Production on Dreams has been underway for four years now, but Sony and Media Molecule are staying tight-lipped about any release date, saying only to stay tuned for more news at Paris Games Week this October. That said, there is a possibility the title will be released in beta, as Healey says the studio wants to get it out "as soon as possible because we want the community to be really foundational in what it becomes."
In a way, Healey says that Dreams embodies the spirit of game jams: sessions where different artists and developers come together to brainstorm the creation of a game within a 24-hour time limit. "That sort of collaboration and that live aspect to it is really catered for in Dreams," says Healey. "So if you're a specialist; if you're someone who thinks, 'Well, I'm not just going to sculpt,' you're going to find people to team up with and make something. Or, if you're more of an auteur, you can sit there."
"You can be a game director," adds Evans. "You don't have to do anything. Because it's all live, connected online. ... We're pushing collaboration as much as we can. So if you want to be in your bedroom on your own for three days and work on your magnum opus, that's cool. That's legit. But actually, it's a much more welcoming world if you can go in and it's like, 'Hey! This dude over here is building skyscrapers.'"
That underlying focus on community and feedback is a strong theme for Dreams. It's an approach to game design that you don't often see outside of Kickstarter-backed projects, like Keiji Inafune's Mighty No.9. Both Evans and Healy freely admit that they're not quite sure what final form the game will take upon release and so they hope legions of YouTubers and Twitch streamers will help mold its direction. As Evans explains, "I think doing the beta, when we finally do it, it'll just allow us to shape [the game]. So some of the questions we're being cagey about is because I think we can allow the community through feedback to actually help us shape some of our stuff. We have a plan and we're doing it, but it may be that we have to kind of turn 20 degrees to the left."
Evans and Healey weren't quite so cagey when I asked them if Dreams would be a Morpheus VR launch title. Though the pair wouldn't outright confirm it, Healey admits, "It's an obvious thing to do." Adds Evans: "Let's just say Anton Mikhailov, who helped build the first-ever Morpheus prototype, is at Molecule now. ... So I'll leave it at that."
Now about the mysterious gameplay: There's a reason why Dreams' visual design shifts between the solid and the gauzy -- an effect Healey likens to an impressionist painting -- and that's because progression through the game will mirror that of actual dreams. Healey says that players "can go from experience to experience in a very dream-like way." It's an effect he hopes will spur the community to experiment quickly with the create tools and stumble into new modes of play.
Evans elaborates on this: "You might be an FPS [first-person shooter] guy, so FPS is your entry. But as you're playing the FPS, you open the door and it's a ****ing desert and you're in Journey. You walk out and then you're walking through the desert and then you see ... a spaceship and you climb into it. ... It sounds mad, but when you've framed it all as dream-like, actually you just get into it. The same way that when you're in an actual dream in real life, you don't question the fact that you walk out your house and you're in the middle of the beach. ... You know what I mean? That feeling."
As for more traditional gameplay modes, Evans says that players can expect to see those bundled into the final product. Both he and Healey referenced the bubbles shown off at the end of this year's E3 demo as a tease of what that "game-like content" could be. "At Media Molecule, we're game makers so we're making games with it. So there will be Media Molecule content there. The scope of that is to be announced. But it will be there and it will be good," Evans says.
With LittleBigPlanet serving as the game's spiritual predecessor, it should go without saying that Dreams is heavily focused on amassing a shared online library of user-generated content. "You can share everything from an entire level to the smallest asset," says Healey. "You can make a pebble if [you] like and it could end up in everybody's game or 'dreams.' And your name will be attached to that, however remixed."
From 8:00 to 15:00 there's a gameplay demo, showing some simple puzzles and a water gun.
Around 22:40 there's a demonstration of a styling tool that changes the rendering style of objects, even allowing you to "comb" the brush strokes in a particular direction. At 39:40 they used the tool on a playable character.
Like LittleBigPlanet, Dreams has a single-player mode, a run of levels created by Media Molecule that serve the dual purpose of entertaining you and showing you what’s possible with its creative tools. There are three stories being told here: a whimsical 3D platformer in which a fox and a bear try to save their pet dragon; a noir point-and-click adventure; and a sci-fi puzzle platformer starring a cute little robot who looks a little like one of the trademark PlayStation PlayRoom robots.
These three stories could not be more tonally or aesthetically different. In one scene, you’re playing through a fairytale with huge-headed characters and high-pitched voices, jumping across platforms and walloping non-threatening monsters with a hammer. The next you’re helping a gangly jazz musician climb out of a cello case and find his way through a deserted train station, under gravelly voice-over. In the third, you’re standing on platforms to activate circuits that help a little robot escape a science-fiction cave. These three stories alternate for the length of the single-player mode, and though impressive in range, it is difficult to parse on first impressions. You can tell that these threads will somehow come together, but from the first three levels it’s impossible to see how. My guess is that there’s some Inception-style dream-within-a-dream narrative ploy going on.
Dreams does not really make sense until you see the creative tools that were used to make it. Those tools are given to every player. Unlike LittleBigPlanet, or indeed any other game that invites you to create your own levels, Dreams does not limit you to collaging together textures, items, music, characters et cetera created for you by the developer. It lets you create every single one of those things yourself, if you want. Once I realized that every tiny detail in the single-player levels was made with these tools, from the suitcases on a train platform to the flying dragon with its emphatic facial expressions—and then I realized that I could make something like that, too—I began to understand the full scope of Dreams, and what it is trying to make possible.
Dreams gives you a way to sketch out things that are in your head and turn them into whatever you want: short game levels, scenes, pieces of music, 3D art. It is a virtual space that lets you experiment creatively in any way you might like. A virtual synthesiser lets you play with music, whilst a 3D art studio lets you create characters or environments by pulling and poking and painting shapes, and a logic system lets you connect things together, triggering events in a level or just hooking up a switch to a door. All of this is seamless, and you can move from composing to painting to animating to playing with a button press. It’s more Minecraft than LittleBigPlanet, though it goes further than either in giving you creative power. Whether you are interested in making music, creating characters, animation, level design, programming or art, Dreams gives you a fun way to do it without having to put hundreds of hours into learning how to use a piece of professional software like Maya 3D or Unity or GarageBand.
Can you do anything with your Dreams creations outside of the game? Not yet, but there are plans. Media Molecule intends to let people 3D-print their creations, though it’s not yet clear how. VR implementation is planned, but there’s no detail on when or in what capacity that might happen. It is theoretically possible for a Dreams creation to exist as a separate game in itself. Creative director Mark Healey, one of Media Molecule’s founders, told me that his personal dream is for some kid to make something in Dreams that Sony then releases as a game.
I can say without hyperbole that I have never seen anything remotely like Dreams in the 12 years that I’ve been visiting game studios. It has the potential to inspire millions in the art of game creation, in a way that goes much deeper than LittleBigPlanet or even Minecraft. On a less grandiose, but perhaps just as important level, it’s a way for any player to reconnect with their creativity, on as big or small a scale as they like.
There's a section from 8:25 to 12:10 where they demonstrate animating a butterfly flapping its wings and then creating a bunch to fly around in circles. From 15:00 they demonstrate some puppeteering, and go on to record a cutscene.
They demonstrate some of the different types of games you can make, including a 2D platformer, a spaceship dogfight simulation, a text adventure game, a competitive multiplayer game, and a demonstration of a banana puppet playing heavy metal on a guitar.