Is Dreams a game?

I had a discussion on a YouTube video where I referred to Games as a level creator and a game, and offence was taken. I am not sure why the definition of Dreams is important or controversial but let’s look at how we might define Dreams.

What do Media Molecule say it is?

June 2015

Alex Evans: “Dreams is a space where you can go to explore and play the Dreams of others and then you get to create and share your own”

Oct 2015

Alex Evans: “This is the game Dreams. Its a user content generated game”

Alex Evans “Dreams is a game designed to realise your creativity and turn the PS4 into the creative console, The game is still in the Alpha state so this probably going to go completely wrong so but we thought the best way to update you was just to play,”

Alex Evans:” ..take you into a live demo of what its like to play the game, play Dreams.”

Oct 2018

Mark Healy “It felt like the natural progression from Little Big Planet really. I felt like it was just the right thing for us to do – continue to try to be prominent in the creative gaming genre”

Alex Evans:

Q2 What is Dreams?
A2 It is a sketchbook

Q3 Honestly though are you guys just trying to sell people a game engine?
A3 A game engine with a game

So, Media Molecule think it is a game engine that is a progression of Little Big Planet and is part of the creative gaming genre. They have referred to it numerous times as a game. So it is a game, right? But surely it is a game engine?

Is it a game engine?

Wikipedia defines a game engine as this:

A game engine is a software-development environment designed for people to build video games. Developers use game engines to construct games for consoles, mobile devices, and personal computers. The core functionality typically provided by a game engine includes a rendering engine (“renderer”) for 2D or 3D graphics, a physics engine or collision detection (and collision response), sound, scripting, animation, artificial intelligence, networking, streaming, memory management, threading, localization support, scene graph, and may include video support for cinematics.

Certainly Dreams fits some of those definitions, if not all. It will allow people to create 2D and 3D graphics , sound, animation and scripting (though not in the traditional programming sense). The only thing that would interfere with the definition of Dreams as a game engine is the inability to port the games outside of Dreams itself and create standalone creations. For that reason, Dreams would more properly be called a level creator, as you can only create within Dreams. That does not mean the tools involved are any less sophisticated, it is just the ability to make games independent of loading up the engine that defines this.

The other issue with referring to Dreams as a game engine, is that it is not that easy to make games with it. The vast majority of content on Dreams will not be games at all, as there is (in the core game at least) no emphasis on game making – the emphasis is on artistic creation. The logic tools are not particularly user-friendly, and there are very little if any plug and play aspects to this. The fact they have not given us puppets with much in the way of animation built in, that you cannot create sets or object variables, that there is very little in the way of tools to create UI and HUDs, and you literally have to make every single game mechanic from the ground up means that game making in Dreams is going to be undertaken only by the very few people who are willing or able to take the time to work on complex wiring and gadget manipulation. Sculpting and creating props, characters and scenes are however much better catered for, and in the Beta this is where the tutorials were concentrated.

Having said all that, I am basing all of this on the Creator Beta, which is not the finished product and was designed to be for testing out the creation tools only. Game making will get much easier once the community start making assets that other people can use. So, there are no sniper gun mechanics at the moment, but give it a few weeks and someone will make one – then more people will use it, and it will not matter that Dreams did not provide it in the core game. To start with though, game making will be a pretty niche activity. It will take time to learn the skills necessary.

Does it matter?

This is why the definition of Dreams in the marketing will matter. Little Big Planet was definitely a game. It had a very strong platforming campaign. It was very popular with all ages, and the campaign had strong re-playability. It was easy to sell even without the creation parts of it, and it had a cute mascot in the form of Sackboy. Dreams is a harder sell. The creation parts of the game are the main draw, and this has been the only focus of material coming out of Media Molecule, with the exception of the 2017 trailer which had lots of the campaign in it – which to be honest just made people confused as to what Dreams was. This confusion and the complete lack of exposure at the major Expos has not helped market Dreams to the general public, who are generally unaware of it. There are no other game engines on the Playstation, or the Xbox (since the closure of Project Spark) and the only games similar are things like Mario Maker and of course LBP. The majority of the buying public would not know what a game engine was, and would certainly not have any urge to buy one, so to get big purchasing numbers they would be better off marketing it as a game.

If they market it as a game, then they have to have a strong game component within it. They have spent a long time creating a campaign, to the extent that it is not ready even now. No one outside of Media Molecule have seen it. It will not be present in the Early Access version of the game either, which like the Beta will concentrate on the Creative side only. On top of this they are hoping the community are going to build a few strong game titles for people to play at launch. People taking part in the Beta have not been exposed to very much game content at all, so it is easy to not see Dreams as a game but as a creative tool (which of cause it is at its core). It is therefore difficult to comment on how successful the campaign will be to encourage gamers to buy Dreams.

I personally do not see calling Dreams a game an issue, a problem or a detriment to Dreams itself. The Playstation is a console. It is designed as an entertainment hub for games and entertainment content. It is not a computer. Apps are not the main product here. Tools are not the main product here. Games are. And what is a game? It is an interactive entertainment, and you cannot say that Dreams does not meet that criteria.

Yes it is a game engine. Yes it is a level creator. Yes it is a game. It is everything, and can pretty much make everything, and as such it is very exciting. The element of play in this title will be huge. If you are planning on buying Dreams just to create you are missing out on 50% of the experience, and vice versa. There are going to be so many gaming experiences available, you may find you do not play AAA games as much as you used to. For me Dreams is going to be one of the the greatest game experiences I have had on the Playstation. It is  a game, and it will have in it my game, that I made, that I shared. I can’t wait.

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