The word ‘Dreams’ paints a concept of pure possibility, of being able to achieve anything if you can only set your mind to it. For a game to take on the mantle, it needs to ensure it can live up to that concept, to be able to make ‘Dreams’ a reality.
It is a lot to live up to, but the team at Media Molecule are taking this concept on and rolling with it. They have built a game where anything can be made manifest, from a platformer, sidescroller, all the way to a noir fiction adventure, and having played it during an event in LA, it is just as awe-inspiring to see in action, as it is to hear about.
Media Molecule is known for their games that push the envelope of creativity and experimentation. While Little Big Planetdemonstrated what could be possible, Dreams for the PlayStation 4 pushes the limits on the imagination. Sitting down for a short 45-minute gameplay session, I did not know what to expect. I had previously seen plenty of videos showing what could be possible in Dreams, yet even after all that, I was unsure as to what the game actually entailed. It looked like a sandbox, with little to no direction, but after my time with the game, I now know it is far more than a simple sandbox. In reality, Dreams pushes the boundaries of what is possible on a console.
First things first, labeling Dreams a game is only half the story. It is first and foremost a toolset. A set of tools you, as a player, can make any kind of digital imaginings you have a reality. That is not to say that if you wish to enjoy pre-made levels you will be out of luck—quite the contrary. Just that unlike most games currently on the market, the game itself is simply the tip of the iceberg.
Media Molecule has outlined that there will be a significant amount of content available to play right out of the box, and should you want more, it is only ever a click away, with a slew of community and studio built segments that push the toolset in new and exciting ways. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let us touch on what players can expect when they first turn on the game.
As the game loads up, players have a selection of options to jump into: community built segments of the game, portions created by Media Molecule, and countless other things that follow the mantra of Create, Play, and Explore. For our demo, we started off by jumping into the tutorial world. It is here we were introduced to the Imps. These little creatures act as your mouse pointer for the world of Dreams. You use the tip of the Imps head as a pointer to interact with the world. From moving sliders to editing the very fabric of a level, this little creature is your connection to the digital world.
As you become accustomed to Dreams, you will quickly find out just how intuitive the Imps are to control. Within a few minutes of testing out the demo, I was able to do most basic tasks, and judging on how the developer was fairing as he ran us through the demo, once you master the interface, anything is possible.
Moving past basic interaction, we found ourselves taking over different characters and objects in the world. From basic shapes to a series of 3D animal characters, once you take over an object in the world, you can utilize their skill set—in this case, their ability to move around and jump. It was exhilarating to move from the abstract world of the Imps to playing as a fully realized 3D character with a single click of the DualShock 4, and while it is a bit jarring at first, after a few minutes of play it quickly became second nature.
It is here the demo moved past a simple game to something more exciting. The 3D platformer worked well; it played as one would expect, and if that is all the game was, an abstract 3D platformer with some fantastical elements, I would have been satisfied. It all worked as I would have hoped: controlled well, and gave an idea what was possible. Once we played past the first section of the tutorial, we got to see what was really possible within Dreams, and it made the level building in Little Big Planet seem basic in comparison. It was after this segment that the developer lifted the curtain and demonstrated how everything, included the 3D characters were built within Dreams itself.
Yes, that sounds like a marketing pitch. Surely they use 3D Studio Max or something to pre-construct the levels or the characters. Apparently, they did not. Everything from the sky, the levels, the characters, even the music, where built within Dreams. For good measure, the game comes pre-installed with a selection of pre-built tilesets. From painterly aesthetics to noir-inspired design, the team at Media Molocure have built a starting point for the player should you want to build on concepts that already exist within the game.
To further demonstrate this, the developer took us through building a level, adding music, and adding game logic to what we played. Granted, in the ten to fifteen minutes it took to build our little segment, it would not win any awards, but it was definitely playable. A living breathing nightmare, but playable. It also forces you to think about what you would want to build. In the short segment we experienced I could quickly think up countless ideas I wanted to craft, and while it will take time, it would be possible.
The edit mode makes all aspects of world-building easy, from copying a selection of the voxel-based terrain to resizing and manipulating the landscape. Everything on display was possible, given you have the time to devote to creation.
During the demo we not only made a basic world, we experimented with adding bridges with physics effects, flaming pools of lava, and even adding logic for each element so it interacts with the character’s location. To test these aspects, we quickly moved between edit mode and play mode, to ensure what we were building was playable while still ensuring some level of challenge. If that were not enough, Dreams will even give aspiring creators the ability to make moving platforms and segments simply by recording a path of your controller. The simplicity and intuitiveness of the toolset were staggering. It will be exciting to see what the community can make once they get their hands on the game.
In addition to the creator modes there where a slew of pre-built assets to help on your creative quest. But should you want to go beyond, the toolset ensures it is never a burden to create your own from scratch, and while the thing you built in five minutes will not compare to what comes preinstalled, it would be more than enough to make something for your friends to immediately experience and enjoy.
From this point on, we were transported through a series of sections made by the team, all taking anywhere from a few hours to a few days to build. While they were of different levels of complexity and depth, they all had two things in common: they all were built within Dreams, and they all looked fantastic. from a simple indie horror style game to an elaborately stylized sidescroller, If you were to tell me each where indie games in themselves, I would have believed you. It is a testament to Dreams and Media Molecule that this level of creativity is possible, and shows the level of creativity of the staff working at the studio (as a side note, not everyone who built the levels on display were game developers—some had never touched a game development tool before experimenting with Dreams).
Now, it is clear that while these were impressive when you first picked up Dreams, nothing you build will look that elaborate, at least not at first. As with any new toolset, even that within Little Big Planet, it takes a while to nail down just how to use it and make it work for what you need. But it does give a hint at the possibilities.
I think the real testament to the potential of Dreams comes from the quick story the developer told about his wedding. Trying to demonstrate to his Fiancée how the reception would work, instead of showing pictures or drawing on a piece of paper, he built a version of the venue within Dreams. Using PSVR, he let his Fiancée jump in and comment on aspects he created in real time. From there he not only made changes but allowed her to see the changes as they were made and even get a full feeling of what it was like to be in the space. While I am not sure everyone will use Dreams to this extent, it does show the possibilities of the game, and how it can go well beyond a simple platformer.
To wrap up the demo, we got to play a simple little hammer game that was also built fully in Dreams. The depth and level of quality on display in this small segment managed to show better than some titles I have seen on convention show floors, and it was just a simple local-multiplayer party-style game. As your little hammer characters nailed down nails, you earned points. It was so simple but fun, and also demonstrated the potential for the toolset, but also what players should expect when it hits stores, a series of experiences that are interesting, easy and enjoyable.
Dreams, as the name suggests, is a game that is full of possibilities, and many questions. After seeing what was possible in the game I am more excited than ever to finally get my hands on it, but I also question what depth of game will ship when you first boot up the experience. I love the concept, and after playing 45 minutes I want to play more, but not everyone will want to build, some may just want to play. I just hope that Media Molecule has learned from Little Big Planet, and supply a robust game within their toolset. Relying on a community to fill out content has the potential to backfire on the studio if not done right, as many other titles have proven in the past. Having said that, Dreams is an impressive achievement, one that pushes what is possible in gaming. While it may not be for everyone, if Media Molecule can deliver on the potential of this demo, Dreams could be a major step forward in gaming, and one of the releases I am most excited to see hit the show floor at E3 2018.
Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Brendan Frye’s work such as his interview with EA Motive about Star Wars: Battlefront II, and his in-depth look at the Equifax Hack!