Dreams was one of the more exciting, confusing and downright frustrating conference demos we saw during Paris Games Week, and these emotions were only enhanced by the closed demonstration of the game afterwards. Following the press conference Media Molecule held an extended presentation behind closed doors and it did little to change our initial impressions. Alex Evans and Mark Healey were on hand to show journalists what this unique creation tool actually looks like, and how you can create your own dreams in.. well Dreams.
Warning: You may, at the conclusion of this preview, have more questions than answers.
Like the demonstration we saw on stage, it all begins with your little imp, your guiding light in the darkness of a lucid dream, a cute little helper that looks like a flame made of wool, which should make your experience in Dreams a whole lot easier. You can move the little fellow in a number of ways, either by using Move controllers, the DualShock 4's gyroscope, or simply with the classic analog sticks. It looks, at first glance at least, rather intuitive, and instead of hiding the various aspects of the creation tools in a bunch of menus, it all takes place on one central screen. Behind closed doors things kicked off by focussing on the same bear-like figure who moves through the same environment as we witnessed on stage. The movement itself still looks extremely clumsy, but as the developer points out, even the movement pattern of the characters may be customised in each dream.
All of this you've probably seen before (if not check the videos), so let's head straight to the more juicy parts of the demonstration. Instead of experiencing another constructed dream, Media Molecule showed how you can create your own dream from scratch, both via pre-made graphical assets, but also by creating your very own. Head of animation Kareem Ettouney took two Move controllers and started forming the head of a teddy bear through simple manipulation and sculpting.
It was pointed out that work on the game engine itself had taken priority during development, and was the single element that the developer had spend most time on getting right. They say it has to be able to work fluently under the tremendous strain of many creators working on dreams at the same time. After the head was complete, it was placed on a plateau of rocks, it was attached to a mech body, tiny space ships were placed floating around its head, and the entire presentation quickly descended into stand-up comedy, while very entertaining, it didn't really manage to explain to us what Dreams can offer as a game.
The developer kept referring to the entire sequence as an awesome cutscene - "you can make the coolest looking cutscene" Mark Healey said, while the spaceships were placed, and it's true, because by simply pressing "record" you can direct your very own sequence, achieved by simply moving the objects around the dream. It is, however, slightly worrying that the focus is solely on the cinematic aspects of Dreams. Aspects that require no interaction beyond the creation of the assets themselves. During our demonstration it was made very clear that they consider it extremely entertaining to create these jaw-dropping vistas, characters and scenarios, but whether these can be interacted with in a more game-like fashion, well, we're not quite sure.
If you're not as creative as others, but still want to realise these immaculate sequences in Dreams, it's still relatively easy to search through a gigantic database of objects and other assets, which will constantly grow as more players add crazy creations. Search for "tree" or "car", and you'll quickly be presented with thousands upon thousands of beautiful objects to choose from, which you can then adapt and redesign to your own liking, so that it fits your own dream.
A car, which the developers found in the database, even had "driving capabilities", and that means that it could potentially be used as a vehicle in another dream. But quickly the worries we had regarding the lack actual playability came thundering back, as an unknown journalist dared to ask: "how can you give the car driving capabilities?" Media Molecule remained silent.
The bear's head was now a majestic sight, with tons of purple trees around it which formed a small forest that circled a little town square, where sculptures and all kinds of strange art only further proved the engine's extremely impressive graphical capabilities. These creations had been taking form before our very eyes, without the use of any helping hands or predesigned assets; the engine really lets you create your very own, beautiful, tailored dreams.
At the end of the day we wanted to know more about the game? Could it even be defined as one? These questions remained unanswered as well left the closed presentation. The section that was playable, that was also shown during the conference, was technically very impressive, but that wasn't due to any actual gameplay. Whether Dreams can come true we don't really know, but we still left the presentation with a big smile on our faces. Even though Media Molecule haven't been particularly effective in demonstrating the potential of Dreams in terms of mechanics beyond the act of creation, they always win us over with sheer charm and creativity, and this was certainly also the case here. Will there be more to this beyond releasing our creativity? Maybe not, but then again, that might yet be enough to capture the hearts of a new generation.