Dreams at its core is a blank canvas. With its wide range of tools, players can express their creativity in whatever way they see fit. They might want to build a 1:1 recreation of their favourite game, compose their own original music, or — if they’re like Tyler Whittaker build a series of elaborate inventions, from fitness games to cardboard peripherals.
Whittaker, who goes by TannicAlloy online, started showcasing his experiments in April 2019 on a Twitter account called TannicAlloy Dream Journal. The original purpose of the account was to demonstrate his creations to his family, but it has since gained attention from the Dreams community for his offbeat projects and ideas. For Whittaker, Dreams ties into what he loves most about video games — taking the intended experience and finding new ways of interacting with it beyond what’s expected.
A Spark of Inspiration
“What got me into Dreams was probably the sculpting tools,” Whittaker tells me. “When I was in my mid-teens I was really into Autodesk Maya. I took a couple of classes in a community college. There was a personal learning edition that you could get at home for free and I had a ton of fun with that. I think my cousin was the one who introduced me to that. I saw a project he was working on and went, ‘That’s awesome, I want to do that too.’ But then like keeping that hobby in my life would have been so expensive.”
When Media Molecule first announced Dreams, the two things that excited Whittaker most about the creation system were the breadth of its tools and its affordability. Prior to release, Whittaker was busy constantly drafting up new ideas and telling his friends and family about what he had planned for when he finally got his hands on the game. The first experiments he attempted were mostly based around the sculpting feature, finding objects around his apartment, like a blender, and transforming them into sci-fi creations. However, he soon set his mind to another project, building a series of instruments using the PS4’s DualShock and Move controllers.
“I remember Media Molecule were doing their dark castle video… and they had a feature where I think it was Ed [Hargrave, an audio designer at Media Molecule] who just made lightning sounds, and he had the lights respond to [the sound],” Whittaker explains. “Then I realized, ‘Okay, so I can take positive outputs and plug them into whatever else.’ And I just ran away with that.”
The first musical instrument he created was a trumpet, which works using the DualShock speaker. The player can blow into the speaker to produce a sound and then change the note using the gyro and the buttons on the controller. He posted a video demonstrating this on Twitter and the positive response encouraged him to develop other instruments as well, including a harp, a ukulele, a violin, and a drum kit.
A key aspect of these builds is that he wants them to be played using actions that are as faithful as possible to the original instrument. For instance, you need to kick a DualShock pedal and hit invisible drum cylinders with the Move controllers to play the drums, pluck strings running from the DualShock’s analogue sticks to play the harp, and change your finger placement on a makeshift fretboard to construct chords on the ukulele. These creations are a mixture of digital and hand-crafted elements, with many relying on cardboard facsimiles à la Nintendo Labo to closer match the real-world equivalent.
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Whittaker has also taken to tackling some other themes with his experiments — his other main interest is interactive storytelling. These tests have included devising a screen tilt feature that allows him to lift the TV monitor to change the gravity of a scene, rigging the game so that a pouring motion would fill the screen with water, and constructing tools that would turn his dictation into illegible squiggles on the screen.
“I’ve had some people call me out for witchcraft and that’s given me a good laugh,” Whittaker tells me. “But from the instruments and just learning different things, it spawned new ideas of what to do. I always wanted to use Dreams as interactive storytelling. That was something that was big for me pre-release because my nephews love it when I tell them bedtime stories, so as obsessive as I was with Dreams I was thinking, ‘Okay, how can I use Dreams for that?'”
I am having so much fun making an assortment of instruments in #DreamsPS4 out of a DualShock 4’s speaker! Here are two of my prototypes: a trumpet and a violin. I have more in the works. Thank you @mediamolecule for the tools. #MadeInDreams pic.twitter.com/lI6cJYgYDB
— TannicAlloy Dream Journal (@tannicalloy) May 13, 2019
Most of Whittaker’s creations are only prototypes that are awaiting further implementation, but there’s an infectious enthusiasm and energy to everything he creates. For instance, he recently built a short fitness demo that includes RPG elements. Players can do push-ups to enable them to lift heavier objects, perform sit-ups to increase their health, and do jumping jacks to make their character run faster. In order to make this all work, he straps the DualShock controller to his arms and uses the gyro controls in order to monitor his performance.
“I thought, what other things can I mimic? And I had been talking to a friend about this PE class where I had to get so many gym hours,” Whittaker recalls. “I thought I could mimic the motion of doing push-ups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks using the techniques from my instruments, and have them respond to me actually doing the exercises. And so, that idea evolved into rather than just having a tracker, having your character get stronger as you yourself get stronger.”
Dreaming in VR
Perhaps the biggest challenge Whittaker has undertaken in Dreams is implementing some VR functionality. While the game is still yet to receive official VR implementation, Whittaker has experimented with creating a set-up that would replicate a VR experience, using the PlayStation controllers’ gyro features.
“That one is a bit of tricky build,” he says. “So the idea there was I could attach a motion controller to my head, as silly as it would look, and have that track in the 3D space and have a puppet respond accordingly. I ran into some problems with the camera, because I tried to do it live. So you would start up the level and the camera would just spasm wildly. It would rotate totally fast and uncontrollably, and so I kind of set that project to rest for a while.”
Recently, while working on another project, however, he made a breakthrough. Rather than having the camera correspond to where the controller was pointing, he grouped it to an object and then had the camera modify that object to change the view depending on how far away it was from the centre of the screen. This limited the effect to a much smaller range of movements, but gave him more precise control.
New project: a haunted tv! The ghost only shows when I’m not looking. And I wanted to show stuff in the video, but I had to look to do it. ???? Anyway, this build is just a quick proof-of-concept. I plan to use this technique in my interactive storytelling. #DreamsPS4 #MadeInDreams pic.twitter.com/yh2ukJgtFF
— TannicAlloy Dream Journal (@tannicalloy) August 29, 2019
“I just retooled the build a little bit and then it kind of mimicked VR,” states Whittaker. “In the VR headset, it just shows the movie room style thing, so to the person wearing the headset it’s not true VR. But outside of that to the shared screen, it looks like they’re watching someone play something in VR.”
Despite still being in Early Access, the Dreams community is already hard at work pushing the tools beyond what Media Molecule could have anticipated. But what’s interesting about these creators isn’t just their ambition, but how the community has come together to share their ideas and insight. This is something that Whittaker is keen to get more involved in.
“I’m definitely open for it,” states Whittaker. “I consider myself a bit old-fashioned. I’m not big on social media. Not so much that I think it is a bad thing. Just that I hardly ever go on. But there’s been some amazing creators out there and I’d be totally open to collaborating. So far, it’s just kind of been me experimenting at home.”