Once upon a time...
In this post, we're going to talk through all there is to know about Sony PlayStation's 2018 sandbox video game title "Dreams". Covering everything from its conception by Sony-owned studio Media Molecule (Mm), through to development, release, and reception. So there is a lot to talk about... where do we start? How about with the maverick thinkers who first came up with this ambitious project! Plus you can jump to anywhere in the content of this article using the links below:
- Media Molecule
- First announced and Beta release
- Player Generated Content
Founded: Jan 2006
Key People: Mark Healey, Alex Evans, Kareem Ettouney, Siobhan Reddy
Parent: Sony Computer Entertainment (March 2010)
Key Games: LittleBigPlanet, Tearaway, Dreams
The four had worked together on an independent game whilst still at Lionhead. The recent release of Rag Doll Kung Fu through Valve's Steam created a lot of positive momentum at the fledgling studio, which had its ambitions tuned towards the seventh generation of home video game consoles that were scheduled for release later in 2006. In fact, a partnership with Sony Computer Entertainment was struck within Mm's first year, this would eventually turn into full backing when Sony decided to purchase the studio in its entirety back in 2010. Conditions at the small studio were perfect, there was an air of bold creativity that would provide the catalyst for the inception of a truly groundbreaking game. But before we talk more about LBP let's get to know the people at Mm a little better.
Position / Dreams Role: Studio Director / Game Director
Interesting Fact: Siobhan has had her amazing talent recognized from within the gaming industry and also from the wider creative world, winning awards at the 2009 and 2014 Microsoft Women in Gaming Award's and being counted among the 100 most powerful women in the UK on BBC's Woman's Hour.
About Siobhan: Starting out at Criterion Games, Siobhan left in 2006 to join with the other founders of Media Molecule. Siobhan started out as an Executive Producer and was named Studio Director in 2009. She is listed as a Game Director for Dreams alongside Mark Healey. Siobhan regularly speaks in video content marketing Dreams and can be seen as a key advocate for re-evaluating the relationship between designer, player, and game when it comes to a player's creative agency within gaming.
Position / Dreams Role: Game Director
Interesting Fact: Mark Healey's first published game was KGB Super Spy released in 1989. In his early career, he worked on educational games that were played in classrooms all across the UK in the 1990's.
About Mark: Born in the UK, Mark joined the industry as gaming was leaving the arcades and finding it's way into people's homes. After developing games for early consoles like the Commodore 64, Healey joined Peter Molyneux at Bullfrog Productions where he worked as an artist on classics such as Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper. Healey left Bullfrog when Molyneux founded Lionhead Studios in 1997 and worked at Lionhead in senior art and design roles on games such as Black & White. While at Lionshead, Healey created the weird but wonderful Rag Doll Kung Fu in his spare time with the help of his Lionhead colleagues. This became the first independent game to be released through the Steam platform. He left Lionhead in 2006 to form Mm.
About Alex: Like Mark Healey, Alex was a former member of Lionhead Studios and is a founder of Mm... But before working on Games, Alex was creating CGI music videos as part of the 'demoscene' during the 1990's. For those who don't know, the demoscene was basically a bunch of programmers who enjoyed creating ambient visuals using machine code. The surreal visuals would often accompany electronic music and sounds, with the two formats blending with and responding to one another. Alex then turned his coding skills towards gaming, creating the engine that would underpin LittleBigPlanet. Alex is the Lead Programmer for Dreams, which has far more complex and feature-rich tools available in comparison to the LittleBigPlanet series.
Position / Dreams Role: Programmer
Interesting Fact: Alex Evans took the spotlight at E3 2008 when he played through a custom LittleBigPlanet level which outlined Sonys quarterly sales growth.
Kareem EttouneyPosition / Dreams Role: Lead Artist
Interesting Fact: Throughout the build-up to Dreams release, Mm has marketed a series of videos showcasing the breadth and depth of content that can be created with Dreams, Kareem has been instrumental in making the videos the success that they are.
About Kareem: Kareem worked as a concept artist at Lionhead Studios, where he worked on Fable and Black & White. Along with his other mentioned friends, Kareem founded Media Molecule in 2006. He has said in interviews that he left Lionhead as he had his own ideas about how to foster a creative environment for game design and development. He calls the ethos a 'Big Jam', this is in reference to the 'Game Jam' culture which typically involves a small group of designers and programmers working together to quickly plan and build a game, with an emphasis on collaboration and creativity. Kareem works as an artist on Dreams along with other veteran artists Francis Pang and Jon Eckersley.
LittleBigPlanetLittleBigPlanet (LBP) was first announced and demonstrated for the PlayStation 3 at the Game Developers Conference in 2007, and subsequently released in late 2008. The initial trailers showed a game that was cool, creative and very different (Even the choice of song on the trailers, 'Atlas' by Battles, helped foster the games unique feel). It was clear from the very beginning LBP was going to deliver something we had never seen before... A 2D/3D level editor built with cooperative play and social participation at its core. The game's mantra; 'Play, Create, Share' means LBP is in every sense the precursor to Dreams.
As for the origins of the award-winning concepts that made LBP such a success, we can speculate that they perhaps came from a surprisingly shrewd mindset. Earlier in the article, we mention that the majority of Mm founders had left Lionhead Studios in 2006 amidst financial difficulty at the company. Those at the helm of a Mm knew all too well the major pitfalls of running a large gaming studio. Alex Evans has said he and his fellow founders wanted to avoid the "cycle of debt" that encumbers most studios. A blockbuster game that sources its art, its assets and even its stories and narratives from a community of players is a great way to get the most bang for your buck. 'Every time you boot up there are more levels to play.' Evans has said of LBP.
Players were treated to narration by Stephen Fry. This element fits nicely with the studio's British roots. Throughout the lifecycle of the game, a lot of content from other intellectual properties has been made available as DLC, like SpongeBob SquarePants for example. There is no word yet on whether Dreams on PS4 will also offer third-party content for download. It seems likely Mm would want to cash in on this, however with players potentially able to craft anything they like using the creation tools, there is a lot of uncertainty hanging over how this will work.
Dreams announced and the long-awaited BetaAfter a successful run of LBP titles (LBP1 2008, LBP2 2011, LBP3 2014), and the release of Tearaway 2013, Mm began to look at what was next. As far back as 2012, Mark Healey had said in an interview to Eurogamer; "We're working on a second project right now, and that's very much in an R&D phase." Next, at the reveal of the PS4 at PlayStation's 2013 meeting, MediaMolecule was shown to be working on new 3D sculpting and animation tools that utilized the PS Move controllers. It was not until E3 2015 that the project was revealed to be Dreams. What followed was a painful wait for fans, who were originally promised an open community beta test as early as 2016. The Beta was pushed back to late 2018. This was a long time to wait and tension began to build on forums and Reddit pages, even die-hard Mm fans began to question whether they could actually deliver on such an ambitious project.
Dreams...Dreams is a platform for both play and creation. A player has the option to sculpt whatever comes to mind, and then use a broad toolset to bring these sculptures to life, creating animated characters within detailed levels, incorporating sound, lighting, cutscenes, etc. The possibilities are seemingly endless. For players who are less interested in the creative aspects, the game comes packaged with a campaign mode crafted by the designers at Mm. Keep in mind, however, that the campaign uses the same creation tools that are available to all players through the creation modes, the LBP series had a similar setup. Players who might not be in the mood for creating content can also play an endless stream of curated, player generated content. This is reminiscent of the early days of Flash gaming, when, during the early naughties you could surf the web and find hundreds of sites offering browser-based games to play. As the tools opened up design and creation to a more novice audience, the number of games to play exploded. With Dreams, the designers have said that the primary goal is for players to create their own content. Alex Evans has said that the game will be "Defined" by the players instead of the developer. No pressure to the community then...
The 'canvases' onto which players craft their creations are called 'Dreams'. These are areas within the game world that can contain a set amount of detail (If you have ever used a level editor within a game, you would be familiar with the "maximum assets" that you are allowed to place within a level. This function usually saves on clutter within a level, it is not clear yet how this will work in Dreams). Upon the canvas, players have free reign. They can create their own assets for their Dreams, or use the community to discover assets that other players have made. This is an integral aspect of the game, as it allows collaborative design. Forums have speculated that some of the most successful Dreams might be made by a team of designers, animators and sound engineers working together. Once a canvas is populated with assets, players can take control of characters within the environment and play whatever has been created, whether solving a puzzle, competing in a race, searching for a lost item, etc.
The tools for sculpting within the game took years to develop. The technicians originally struggled to strike a balance between tools that offered breadth and creative freedom to players but still threaded through the game a sense of uniform style that underpinned the visuals. This turned into a sort of standoff between the art department, who were creating soft and stylised concept art, versus the developers, who were focused on satisfying the need for a toolset that allowed players to create anything. Part of the resolution was having a rendering system that gives every surface that a player creates a slightly diffused dream-like appearance. This "look" can be seen in all the video content released and is perhaps the games biggest technical and artistic achievement.
Player Generated Content
Players have taken advantage of the unlimited potential of Dreams to create some far out content, with an endless array of genres and styles. We pick out some of the best and most interesting and list them here.
Check back soon to see our curated player generated content.
Check back soon to see our curated player generated content.
Check back soon to read about the reception of Dreams