It's basically taken Media Molecule this entire console generation to develop Dreams, and it's not even finished yet. You can, however, buy the game as an Early Access title right now and we have checked this version out to see what your money will get you. The version that's available right now focuses on the creation aspect of the game and the possibilities you'll face when the tools you're given as a player are the same tools that were used to make the game. This means that all of the players criticising developers of being lazy and slow can now prove that they'd be able to do it quicker and better.
Many of us have dreamt of creating our own video games since childhood but few of us actually get to do it in the end but now, with Dreams, that can become reality. Dreams is a powerful engine with equally powerful tools that let players create whatever they want. This, however, isn't an easy task. It takes a while to familiarise oneself with the logic of the software. Still, it's a very educational experience with easy-to-use features, especially as players can access everything with a controller.
The setup reminded us of Little Big Planet in many ways. You get dropped into your own homeworld when starting the game up and this hub is a game in itself. Within this starting area, you can start experimenting and building but apart from this, Dreams offers two main options. You can either start creating or you can experience what others have made. Even though most players will probably choose the latter, we went ahead and tried the creation mode first, just to understand how much work was put into what's already there. If you don't care about the creation mode you can jump on over to page two of this article, but we have to point out that, if that's the case, you probably won't get much out of Dreams just yet.
DreamShaping, or the creation mode, is essentially one massive function within the game that lets you create whatever you want to. However, to keep the game simple enough for anyone to pick it up, you can choose what kind of scenario you want to create. A complete experience is a "Dream", but a dream can be compiled of multiple scenes. In these scenes, you'll find all of the different components of a game: graphics, animation, programming, music, and audio. Let's say you'd want to start building a three meter tall, purple cyborg with a cannon for an arm - building on the standard body model is a good starting point. By altering the proportions and pulling the body parts to where you want them you'll eventually end up with something close to what you want. A prototype, if you will. When you've done this, you can either use the regular controller or two Move controllers to start modelling, and this is where the game gets interesting.
There aren't many tools to use in Dreams, but combining the ones that do exist within the game will get you a long way. Of course, you can only put simple physical shapes into the game and build on top of those but you can also draw in 3D and sculpt as if the 3D model was a piece of clay. An important thing to note is the fact that you can delete things with the same tool, meaning that you can model an emblem at one point and then, later on, use it as a template to cut out that same emblem on your plated armour, for example. You can also mirror what you create which is useful if you're looking for symmetry. If you want to build architectural designs you can use one of the many kaleidoscope tools. These copy what you're making into a circular pattern, which makes creating a spiral staircase or an arched doorway a piece of cake.
Creating a model isn't the only thing you have to do, you'll need to get some colours in there as well. You can change the colours on what you're creating as you build it but you can also tweak it when you're finished. Apart from colouration, you can pick different materials to adorn your creations as well, such as making the armour on your cyborg a shiny metal surface. Even though the main focus of Dreams isn't exactly using the tools like paint brushes, you can, if you want to, model a white, smooth wall and use it as a canvas. This canvas can then be adjusted, piece by piece, by editing its properties. You can tweak physical variables like the weight or friction of an item. Dreams' physics engine is incredibly advanced and if you've made a mistake you'll have to pinpoint where and why that happened once you find out your creation doesn't work.
After you've built your model it's time to start playing around with animation and, if you've built upon an existing base model, the game does a lot of the work for you. In the animation mode, you get to choose everything from the style of your character's walk, how much the character swings his or her arms around, and if he or she will be able to look around with the turn of an analog stick. If you build something from scratch, however, you have to animate your character model from scratch. There are simple tools you can use to create a timeline. Within this timeline, you can define keyframes. Let's say you want your cyborg to lift its arm and point - you can make this happen in many different ways but essentially you move the body part to the location you want it to end up in as if you're taking a still picture of it and then have it interpolate between two locations or make the animation into a stop-motion affair. If you would then like to complicate things you can, for example, create a shoulder cannon with two modes where the different parts are put together by hinges and bolts, all of which you've animated yourself.
The next step is programming and here is where you'll make use of some basic logic. Let's say you want your cyborg to shoot when you press R1. First, you'll need a creator function that generates new objects from a specific point, in this instance from your cannon-adorned arm. After that's done you'll want to use the controller function and connect a virtual cable from the R1-button to the creator function - that's how simple it is, however, you'll quickly realise that it'll take more work to perfect it. Maybe you don't like the speed of the projectiles coming from your cannon or maybe you want to put a limit on how many projectiles can be fired. All of these aspects can be tweaked. This may be the toughest aspect of Dreams to master, but learning the basics within the game is fast and fun. You can try out different solutions and keep the diagnostics window open so that you can see all of the different solutions at work.
When working what the music tool, you can add sequencer tracks and then add whatever instrument you'd like into them. Just like with everything else in Dreams, you can alter properties for each instrument separately, such as transposing it or altering its volume. The game also gives you the option to record your own music in real-time using the controller as a keyboard. You can also add effects in real-time as you're recording if you want and all the different tracks can be copied if you want a baseline running infinitely, for example.
The last thing to tackle is sound effects and with the tools at hand, you can either record sounds through your camera microphone or, in theory, other PlayStation-compatible microphones. Technically, you can record audio files from anywhere, but make sure you don't use copyrighted music - your game could potentially get blocked if that was realised. Of course, as with everything else, you can adjust the details and mix channels in this mode as well.
There is, in theory, no limit as to what you can do in Dreams, but on some areas it pulls the breaks on the player and his or her creation. Everything you create takes up space in one of three "thermometers", and if you build something too massive you'll reach the limits of the game. This isn't all that strange as your PlayStation 4 only has so much memory. There are ways to get around the restriction though. The game only limits one scene at a time so if you divide your game into levels you'll have an easier time. Apart from this, you can also use the detail feature that automatically adjusts the amount of detail on your models. Just like with game development, you'll most likely need to optimise your creation to keep it running smoothly.
A common misconception is that you have to create an entire game to get something out of Dreams but that's not true. Dreams is built around an open source concept where you can control what you want to publish and how much freedom you want others to be able to have when they enter a world you've created. An important part of the game is the option to remix other people's creations. If you enjoy another person's creation but want to switch out the main character to, let's say, your cyborg, you can do that (you'll probably have to tweak the programming a bit, but you do have the option). You can then look for other nice-looking models and place them around your favourite world and borrow some sweet sound effects to go with them. When you publish your mish-mash level, everyone that's been a part of your creation gets a link to it through the in-game menu. You can then follow your creations and see where others take them.
This all sounds magnificent, and to be honest, it really is. It's hard to fathom just how many possibilities exist inside of Dreams. That being said, however, the game is still early in production and it can be tough to figure out how the more complex features actually work. A lot of the modelling is manoeuvred through pressing obscure button-combinations to get to various modes quickly, for example. If you're using Move controllers there are some standard gestures though, like tapping the two "lightbulbs" together to start pulling on a shape. When you check out what Media Molecule can do with the many tools, it's clear that one can become extremely efficient and talented with them, so the technology definitely isn't limiting. We would love to get more instruction videos though, and we know they're coming. Dreams is, as we've said before, not finished yet.
DreamSurfing is the second main mode within Dreams. This mode is like YouTube in a way for all the games, models and sound effects that players have created. Here you can search for specific assets or search in broad terms to browse and you can also create playlists. Media Molecule's own sound and model library is right here for you to check out but the fun part of the DreamSurfing mode is, of course, to see what other players have accomplished. It's clear that people's imaginations are limitless and there are already plenty of examples of every genre (and then some). In the few weeks that Dreams has been wearing its Early Access tag, we're seeing some really smart and fun, smaller games created by other people. Is it worth the price to experience these? Perhaps not yet, but more games are being added every day. This fact brings an issue with it though; with the oversaturation of games being created, it can be hard to find the best content. Media Molecule is, however, working on a solution for this by adjusting their algorithms.
What we're missing is, of course, the already announced story mode and the VR capabilities. We'll also get to create and play online in the future so that more players can join in and build a game with friends. As for right now, though, you can invite others into a project and divide the work between your team, and we have to say that many people working on the same scene sounds chaotic, but it's still somewhat attractive - call us crazy.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Dreams is that it exists and works. After six years of hype, a lot of people had ditched the hope of the game ever seeing the light of day. Of course, our original expectations are long gone but it's here and Sony's backward compatibility announcement probably saved the devs and the future of Dreams in a big way.
Dreams is just as well-programmed as it is ambitious. It's hard to crash even though you can create whatever you want within it, so it's definitely stable. A discreet but important factor is the loading times of the game, all of which take mere seconds when switching between scenes, making it easy and fast to try new things. The graphics and physics engines are robust and follow you through all your odd commands and ideas. What we're waiting for at this point is an easier to follow system to help new players. So far Media Molecule hasn't broken a promise and the studio has given players a chance to achieve their game development dreams. Now, only your imagination will set the limits for what you can and can't do.