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Dream Surfing in Dreams is Delightfully Hit and Miss

educational videogames dreams

I’ve no interest in designing my own games. I’m not creative enough, I don’t have the patience, and I’m 100% certain whatever I could come up with would be absolute trash.

But I’ve still been very interested in Dreams, Media Molecule’s long-awaited project that allows PlayStation 4 users to build and design comprehensive games from scratch, right within its software.

I’ve had a tinker with the design tools, sure, but it’s Dreams‘ library of games that I’ve been most curious about. Along with a healthy smattering of short titles made by the Media Molecule team itself, Dreams allows you to play any creation from members of the community. In theory, then, you’ve got a near-unlimited library of games spanning all genres, made by people from all backgrounds and walks of life.

“You won’t have to Dream Surf for long until you find something that catches your eye”

That is a very exciting prospect for someone who loves games. Called Dream Surfing, the ‘play’ portion of Dreams allows you to search for games made by members of the community, browse categories or see curated collections of selected games. As you can imagine for something that allows anyone to submit their creations, Dream Surfing is filled with weird and wonderful games and pieces of art. Some are incredible; many are not.

Your first port of call will probably be Media Molecule’s own showcase piece. Called Art’s Dream, it’s a two-hour long adventure exploring the mental state of the titular Art, a musician who has lost his way recently. It’s a beautiful game in its own right; you’ll play through platforming sections with brought-to-life recreations of his childhood toys, and interact with the environment as Art in point-and-click style sections. There’s even some side-scrolling shooter and on-rails action. It stands well as a standalone experience, but Art’s Dream‘s primary purpose is to showcase what can be created in DreamsYou can create a game like this, it says, if only you put your mind to it.

But that’s the thing: Art’s Dream has been created by the very people who created Dreams. They know the software in and out. They’ve been working on this for the best part of the decade – heck, it was announced before even the PS4 existed. If a regular user has the capability to create something even half as technical as Art’s Dream, it’s highly unlikely they’re going to be creating it in Dreams; they’ll be working with industry-standard game engines instead.

Even so, you won’t have to Dream Surf for long until you find something that catches your eye. Heck, a lot of it has been circulating on social media. You’ve probably seen that super-realistic looking full English breakfast that was created in Dreams:

Image credit: @Johnee_B/Twitter

It looks incredible. To think that something so realistic has been created in Dreams is, quite frankly, mind-blowing – even if the person who created it also happens to be a senior designer at Media Molecule. But this ‘Forest in the Rain’ scene created by Twitter user @BRobo82 is equally awe-inspiring:

Here’s another: Outpost 60 by BrianTaylor60. This one sees you exploring a gorgeously-rendered space station:

You don’t have to look far to find gorgeous creations like these. But there’s one problem: they’re not games. Or, not yet anyway, in some cases. @Johnee_B’s breakfast plate is literally just that: a static breakfast plate. You can’t interact with it; it’s just an impressive piece of art to look at. @BRobo82’s forest is explorable, but it doesn’t feature any gameplay elements. At least, not yet: it’s not actually available to play on Dreams right now, as the creator hopes to develop it into an actual game first. Similarly, Outpost 60 is an ‘ongoing project’, so it’s possible that at some point it will have actual gameplay features, but at the minute it’s just a large 3D space that can be explored.

“You’ll find a whole gamut of content while Dream Surfing. The very good, and the horrendously bad”

There’s an awful lot of content like this on Dreams. Handily, there’s a series of labels that let you know exactly what you’re looking at – whether it’s a game, a showcase, or a piece of art. And while those showcases are inspiring, it’s the games you’ll come across when Dream Surfing that are the real draw. But as Dreams is available to anyone, and anyone can upload their creations, you’ll find a whole gamut of content while Dream Surfing. The very good, and the horrendously bad.

Dream Surfing’s curation goes some way in sorting the wheat from the chaff, but it’s not without its problems. The Media Molecule-selected content is, naturally, very slim. So while it ignores some terrible stuff, it also fails to highlight some really great creations, too. Same goes for the ‘most popular’ and ‘most viewed’ lists; except with these, you’ll often see low-quality creations pop up. Case in point: the very first game that caught my eye when I loaded up Dreams for the first time was ‘Thomas the Dank Engine‘. I had “come on, motherfuckers, come on” stuck in my head for far too long as a result.

A little more searching around, though, and it’s not hard to find some truly stand-out experiences. Many of them are short – just a few minutes – but these blink-and-you’ll-miss-it experiences are, in my opinion, some of the best that Dreams has to offer. Little snippets of creativity that you’ll genuinely not find anywhere else in the console gaming world.

“…these blink-and-you’ll-miss-it experiences are some of the best that Dreams has to offer.”

For instance, there’s the delightful yet somewhat tragic Please Hug Me (made by Media Molecule), where you take control of a cuboid character who just wants to hug the aliens in front of him. Sadly, they don’t want to hug him back, so as you approach them, they’ll simply run away, falling off the edge of the platform you’re all standing on. That’s all there is to it; when no aliens remain, the game’s over. It takes less than a minute, but it’s a delightful minute.

Equally entertaining is the platform-puzzler Shadow Ball by DirtyHarolds. What’s unusual about this one is the game’s background shadows don’t always match the foreground; you’ll need to pay attention to both to figure out the true path you need to take. There’s only a few playable levels, so you’ll be done in a matter of minutes, but it’s a clever take on a well-trodden genre.

There are more fully-featured experiences to discover while Dream Surfing, too. A work-in-progress RPG caught my eye: Mimeo Prophecy. Created by raz0rbackzwei, it aims to recapture the joy of “good old RPGs”. It sees you play as Cody and his friends who set out to investigate a creepy scientist’s house on the outskirts of their town. There’s only around an hour of gameplay right now (with the promise of more to come), but just that initial hour showed a lot of promise. There’s a fully-functioning town to explore, NPCs to speak to, and side quests to complete. It feels like a “real” game.

So too does Galaxy Cadet 2020 by RdbJellyfish and 1collaborator, which took me by surprise (in the best way). I thought I was in for a simple, old-school Asteroids-style shooter. That’s how the game starts out, anyway. But after a few levels, your game “crashes”, and you find yourself in an arcade. Except, something doesn’t seem right. As you move around, you’ll find robots patrolling rows of arcade cabinets, and they’ll stop you passing by should they see you. It seems no human is allowed to leave the game they’re playing. Uh-oh.

Galaxy Cadet 2020 isn’t a long game – but if you suck at stealth as much as I do, it’ll take a few attempts to complete! It’s the ingenuity that stands out with this one; it goes to show that Dreams truly offers an accessible tool to let people bring their best ideas to life.

One thing that’s hard to ignore when you begin Dream Surfing, though, is the sheer amount of unauthorised license usage. Whether this will become a problem for Media Molecule remains to be seen – as content isn’t (currently) monetised, it’s unlikely to pose an issue, but it does become a little overwhelming when surfing for original ideas. I’ve already mentioned Thomas the ‘Dank’ Engine. But within seconds you’ll be flooded with knock-off Sonic, Mario, Zelda, Silent Hill and Portal content. And the rest.

Admittedly, some of it is rather good. P.T. has been remade in its entirety in Dreams and, considering it’s an experience not available in its original form, it’s an interesting way to revisit the much-lauded demo. There’s also a fully-fledged Sonic Adventure game that lets you control the blue hedgehog in an open-world romp. A Super Mario 64-inspired Mario game has also proved popular with players.

“As a fluid library of content that’s ever-evolving… it’d be impossible to ever see everything that’s available on Dreams”

But there are less well-made rip-offs too. I found myself playing a Dream called ‘SHREK IT’S VERY LARGE STAIRCASE‘, where you play as a questionably-made Shrek faced with, uh, a very large staircase. Smash Mouth played on in the background while a lumbering homemade Shrek made his way down a precarious set of stairs. It was bad, but I played it to completion.

All of what I’ve seen in my time Dream Surfing so far, though, has only just touched the tip of the iceberg. As a fluid library of content that’s ever-evolving as new content gets added or improved upon, it’d be impossible to ever see everything that’s available on Dreams. And that’s part of the beauty of it. Every time you load up the game and head into Dream Surfing mode, you’ll always be presented with new experiences. There’ll always be something you’ve never seen before, good or bad. Sure, there’s a lot of terrible, terrible content to wade through, but finding something good feels truly special.

At the most basic level, Dreams is a showcase of what people are capable of when given the right set of tools (and, in a lot of cases, have a lot of free time). But it goes to show that many of us are capable of wonderful, wonderful things. Seeing people’s creativity come to life in weird and wonderful ways – even if the resulting experience isn’t exactly AAA standard – is wholesome, heartening and rewarding.

Editor in chief // Kim's been into video games since playing Dizzy on her brother's Commodore 64 as a nipper. She'll give just about anything a go, but she's got a particular soft spot for indie adventures. If she's not gaming, she'll be building Lego, reading a thriller, watching something spooky or... asleep. She does love to sleep.