I remember the first time I ever opened Photoshop. It was daunting to say the least. There at my fingertips were hundreds of tools with different functions and purposes to create visual effects of every kind, and I, a neophyte of art and design, felt powerless to control what was laid out before me. Sure, there are classes for Photoshop, but it hardly guided you at the time.
Media Molecule’s Dreams felt similarly daunting in theory: A game in which you could utilize sculpting, animation, effects, textures, and a multitude of other tools in a 3D space to craft from your imagination, or see what other creators are doing with their own toolkits. The difference is in guidance. Dreams holds your hand, makes you feel comfortable, helps you grasp what’s possible, and yet never holds you back if you want to do your own exploration. It feels… breathtakingly inviting and accessible for a game of this scope.
Entering the dreamspace
The start of dreams guides you into its concepts. You interact with the game through a being known as an imp that acts as your cursor for engaging with everything. With it, you can interact with objects, choose menu options, possess characters and move them, and so much more. The game begins with a rudimentary control tutorial that shows you how to do these aforementioned things, plus placing objects in the world and moving them around. Then it sets you off on your way.
The point of Dreams is really to do as you please and that comes in two forms: making your own creations (DreamShaping) or checking out the projects of others (DreamSurfing). In DreamShaping you can engage in a multitude of tutorials that show you everything from the more simple concepts of object creation and manipulation to far more robust techniques like sculpting, texturing, animating, and even audio design and coding. The tutorials invite you to go through the motions in a number of hands-on trials and are really great for driving the concepts of control and creation home. By the time I wanted to make my own thing, I felt good about it, and so I made a wobbly little tall bird, gave it ruffled feathers, googly eyes, and then built a garden of trees and rocks around him. It wasn’t much, but it was mine, and it felt good to take what I learned hands on and put it into practice.
If you don’t want to create, or if you’re feeling at a loss for ideas to craft in Dreams, that’s where DreamSurfing can fill the gap. Media Molecule went to great lengths to put together a lovely collection of their own Dreams projects for you to search through. One of the marquee dreams is Art’s Dream, which is a short story game from Media Molecule about a jazz musician that gets scared of the big time ahead of a breakthrough gig for his band and needs to find his inspiration again. It features a bit of point-and-click adventure, object searching, platforming, fantasy, side-scrolling shoot'em-up, and plenty more that demonstrates quite thoroughly what Dreams is capable of in good hands.
It’s not just Media Molecule either. DreamSurfing is a cornucopia of community designs from other players, featuring a wealth of objects, scenes, games, and animations from other dreamers to look through. You could play around for quite a while in DreamSurfing and still never quite get to the bottom of what it has to offer. Plus, engaging with various dreams sometimes provides opportunities for you to collect or bring objects back to DreamShaping for your own creations. I found it to be well worthwhile to spend plenty of time in both worlds as dream surfing occasionally showed me things I could do with my own creations, but it’s also just cool to know that the less creative types will be able to enjoy what other players in the Dreams network are making as there are genuinely cool projects all over the place in the Dreams community.
Controlling your dreamscape
Dreams doesn’t control quite like anything players might be used to in a game. There are three control schemes for Dreams: either stick control or motion control (via lightbar) on the PlayStation 4 gamepad, or via the PlayStation Move motion control wands. I went back and forth between all of these styles of controls and fiddled with all of them at some point or another. They all have a little bit of positive and a little bit of negative to them. Stick control feels the most confined. With motion controls you can move so much more easily around your canvas and access what you want on the fly as opposed to using your joysticks to move slowly to each option or object to manipulate them.
That said, the issue I often came up against with motion control was a matter of constant readjustment. Whether through my PS4 or the game itself reading my actions, my imp (the cursor) would often veer off-center of where I wanted it to be. Correcting the orientation of your imp is as simple as holding the Options button on either the PS4 DualShock 4 controller or the PlayStation Move wands, but it still felt like I was having to re-center myself a little too frequently.
When it comes down to it, the motion controls are closer to a mouse interface, which would be a wonderful interface for creation in Dreams. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t support mouse and keyboard just yet. The motion controls aren’t broken, but I’d love to see either better accuracy that gets rid of the orientation issues or mouse and keyboard support down the line.
Infinite dreams, infinite possibilities
Dreams doesn’t feel like a true game. It feels like a canvas of imagination. It feels like a tool box to convey and commit your thoughts to a physical form. It feels like it could be a wonderful hub for creatives and non-creatives all around to explore, learn, and express themselves through the vast opportunities it offers. The controls aren’t quite where I’d like them to be, but they’re not anywhere near broken or impractical either. There’s just a touch of room for improvement there. However, at the bottom line, Dreams makes me want to continue to explore it, to challenge myself, and to make something cool.
I want to see the cool things other players do ad nauseum too, and the game contains enough cohesive guidance to get all of us there if we have the patience for it. Media Molecule made me feel like I opened Photoshop for the first time again, but this time I feel ready to learn all of its tricks and make something amazing, and I sincerely hope others will take the journey to do the same and make the Dreams network a vast universe of creativity.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 digital copy provided by the publisher. Dreams launched on February 14, 2019 and is available both digitally through the PlayStation Store and physically through various retailers.
- Vast array of tools for creative design
- Excellent tutorials and guidance to learn its ropes
- Wide array of both developer and community creations to explore
- Excellent depth between dream shaping and dream surfing
- Non-motion controls are confined, motion controls can be finnicky