Hands-On: Dreams

Hands-On: Dreams

*PS Nation was invited to an event in Santa Monica, California by Sony for a hands-on preview of Dreams. Travel was paid for by the studio. The game was played on PS4 Pro and a 4K HDR display.


Last week I had a chance to sit with Mark Healey, Creative Director and Co-Founder of Media Molecule for our first hands-on time with the highly anticipated Dreams.

We started off with the co-op experience as I was shown how to pop an Imp into existence. We had several to choose from and I was told that their look and emotional states can be customized to your liking.

As in LittleBigPlanet, hitting a direction on the D-pad will cause your character’s expressions to change. You can choose from a range of emotions and map them to the four directions of the D-pad for a little whimsy.

Controlling the Imp is very straightforward but the real fun comes in when you interact with other objects on screen, with the ability to even possess them. This was the first glimpse I had of how you can create wildly different experiences within Dreams while locking in the user’s on screen persona with a hidden Imp.

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We ran through a high level co-op overview of the three main levels that have been shown off a bit at E3 and PlayStation Experience. These are all the intertwined dreams of the “old man Jazz character” in the one story. The varied nature of them gives players just the tiniest glimpse of what can be done with the incredibly powerful engine behind Dreams.

Pulling back out to the menu we took a quick look through what’s available when creating your own level. You can run through some “watch and learn” tutorials or just sort through what the online community has made available to find just what you’re looking for with a large group of filters.

When creating, you can make a game, a story, a gallery to show off your work, and so much more. If you’re looking for inspiration, just start up a playlist and jump into different creations grouped around whatever search criteria you want. You can even skip levels if you don’t like them.

You can search by keyword, creator, type of object, and even make groupings of favorites and more. We went with a basic small grassy area with some varying levels of terrain and trees. We then went back out to the menu and searched for some different kinds of trees to add in.

This is where the scope of things started to creep into my brain but I still didn’t fully grasp the size of it all just yet. Back on our level, we added in some new trees and then I was shown how to resize and move every object on the screen – literally every single one.

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This was possible because the original creator had checked off the ability for their level to be remixed, giving others complete creative freedom to move, resize, and remake things just the way they want. Creators are given this choice when saving a level or object.

The nice thing is, there’s a kind of a changelog that goes with every object and level showing who the original creator is and what changes and updates have been made along the way so no matter how many times something is remixed and uploaded, you’ll always get credit as the original creator.

This is one of the many ways the team at Media Molecule is encouraging people to find their place in Dreams and make a name for themselves, but more on that later, let’s get back to that level we were messing with.

Using only the DualShock, I was able to quickly and easily clone a small section of the level, duplicate it over a dozen times and stretch the entire grouping out into a set of rocky stairs. It was mind-bogglingly easy.

We then decided to create a moving platform at the top of the stairs. Because I wanted to see how messy things could get, I scribbled a crazy line path for the platform to follow. Healy, as my partner and guide, created another platform at the far end of my line that was moving smoothly up and down.

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Once that’s done you can fine tune things in a pop out menu by tweaking the playback speed, wobble, amplification and much more. With the press of a button we were trying out the level “live”.

I jumped up the stairs to my seemingly cocaine addled platform and jumped onto it – and I was almost immediately thrown off as it stuttered, bounced, and hitched its way across the gap to Healy’s smooth, cool customer of an elevator platform. I made the jump on the first try and we celebrated with a good fist bump.

Using all the tricks of everyday game development, your creations can essentially be endless. For individual areas, you’ll be working with a memory constraint, but things have been optimized in a way that you shouldn’t run into any problems. If you do, just link it to another level and continue on from there. You can then mask the transition with clever effects or cutscenes and deliver a seamless experience with no loading screens. My mind was spinning at this point, I hope yours is too.

Animation can be done in a number of ways including using keyframes or simply drawing a path directly on the screen. Dreams makes things easy for you no matter what your level of design knowledge is. And this, this right here is where my eyes were opened to the potential this game has in making a major impact.

Dreams is a full game development suite.

Let that sink in for a minute. This is not hyperbole, this is a simple stunning fact.

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All the tools you’ll need for art, animation, sound, logic, and much, much more, all of it is available and very accessible through a DualShock 4 or a pair of PlayStation Move controllers and some patience. Your imagination will be your only limiting factor, because from what I’ve seen, you can create some pretty stunning things with just a modicum of knowledge.

As you learn more, or, if you already have a basic working knowledge of things, you can dig deep under the hood and tweak every available option, of which there are thousands. Seriously, I can’t overstate how deep this is. We dug into the visuals and audio just briefly and the menus and options just went on and on and on.

Something as simple as the “Sky” settings can influence the look of your creation greatly and with a pop out menu you can quickly change the background, position of the sun, saturation, brightness, tint color, horizon definition, and much more.

The same can be done for the overall level, with just a few options including hue, saturation, brightness, and contrast, pixelation effects including scanlines, chromatic aberrations, glitch effects, and more. What’s even cooler is that you can tie these effects to events, music, or other triggers in your levels.

Amazingly, it never felt cluttered or confusing. Media Molecule has clearly spent a lot of time working on the UI to make it easy for newcomers and savvy users alike. It feels like my years of playing with programs like Take1 on the Apple //c in the 80s, Magix Music Maker on my PC in the early 90s, and various photo and video editing software packages in the past decade have been preparing me for this exact moment. Keyframes, loops, timelines, posterizing, it was startling to see how all this disparate knowledge could come together in one amazing program.

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Again, and I can’t stress this enough, you don’t have to have any knowledge of any of this to be able to make a stunning creation. Sure, there are people who can create an entire game on their own, but most are done with a few people or even a large studio, with people specializing in different areas.

Are you a good musician? You can focus entirely on that if you want, creating or importing your own music directly into the game and making it available for everyone to use in their own creations.

Want to try your hand at music regardless of your skill level? Jump right in and grab some instruments through the search, turn on a metronome, or not, and record a quick jam session with your DualShock. When you’re done, you can see a 3D timeline of every note you hit. You can then drop that onto a timeline and delete individual notes or even dig deeper and see it all laid out like a professional musician would with each of the notes charted. The same goes for artists, or animators, or level designers and the list goes on.

Media Molecule intends to continue adding tools to the menus and to eventually introduce Dreams into schools. It’s designed to allow those of us who don’t have that deep game design background to flourish. As Healey told me, the ultimate reward for the development team would be in seeing people get discovered and hired within the industry based on their creations within Dreams, especially people with no background in games.

We finished up with a run through some of the stuff that the staff had created in their spare time and the variety of ideas and styles was breathtaking. There’s a 2D platformer called Comic Sands that looks like a series of hand drawn cartoon panels, with a random 3D sock puppet looking thing thrown in every now and then. That was created in three days during TrainJam recently.

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I also saw a basic 3D space shooter, a crazy platformer with psychedelic visuals that synced with the music, a full on multiplayer game with hammers being used to hit nails, break light bulbs, hit balls towards goals, break the floor to knock your opponent off the game grid, and many other experiences.

Oh, and by the way, you can pop on your PlayStation VR headset and create games in there if you’d like as well. Just another option at your fingertips, no biggie, right?

The scope and the true depth of Dreams is just staggering. I can’t hammer that home enough. Every single menu item has so much fine detail if you want to dig in that if you can dream it, you can actually make it in Dreams. And if you’re good at it, your dreams of working in the gaming industry could actually come true.

Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment and developed by Media Molecule, Dreams is currently in development for PlayStation 4 with a release date to be determined.

* All screens used in this preview were provided by the publisher.

Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 26 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

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