Dreams is peak Media Molecule. Since launching the LittleBigPlanet series back in 2008, the British studio has been revered for its whimsical, crafty approach to game development. Or, more specifically, how these games try and turn us from passive players into creators, shapers, and makers.
In many ways Dreams feels like an evolution of that philosophy, leaving behind the side-scrolling platformer trappings of LittleBigPlanet for something far more freeform. Compared to Sackboy’s sandbox, the toolset Media Molecule gives you in Dreams is so vast and complex it mimics many of the same functions as Unreal, Unity, and other game development suites, but it aims to be far, far more accessible.
Although this latest PlayStation exclusive is really still in its infancy, we’ve already seen an influx of wild, bizarre, and technically-impressive creations. And they’re not all games: Dreams can be used as a canvas for artwork, sculptures, music, and animation as well.
It’s a one-of-a-kind experience for Sony’s home console, but also one that most gamers may have a hard time wrapping their heads around. When Dreams launched in early access a year ago, it was even tougher to decipher, being unable to really see what its tools had the potential to create beyond a small stable of pre-made mini games.
Art’s Dream has been introduced in the full version of the game, demonstrating exactly what can be done in Dreams. A super-stylish, genre-hopping adventure that sees a jazz musician getting lost in a shifting collage of memories while on a road to redemption and self-acceptance. One moment you’re playing a traditional 3D platformer, the next it’s more of a point & click adventure, then a shoot ’em up, as it jumps from one genre and set of characters to another.
Impeccably produced by the masters of their own domain, Art’s Dream has that unmistakable Media Molecule twang about it and while it only clocks in at a few hours, it’s a triumphant demonstration of what can be done using the game’s tools. It will surely inspire others to take on similarly ambitious projects.
Creating or “Dreamshaping” may seem like a daunting venture, though Dreams eases you in with a series of gradually more complex tutorials, starting with the very basics (such as placing, moving, and sizing objects) before branching into various disciplines. There are hours of learning materials readily available in the game, but you’ll also be able to find plenty of user tips and how-to videos being shared by the community.
The tutorials themselves are super informative and have a game-like structure to them which definitely helps make them engaging and understandable. You’ll employ a growing number of tools to help Connie in each scenario from sculpting platforms and animating characters to colouring scenes and adding your own flare. A video guide will hold your hand through each lesson, which is easily the most intuitive way to digest each new nugget as you apply what you’ve learned in real time. However, the more advanced tutorials can be very demanding and unless you plan on entrenching yourself within Dreams some of that knowledge may begin to slip away. Even if you’re a diligent student, that may not help you when staring at a blank canvas – after all, creativity comes from within.
Thankfully, you don’t have to start from scratch. One of the game’s highlights is the ability to share assets over the Dreamiverse – building blocks include environments, music tracks, and characters – some of which have had extensive work done to them. For example, if you want to create a racing game, but haven’t got the foggiest idea (or, let’s be honest, the time) to figure out the physics and handling of a vehicle, you can rely on a legion of creative strangers to help you out. What’s more, you can take these creations and make tweaks before sending a remixed version back into the aether.
Although it’s arguably the game’s nexus, you don’t have to touch the creation tools at all if you don’t want to, and we wouldn’t blame you. Getting a grasp of how Dreams works is immensely fun and challenging, but fairly consuming at the same time, especially if you let your imagination run free.
That’s where DreamSurfing comes in. Thankfully, there is so much user-created content out there already (whether new or updated from early access) that you can get lost for hours at a time. Since early access started in 2019, my preferred way of interacting with Dreams is by using it as a sort of YouTube for bitesize video games. There’s even an autoplay-like feature built in, allowing you to shift from one dream to the next without needing to dig through menus.
As time has gone on, Media Molecule has become much better in curating this vast web of content. Aside from cherry-picking community highlights, there are playlists which surface trending creations with simple search tools available to find specific users or projects you may have spotted elsewhere. This spills over onto the web – head to indreams.me to browse and queue up creations – meaning you can keep up to date even when not in-game.