Dreams VR is so very, very nearly with us, with the long-awaited support for PlayStation VR being added in a free update to Dreams tomorrow, 22nd July. It will bring a suite of new VR tools to dabble with in your creations, some new experiences created by Media Molecule themselves, and the prospect of revisiting content old and new.
In the run up to this huge update for the game, we spoke to David Smith, Co-Founder of Media Molecule and Technical Director of Dreams VR about everything that it has to offer.
TSA: Dreams has been a long, long….. long project in the making, and as soon as the headset was revealed there that promise of PSVR support. How painful was it to have to postpone PSVR support for the original launch and not have that one final date for the package?
David: It’s really insightful the way you pose the question. You’re right, and that’s sort of how it felt, that part of us wanted to hold back. VR was such an exciting and important part of Dreams, both in terms of how it creatively empowers you, but more in terms of how it philosophically how in tune it is. The title Dreams is there for a reason!
For me, if I stop thinking about it as all the tech and things, it’s a way that you can have a dream or a strange thought in your head, and Dreams is just a bunch of stuff that lets you get these ideas out of your head and into my head. When it comes to each Dream, they are always places, they’re worlds, but worlds are all around you, they’re not a thing that you look at on a screen. It’s not a TV show that’s over there, it’s a place, and in order to understand the feeling of it, you want to be in that place.
VR is the way that you can viscerally and emotionally feel that sense of being inside a place and, in some sense, inside the head of the person that made that. […] I’m fully in that place, I’ve gone on a journey, and now all the crap around me, the dishes that need washing, all that stuff has gone away and every neuron in my brain is activated based on what’s been created for me.
TSA: That’s such a colourful way of describing it!
I’ve always felt that with your play, create, share games, Media Molecule is always best placed to show the potential of what you can make. You had Art’s Dream for the main game release, but are you doing something similar for the VR update?
David: Similar, but different. As you pointed out, with everything we do, we always feel the process of making content goes hand in hand with making tools. We’ve never thought of this process as making tools that we give to people and they figure it out. These tools have to be good enough for use, that’s the acid test.
But to answer the question, there’s a set of content that comes with the VR pack called Inside the Box. It’s really acknowledging that there’s a divide between us and the community, in the sense that we’ve made something inside the box and the community go outside the box.
Inside the Box is a bit different to Art’s Dream; it’s not narratively drive, where I think in VR you don’t necessarily need that narrative journey because it’s less a thing you’re watching and more a place that you’re in. The core to this new experience is a sort of magical and weird modern art gallery that you go inside of. There’s little to no gameplay in this initial space, it’s just lovely to wander around, but branching off that, we then have a number of multi-level examples of gameplay, showing different things that are fun in VR.
We’ve got stuff like a shooting gallery, which was actually really important for us. We’ve really seen that our community want to make shooting games – of course they do! There’s so many games that are fundamentally based around that, but it’s something we’ve never really supported, so people had to be quite clever and do quite fiddly things to create that kind of gameplay. It’s meant that it’s the more hardcore end of the creators making that kind of gameplay, and that’s a shame because there’s a larger audience that wants to make that. So we’ve used this as an excuse to add this new functionality that’s really useful in VR, but is also really useful in non-VR for making those experiences.
Simply being able to track where there user’s head is and hands are, of course that’s needed for VR, for so many VR things that are about being in the world, but also shooter gameplay, even if I’m not in VR, I want to know really accurately where the camera is and attach things and logic to it, have it predict nicely, move in a smooth way and all these other subtle points that make it difficult to do without us. Well, basically we’re supporting things that the community have found ways of doing, but making it much easier and better.
TSA: We learnt very early on that having comfort settings in VR are vital to the experience, but most VR games are also tailor made through their gameplay to try and suit as many people as possible. How can Dreams VR keep a comfortable experience when there’s so many different creators, so many ideas and maybe… not as attentive to those details?
David: Yeah, there’s a few different things we do. So to outline the strategy that we’ve taken, by default if you go into Dreams with VR, you’re only going to see the experiences that have been marked as suitable for VR. Also by default there will be certain comfort options turned on, looking at the best in class of what people can expect. You have the comfort vignette, a teleportation-based camera, and this stuff is designed so that a lot of existing content will actually work quite natively in VR.
I’ve been testing this by going through a lot of the top community levels and our own content, and seeing how clever we can be in making sure this automatically works. So the camera controls, the character controls, how cutscenes work, how on screen text looks… What’s the thing we can do that means that a lot of the time it will just be OK. Often the user will then want to go in and tweak some things, because there’s some things where we can’t just magically know what the user intended.
And then there’s the point where you’d just make some different decisions in VR. There’s the scale of the world, and you have a different approach as to what the experience is you’re trying to make and how you can direct the focus of the player.
A person like me can just say, “I’m experienced in VR, just show me everything!” I’m glad there’s these comfort options there by default, but what I will tend to do is turn off that filter, so now I can play all of the content in VR. Some of it is not going to work, the frame rate could be too poor, or it’s really not designed for VR, and I’m looking through a wall or things are too close to my face. But I know for a fact that there’s a lot of content, especially the more experiential ones where you’re just wandering around a beautiful world, which tends to just work automatically very well.
It’s been a joy to me that I get to go back to these experiences that I’ve played before, but now I truly feel like I’m playing what was intended. Like I was saying before, I get to really be in that world, instead of this thing that’s sadly out of reach.
I think a lot of our audience has really been playing around with that. There’s obviously some people that really focus on the very gamey, action, twitch, shoot things, jump, collect things, but there’s also a lot of people for whom the starting point is just making their bedroom, making a school, making their local park. Just making things that are beautiful without a real thought for what the purpose is. Before, I might have gone into them in Dreams and gone “This is cool”, but my fingers are looking for something to shoot, I need more to do. Those experiences are suddenly the ones I want more of now.
Also, a nice thing is those are the easier things to make, especially in VR create. Placing objects in 3D is just so much more natural. The world is 3D and the decisions you’re making when placing things are all 3D decisions, especially when you start making more organic landscapes, when you move off grid and start making these truly 3D spaces.
There’s a really virtuous connection between the things that are easiest to make in VR and the things that are also the most profound.
TSA: When it does come to the new VR content coming in, are you going to do anything special with curating the best content, beyond what you already do through the rest of the game?
David: Yeah, definitely. We have an approach where we already try to flag the most popular content, and we also have the Community Jams where we set challenges for people to make things and celebrate what’s best there. There’s a sort of filtered VR version of that.
There’ll be some VR specific events that we’ll want to do to make very VR specific content. But also the idea is that I could be playing games normally and seeing all the content, but then I put on my headset and suddenly all those playlists filter down and switch. Some of the existing playlists will filter down, but some will just be replaced by the best Mm content that we’ve found so far.
TSA: How important will it be for players to have a pair of Move controllers? And also, could you do more exotic things, like combine a DualShock 4 in one hand with a Move controller in the other?
David: So, to answer the second question first, the DS4 and Move controllers are treated as separate if you’re in VR. Just to keep the tracking cheap and also to simplify the experience.
A common thing we have is that people will be in VR, and there’s some things where, yes, Move is really, really powerful for sculpting. You’ve got two hands, and it’s very spatial and positional, so that’s a natural thing that’s best, and if you love sculpting and animating, you should try and get some Move controllers.
But even if you don’t have them, you can do all of those things with a DS4, and in fact we have some people who sculpt exclusively in DS4, even if they’re in VR. It’s a bit of a different approach, where if it’s much more flamboyant, much more analog, then Moves allow you that sweep of the arm, but if you’re being more controlled and making things acuter where you’re placing single edits one at a time, then the DS4 is better because both hands are gripping the same object so it’s very accurate. It’s just a change of mindset, and there’s different tools that are better for different jobs.
We’ve made sure that someone who might be sculpting in VR with moves might want to block out the world a bit more and could put the Moves down, pick up the DS4, the trackers switch and now you’re using the right tool for the job. If you’re making more 2D decisions, it’s quite nice to sit back with a DS4 and let your thumbs do the work, where if you’re using Move, you’re moving your arms more and sometimes that’s more effort and you don’t need the full 3D.
TSA: Finally, have you looked any further into letting creators publish their Dreams outside of the game? I know that was suggested at one, but then said you’d have to look into it later on. It could be an interesting way to promote or be an ambassador for the wider community and the wider game.
David: I think that’s an exciting idea, and it’s something that has been talked about, but in terms of future plans, I can’t say or commit to anything. I get where you’re coming from and it’s… “no comment.” [laughs]
TSA: [laughs] That’s fine. No comment… for now?
David: For now, for now. Watch this space.
Thanks to David for taking the time to chat with us. Dreams VR update is out tomorrow, 22nd July, but the game is great even without it. Check out our original Dreams review here.