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Dreams Hands-on Preview: Media Molecule's Masterpiece in the Making

Shacknews was invited to check out some of the latest Sony PlayStation 4 games in Los Angeles last week. One of the standout titles shown at the event was Dreams, Media Molecule’s next project. 

Dreams is one of the most ambitious games ever created and it is incredibly difficult to capture exactly what the game is or does in a 30 minute demonstration. The team at Media Molecule has been working for six years on their own proprietary voxel-based engine. Everything in Dreams is made in the game with DualShock4 controllers. 

Dreams is a game creation engine. This is bigger in scope than Little Big Planet and Nintendo’s Super Mario Maker. In Dreams, gamers are able to make whatever they want. Players can capture their own voices and put together a video show within the game, they can make a chain of levels with cutscenes, and they can make their own music. This is truly the tip of the iceberg, which players can also make in the game.

The Dreams demo was a walkthrough of some pre-made levels and games from the team at Media Molecule. Dreams will be four player coop when it launches, but the demo last week was built for two players. The creation controls are extremely intuitive. Players simply move the DualShock4 controllers in the air to act as an onscreen cursor. While the game is very easy to pick up and play, it wasn’t long into the demo that the ridiculous depth of the game creation engine became very apparent. 

There are two ways to play Dreams. Dream Surfing allows players to play already created content and Dream Shaping enables players to unlock their creative side to create content. Last week’s demo started with a look at Edit Mode. This is similar to the maker mode in Little Big Planet, but there are just so many more options. Players can change the art style of a scene with a push of a button or easily copy and paste an asset. I was able to create a giant cactus in the first level I tried out. Players can easily plop down moving platforms and dictate their 3D motion by simply drawing their path.  Within a few minutes, I had made the template level into my very own creation. Next step was to drop in one of the pre-made characters into the level and try it out. It is remarkably easy to jump between playing a level and editing it while Dream Shaping. 

The next part of the Dreams demo was a look at Dream Surfing. This mode is essentially a Netflix queue of games and levels. Players will be able to search for games that feature cats or any other topic and have a playlist created instantly for them. The playlist that I played was full of games and levels created by the Media Molecule team inside of Dreams. There were a ton of very different experiences. One that stood out was a sidescroller game that tasked players with navigating an adorable box-shaped character through some slopes and jumps before transforming the box twice. The first transformation came from a pencil that appeared on screen and gave our box protagonist some legs. After some more intense platforming with a sweet soundtrack, the 2D level ended and revealed that our box-shaped hero was actually three dimensional all along. There was one more part of the game that controlled more like a traditional 3D platformer before the next game started up.

Next up was a two player game that featured two hammer characters who were competing with each other. The first level was all about hitting nails faster than your opponent, but it culminated in a really fun level where each player could knock out their opponent by smashing the ground and causing the floor to vanish. It definitely felt similar to some 64-bit multiplayer games of the past, and was very enjoyable.

There were several more games in the demo ranging from a character who just wanted a hug and some more scary, horror-driven levels. Dreams is truly what players make of it. I am somewhat concerned that the deep set of tools available for players to create may go over many gamers' heads, but Dream Surfing should help to mitigate those potential issues. The intuitive controls should definitely help folks unleash their creativity, but there are just so many things to do. The game even has its own electronic music sequencer, for the love of Sackboy!

I don't think Dreams will be for everyone at first, but over time if the right people get their hands on Media Molecule's amazing game creation engine, it seems inevitable that gamers will want to play the infinite array of creations via Dream Surfing. I have thought about this game everyday since I played it last week and I can't wait to get some serious time with it. I think the game will be especially fun to stream on Twitch. The demo was just long enough to show off Dreams' true potential, but short enough to leave me wanting more. Media Molecule has created one of the most important and ambitious video game projects of the past decade. They deserve credit for being willing to take their time perfecting what is likely to be one of the most accessible video game engines ever created.

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