Why Did We Stop Dreaming?

While I suppose I could say I’ve cared about Media Molecule’s Dreams since its initial reveal way back on February 20, 2013, let’s make things simpler and say that I had been on the Dreams bandwagon since its launch into early access back on April 16, 2019. I bring that useless fact up so that everyone is aware that any criticism mentioned today about the current state of Dreams comes from a place of love and compassion. If I had my way, Dreams would be one of the biggest games of 2020, but that didn’t happen, and today I want to talk about why.

Before getting into anything negative, though, for the uninitiated, what is Dreams? Simply put, Dreams is magic. Media Molecule hoped to give everyday gamers the ability to turn the ideas floating around in our heads into reality. Just spend any amount of time checking out creators like Digitalthing, Urbandevill, Jimmyjules153, Prinz_Laser, and Kaifraz4048, and you’ll see that Dreams is capable of creating some of the most impressive pieces of art when put in the right hands. At the beginning of the year, I would search through the community, showcasing talented creators, and every week I was blown away. Whether it was animated shorts, catchy music, beautiful art, or addictive games, the creators who, for some, had been learning the tools of Dreams even since the early days of the closed Beta were showcasing their skills at launch. After that initial launch of creations, things started to slow down, and problems began to arise.

If there’s one thing that Dreams taught me, it was to appreciate just how hard it is to make a game. While I would say I got relatively okay at taking other creator’s art and turning it into a fun scene, the idea of creating an actual game just felt impossible. To anyone who made something that I’ve played throughout the year, know that I’m in awe of you. With that said, I think that’s where the problem for Dreams begins.

I’m about as perfect a test subject for this game as you can get. I love video games, I love coming up with different ideas for stories, and the idea of working in the gaming industry sounds incredible. Unfortunately, for me, I have absolutely no artistic ability. If I’m not drawing Dragon Ball Z characters like every other guy in their early 30’s, I’m pretty much useless. Dreams claimed they could fix my broken hands, and to their credit, they did, for the most part. As I said, you want to give me a handful of user-created assets and have me make a spooky forest I’ve got you. Anything past that, though, I’m not your man. Getting to even that point of competence took a couple of weeks and about 15 pages of notes. I think it’s that type of effort that begins to show why Dreams isn’t where it should be.

I’m not at all asking for anyone to applaud my attempt at learning how to Dream. I’m merely pointing out that the barrier of entry for creating, even with how hard Media Molecule has worked to simplify everything, is still high. Between how much time it takes to make a fun, polished game and that barrier of entry, I think the amount of high-level content that Dreams requires to be successful just isn’t coming out at the rate it needs to. And I want to be clear; I’m not saying that there aren’t creators making incredibly exciting content in the game now. That’s absolutely happening! In the middle of writing this article, I had a user named M-molecul share something they had made called Gallery of Perturbation. It’s a haunting dream that’s mixed with beautifully creepy imagery and an unnerving story. I loved every second of it, but that’s not something that’s going to make the Little Big Planet crowd show back up to buy Dreams. So with the barrier to entry too high for most and the user-created content now coming out a lot slower than it was at launch, what needs to happen to make people dream again?

Just in case you’ve woken from a coma, 2020 has been a nightmare. With the COVID-19 pandemic creating chaos all over the world, a lot of game studios shut down. Developers found themselves trying to continue to work on their games from home, separated from the rest of their team. I can only imagine how difficult continuing to work on a game must have been as major cities started shutting down earlier in the year. I bring all of this up because I think it’s important to mention. The last thing I would ever want is to come off insensitive towards others who are trying their best to make their community happy during such a trying time. With any criticism or idea proposed, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m suggesting that anyone at Media Molecule is lazy. As I said, I’ve been following the team’s work on Dreams since the beginning, and I understand how hard they’ve been working to deliver this game to us. I also wouldn’t be surprised to learn that several of these ideas I’m about to present are on some whiteboard over at the Media Molecule office. So with all of that out of the way, let’s quit wasting time and get to the ideas.

To say that online multiplayer would save Dreams is a bit of an over-exaggeration. When the game officially launched, though, there was mention of this coming, and with that, I had hopes that I’d be able to keep my friends invested in Dreams until it arrived. I knew that if we could work on the same Dream together, at the same time, everything would change. Besides creating alongside my friends, adding this feature would help an already incredible community bond together even more. And if you’re someone that isn’t interested in creating, imagine the types of games that Dreams could bring you. Suddenly, for a reasonable price, you and your friends could spend the afternoon playing different Dreams that would range from classic arcade games, first-person shooters, racing games, and yes, even smaller-scaled Battle Royales. And once Dreams makes its way to the PS5, who knows what else we could see from the community.

Another problem is searching for user-created content within Dreams. Initially, I planned to write an article about me jumping back into Dreams after several months of having been away and then discuss my experience. That all changed when a video by user LittleBigAnimation titled “Dreams Is LOSING Players FAST – Dreams PS4 Topic” popped up on my timeline. After watching the video, I realized that I needed to say more about the state of Dreams than what I had initially planned. I bring all of this up because, most importantly, you should check out LittleBigAnimation’s video. Besides that, though, while watching his video, I discovered a game he made called “Super Alien Buddy,” a creative and very funny 3-D platformer set on an alien planet with an impressive amount of content. I would have showcased this game in a heartbeat at the beginning of the year, but the problem is, I never saw it.

Curation for something like Dreams is incredibly important and is something that Media Molecule needs to continue improving. When I click on “Dream Surfing,” I’m brought to a page that’s littered with games. As a new player, I’d have no idea where to start. I have to scroll down twice before I get to the Media Molecule Picks section, and if I scroll down five more times, what do I see? Another Media Molecules Picks section. When you click on this particular collection of Picks, it’s perfectly organized into three sections: Game, Audiovisual, and Showcase. I had to hit down on the D-Pad seven times and click X, but I’ve finally found the most organized section of newly curated creations in Dreams. With this page, I found such things as Magic Banana by beanbob101 (great song by the way) and TRacer- Time Attack by Entropy-Tamed. Just a quick shoutout to Entropy-Tamed, I played this for 5 minutes, and in those 5 minutes, your game instantly reminded me why I loved Dreams. What a fun game! My point to all of this is that this is what should be on the front page! The community of Dreams is quite possibly the best in all of gaming. Everyone is so caring and helpful, and they work incredibly hard to make these Dreams too. It should be as easy as possible to find them.

Tutorials. At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that I put weeks into learning most of the tutorials the game had to offer. I still have my binder of pages and pages of notes. Even with all of that time that I put into learning how to create, I still walked away from the tutorials, not knowing how to do certain things. I found myself going to youtube and watching tutorial videos made by other community members instead of staying inside Dreams and learning. While I’m forever appreciative of those players who wanted to help others learn, but I should never have to leave the game I’m playing to go and learn how to use it. Yes, Dreams has a “how-to” section, but it isn’t in-depth enough. Whether it’s how to get started with specific genres or something as simple as making a menu system, it should all be in the game, and it should be easily explainable to someone like me who has no idea what they’re doing. Even if there’s a tutorial that I’ve missed that would show me how to do something I’m talking about it, I’ve only missed it because it isn’t apparent enough that it’s what I should be doing. When we’re dealing with something as complicated as game development for beginners, it should be as simple as possible.

And now, because I’m a big fan of burying the lede, let’s talk about the one thing that I think could make Dreams the hit that it deserves to be. Little Big Planet is one of the most iconic franchises in the history of PlayStation. Sackboy is so popular that he’s getting his very own launch title for the PlayStation 5 twelve years after his initial debut. Whether it’s Little Big Planet, Tearaway, or Dreams, Media Molecule has consistently shown that they are among the most talented 1st-party studio that Sony has. It’s why I think the real selling point of Dreams shouldn’t be the creation tools, but Media Molecule itself. Imagine a world where people were told that if they bought Dreams, not only would they have one of the most impressive creation tools ever made, but they’d also have an ever-growing library of Media Molecule games to play. Had this been the idea from launch, Dreams could have been heading into December with as many as 12 games from one of the best studios in the world. And I’m not suggesting that every Media Molecule dream needs to be some 12 hour AAA title, not at all. One of the most fun games I’ve played in Dreams was The Watergardens by HalfUp. It was a beautiful puzzle-platformer that took me about an hour to beat. Keep in mind that I’m terrible at puzzle games. The point being that if Media Molecule were dropping polished, high quality, bite-sized games once a month, it would make Dreams one of the most talked-about games on the PlayStation 4. Every month podcasts like PS I Love You XOXO would talk about the newest game from Media Molecule and that alone would keep people talking about Dreams.

Writing this has reminded me how passionate I am about Dreams and how much I love seeing the community create fun projects. For that to continue, though, Dreams needs to stick around. Hopefully, for anyone reading this, my love of the game and the studio is apparent. All I want is for Dreams to become the success story that I know it can be. Well, here’s hoping that when the first anniversary of Dreams’ official launch comes around, I’m writing an article about how big of a fool I was for every worrying. And with that said, over on Dreams, I am ChrisContinues. Feel free to send me some of your creations. I would love nothing more than to spend my day checking them out.

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