From Little Big Planet to Tearaway Media Molecule has pushed the limits on what you can expect from a game.
Now with Dreams, they have blurred the lines between toolkit and game. Built from the ground up as a toolkit, allowing infinite possibilities and as a pre-built experience, it is a marvel of design and concept. The team have not only built a robust experience for anyone looking to craft their dream game project, but they have made it so powerful the designers at the studio used it to craft the single player experience you can play when you first launch the game.
CGMagazine had the chance to talk to Alex Evans from Media Molecule about the game and the process the studio took to get to this point. It has been a long road for the studio, but Alex gives us a look inside the process, the challenges they faced, and what they hope people will experience when they first boot up Dreams.
CGMagazine: How did the project get started? How did it reach where it is now?
Alex Evans: Sure it’s been a long one for us. It actually overlaps all the Tearaway. Media Molecule’s most recently the title was Tearaway and then Tearaway Unfolded on PlayStation 4. But actually, Dreams started kind of coming out of our work on Little Big Planet and obviously, I feel like in some ways it’s kind of a culmination of what Media Molecule’s tried to do with gaming and LBP was our first and second stab at that.
And now Dreams is kind of our passion project that’s been going since the end of the Little Big Planet 2 so that’s like six or seven years. That is to say, it hasn’t been the sole focus of the studio. We shipped Tearaway in that time.
We started out with this idea of a sketchbook. All of us were kind of jealous of. If you haven’t played in a band or doodled on a phone interview destroying his sketch he might be doing it now. There’s a kind of immediacy to it. There is a really fun kind of “You’re not trying to make the greatest creative work of the greatest piece of music,” it is enjoying doodling and then it felt like game making didn’t have that equivalent. It’s a wonderful time to be making games right now; if you want to make games you can you can download those free amazing tools, but all of them are kind of geared towards very technical very kind of direct.
You have to have a plan and be willing to kind of fight through the crappy interfaces. None of them are the very freeform, chill game like that in their style. So we were like well if we could take the PlayStation 4, which at the time wasn’t out yet but we sensed it was coming, take the power of the next game console really use it to make it feel like you were just sketching. So it was a sketchbook. Where it has ended up has way exceeded that but that was definitely the genesis. And then we got this idea of a dream journal, like imagine that you woke up in the morning and you had this crazy dream last night. You really want to just get it out there and see what things have come to be and it’s so powerful that you can make stories, games, and music, all that stuff and you can call out other people’s stuff as well.
If you’re not feeling particularly inspired you might wake up in the morning saying “What was that crazy dream about a purple elephant exploding out of a tree or something.” And you can just kind of college those elements and put them together into a dream. So that’s where the name came from. And yeah the end result is we’ve been cooking it for a while. It took us a while to realize a way to do that level of ambition and do it in a way that felt immediately accessible. Dreams, in the end, is still a game tied to that; you can still sit down and enjoy Dreams in terms of our example content, our story mode, if you like.
We see that as a Trojan horse to create tools. So very often I’ll talk about the create tool, I jump to the creative tool because that’s what we use every day to make our story mode, but also you can expect I imagine what the game is in your hands. Most people including myself would probably enjoy it starting from a story mode, like a traditional kind of game and then use that as a kind of jumping off point, and be like “I can do better than” or “I could I could take a different direction.” So yeah, Dreams Is a different thing to different people. I often forget to talk about the story mode just because I’m so fixated on giving that power to the people that you like, but I think a lot of people are going to enjoy dreams of playing our content and then playing community content.
CGMagazine: Dreams is a different thing then what you have done in the past, How would you sell it to someone who just loves that kind of platform or style yet still dabbling in the creative side. How would you sell Dreams to that kind of individual?
Alex Evans: Yeah that’s a great question. I mean if you love a platform and then our story mode is made up of three scenes. So we have a theme which we call the childhood theme, which is the Media Molecule classic so I think that this person will immediately bond with that it’s a kind of classic platforming 3-D action of 3-D versus LBP. But it’s a 3-D action platformer. The second theme is more of a kind of noir point and clicks adventure and I’d say to that person will give it a try because you’ll find it a pallet cleanser and then the third theme is kind of sci-fi based, also a platformer.
But what I love about dreams is if you’re not satisfied by our story mode you can basically go into what we call the “Dreamoverse,” and you can click on tags you could say “platform” “charming” or you could you could type contacts just like you can on Youtube or SoundCloud or other services and you can kind of tailor the Dreams experience to your taste and then you click search and you can either specifically choose to play something that someone else has made or you can click this auto surf button, which basically just streams like a radio station that streams games to you, but filtered by whatever your taste is. So I think that they’ll enjoy our story mode because it is very much what we learned from Tearaway. There’s a through line in terms of the gameplay from LBP to Tearaway to our story mode. And then if you want more or different than that you can kind of filter down the community search and discover levels that way and then if you hate platforming and you know someone else puts it and says “Hey I don’t care about that. I main arena shooters, or MOBAS,” or whatever it is and you can just search for tags and I’m pretty sure that the community will have done that for us.
We try to cover a lot of bases in terms of our story, but we can’t cover every game ever made that Dreams can do, and I think that the community will quickly fulfill those needs. Dreams is evergreen. Like I love the idea that every week or every day I will boot Dreams up and hit this was a thing and just get new hilarious amazing whatever content. It’s like a game that doesn’t get tired and that’s a little bit like that with LBP but I think Dreams is going to be way broader and therefore even more exciting.
CGMagazine: Is there ever a concern at the studio that it’s so vast it will be daunting for want to be players?
Alex Evans: Yes that’s a good question. I think the answer is no. But to kind of justify why I don’t think it is daunting: very often when I am presenting it to you guys, or doing it at shows I’m trying to kind of show the broad side of it if you like in a 10 or 15-minute space. And I really think that if you just want to enjoy it in terms of a linear but pretty traditional game experience you can kind of come into it at that angle. I mean I think there’s a kind of engaged part of our fan base that know Media Molecule and they’re going to be super willing to just kind of dive deep into that crazy breath. But I think there will be a couple of simpler ways then if maybe you would be bewildered by that.
I think they’re just playing to a story in a linear fashion and will be a great introduction to the game and just fun in its own right. You can just enjoy it in that sense. And the crazy thing is I won’t ever experience that because I know the breath, I know someone who sits down coming for the game fresh can just enjoy that angle. Then the second side to it is I think the kids. I find it’s a really great question and I find it’s split between the younger generation and the older maybe more experienced team as our generation is the young kids don’t seem to be bothered so much by genre or pigeonholed. I think the general point about games just about dreams but they will just take something at face value and stop playing
You know they’ll stop messing around and pushing buttons and see what happens and not really be too bothered by understanding it. They just kind of fiddle and play and explore. I love the idea that people could explore Dreams in that way, they’re not too bothered by discovering. If you don’t discover all of Dreams within your first few play sessions you don’t touch on the creative side. That’s fine I think you’ll have plenty of fun just to see whatever you discover. So you see that another other creative builder games whether that kind of aspect of exploration. It’s because it is never-ending because it’s so deep. Sometimes people will be like “Oh man, I will never touch bottom on this Sim City game builder game or Dreams,” in a way, especially with the younger audience, they don’t seem to mind that. They’re just like “Oh well I am enjoying myself. I had a good time and really enjoyed that story.” It’s a great question and I do see that different people come from different angles. I think that’s legit.
CGMagazine: Was there ever a want at the studio to allow these games that are built within Dreams to be playable outside of Dreams, or has it always been kind of a contained experience with a contained world that gives you an introduction into development?
Alex Evans: It’s such a great question I’m going to give a cautious answer here. I think for the first release the focus is on the kind within Dreams experience. I think that’s a great question and I mean ever since the early stages Little Big Planet one we would love to find different outlets for people’s creativity.
We released a game of the year edition where we included community content on that Disc. I am not saying we will do that again with Dreams all I am saying is that dating back many years we have explored different outlets for creativity. The creativity of games is incredible and I think your idea of making standalone games would be awesome but I can’t announce anything now. The focus of dreams on the first release won’t be that but I wouldn’t rule it out. I think it’s a great idea.