How do Dreams creators plan their projects?
Dreams is a pretty unique creative platform, if we do say so ourselves. Where else can you go from exploring a fantasy plush toy shop to playing a minimalist isometric shooter, before listening to an entire concept album? Apart from, you know, in your actual dreams - and even then, it’d take a lot of cheese.
Little wonder, then, that when we asked Dreams developers to describe their creative processes, we saw such a diverse array of techniques that dreamers use to spark ideas, plan approaches and keep teams organised. From inspirational music playlists to PlayStation Share Screen and even a toast rack, here are the surprising secrets behind how some of our best and brightest begin their projects.
Our developers at Lumbox Studios are very visual creators. We use a lot of different applications from Discord, Milanote, Trello, and Playstation's Share Screen. Playstation's Share Screen allows for fast playtesting and reviews, so as we are designing and updating levels @pbgamer96 is testing the most recent saves right away and we can get instant visual feedback on bugs or level design. For any ideas or bugs that need to be addressed, we will usually place a screenshot in Milanote - or if we are already together on Discord, we will post it accordingly in the respective chat.
When I have an idea, I note everything in my notebook - I must have dozens of notebooks at home. Sometimes it was an idea for a riddle, a character, a plot, a dialogue, a storyboard... This allows me to put my ideas down and improve them once on Dreams. By putting an idea on the paper, we allow it to mature. All the ideas that I could not do (often for lack of skills), I keep them for the sequel!
Usually, my process for creative projects starts with broad strokes: block in some shapes, define my goals, and set the scope. For Starfighter Gemini, I knew I wanted to make a shmup, I wanted it to have a unique mechanic, and I wanted there to be six stages. Once I get going and have something generally working, I start to scrutinise it and figure out what's working and what isn't. When I'm not able to work on Dreams, I'll take notes in my phone so that I don't forget ideas that I have while out at work or visiting friends.
So, I will just say my process has no initial planning stage. As you can see from the pictures, it started with an item from my house - usually as a quick Sunday morning bit of fun. My church mountain in Iceland piece evolved from a photo I took, to a quick sculpt, and several months later became my most successful dream. I love that aspect of working like this. A rock becomes a landscape, eventually!
Apart from the usual stuff like Trello Boards and dev Discords, I have a Spotify playlist for every game I work on to get into the right mood and mindset to work on that particular game. Music inspires me a lot, and sparks new ideas. For my game Glitch-R, I use this particular playlist,(opens in new tab) and it’s worked really well so far.
I begin by imagining the character's general shape, personality, and backstory to make the character fit in the world I'm building. I quickly switch to my iPad and start sketching, add colours, or just focus on the outline with a basic T-pose. I like this workflow: it gives you a good idea of what shapes you will need in Dreams, as you already drew them! Now I just place a puppet, shape it to fit the sketch, and see it quickly come to life. That's my favourite part!
Concept art on the left, Dreams result on the right:
Team Pig Detective (Lotte_Double)
Our work process isn't very presentable, I'm afraid. Here are some pictures anyway, to amuse you.
My toastrack method for organising voice-acting. In front: lines I have sent out and received back. 2nd row: lines sent out but pending. Then people that are cast but haven't got lines yet. Row 4, people I'd like to ask but I haven't got around to it. Back row: uncast characters.
This is obviously at the start of the project. The cards get unbelievably messy with time.
The categories in our PD Discord are all named after desserts. That's because George loves sweets. Here is where the core team discusses most processes. We've never had a proper work meeting due to our time zones (USA, UK, EUR and AUS).
Andy and I have shared notes where I dump reference pictures for characters and especially their dresses. This is just one of the ways we exchange reference pictures - there are also Google folders and Excel sheets, but they don't photograph as well.
Seb and I actually do the thing with the murderboard in our living room. It isn't very pretty because we don't have professional equipment and just use old cork boards and... I think that used to be a door? Anyway, I included a picture from Pig Detective 3. And we have a proper whiteboard now.
Attached is a picture of my Dreams board. On it are some noticeable logos and faces. Underneath the artistic flair of Mighty Vicious' art of him and I surfing through the Made in Dreams Podcast, there are some hidden secret details on our upcoming project: Deeno. Although we have systems in place to manage our work such as Trello, website portals, Discord etc, I find a board helpful for those "Oh, what about that?" moments that I will then share with the team. It’s also fun to draw sometimes ;)
SPOILERS for Lock ahead!
I pre-plan as much as possible, and I almost always work in reverse. I need to know where I’m going to end up before I can start anything. In Lock, several puzzles had extremely limiting constraints because of how they were used later. Puzzles needed to be mechanically sound enough to be expanded on for a second time. And all the solutions for early puzzles were reused later, which extremely limited the answer words. I spent a year working out the game in a notebook, designing and testing tons of versions of each puzzle, before starting it in Dreams.
My creative process takes place as 3am notes on my nightstand, scribbles on the backs of bill envelopes, and impromptu voice recordings on my phone. I try to keep things together in a Google Drive, collect inspiration on Pinterest, and keep quick general sketches, but mostly allow creating live in Dreams to let things develop. For RADICAL, I typecast my zombies based on ‘80s tropes, and drew out dance moves in stick figure form for keyframes. I see that Ashley had a moustache in another life, so that may require a Very Special Episode reunion.
First, I make a rough sketch of my idea. If I'm satisfied with it, I draw it with a stronger line and color in the picture. A picture usually consists of several parts, so it is easier for me to add effects, such as hair that blows in the wind etc. In the end, I put everything together.
As a screenwriter and graphic artist, I like to work in comic book format to plan a dream. It allows me to convey a more complete picture and mood than a simple storyboard. Everything may not be translatable, but the feelings are there.
The Dreams User Guide is a work-in-progress. Keep an eye out for updates as we add more learning resources and articles over time.