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Image credit: Media Molecule

'Dreams' makes imagination manifest on the PS4

If you can think it, you can create it.
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Media Molecule

Like Little Big Planet before it, the premise behind Dreams has long confused and infuriated me. Why on Earth would you pay good money for a game in which you work to create smaller games? But after puttering around in what is essentially a console-based development platform during a demo in Santa Monica last week, I realized that this game isn't built for gamers, it's built for artists.

Dreams is, without a doubt, the spiritual successor to Little Big Planet, which studio Media Molecule also created. As you play, you get an unprecedented level of control over the content you can draw on in creations, or dreams. Literally every aspect of the in-game experience is editable -- the color of the sky, the land's distance from the sun, the background music, sound effects, all the way down to the frame-by-frame animation of the sprites -- you can control it. What's more, you'll be able to import MIDI files for custom background music and automatically sync a recorded voice over cutscenes. The fidelity of command you have over your projects is equally omniscient and anxiety inducing, because now you can control everything, you're also now responsible for actually controlling everything. And that's a lot to keep track of.

I can surf the dreams of other community members as easily as flipping television channels

Now, we already covered the nuts-and-bolts aspects of Dreams' in-game mechanics previously and, based on the 40-minute guided tour that I took, Media Molecule has overwhelmingly delivered on what it promised back at Paris Game Week 2015. Players can browse the works of other members of the Dreams community; remix those creations (editing them either into a new iteration of the same project or a new thing entirely) or create new dreams from scratch.

I don't know why you would want to, though. Spending dozens of hours carefully transcribing a digital world from your imagination does not sound like a good time. But that's what's so great about this game: It will be many things to many people. I can surf the dreams of other community members as easily as flipping television channels. Other folks can express themselves -- make their ideas and imaginations manifest -- in a hyper-pliable digital world. Still others can easily borrow those creations, tweak them and find new a purpose for them, thereby creating an entirely new entity. What's more, you can be as actively or passively involved in the community as you wish.

The game hasn't even had a beta release yet, though that's planned for later this year, and the variety of experiences available is already staggering. When you're surfing dreams, you're never really sure what's going to come through the fire hose next. During my demo, I piloted a warship in an interstellar dogfight, guided an eyeball with legs towards me through a psychedelic platformer that demanded (as its title implies) I Maintain Eye Contact, explored a terrifying Silent Hill-style dungeon and vied to become king of the house party in a text-based choose-your-own-adventure dream. That last game, by the way, requires dozens of hours to complete.

Basically, if you can imagine it, you'll be able to create it in Dreams. Members of the pre-release community are already deviating from conventional game styles to create everything from short films to static paintings to music videos. I'm genuinely excited to see what emerges once this game is released publicly.

My only complaint from the demo was the control mechanics. Dreams is an insanely detailed development platform, and requiring users to navigate its multitude of menus using the standard six-axis controller seems, well, mean. There needs to be a keyboard-and-mouse option. I'm not kidding -- you thought Monster Hunter World had menus? This game puts Photoshop to shame. And you get to move through it by angling a gamepad. Good times. While I didn't have the opportunity to use them for my demo, Dreams is being built to leverage the PSVR's Move motion controllers, which should alleviate a number of those control bottlenecks.

I'm especially interested to see whether or not the previous generation of creators, the folks that played LBP 1, 2, and 3, will be enticed to give Dreams a chance. It's been less than a decade since that series made its debut and only three years since the latest iteration was released. Could this game ride the same wave of nostalgia to financial and cultural success as God of War has? I'm hoping the answer is yes.

Andrew has lived in San Francisco since 1982 and has been writing clever things about technology since 2011. When not arguing the finer points of portable vaporizers and military defense systems with strangers on the internet, he enjoys tooling around his garden, knitting and binge watching anime.

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