Everyone has experienced dreams that have rapidly faded into nothingness the moment they awake, and times where clutching onto the fragments of what just occurred has been like trying to pick up honey with tweezers. In these fleeting seconds, you’re able to sense, almost see, the mental images dissipating, but feel helpless to solidify them. So perhaps it’s only fitting that LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule is likewise struggling to find a concrete definition for its latest project. “We don’t know what Dreams is,” says creative director Mark Healey, after deliberation. “But we know what we want to do with it.”
Healey’s vision for Dreams’ future isn’t modest: his Guildford-based team is aiming to birth a connected virtual space in which, like our dreams, anything can happen. But unlike the images that sail through our heads at night and are forgotten by morning, these dreams will be recorded, archived, shared, edited and pieced back together in an evolving, expanding network of more-or-less game-like creations, all assembled from a library of user-built objects and characters that you can add to as you have need.
The clearest way to grasp Dreams’ abstruse framework is to compare it directly to LittleBigPlanet. In its most distilled form, Dreams plays like a three-dimensional LittleBigPlanet in which the Play and Create modes have been crushed together into the same entity. The studio’s continuing struggle with self-definition stems, simply, from the fact that the content of a single dream can be whatever its author (or should that be ‘dreamer’?) wants it to be. Conjuring up a label capable of defining any dream from a pool of infinite possibilities would be as
fruitless as attempting to find one umbrella term for every single custom level made to date in LittleBigPlanet. Some dreams could be 2D shooters. Some might be football games. Others might be snowboarding adventures, or whack-a-mole diversions, or jigsaw puzzles.
Yet the potter’s wheel isn’t empty – Media Molecule is seeding its world with a story, making it easy to describe a ‘traditional’ dream, much like a ‘traditional’ LittleBigPlanet level is a left-to-right 2D platformer, even though that definition doesn’t hold true for many custom creations. A ‘traditional’ dream, then, is a puzzle-centric adventure game chapter where each scene’s exit must be found by toying with the environment and finding or building items to progress.
Take the small, sunny meadow at the start of Dreams’ Paris Games Week demo. With a so-called ‘imp’, you can jump into the body of Francis the teddy bear and begin body-popping via DualShock 4’s motionsensing tech, but there’s precious little else to do unless you explore the creation bubbles and begin customising the world. Just two objects are available in this scene: trees, for atmosphere, and a woodshed, the door of which doubles as the level’s exit when built.
Moving from scene to scene, from dream to dream, involves finding and reaching portals to other places within the parameters of each dream. Portals can come in all shapes and sizes – doors, windows, wells, skylights, pathways into dense, distant forests and so on – and each dream’s creator can define which items are available in any area. In some cases, everything you need will already be present in the gameworld, and reaching the exit is a case of manipulating hidden switches, taking control of characters to ferry objects from one place to another, and combining objects (say, by attaching balloons to a platform to raise it higher). In others, there are no restrictions: players can create and import whatever they choose to help continue their journey. It’s
Scribblenauts, without limits. At the heart of everything is the sculpture tool. Dreams has no rigid, developer-defined parts list: everything in the library has been moulded from scratch using the in-game editor, and can be edited by you. Even Media Molecule’s in-house creators are restricting their own inputs to just DualShock 4 pads and Move wands. Creations can be saved and shared instantly, available for global searching, and anyone will be able to browse item categories or type their requests into a text search bar to discover new objects, sorted according to their community rating. Object ownership is fluid, too – players can extract and modify existing creations before saving out copies, improving the pool for others.
All of this extends beyond objects. Players can compose sound effects and music, and record animations – saving and sharing them as pieces for future dreams. And all of the grabbing and placing of components is possible in shared environments as people play together. It’s not a stretch to imagine a party of players picking through an adventure while a designated dungeon master modifies the rules and the environment on the fly.
With such nebulous plans for the game’s future, it’s little wonder Media Molecule is incapable of settling on a single definition for
Dreams. Instead, it’s now looking ahead to next year’s community beta, where players can unpick what Dreams is all about – and hopefully show the creators of this world what’s possible with the tools they’ve built.
Each exit is found by toying with the environment and finding or building items
Creation and play are one and the same, wrapped up in the systems that Media Molecule believes will encourage us to experiment. The studio keeps revisiting the word ‘performance’, likening Dreams to a platform on which players can express themselves
ABOVE In object-creation terms, Media Molecule is supporting every control scheme it can imagine: DualShock 4 in concert with a PS Camera, DualShock 4 without a Camera, Move wands, companion apps, and combinations of the above. And, whereas
Tearaway allows you to download papercraft creatures to print and make in the real world, Dreams enables you to export entire custom sculptures to be realised with a 3D printer
The yellow creature is an imp, your customisable conduit into dreams. The imp’s capable of grabbing and manipulating objects with its antenna as well as possessing characters, handing you direct control of their procedural movements
Media Molecule currently calls the portals between dreams ‘links’, likening them to links on a webpage. To that effect, dreams can link to other players’ dreams: it’s possible to create a ‘Top five dreams with rolling pins’ set