Most game designers would blanch at being asked to create and animate a hedgehog-kangaroo hybrid dancing in a subway station under any circumstances, let alone in the span of 20 minutes in front of a live audience. But at EGX Rezzed on Friday, John Beech gamely responded to spectators’ requests in real time — and showed off the impressive capabilities of Sony’s highly anticipated new title, “Dreams,” in the process.
Beech, a senior principal designer at Media Molecule, has been with the project for nearly a decade, coming up with tool designs and in-world levels for the sandbox game and working with programmers to build them. “It’s super powerful; it’s just a different way of doing things,” he said of “Dreams” after the demo. “We’ve sort of thrown everything we know about game engines out the window and started again.”
While one audience member expressed concerns about the impact that radical shift could have on the industry, Beech believes “Dreams” will be a democratizing force for game development. “I think people will get jobs and go into the industry because they had no idea that they were game artists until they used something like this,” he said. “Simplifying is not a bad thing. Simplification doesn’t mean less powerful – it’s more liberating. It can do things a lot faster and concept things a lot faster, so I think this will do nothing but help game artists.”
The inclusion of sliders is one example of this type of streamlining: rather than animating a walk cycle from the ground up (though that’s also an option), players can adjust a character’s movement to reflect its personality, increasing or decreasing traits like “springiness” and “sassiness” to achieve the desired outcome. Even an amateur animator can have their avatar up and (literally) running in no time.
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These features can be applied to more than just games. Beta testers have already used the tools at their disposal to make short films (which can then be exported to YouTube and beyond), and all music is made from scratch within the engine. Any assets players create can be uploaded to the cloud and shared with the rest of the community, and they’ll be credited whenever those are incorporated into other levels and worlds.
The game’s early access period, which begins on April 16th, will also be a first for Sony as a whole. Beech described it as “a learning process both for us and for everyone involved – we’re going to have lots of forums where people can dedicate their time to ask us questions, get feedback, report bugs… we don’t know how that will impact the final release, but we know that it will be very important to us going into the future, whether at the release or post-release.”
The creative suite those players will encounter is the culmination of a demanding development process. “We’re not cheating at all,” Beech said. “We’re making the game’s campaign mode using ‘Dreams,’ and the tools have been developing up until the early access that we’re about to go into.” That commitment to building every asset within the game itself posed some unique challenges: “You can’t make the campaign until you have the tools, so it’s a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg situation.”
This approach also means even Media Molecule itself doesn’t know the system’s full potential yet. “One of the things Alex Evans, our technical director, had always said wasn’t going to be possible was split-screen,” Tom Dent, the studio’s community manager, told Variety. “And within two weeks of the beta, someone had made a prototype,” he said, laughing as he recalled the look of shock on Evans’ face.
For Dent, it was a moment that perfectly encapsulated the game’s promise. “That’s one of the most amazing things – people are already surprising us.”