There I am, working my way through the Dreams tutorials, ever the eager student (I wasn’t ever an eager student, I talked too much) when unexpectedly I am taken aback.
Up until now, my syllabus had been functional. I moved blocks around and made bridges, and that was about it. I hadn’t made anything worth showing anybody, but this was different. I was learning how to make something look beautiful – which is something Dreams does really well. I had just assumed this was very complicated and would take ages to learn but no, quite the opposite: in a matter of minutes, beauty lay before me and I had created it.
The tutorial is a lesson on coats, effects and styles – not the kind of coats you wear. The task is simple: beautify a landscape – a landscape of grass verges, trees, a stream and a dinky little house. But it’s a scene stripped bare, missing any colour and texture, as if moulded from perfectly smooth, grey plasticine. Step one: colour it in. Select the tint tool, a colour, and then hold R2 to tint. Objects are grouped together for ease so dum-di-dum-di-dum, a few minutes later it will be done. Now it looks like colourful plasticine.
Then comes the magic: looseness. Everything in Dreams is made up of flecks, which are tiny, painterly brush strokes. It’s why it always looks so nice. The looseness tool, well, it loosens the flecks. Hold R2 and the object you’re hovering over begins to unravel, flecks appearing to grow, and grow unruly, as you do. Loosen smooth grass blob and all of a sudden spiky shards emerge and it starts looking like grass. Loosen trees and they become bushy.
In about half an hour, using only a few tools and a colour palette, I make a scene worth showing people. A few extra fancy touches later – a bit of movement for the river and chimney smoke, and a warm welcoming glow for the hut windows – and hey presto, I’m ready for an audience.
What’s more, I’m calm and satisfied. I created something. It’s like a giant colouring-in book, only in 3D and with added fanciness. It made such an impression on me, in fact, I went looking for more blank scenes to colour in – but I couldn’t find any, only a few unpainted sculptures by the community.
Still, I was enthused, so I skipped into the following art tutorials convinced I had found my calling – those gameplay and music tutorials could wait. But the new tutorials were trickier and more fiddly. Harder going. It was still rewarding to turn a Disney-like woodland scene into a spooky graveyard, using various lighting tricks, but it took longer and made me think harder. And the painting tutorial made my head hurt.
It’s not that painting is unpleasant: it’s not. You are in control of the flecks themselves, painting things into creation, which is very cool. But it’s painting in the 3D space that’s annoying. Using the DualShock 4 to move around the 3D space while doing things is a pain in the bum, even after a dozen or so hours, and the more complex the task, the more annoying it is. I haven’t had a chance to try the Move controllers – Media Molecule’s tool of choice – but I wonder what difference they make. My hunch is: a lot.
As it is, I look at Dreams with withering enthusiasm. That naive excitement I once had of realising a dormant game-making talent is fading. The more I know about what it takes, the further away the reality gets. When will I ever have the time or skill to accomplish it?
Thankfully, Dreams has a saving throw. It allows you to remix. You can take someone else’s creation wholesale (a copy of it) and start tinkering with it. It can be the base of your new creation, if you like. Maybe you love the concept but not the look, so you change it. Maybe you think different gameplay will work better, or different music, so you change it.
Or, you pinch individual things – a sword, say, or a character, or building. I’m beginning to think that’s a good place to start, actually, making one thing. Keep it small, keep it achievable, keep the experience pleasant. Then, the community can do what they want with it (and I can track it using the genealogy feature). I like this about Dreams, everyone contributing to everything.
It’s this ability to remix which gives me such hope for Dreams. If Media Molecule can keep the community active, and it seems to be doing everything it can in this regard, the future will be bright. We could see – we already are seeing – magnificent creations.
But Dreams isn’t only about the grand things other people will make. It’s also about the small things you will make. It’s a fundamental part of the game, making, whether or not you build a game or build anything grand at all. You could just decorate your Home Space or colour a scene in, both are exceedingly pleasant ways to spend time, believe me. Or… Wait! I’ve got it. I know what my creation will be. I’ll make the collection of blank landscapes I wanted to find. I’ll just remix other people’s paintings and strip them of their fancy stuff, then bundle them together. Why didn’t I think of that earlier? Silly me. Gotta go!