If you have read my Beta Diary then you will know that after all the excitement waiting for the Beta to finally arrive my first impressions, once I got it into my hands, was not good, but it grew on me until it took over my mind and soul. Yes, it is that good.
I have been exclusively playing games on the Xbox One now for 8 years. I no longer own a PS3 and only made a few levels on Little Big Planet (none of which were particularly successful, and did not use microchips). I bought a PS4 to play Dreams on. And only to play Dreams on. The first thing to get used to was the size of the controller. The Xbox One controller is a lot bigger, its chunky. The Playstation DS4 is delicate, and even with my small lady hands I was finding it slightly uncomfortable to handle as I did not know where to put my little finger. This may seem strange to some of you, but it really feels different to what I am used to.
Dreams goes one further in the controller handling weirdness because it uses the motion sensor ability to control your imp (which is your cursor in the game). So instead of moving a character around with the joysticks, you have to tilt the controller up and down and left and right. It feels very very odd. So odd in fact I could not do it at all on Day One. It did not seem to go the way I expected and I inverted the settings in the hope that it would help. It did seem a bit easier after that but, and HERE IS MY BIG TIP, DO NOT INVERT THE CONTROL SETTINGS. After I got used to it (and it took 3 days) I went to play some other games and I could not control anything. My brain had been completely rewired and I could not control my Destiny Guardian to save my life. Lesson learnt I took invert off on Dreams and strangely it all seemed fine from then on. My brain re-wired again pretty quickly.
When you first get to sculpt your main stumbling block is controlling your imp. I found that I could not get the fine control I needed to make things for 2 weeks. That is 2 weeks of frustration, and constant practice. Once you get it you don’t understand why it was so hard before, but getting there is a hard slog. The tools are pretty straight forward, though I would like some finer sculpting tools like pointy sticks and texture stamps, which you can make yourself after a fashion but everything takes time to do. The thermometer is your next frustration. You can make a really nice sculpt and then look at the thermo and realise you have taken up 56% of the possible memory. That would make that prop next to useless to apply to a game. Understanding why simple shapes take up so much thermo, while complicated ones do not is a difficult one to get your head round. I spent a lot of time yelling “This makes no sense” as I tried various ways to create a rectangle to find widely different thermo results for an exactly identical shape – its not how it looks, it is how you make it that counts. Once I got to understand the rules, my sculpts became a lot more optimised, but again this took time to learn.
Character sculpting was the last thing I tackled in this area because Media Molecule had not provided any tutorials on the subject. Strange, considering this was the exciting bit that everyone wanted to do. My first attempts were okay, but I had made the clothes separate from the mannequin and just stuck them to the middle part of the body. Looks okay when they stand still, looks atrocious when they start moving. I got a lot better over time, and made lots of use of the blend tool, which is really brilliant. My outfits now move like they should.
Painting was another frustration learning experience. I could not work out how to paint things with the spraypaint that didn’t look like I’d dipped them in the paint, or they wouldn’t paint at all. The tutorial had exclusively shown you the coat tool which I thought was the way to colour things, and I was disappointed with the results because I could only get one colour on one piece. Turns out that the coat tool is the last thing you want to use, and once I got the hang of the spraypaint my objects and characters looked 1000 times better.
I even experimented with the fleck painting. I cant say I am all that enthused about this side of it. The fleck designs they give you are nice and all, but where is the solid line? Not being able to draw straight lines seemed like an odd omission to me. Only discovered surface snap on the last day, so I haven’t really had a good go with it. May experiment with this when I get the game.
This is a completely amazing tool, and it is both simple and complex depending on how good you want your animations to look. Keyframes and Timelines are easy enough to use, but knowing where to place that hand and how to tilt that puppet in order to create successful character movement is not explained. The puppets do not have inbuilt animations other than run, walk and jump. Creating an attacking animation was not explained, and I therefore did not attempt. The other issue is that once you have created your animation in that puppet, it is not transferable, it is unique to that mannequin only. This is an issue. It means you have to create the animations before you create the character designs so you have a base model you can copy. However, I can see many animators using this tool because you can create great stop frame animation really quickly, as well as hand drawn animation. I made a talking character with a moving mouth and arm, and felt that an Aardman animator. Lots of fun to be had there I think.
This was the one area that I understood pretty much straight away, although again, no tutorials. I have very much enjoyed making music tracks on Dreams, from brass band music to computer jingles to film scores. If none of the other things were available I would still get my money’s worth here. Recording with my Turtle Beach headset was a bit hit or miss, but I think this is going to be a lot of fun, especially when the app to upload your own recordings so you can make instruments is working.
This is a bit of a dark area. I think LBP players that used their system may have a better understanding of this, but it is not a programming language that you are using here. You are wiring up gadgets that run pre-programmed activities and tweaking settings to get what you need. As a result it is very hard to see at a glance what you have done, and getting help from other people is also difficult because unlike looking at lines of code, or writing down a line of code, your instructions are more like recipes from a cookbook. Take this wire from this socket and put it in this gadget and then turn the slider up to 4 etc…. I prefer Kode from Project Spark because that appeals to the way I like to learn, think and program. However, it is all learnable, and I may be converted once I get the hang of doing things the Dreams way. If anything I think my koding knowledge is getting in the way. I have to throw it all out and start again.
There is so much to play. The search facilities are okay, but it will be down to the creators to tag their games correctly if they want to be seen. I love the collections option, and I will be making full use of that. Getting to the great games may be difficult. There is already an issue that the earliest beta creations got a lot of likes, though they were not that great, because we did not have a benchmark. Later beta creations blew that away, and now I know anything is possible and the quality is professional standard. So I am not sure, other than finding someone who just likes to collate amazing levels, how the cream is going to rise. I don’t think it is possible to have a really terrible time in play mode though. You are bound to find something amazing, weird or addictive during a play session.