So here we all are, stuck at home, isolating until who knows when. We want to be productive and creative, sure, but there’s a pandemic and we just want to play video games. With Dreams, we can do both.
Although Media Molecule’s latest effort came out in mid-February, and has been in development since way back in 2012, the British, Sony-owned studio’s newest software turns out to be a perfect balm for our corona era.
Like their past acclaimed works, the arts & crafts-inspired puzzle-platformer series LittleBigPlanet and innovative papercraft wonder Tearaway, it boasts the cute, calming and whimsical vibe of an old-school British kid’s show. But even more timely, Dreams provides an infinite amount of content—and it does so by providing the ability to make and share our own. If you can dream it, as they say.
Rather than a game, per se, Dreams bills itself as a toolbox, platform and social network, a continued evolution of the studio’s origin-story slogan: “Create. Play. Share.” This story began in 2008 with LittleBigPlanet’s rudimentary in-game development tools, which let PS3 users generate their own Super Mario-esque side-scrolling levels for burlap-sack mascot Sackboy to platform through.
By the time the first 2011 sequel came out, the LittleBigPlanet community had created 3.5 million levels. So Media Molecule expanded its toolset to allow players to build racing, role-playing, shooter, sports and puzzle games, complete with programmable AI and animated cut-scenes. By the second sequel in 2014, there were 8 million user-generated levels floating in the PlayStation servers, en route to around 11 million in total.
Media Molecule has been working on Dreams throughout this period, and being freed from LBP’s admittedly adorable shackles has allowed their crowd-sourced content vision to truly take flight, both aesthetically and creatively.
The complex but intuitive and almost shockingly robust creative suite allows anyone to become a game developer, an especially appealing prospect to the generation of gamers raised on Minecraft’s anything-goes philosophy and Super Mario Maker’s competitive level designers.
Those of us who are feeling too lazy, stressed or indica’d out can simply jump into the “DreamSurfing” section. This is where the content lives, with offerings ranging from interactive drum kits and Minecraft simulacra to a game where you fly as a bird and smash through billboards and another where you collect flowers for your date at a teddy bear picnic.
Media Molecule’s own “Arts Dream” is a surrealist-noir tech demo, a playable movie-length campaign about a self-destructive jazz bassist purpose-built to show off the creative suite’s potential. Thus inspired, the growing community of so-called dreamers have been busy fulfilling this potential with their own efforts like “Super Great Job, Human,” where you help a robot named ROM escape “a land of obsolete technology,” or “Mixing it up in the Space Gallery,” a neon-streaked, electro-soundtracked platformer that plays like Doom at a rave.
“DreamShaping” is the area where that user-generated content is constructed and where Media Molecule’s software truly excels beyond previous maker-games like Project Spark, which had a hard time reaching inexperienced developers. But Dreams’ relative ease of use and seemingly unlimited application—users have already been pushing sculpting mode into photorealistic territory, including a stunning forest hike demo—is allowing the quarantined masses to get creative once they’ve drained the dregs of Netflix.
After mastering the quest-driven tutorials and motion-controlled imp, it’s time to start experimenting with concepts, designs and mechanics. From there, users are competing in weekly Game Jams, where the goal is to create the coolest community content around a specific theme; developing digital fan-fiction about their fave franchises; or designing truly innovative, polished indie games that could catch on and catapult them to success like early YouTubers. You can always keep your creations private, but the intent here is to share, which is why you can publish them online and even make them remixable by others.
Media Molecule has continued rolling out updates post-release—so-called “content drops,” which we can expect to continue for the foreseeable future—but ultimately, they’re iterating the toolset and art options. The real success of this software is now totally dependent on the community, and turns out we have a lot of time right now to realize our dreams.