Dreams can be dizzying. It's a game, a set of tools, a palette, a musical instrument, an arcade, and much more. It's at once simple and potentially befuddling, depending on just how willing you are to engage with everything the game has to offer. At its most straightforward, Dreams can simply be a charming, multifaceted game. At its most complex, it can be as creatively intimidating as any blank canvas.
If you played Dreams developer Media Molecule's Little Big Planet series, then what Dreams is planning to offer will seem familiar. Both Dreams and the LBP series are games with creation tools built-in, but the scope of what Dreams will allow players to create is magnitudes more than those earlier LBP games. Little Big Planet helped you make games, Dreams looks like it wants you make nothing short of, well, art.
"One of the things we realized with Little Big Planet was it was a really level designer's tool," Media Molecule's studio director Siobhan Reddy told GameSpot at a recent hands-on session with Dreams. "It wasn't one that allowed artists to really imprint their vision on the screen, or sound designers, or movie makers. With Dreams what we wanted to do was create something where you could really see people's personality on the screen, and it wasn't funneled around just level creation."
"You can make a painting, or make a piece of music, or you could make a little play, if you wanted. Or you could make a game, or music video, or whatever."
It's a lofty ambition. If you were anything like me, the creation tools in the Little Big Planet series proved intimidating, and while the possibilities and scope they offered was astounding, that hurdle of knowing what to create with the tools was simply too large. I was impressed, rather than engaged, with what LBP had to offer. With Dreams featuring even more options--from creating characters, to building whole levels, to creating your own soundtrack to accompany said levels--the potential for creative brain freeze seems high, but it's something Reddy says the game is already built to tackle.
"We want to help people get over that blank canvas," Reddy said. "For example, I get very frightened by the blank canvas. Other people do not, but I'm like, 'Please just help me.' And so, one of the other big differences between LBP and Dreams is we're approaching tutorials very differently. Instead of them being a glossary of how everything works, they're very much more geared around you using a bunch of things to make something.
"[The tutorials] feel a little bit more like making a game or making a movie or making a piece of music. Another thing is we have these community weekly challenges that have a theme or a scene. And I just found that infinitely useful just to not have to think about what to do."
Just how well Dreams will funnel people through its myriad creation tools remains to be seen, but at the very least those tools seem fairly intuitive to use. During my hands-on time with Dreams, I built a basic platforming level (guided by a Media Molecule developer) where I created an environment, placed a large obstacle (in this case, a huge pool of lava), and positioned a series of platforms so my character could traverse safely across the fiery lava pit. We then added layers of complexity; first, we made the platform move, which was done by simply dragging the platform along the route I wanted it to take, letting the game record that manual movement, and then asking to replicate it. Next, we added an environmental trigger that made the platform move only when our in-game character came close to that area in the level.
Creating a moving platform over lava is only a fraction of what Dreams will allow you to do, however. Next up, we made a custom soundtrack from scratch by selecting instrument sounds and creating a beat and melody in Dream's GarageBand-lite like music tool. After that, we played with mood, setting the lighting conditions within the level, and even downgrading the whole scene down visually to 16-bit graphics (complete with artifacts to simulate the imperfections of an old-school CRT screen).
All of this--creating the environment, setting the platform, adding in-game logic, making the music, fiddling with visual parameters--was easy to pull off using Dreams' creation tools. And while all of this was in service of making a very simple game challenge, nothing in Dreams seems to be specifically pushing you to make game experiences. After my brief foray into game development during this demo, my partner Media Molecule rep showed me examples of things other people have created using Dreams' tools. While the majority of them were games--a space shooter, a cute competitive two-player action game featuring two adorable hammers, and even a text adventure--some of the most compelling ones were not even interactive, such as a series of 3D paintings, or long pieces of music.
Variety is in the DNA of Dreams' creation tools, and it's permeated the game's built-in campaign as well. It seems playing Dreams won't be a singular experience; we were shown different snippets of the main "game" within Dreams, and it flitted from being an action-adventure, to a puzzle platformer, to a straight-up adventure in the vein of classic LucasArts titles. Dreams can indeed be dizzying in the amount of "stuff" you can do and create, but it can also be more focused, especially in its campaign which eschews all of the game's creative tools. This, according to Reddy, is a deliberate choice.
"It overloads the gaming experience a little bit when you're trying to put everything into [the campaign]," Reddy said. "We don't want people to feel like they have to be the most amazing sculptor, or the most amazing musician. You don't have to be anything. You can be whatever you like."