Even In Early Access, Dreams Is Pure Magic

Even In Early Access, Dreams Is Pure Magic

From the very first, gorgeous, teaser that played at E3 2015, opening on the tagline “Everything you see here was created on a PS4”, I’ve wanted to get my hands on Dreams.

There’s something so enticing about being handed the keys to a game’s inner workings, whether in the form of a simple set of tweaking tools or a whole level editor. It’s a different feeling for different players as well; some see the chance to bend the existing rules more to their liking, while for others it’s a chance to break them altogether – or write new ones. For me, just the feeling that I could potentially, maybe, create something on my own that resembles a professionally-made product is enough to pique my interest.

The very earliest and most rudimentary example in my experiences would be the park editor in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games. Limited as they were, I was rapt with the idea that I could design levels just as good as (then) Neversoft themselves. I couldn’t, of course, but that was my own shortcoming. Fast forward a couple of console generations and LittleBigPlanet went further than most, providing not just the tools to craft new stages, but a toolbox wide enough that it allowed players to tinker with the game on a deeper level. It didn’t take long for people to make not just the requisite 2.5D platforming sequences but experiences in whole new genres and even crazy shit like working operating systems built in-engine. I had dozens of awesome ideas for original games. I didn’t follow through on any of them.

Same same…

…but very different 

As cool as level editors and the like are, there is always a limitation. Most of the time, unless you’re some kind of programming savant, a game’s editing tools don’t extend past the genre or mechanics of the game itself. Even something as powerful (at the time) as LBP’s suite is built on a particular set of capabilities that will wind up informing most user’s creations to varying degrees. Dreams, itself a literal successor to LBP by developer MediaMolecule, remedies this by approaching things from the opposite direction. Rather than build a complete game and allow players to muck about with its assets, Dreams is first and foremost a creative suite. This is best exemplified in its ‘Creator Early Access’ release just this last week, which contains all of the creation and community tools but no actual game. MediaMolecule are still hard at work on that one (and using Dreams itself to make it, of course).

If you at all dabbled in Dreams’ earlier ‘Alpha’ or ‘Beta’ releases, Creator Early Access will be instantly familiar. That’s a fairly limited audience though, so for everyone else here’s the deal; in its current state, Dreams is a feature-complete set of ‘creator’ modes, along with a series of basic tutorials and access to the online creator community, or ‘Dreamerverse’. Unless there are significant changes or additions as a result of user feedback in this early access period, it’s pretty much representative of the final product. The only thing missing is the planned ‘Story Mode’, which MediaMolecule has stated is about a man named Art and his dreams, which are spread out across multiple stories and genres in an interwoven narrative. Anyone who plonks down the $39.95 AUD for early access will be automatically updated to the final version at launch so they’ll eventually get access to Story Mode as well.

Not just one torials but…tutorials!

Booting up Dreams for the first time, you’ll be treated to a very lovely introductory sequence that really conveys just how vast and exciting the road ahead is. It’s humble beginnings once you get into the game proper though, introducing you to the ‘Homespace’, essentially a customisable launching pad for your Dreams experience. Living in the Homespace is Connie, an adorable conical character that takes centre stage in the game’s tutorials. Speaking of which, that’s exactly where you’ll want to begin your journey. If you, like me, are the type of person with no patience for guided learning, I urge you to rethink that stance. Going into Dreams blind is like trying to build flatpack furniture without the instructions – no matter how simple it is it’s always going to be a case of knowing where the fuck to start. The tutorials on hand barely scratch the surface of what’s possible, but they’re a great jumping off point. Plus, they’re all really well put-together and fun to complete.

The most important skills you’ll learn are how to navigate Dreams’ 3D spaces and piece together its many elements effectively and efficiently. A clean, logical and usable interface is tantamount to making something like this work and Dreams does a commendable job here. It only takes a few of the early tutorials to come to grips with the unique methods of moving through your creations using the adorable (and customisable) on-screen cursor, or ‘imp’. Likewise, what could have easily been a labyrinthine mess of menus, options, dials and sliders with which to program every facet of your creations is made alarmingly simple with responsive and consistent controls. That’s not to say it’s all easy – this is still ostensibly a full development package requiring mastery of programming, modeling, design, audio and more, but it’s all presented in such a digestible and tactile way. The masterstroke for me is the fact that the modules of game logic exist in the same 3D space as everything else, making them not only effortless to organise to my liking but super simple to relate to the functions they perform.

brb just hacking into NASA

Hello and welcome to my Myspace

So, after all of the available lessons and with all of the easy-to-understand tools available to me, I should be on to making some gnarly games by now, yeah? Unfortunately, no. Though I’m now perfectly proficient at editing our pal Connie’s existing logic and constructing some basic platforming levels, I’m still a ways off from designing the next big open-world adventure or battle royale. Thankfully there’s already a scarily talented community of ‘Dreamers’ that have been quietly plumbing the depths of Dreams’ capabilities during insider-only access and turning out some crazy shit. Browse the Dreamerverse right now and you’ll find some truly impressive stuff from sci-fi thrillers to RPGs and even a full-on P.T. clone. Even if I was to give up on my hopes of ever making something worth playing, I now have access to a treasure trove of user-made content to enjoy that is only going to grow larger and larger.

It’s not just finished games or experiences that this community of makers has to offer, either. Dreams makes a concerted effort from early on to remind you that not everyone is a jack-of-all-trades. Almost everyone will likely find themselves gravitating towards just one or a select few of the many disciplines available, be it in painting or sculpting models, making original music, programming or just being the visionary that pieces all of those together. Because Dreams’ systems are powerful enough to make just about anything from scratch, it’s a joy to learn the ins-and-outs of a particular field and hone your craft. There’s even an overarching system dedicated to tracking your activities that shows your progress as a level, which also gives you a ‘persona’ based on your preferences. Spend a ton of time making music for example and your profile will show that you have an ‘audio’ persona, which in turn will direct your Dreamerverse experience around that. There are also personas for those of us that just want to check out others’ creations, or even for people keen on curating all of the content out there into browsable collections. It’s really cool to see where your own interests lie and even cooler to start to see not only others who share your passions popping into perspective, but potentially even users who are deficient in those areas and could use your talents! If there’s one thing made clear in Dreams it’s that MediaMolecule are placing a huge emphasis on creating a thriving, collaborative and most importantly positive community.

There’s never been a console experience quite like Dreams – it’s exciting to know it’ll be one that brings players, creators, curators and dreamers together like never before. Even in this early access period I’m sure we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible, I know I certainly have. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some dreaming to do.

Kieron started gaming on the SEGA Master System, with Sonic the Hedgehog, Alex Kidd and Wonder Boy. The 20-odd years of his life since have not seen his love for platformers falter even slightly. A separate love affair, this time with JRPGs, developed soon after being introduced to Final Fantasy VIII (ie, the best in the series). Further romantic subplots soon blossomed with quirky Japanese games, the occasional flashy AAA action adventure, and an unhealthy number of indie gems. To say that Kieron lies at the center of a tangled, labyrinthine web of sexy video game love would be an understatement.