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Creating complicated art in Dreams is shockingly easy

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I thought the controls would be a nightmare, but I was wrong

Dreams intro screenshot Media Molecule/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Dreams for PlayStation 4 seems almost too good to be true. It’s a video game-meets-creative-suite that enables players to craft 3D characters, full environments, visual art, music, and even full video games inside itself. I’ve been making digital art for almost two decades, and I’ve never been able to create this much content in a single application — let alone one I can use from the comfort of my couch.

While the depth of the creative possibilities in Dreams is impressive, I’m more interested in seeing how LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule’s project can stack up against traditional creation hardware and software. Could my PS4 and a single DualShock 4 controller compete with my beefy PC, mouse and keyboard, drawing tablet, and VR headset? Not completely, as I found out during Dreams’ recent private beta — but the game does come surprisingly close.

I control Dreams with just the motion sensor, buttons, and analog sticks in the controller. Within seconds of learning the controls, I was creating 3D objects, speeding through menus, tweaking my creations, and editing my work freely inside a 3D space. The ease of which soon became comparable to using ZBrush on a drawing tablet or sculpting in virtual reality in Oculus Medium.

It’s fascinating how Dreams almost replicates the near-natural manipulation of objects in 3D space, something that I’ve only experienced in VR, and it’s done without a camera, headset, or even more than one controller. The game doesn’t even require the PlayStation camera, as I use a combination of the analog sticks and motion controls to move the cursor along the X, Y, and Z axes. I create every 3D object in the game while laying back on my couch with a single DualShock in my hands. (However, if you have them, you can use up to two PlayStation Move controllers for smoother motion controls.) This simple setup comes pretty close to what I’ve experienced creating 3D models in VR, made better by the fact that it doesn’t require actually being in virtual reality.

Regardless of how you use Dreams, the cursor itself is an in-game character called an Imp, a cute, customizable little fluff ball with a face. My round pal also has an antenna that’s more than just for show. The glowing end acts as a multipurpose cursor, handling clicking on icons and menus with ease along with the motion controls.

Media Molecule showing off how easy it is to add fins to a fish
Media Molecule showing off how easy it is to add fins to a fish
Media Molecule via Polygon

The antenna latches onto whatever point it’s touching in 3D space whenever I grab an object by holding the R2 button. I can push and pull objects by moving my whole controller around or by using the analog sticks. The stretching and squishing of the antenna acts as a strong visual guide for how much force I’m applying to each held object. I can even lower the strength of the push and pull action by holding a modifier button, which makes fine-tuned movement with the DualShock much more precise than I anticipated.

The elastic nature of the antenna helps bridge the gap between the movement of waving a PS4 controller around into something that feels natural within the 3D space of the content creation tools. It takes some getting used to, but I became comfortable with the control scheme, to the point where I found that it approached the ease of use of the modeling software I’m used to.

Media Molecule showing off the music editor
Media Molecule showing off the music editor
Media Molecule via Polygon

There are tools for other disciplines tucked into Dreams as well, such as music creation, painting, and animation. Practicing one makes me better at another, because the control schemes are shared across the software’s different modes. The benefit of a shared control language makes the whole package feel cohesive and fun in a way that’s rare in software; I’m not used to carrying skills over between such different modes of creations in this manner. Learning to use a painting program doesn’t often make you a better composer.

When I first saw the trailers for Dreams, I was skeptical that Media Molecule could create something comparable to the design tools I already have at my disposal. But I stand corrected after spending a few hours with Dreams. While Dreams will hardly replace any of the gear I have in my own home, the included tools come close to matching their capabilities for a fraction of the cost.

Dreams will be released for PlayStation 4 later this year.