Train Jam 2018 – Comic Sands

Media Molecule took part in another Train Jam. Developers from all over the world come together on a train journey from Chicago to San Francisco (before reaching the Game Developers Conference), and they have 52 hours to make a game from scratch. In 2016 Media Molecule created Rocket Game. This year they made Comic Sands, a platformer that starts in 2D and ends in 3D.

Again, the emphasis on their creation appears to be primarily artistic rather than gameplay. The style that the majority of the game is presented in is a roughly drawn sketch, like a child’s drawing – very similar to that shown in Handyland (for the Global Gamejam). You play as a square with a face on it, in a side scrolling left to right basic platformer. You collect diamonds as you go, for no apparent reason. After crashing down a slope a 3D pencil appears and draws legs on your character, and a sock puppet (moving like a Muppet character) carries the pencil away (in a rather random and distracting manner). More basic platforming with your new legs, then a cursor arrow appears and makes you into a 3D character who walks into the now 3D scene of fluffy trees.

The look of it is certainly interesting, but as a game it kind of sucks. It looks more like a demo of the capabilities of Dreams rather than a serious attempt to win a gamejam, but I suppose the purpose of taking part for Media Molecule was to demonstrate (yet again) what Dreams can do. And yet, I am still totally unclear at what Dreams can do. The concentration on showing quirky artistic presentations rather than dynamic, playable and addictive gaming is starting to worry me. Compare that to the demo games put out by Team Dakota during the Alpha of Project Spark (Swan Song (a JRPG), Retro Reborn (an arcade shooter), Suspension (a side scrolling platformer like Limbo), AntiSmasher (a puzzle game)). These games were much more playable and varied. All Media Molecule keep showing us are pretty landscapes, character designs and platformers. I know Dreams will be able to do more than that. They really need to put the game in the hands of the community now, so the real potential can be released. Trouble is they look as if they are having too much fun playing with it themselves. Come on Media Molecule, hand it over already!

Additional (2 May 2018)
They have since released a video showing how this game was made (sort of) which gives us a really good look at the complexity of Dreams logic. There is nothing you cant do as far as I can see. It should be possible to create whatever your heart desires in Dreams, including complex and engaging gameplay – however, and this is a biggie, it is going to be slow. The learning curve on this will be massive, because the amount of things you can do is so big. As a result, I believe the majority of things made to start with are going to be artistic and not gameplay related. Making a sculpture will be hard enough, but getting to grips with the microchips and all the logic elements is another level. With a limited time, like a gamejam, I am not surprised that the gameplay was a bit lacking, as MM are really creating everything from scratch here. You just need to see the microchip attached to the character in this game to see how complex it can get even without much gameplay.  I think it will take at least a year for creators to get to grips with this new toy and produce really amazing stuff. It will be fun getting there.

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