From its very first pitch, Dreams has promised players the world. Create your wildest ideas, here in this game; upload them, share them. Make lone assets like characters and upload them so that others may use them in their own projects. Dreams isn't like any other creation tool I've ever played before; not strictly a game engine, nor a Minecraft-like. It is its own beast.
Like a lot of people I suspect, I am both completely enamored and overwhelmed by Media Molecule's newly released creation tool Dreams. In its current early access iteration, it's a "slimmer" version of what the final product will be, now standing without a campaign for players to trot through. Still, there are dozens of in-depth tutorials, all narrated by a soothing, encouraging guide, and far more creations uploaded by players from the beta earlier this year.
In the past, I've dabbled with Twine, made small-scale games with Ren'Py, and a mess of levels in the likes of Super Mario Maker. I would not call myself a game developer in the way the people I often interview are. Still, I wonder if with more time with Dreams, I'll feel differently.
I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon tinkering with Dreams. I played a handful of tutorials, surfed through other people's own dreamations, and eventually felt comfortable with the logic of how some things worked. I then spent three hours doing nothing with my new knowledge while sculpting an ugly, stagnant tree.
Such is the Dreams experience. At least early on.
Stepping Into the World of Dreams
Still, Dreams is impressive. In other create-a-thon games, from Minecraft to Super Mario Maker, the tools to build are simple at first blush and only grow complex the more seriously you take it. In Dreams, it's complex from the start, but luckily the tutorials ease you into how to navigate the Edit Mode, with different sets of tutorials for beginners and "Masterclass" tutorials for advanced concepts.
In the new early access build, all these are newly narrated too. A video in the corner of your screen shows you what you should be doing at the exact moment, with the ability to rewind and fast forward if you miss something. While the tutorials are small in scope, they move at a steady pace. Before I knew it, I was learning how to make rivers flow and smoke billow out of a chimney.
The division of Dreams' tools—from sculptures to characters to vehicles to game mechanics to audio to... you get the point—are immense. It's all the elements of the games we already play, broken down and divided up. Dreams wants to foster art directors and technical artists alike; composers and sound designers; quality assurance testers and game designers, writers and programmers. It's a stepping stool for game development, now made palatable and somehow less intimidating, even if it is overwhelming at face value. But what technology isn't?
As of now, the diversity of ideas in projects is dense, and shockingly, so is the art style. In one experience someone made, I found myself on a dark rainy street with a glistening pistol in my hand. It looked starkly different from all the promotional imagery I've seen of Dreams, which favors the whimsical and colorful. It stood as proof that Dreams isn't going to be another LittleBigPlanet in terms of limiting the aesthetic you can create.
These moments of awe in what could be created in Dreams sprinkled across my night. In one showcase, tiny ants were riding a shiny beetle, using rope that looked, well, like actual rope; in another already famous example, someone rendered sunny side up eggs that sizzled on a pan, and it looked scary real. With a short beta earlier this year and a little over 24 hours in early access, it is incredible what people are already doing with Dreams. And I suspect it's only the beginning.
It's not just the freedom that's astounding, it's how what you make also can benefit other creators. You don't have to build projects solo; if you upload something, others can use it in their own things as a "Remix," and when they upload their thing, everyone gets credited. It's a constant chain, and I'm already seeing it trickle far and wide in the Dreams community. On social media and Reddit, fans are already embracing the unique model. On Reddit, I've seen calls for makeshift studios looking for creators to join them on large-scale projects. Others have offered up their own resources, such as voice acting. People don't just want to do their own thing, they want to help others make things too.
Dreams is Becoming a Mini-Industry of Its Own
Dreams, in that way, is already becoming a micro-industry of its own, cultivating members of all game disciplines. While some may not be experts in the likes of Maya, game engines, or other tools, the ease and usability of Dreams possesses something more accessible for the average person who games. With Dreams, maybe anyone now can make whatever they want.
Despite being impossible to Google, Dreams as a name makes sense. While "Dream Surfing," or coasting through others' projects, I chose an experience that jumbled them randomly back to back. I got slivers of others' ideas this way, in the same way a dream might take you in nonsensical directions. I walked down the familiar hallway of a recreated P.T. a few times. I drove a jeep to an End of Evangelion-esque end of the world. I struck a pose as Leisure Suit Larry. I marvelled at shockingly realistic renderings of plants and eggs. I played no less than three vignettes that began with an H.P. Lovecraft quote on a black screen. I played a Skyrim-inspired RPG that had a lot of typos.
It is one of the strangest evenings I've ever had with a game, which is indicative of its name. It is, succinctly, a game about constructing whatever comes to you, however unfeasible the idea may seem to be in game form. It's a place where fully formed games, standalone animations, 3D sculptures, original music, and vignettes can live in harmony, and more importantly, where players can come together to tinker and mess with the ideas they've always wanted to make for a game (and maybe even inspire some to take on other gamemaking tools as well). Dreams is shaping up to be a more than a create-a-thon game. It's a place making game developers of us all, no matter what our weapon of choice may be. As for me, I'm the QA with a knack for interactive fiction, as history probably intended.