In any game that offers the ability to building something, I always end up in the same place. An exclamation of excitement and wild thoughts about all of the things that could be. The crushing realization that I have neither the time or inclination towards a huge, impressive building project. Finally, the sad, never-ending ennui of building a small hut before turning the game off.
This happens with every game that involves building: Minecraft, Starbound, Terraria, Super Mario Maker, and Little Big Planet. I love them, I have big plans, but those plans don't match reality. The cycle continues anew with the next game in line. Having sat down with Dreams for PlayStation 4 last week, I'm already snuffing out my creative urges before I have the game in natural setting.
What immediately stands out in my demo is how Media Molecule has finally found a game within the suite of creation tools it calls Dreams. The tools and options are nothing without an underlying structure to ease players into everything Dream offers.
Train of Thought
When you pick up the controller in Dreams, your first option is to choose your Imp, a tiny living cloud that emotes as you move around the environment. The imp is your cursor, controlled by the gyroscope in the DualShock 4, meaning you have to physically move the controller around to move the Imp. Different button combinations allow the Imp to grab onto and manipulate the environment, but more importantly, the Imp can possess objects. This is your primary mode of interaction within the "game" part of Dreams.
Dreams features a story campaign that plays out across a number of different environments. The primary framing sequence involves a jazz musician named Art, who is wandering through these dream sequences in order to reunite with a woman named Layla. Art provides his own color commentary on the journey in sequences that he features in, even though you don't (seemingly) control him directly.
The dreams take place within three different themes: a fantasy storybook, a science fiction romp, and a dark mystery. In each themed dream, you take control of characters provided to you, like a cute fox and bear team in the fantasy section, or two little robots in the science fiction one. Each also has its own aesthetic, with the fantasy levels looking like someone painted them by hand. There's basic platforming and puzzle solving that stands in the way of you completing each dream sequence and apparently they all connect to form a single story in the end. The Media Molecule employee who was helping me through the demo noted the entire campaign could be speedrun in around 3 hours.
If that seems short, it's because the campaign is just there to get your feet wet. It's there to show players a few of the things that are possible with Dreams: every level and asset in the campaign was apparently created in-house using the same tools available to players.
Falling into Infinity
The creation side of Dreams is where Media Molecule likely wants players to spend most of their time. If you're like myself and simply don't have the energy or ability to forge innovative creations, then there's Dream Surfing. This a shuffle mode for playable content in the Dreamiverse, the place where all of Dreams' player-created content lives.
In Dream Surfing you can sit back and jump from level to level, completing them as intended, or skipping to the next in line. In my surf session, I jumped between levels that showed a wide variety of play styles. There was a horror-tinged segment with a young girl wandering through a dark forest and a creepy, twisted figure appearing when I reached certain sections. There was a side-scroller that looked to be taking place in a sketchbook, with my little box character jumping between comic panels.
I ran into a two-player arena battle game where both players are hammers; you slam the ground to remove pieces of the puzzle-piece floor and your objective is to be the last hammer standing. There was an interactive text adventure involving the player as a person navigating a house party. One sequence was just an interactive music video, where I had to move towards the screen to keep music playing, accompanied by a stage show of neon lights. Media Molecule wanted to illustrate that you could do anything in Dreams, limited only by your imagination.
When Dream and Day Unite
From there I was ushered into the the Dream Shaping building tools. In this mode, players can create full levels, or they can stick to just creating things that will eventually become a part of levels, like characters, objects, sounds, and more. If you're not making your own levels, you can upload these items to the Dreamiverse for other players to use. Creators get credit for the things they create or edit, allowing you to see the progression of what went into that special tree or song you found.
In the creator itself, it's easy to get in there and make you own levels. It's somewhat like digital clay, where you can use your Imp to grab onto objects, move them, stretch them, and twist them into new shapes. You can copy objects with the click of two buttons and them paste them into your creative void like you're painting in 3D. Media Molecule has clearly put a great deal of thought into the controls, offering things like the ability to paste objects in a line to create stairs or rows of columns. Players can also trace animation paths for platforms, add invisible triggers, or record sounds. There's a full multi-track music creator too, letting you begin with built-in sounds or player-recorded ones, and then change up factors like the pitch and tempo.
There's a lot to Dreams. I honestly walked away with the feeling that you could create anything given enough time. The creator in me is thinking, "Wow, I could totally create a giant series of levels" or "Hey, imagine doing machinima inside of Dreams," but I know the reality. When left to my devices, I'll putter around for a few hours, get discouraged, and put the game away. I look forward to seeing what other players create with Dreams, because the possibilities seem endless. Just not for me. I'll be here in the corner, staring wistfully at other people's creations.