How Media Molecule Developed Fun and Effective Tools in Dreams


Motivation of the player, constant gamedzhemy and unique engine.

Extremely ambitious creative engine Dreams is like nothing else that can be found on consoles. The authors added tools to the game to record and mix audio, create their own models and animation, study the logic of the game world and much more.

It should be borne in mind that Media Molecule was originally limited to the features of the PlayStation 4, so the studio was important to develop a fun and intuitive set of tools. Despite the complexity of the task, the team was able to cope with this thanks to the culture of gamejam, combined with years of iteration and testing.

Author Gamasutra spoke with Senior Media Molecule artist John Eckersley and communications manager Abby Heppe and learned how the studio developed the tools for Dreams and how the team plans to improve them with feedback. We have chosen the main thing from the text.

Initially, Dreams was created as a tool for sculpturing, invented by programmer Anton Kirkzenov as a result of many studio games. The sculpture tool used the CSG technique (constructive solid geometry) to combine simple shapes and create more complex sculptures. This forms the basis of how objects are created in Dreams. But Media Molecule initially tried to find a “picturesque” art-style, to which she came now.

For a long time after the Dreams announcement, all we could do was sculptures. Karim Ettuni, art director, promoted the idea that in the industry, concept art always differs from what it ends up with. And he said: “I want it to look the same.” We tried for a very long time to achieve this with the help of our original sculpturing engine.

John ackersley senior artist media molecule

Alex Evans, one of the technical directors of Media Molecule, in his report “Learning from Failure” at Umbra Ignite 2015 called this early Brick Engine. In his speech, he spoke in detail about the numerous modifications of the sculpturing engine. Nevertheless, it is better suited for artists than for the ordinary player.

To solve this problem, Evans and his team tried several different solutions before they finally developed an engine based on splats, which was later renamed BubbleBath Engine. This new engine allows players to easily recreate the impressionist style of Dreams, regardless of their experience with the tools, and gives the game a personality that is different from other more technical engines, such as Unity or the Unreal Engine.

Dreams has largely evolved from this sculptural instrument. A striking example of this is that players can use the same primitive forms for drawing objects as for sculpting. This provides players with easy-to-remember actions.

From the very beginning, we wanted to make the players have ample opportunity to create content. It was extremely ambitious for such a small team. And I think the creation of sculpturing tools was the first major breakthrough.

John ackersley senior artist media molecule

In many respects, the designer’s wide opportunities are related to the fact that team members constantly walked between departments and offered various ideas. For example, Alex Evans, who was engaged in the graphics engine, shared his experience with the department responsible for audio.

The studio paid much attention to accessibility for beginners. The team considered it important that everyone could start the game and create something of their own. With the help of Dreams Media, Molecule wanted to demystify the idea of ​​creativity, encouraging those who do not usually create. This meant developing a toolkit for which no technical knowledge was required.

It was about how we can enable creative people to create things that are not necessarily complex from a technical point of view. We knew we should avoid this. So, we had people who had very little experience with 3D tools and so on, but they did some of the best things you can see in Dreams.

John ackersley senior artist media molecule

To achieve this, the team minimized the number of menu items and focused on managing gestures. For example, players can simultaneously press both movement buttons and then push controllers to zoom in in a three-dimensional environment.

We wanted to empower people and give them different options. Traditional tools really look frightening to me – these are endless menus, sliders and settings … This makes standard engines very powerful, but this approach reduces the number of people who can use them.

John ackersley senior artist media molecule

Another philosophy at the heart of Dreams is the idea of ​​“Stealth Create,” as Eckersley calls it. This is a concept developed by the Media Molecule team, for example, for Tearaway, and is designed to encourage players to delve into the creation tools.

Eckersley points to a specific task in Tearaway as an example of using such a concept – it was necessary to decorate a pumpkin, the design of which will later appear on other objects. The idea is to set a relatively simple task for the players, and then show them that, contrary to their own beliefs, they are able to create something special. All this is done in the hope that as a result they will become more confident in their abilities and will be more willing to create.

In Dreams, this is manifested in the fact that the game and its tools are designed to guide users along the path to creativity. To give an example, a newcomer to the game can simply create a scene with objects that they find in the Dreamiverse. And after that they will be able to proceed to the change and transformation of these previously created objects. And this should eventually push them to try to make their own models and sculptures.

Sound is another great example. First you can find a track that someone else made and put it in your game, your movie or something else. The next part of this process is the search for individual stemes and their combination in the sequencer. And so step by step.

John ackersley senior artist media molecule

Sculpting was not the only idea that emerged from gamejam. The studio continued to puzzle over the entire development of the game, creating a diverse solution, such as the clone repeat feature, which allows users to quickly copy and paste objects to create platforms and stairs.

With this, you can make fractals. I can’t remember who suggested it, but someone said: “Why don’t we continue to clone an object to a certain point?” Therefore, if you start from the top step and then clone it, you can create the perfect staircase each time. And it came from one of these little gamejams. And this is really good.

John ackersley senior artist media molecule

Many of these ideas have been implemented to add fun to the toolkit and give players tactile ways of creativity. For example, a color palette is another idea that has emerged in gamejam, which allows players to select several different colors from the menu and then sort through them while drawing.

Due to the fact that the game was released in early access, the team received feedback from the community to continue to improve the tools. The studio has already received many suggestions on features as well as settings that will help ease the game.

It was really interesting because there are a lot of things that we wanted to add to Dreams, and that helps us prioritize. So, on the one hand, you have very specific examples of tools that are suitable for the most hardcore creators. On the other hand, there are tools that help newcomers join the community and find their way.

Abby Heppe communications manager

For example, thanks to the feedback, the developers learned that the movement control is not suitable for everyone, so in the future the team will work on developing an alternative management method.

In conclusion, Happy noted that it is very important to listen to their users, because they often bring feedback that help improve the toolkit and various functions of the game.


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