This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Dreams.
Yahtzee, do you have dreams? Of course I have dreams. I dream of the day you stop breaking into my house to ask me stupid questions. I dream of finding a commercial grade air freshener that covers the smell from the basement. No I mean, do you have Dreams on the PS4, the new game – well, game-tangent creativity experience – by the people who made Little Big Planet who appear to be trying to pull off the same scam where they get young creatives to pay to make their content for them. Dreams is the next logical step from Little Big Planet in that instead of just making levels for a slightly twee platformer you can now make entire slightly twee games from the ground up with a suite of inbuilt art, animation and coding tools.
I assume people have been asking me to cover this thing partly because I’m an established hobbyist game designer currently doing a side series in which I pledge to make twelve games in twelve months the way a small child goes “Hey everyone look at me” just before they crack themselves in the eye with a rock. But partly I suspect because a lot of people started up Dreams, watched the intro sequence, and then said “Someone really needs to piss all over this.”
So that’s what I’m going to do, Media Molecule, I’m going to piss all over your Dreams. And if you called it that to make me feel bad about pissing all over it then you obviously don’t know me very well. The intro and tutorial dialogue has the tone of a kindergarten teacher handing out gold stars to everyone for all being equally special. Welcome to a magical universe of your very own where you can realise your wildest imaginings as long as they’re slightly twee. Bitch, I can realise my wildest imaginings with a blank wall and a handful of shit. You didn’t invent creativity.
The invention of creativity occurred in 1988 when Robert Zemeckis directed Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and you don’t look much like Robert Zemeckis. The next step in our creativity journey is to play the example game, a game about a broody jazz musician going through a symbolic odyssey of self-doubt after someone mildly criticises him which makes me think he should hang out with Kay from Sea of Solitude so they can have fun getting the fuck over themselves together. But because it’s a showcase it has to contrivedly switch between noir adventure and cartoon platformer and various other set pieces and musical numbers which makes it a bit of a tonal dog’s breakfast.
Especially when the protagonist uses the word “shit” at one point, which I took special note of, because it was quite a lurch for the established family friendly vibe. Don’t tell me shit’s been downgraded, I hate having to update my swear matrix. I guess it doesn’t matter since the sample game’s only purpose is to say “Hey, we made this in Dreams and so could you!” Yes, Media Molecule, I suppose I could, just as soon as I, too, have access to a studio full of industry standard professionals and pay them all a salary, but considering you expect me to release it for free on your network I might prefer to reserve my cash for something with a better return of investment, like heroin.
So it’s not exactly inspiring, it’s like giving someone a bucket and spade and then lecturing them on the history of industrialised strip mining. I went through some tutorials and fair’s fair, it is an extensive suite of 3D art tools and drag and drop coding systems that could potentially realise a lot of complex visions. But the big question that I keep coming back to is, why bother when I could just do all this on PC with a mouse and keyboard rather than having to relearn basic drag and drop skills with a PS4 controller like a man clumsily attempting to remove Tinkerbell’s bra.
Oh Yahtzee you crumbly old gaming insider, you’ve got it all wrong. Of course it’s not trying to compete with commercial game creation tools, it’s a creativity toy for the kiddiwinks to get their coding feet wet in between naps and demands for McDonalds. See, I just think it’s too complex for that. You’re talking about it being like playing with Lego, I say it’s more like playing with Lego with a pair of remote controlled animatronic hands with a two hundred page operators’ manual. Once these drag and drop engines go past a certain level of depth I feel like they can’t be that much easier than just learning to code, as I struggle to memorise a new language of icons and seriously chafe Tinkerbell’s nipples trying to line up a cuboid.
I feel like making a game in Dreams would be like cleaning a bathroom floor with the eyelashes of a horse – impressive, yes, but there were much easier ways. And you’ll have very little use for all that horse-wrangling expertise you had to learn if you want to move into cleaning bathroom floors on a professional level. Even more so after Sony inevitably decides it can’t be bothered to support clean bathroom floors anymore and turns the servers off, sending everyone’s hard work right down the bathroom drain. Yes, I have completely lost the fucking thread of this metaphor.
But what of playing the games, what of being the societal parasite in the objectivist utopia that is Dreams. The content is arranged like the layers of a trifle made by dementia patients – it starts at the top with the cream, mostly Media Molecule’s example games made, as discussed above, by professionals being paid money. Then under that, the custard, the hand-picked smattering of decently playable games made by earnest creatives, presumably mostly bedridden and with nothing else to do all day but count the ceiling tiles. And then under that comes everything else, a bottomless ocean of ranch dressing and polystyrene, mostly games consisting of two buildings plonked on an empty field and released as “super early pre-alpha test demo for the epic open world sandbox action RPG I’m totally going to make after I break both my legs and the ceiling tiles lose their allure.”
About fifty percent of which feature Sonic the Hedgehog. But that’s all to be expected and no reason to be discouraging. I made sure to leave a like on the small number of games that I felt got into the right spirit of things, offering nice straightforward gameplay loops, occasionally even original ones, and as I looked around at the colourful menus and the careful curation algorithms at work, I found myself thinking “Y’know, it’ll be a real shame when this all gets taken over by perverts.”
These things always are, Media Molecule. The Sonic the Hedgehog fans are the warning sign. Now Sonic fans aren’t necessarily perverts, basketball players aren’t necessarily tall but it fucking helps. Sooner or later they bring in that one character who’s a bat with tits and the furries have got a foot in your door. Remember Second Life? Once a lovely wholesome attempt at a community-created online world of pure imagination, now just zebra dicks and yiff piles as far as the eye can see. The earnest creators will all return or graduate to more efficient systems once the novelty wears off and then all your fancy 3D art tools are so much fantasy penis shaping equipment.
What’re you gonna do, screen all incoming content for the rest of your fucking life? Smarter and more dedicated people than you have tried to hold back the masturbators, and the masturbators always win, probably because they’ve got all the stamina. See, this happy-clappy everyone’s-special approach just isn’t preparing the kiddiwinks for the realities of life as a creative. Stress. Rejection letters. Audience indifference. The frustration when someone makes twice as much money as you just from drawing nipples on Princess Sally Acorn.