Ever since Media Molecule showed the world a first glimpse of Dreams at the PlayStation 4’s announcement event, people have been bemused and mystified as to what it is. A seemingly boundless tool for creation, certainly, but is there actually a game to be found within?
Dreams is founded on many of the very same ideas and principles that Media Molecule have really extolled since the early days of LittleBigPlanet, but where Play, Create and Share often ended up being seen as often quite distinct and seperate facets to the popular platformer, in Dreams, they are meant to merge and come together into one.
Your connection to the world comes in the form of an imp, a colourful little floating face that moves around the screen as the game tracks your motions. You can use it to reach in, touch and interact with parts of the world, as well as possess and take control of characters within the world, giving you a more physical and tangible presence within the level, rather than just a floating little ball. The worlds and places you can find yourself exploring and passing through, at least as Media Molecule have demonstrated, have a surreal feeling to them, as though a lucid dream made real – that is, after all, the inspiration for the game’s name.
Certainly, there will be a Media Molecule created experience that you can play and enjoy on your own, just as the LittleBigPlanet games always feature a series of levels and a story to play through, and you can just as easily load up the game and go into free create mode, to start sculpting and building whatever it is that takes your fancy on this particular day. Except that these don’t have to be separate. You’ll often be called upon to create and imagine new things as you play through a dream, finding an inventive and original way to solve a particular puzzle, if that’s what you need to do, but you can just as easily invite some friends to join you in free create mode and, rather than try to build a level to play later, simply mess around in an endless sandbox of possibility.
Of course, playing through a more restrictive dream is also a possibility, depending on the creator’s wishes. As was shown during the Paris Games Week demo, the ability to create and build within a particular section was largely removed from the player’s skill set. This all goes to the extent that you could create entire games within Dreams – an idea which LittleBigPlanet has flirted with on several occasions – with the trailer showing glimpses of little football games and the like.
From the outside looking in on what Media Molecule had been able to show up until this point, a natural touchstone for people has been the sculpting side of the game and the ability to create an intricate model or a complex scene to look around. You can come at this is any manner of ways, with MM supporting everything from a DualShock 4 and Move controllers, with or without a camera, to smartphone second-screen apps. With a pair of Move controllers in hand, they were quickly able to put together a panda bear-like head, pop a beret on it and then furnish that with pink fluff, a tree and more decorations.
The menu system to enable all of this, though obviously still a work in progress, looked fast and fluid. The different categories to let the player choose the tool, the colours involved splayed out an stand attached to one of the two imps – one for each Move – while the other’s point was used to navigate between the options quickly and effectively. Tracking your movements in three dimensional space, as well, will just allow for a more fluid and intuitive form of interaction as well, compared to trying to painstakingly move a cursor around and manipulate the world with an analogue stick. Animations as well stem from the notion that everything is a performance, recording your actions and letting you splice them together, slow them down and more to make something as complex as you like.
However you don’t need to create everything yourself, the in-game recreation of Rodin’s The Thinker that came to adorn it was pulled from the cloud, which has already been filled with high quality creations from the team at MM, each and every one of them made using the game’s tools. Sharing an object is going to be incredibly simple, but so too will be finding other people’s assets, thanks to fast filters and keyword searches, as well as the ability to follow specific creators and even curators of high quality creations. It all means that diving into the game and making something that looks good should be quite easy.
A big part of helping all of this come together is how the world is constructed. Everything’s made out of voxels on a microscopic scale – as opposed to the easily distinguishable cubes that have been popularised using this term – and that’s part of what makes the world look so seamlessly beautiful, soft and dreamlike. Where LittleBigPlanet has often struggled and been hampered with lag, Dreams’ netcode has been built from the ground up and items and dreams that you download are based on the actions that the creator took, rather than the finished product, in order to keep things as small and as easily downladable as possible.
That will certainly be a boon to those who profess to lack the skill or imagination to create something of their own. You won’t need to be able to make a tree, because there’s thousands of trees that will have already been created, but the pervasive ability to strike off on a tangent, add things to a dream that you’re exploring and simply mess around with friends should also remove the barriers and divide between what creation is and what playing is.
For those that want it though, people can still dive into the minutiae of the world. You can alter and adjust the controls of a character – just as you had the Controllinator in LittleBigPlanet – record your own sound effects and music. Another fascinating idea that was brought up was the possibility for people to make a creation kit, to give others all the tools and items that they need in order to creating something like that of their own. It’s from the realisation that some people will lead the charge in this fashion that you’ll be able to follow what particular people are doing.
For everyone that’s still scratching their heads – and I’ll admit that, even though I can now see all of the pieces to the puzzle, I’m still somewhat baffled by Dreams – the truth of the matter is that Media Molecule are just as curious to see what the boundaries of what they’ve made are. Perhaps the most difficult problem they face is simply getting people to press play and start creating, but with a beta planned for some time next year, hopefully it’s not too long before we can all go and explore everyone’s dreams.