciting things within the game’s creative mode, with the character creation system appearing particularly deep yet accessible. You can fine-tune almost every component here, from the specifications of how a character's shoulders arch, to the amount of sass in their walk and the shape of their head.
It’ll be especially interesting to see what emerges when the community gets its hands on the game’s beta version next year. “The beta trial is about bringing people aboard, building our community, and being able to share their creations with people,” says Reddy.
What worries me, though, is that it seems like there’s a major focus on the PlayStation Move controllers and the PlayStation Camera, which appear to be an essential part of achieving the definitive Dreams experience. Sure, the team has stated that you can do everything in the game using the DualShock 4, but as I watched the creation of the worlds and characters, I couldn’t help but feel like the two Move controllers allowed for a more natural sense of movement.
But overall, Media Molecule’s demonstration of Dreams left me confident that there is a market for the game. The way it’s been shown off in the public eye – especially during Sony’s press conferences – feels like it has done an injustice to the game.
Creative types will certainly find something to like about Dreams, and Reddy and the team made sure to echo the message that they have more information to share next year about soundtrack creation, enemies, and gadgets embedded within Dreams. I’m excited to see more of it, and the fact the game will be incorporating PlayStation VR has only heightened my anticipation.