Dreams: beyond gaming, a 3D content creation platform

dreams 3d sandbox protocube reply PS4

This post is also available in: Italiano

Made in Dreams” is much more than the suggestive watermark of the new sandbox developed by Media Molecule. It is a milestone that marks the beginning of a new era for software, moving towards User Generated Content. Until recent times, it was almost unthinkable to associate in one user experience (UX), a product that combined gaming with the creation of content itself. Now, both the role and the characteristics of user interfaces (UI) carry out a fundamental function which overcomes the barriers of traditional technical software.

Among the first responses to this new need – or, desire – to create new experiences, Dreams is undoubtedly among the most impressive ones, both for its palpable quality and for the technical solidity of its roots.

What is Dreams?

Dreams is an application for PS4: an absolutely user-friendly sandbox that allows anyone to create a wide range of content, ranging from “simple” 3D artistic models to games and other interactive experiences.

The Playstation Move controllers took the place of the artist’s tools. In spite of what you would expect to find on the popular Sony console, this is not a game in the traditional sense but a general-scope creative platform. Everything that you create can be shared online in the Dreamverse (on the indreams.me portal). Community, here, is a must. Dreams is a shared environment, which feeds itself on user-generated content. After completing a tutorial which, in this case, is the same as the single-player campaign, the content becomes fully operational. The latter is probably the only feature that Dreams shares with a traditional game.

At the time of writing, Dreams can be purchased in an Early Access version, the stable release being expected in 2020. This means it is still in very early development.

The launch trailer of Dreams in Early Access version on the Playstation Store (Media Molecule)
What is Dreams? Teaser with the voices of the project creators (credit: Media Molecule)
Why Dreams?

When you search for Dreams on the Playstation Store, the first thing you read is “If you dream it, you can play it”. Where do these dreams come from? What were the guys at Media Molecule thinking? We could find out more about the project at the View Conference 2019, where the art director Kareem Ettouney presented Dreams in a very comprehensive talk about the features and objectives of his latest creature.

Dopo aver sviluppato Little Big Planet e Tearaway – esordisce Ettouney – ci siamo orientati su qualcosa di After developing Little Big Planet and Tearaway – said  Ettouney – we focussed our efforts on developing something different from a traditional PS4 game. We wanted something new, a longer-term project, which could grow over time. Today, computer graphics make it possible to achieve extraordinary, photorealistic results, but it is not yet within everyone’s reach”.dal semplice gioco per PS4. Volevamo qualcosa di nuovo, un progetto più a lungo termine, da far crescere nel tempo. La computer grafica oggi consente di ottenere risultati straordinari, fotorealistici, ma non è ancora alla portata di tutti“.

The desire to create a platform based on user-generated content would originate from a twofold inspiration.

On the one hand, Ettouney explained that Media Molecule wanted to develop a game for creatives, to put users at the centre of the experience: “The interface of today’s 3D software is reminiscent of CAD or, anyway, software from the engineering worlds. I believe the software itself is relatively easy to use, but if you are not confident you quickly end up discouraged. The general public does not have the basis for directly managing traditional 3D software”.

Let’s make it clear: Dreams is not a trivial or simple software, in that it does not lack functions. Dreams is layered, scalable and gradually reveals its potential to the user. While creating a relatively simple 3D model is within everyone’s reach, creating a video game or an interactive experience definitely requires higher skills. One step at a time, through projects of increasing complexity you can get a grasp of all the development factors that must be considered, including physics, sound and all the details of gameplay. This is possible also thanks to the large number of training resources made available by the developers.

Secondly, the inspiration for Dreams would derive from an Egyptian historical-cultural reference: “One of the stories that most fascinated us is that of the architect Ramses Wissa Wassef. From the mid-twentieth century, he taught the youngsters of some of the poorest villages of Egypt how to make rugs with his particular technique. Besides helping these populations, the experiment aimed at evaluating the creative results of people who have no cultural conditioning at all, being totally illiterate. Ten years later, these boys and girls were able to make extraordinary carpets, figuratively comparable to Klimt’s art or that of other top-level artistsWith Dreams, we would like to propose the same kind of approach, in a digital version, to allow people to create whatever they want, free from conditioning, as in dreams”.

Now that we know the reason behind Dreams, let’s try to understand how the actual software was developed: “After researching a lot – said Ettouney – we came up with a concrete vision, on the basis of which we derived the concept of the projectWe didn’t want to make yet another sculpting or painting tool, but rather something much more lively and vibrant in look which could allow creating and designing with precision tools”.

Briefly, the Vision of Dreams revolves around three main elements.

  • Sensitive UI: Flowing, Gestural, Live Tuning
  • Human Metaphors: It’s all about shapes & colours
  • Expressive rendering: Impressionistic engine

In addition to the points noted above, it is worth mentioning the value of “live tuning”, because, according to Ettouney: “Dreams generates content in real-time, the creative experience can turn into a performance. We are very interested in making the most of this aspect: watching someone while they create”.

At View Conference 2019, Kareem Ettouney illustrates the technical core of Dreams (credit: Protocube Reply)
Dreams allows the creation of content of varying complexity, starting from very simple models and scenarios which can be created in just a few minutes (credit: Media Molecule)
What will Dreams do when it grows up?

Despite all the unknowns such an innovative app brings about, launching Dreams on PS4 creates the potential to reach a user base of millions of gamers, belonging to a typical consumer target such as that of the Sony console. This choice eliminates the need for dedicated hardware which already caused other interactive applications to fail (in particular, in the field of VR and AR).

A key factor is that Media Molecule knows perfectly Playstation’s development environment. It is a production studio that’s always been in Sony’s orbit, boasting exclusive titles such as Tearaway and the first two episodes of Little Big Planet, which have had a resounding success when they came out, thanks to their originality, which was fundamental in engaging and entertaining a wide range of users.

For Media Molecule, Dreams is a much more ambitious project than the previous ones, just like it will be much more complex to achieve a noteworthy commercial success with an experience that differs considerably from traditional gaming, albeit it is easy to use and accessible in its tools. Many things can be said, except that the guys from Media Molecule lack courage and desire to innovate, in a world such as the entertainment industry which is always rather reluctant to take risks. After all, how could Dreams inspire people’s dreams if it were not able to fulfil its own?

When he was asked about future development plans for Dreams, Kareem Ettouney expressed very clear ideas about business: “We are talking about software that has yet to come out but it would be absurd to limit its availability to Playstation onlyWe plan to release Dreams for other platforms too, so we can reach an increasing number of users. We would like everyone to be able to create their own content with Dreams. At the moment, we cannot talk about these aspects concretely. Before developing for other platforms, we first need to achieve the goals we set ourselves with Dreams for PS4 and lay solid bases for our community”.

Behind a user-friendly interface, Dreams conceals a very powerful engine, capable of managing hundreds of 2D brushes and 3D sculpting tools (credit: Protocube Reply)
The Dreamverse: it’s not all about dreaming

Democratising creative tools is a mission that Dreams can win only by creating and engaging a collaborative community, overcoming the traditional individualistic vision of artistic creation.

To support Dreams, Media Molecule has implemented internal creative teams, with artists who work side by side to develop content in the artistic field as well as in many areas. On indreams.me, you can find examples related to architecture, product design and applications that cannot be considered games. Another advantage will be provided by VR, taking for granted, in the final version, the support for PSVR, to date, the most popular virtual reality system in the world, with over 5 million headsets sold.

Relying on a stable hardware and software platform like PS4 has significant advantages but it also implies some downsides, with critical points that should not be underestimated. One of the limits to the launch of Dreams is the impossibility to sell the contents, as the current rules of the PS Store do not allow it.

This is a categorical “no” to one of the first questions that the community has asked the developers, well aware of the possibilities offered by other creative ecosystems, such as Second Life, which do allow to sell contents and monetise them even in a substantial way.

On one hand, Dreams will have to give ample space to creatives, while on the other, the developers will have to understand how to give continuity to their business model in the long run. Allowing users to sell their 3D assets and applications would generate engagement – and cash flow – which would otherwise be difficult to obtain with a gaming-only experience, especially if the sandbox universe really took hold and some dangerous competitors showed up.

Competing with dreams: the alternatives to Dreams in the 3D sandbox universe

At the moment, the number of sandboxes is still quite limited, as well as the applications launched on the market in a stable version. In addition to early development stages, there is a general tendency not to step on each others’ feet, rather trying to make a specific platform stand out in a well-defined area. If Dreams came down to be a simple a game creator, it would very much resemble Roblox, an excellent platform in its field, much appreciated by children and the younger public, which can produce applications comparable to those created by many professionals – or so-called professionals.

While Dreams does not seem to focus exclusively on VR, other developers have instead decided to bet it all on the immersive experience. This is the case of Facebook Horizon, the Oculus-based VR metaverse on which Mark Zuckerberg is investing a lot of money “to get a billion people in virtual reality”. For many, it will be Facebook’s successor in the “post-internet” era. Other VR-oriented initiatives include SansAR, the immersive heir of Second Life developed by Linden Lab, as well as the remarkable Start-up Sandbox VR, which raised almost 100 million dollars to develop its project thanks to the investments of some VIPs, including Will Smith, Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake. The latter case is not about an online experience, but a location-based one, in which users entering the VR world are catapulted into a dystopian, fully-immersive, gaming scenario.

The fact that so many entities are investing significantly on complex and expensive ecosystems such as sandboxes suggests that there is a widespread sense of confidence in the fact that users will be increasingly oriented towards customisable immersive experiences, in which they can at least have the illusion that they can master their destiny. And in other cases, they might actually do.

For further information on CG creative tools – VR Design Tools

For further information on Facebook Horizon – Social VR Horizon

For further information about Dreams – Dreams: official website

This post is also available in: Italiano

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Francesco La Trofa

Architect and journalist with 20 years’ experience in 3D technologies.
Consultant to public entities and 3D businesses for aspects relating to design and communications.
Head of editorial content at Treddi.com and co-founder of Digital Drawing Days, the only event of its kind in Italy.
Actively involved in research and teaching at Milan Polytechnic.
Edits 3D STORIES for Protocube Reply.