Jacob Heayes might have the single coolest gig of all time. As a member of Media Molecule's curation team, it's his job to play all the latest and greatest Dreams released by our coMmunity, and then to organise the front page of Dreams to ensure the rest of the world can enjoy them, too. Here, we talk to Jacob about his origins as a student journalist, and the challenges that come with curating the wonders of the Dreamiverse.
Hi Jacob! What do you do here at Media Molecule?
I work in the curation team. Saying the word 'curation' can feel like opening a can of worms as it can mean so many things. But I think that the beauty of Media Molecule's curation team is that it’s this sort of weird, alien new department that is still very fresh. And that’s true not just here, but in the videogames industry in general. Media Molecule's curation team has been around for about a year and a half now, and was created after Dreams launched, when it became clear that you would need a way of sorting all these incredible Dreams. We try to find the most interesting and unique creations, and make sure that they are surfaced as much as possible to get the attention they deserve.
I think there's a general perception that we just get paid to play a lot of Dreams all day - which obviously we do, as playing Dreams is a fundamental part of the process of knowing if these experiences are worth seeking out. But the real meat of the job is seeking out those treasures that are maybe bit more hidden, and that people don't find in their average play session of Dreams.
Do you think that curation is important generally for the videogames industry as well?
I think curation is only going to get more important as time goes on and that's why I'm really excited to be working in one of those cutting-edge curation teams. As we move more into this era of people playing and creating a lot of user-generated content, creativity and self-expression is becoming really important in digital spaces. You’ll need people who can find and know what's worth seeking out and what's worth spotlighting, so that people who are playing it just to experience the offerings don't have to do as much of that work. But there has been a resurgence of trying to show and preserve those classic games and that is a form of curation itself. I'd like to think that with Dreams curation, we like to try and show off older classics as well as new releases.
So could give us a little insight into what the curation process is actually like? How do you go about highlighting some of the most interesting Dreams for players to enjoy?
My fellow curator, Alasdair, and I have a load of collections that we keep maintained and add more to as time goes on. A lot of those collections we describe as evergreen collections, like our genre work that we started doing last year in 2021 where we started building up these permanent playlists based on 12 different genre pages. Throughout the day we'll check what's new, see if it's interesting by giving it a play, and then one of us will go through it and add it to one of those collections to appear in the game.
One initiative that we've done for over a year now is our weekly featured playlists and those will be very much focused on a specific theme or a certain type of game. So we've created categories, like time trials for instance - I think the current one we're doing at the time of this interview is Woods and Wildlife, which is focused on forests and nature.
One of the ways that your work is presented to players is through the Weekly Roundup, which you've even written a few of yourself. So do you find that you enjoy the process of presenting these interesting Dreams as well?
Absolutely, the Weekly Roundup is a great way to provide a regular snapshot of what's cool in the Dreamiverse right now. We like to find interesting ways to present Dreams, and the work with The Impsider has been critical to that because it has its own very distinguished personality. I think one of the Impsider articles that really resonated with people was The Backrooms article that Jen wrote - we tied that in with the liminal spaces collection in-game that featured The Backrooms and some Dreams that were mentioned in the piece, as well as other horror liminal space-adjacent creations. Presenting those creations as not just another game in a playlist, but actually making this thematic collection alongside an article with the editorial department, made a really big splash.
As someone who DreamSurfs for a living, do you have any top tips for DreamSurfing?
I'd start with the top playlist we have on the front page that we've had for a while, called New Stuff. People might not know, but this playlist is constantly gathering all the creations from those evergreen playlists I mentioned, and presenting them in order of the newest additions. Everything on that playlist is not only the newest stuff, but it's always something you've never seen before. So if you just want to dive into Dreams for five minutes, that's a great place just to jump in and see what's at the front of the queue. And generally, the Not Played filters are really useful and cool tools to use.
And then of course, I'd be remiss to not shout out the new Daily DreamSurf playlist we've been doing for the last few months, which again is curated. I think that’s a great way for people to play without searching. It's five Dreams every weekday that appear on the top of your DreamSurfing front page, always sorted by Not Played, so that everything you're seeing on that page is brand new to you. So whether you go deep into the search by using the filters and the tags and keywords or go adventurous and jump into a random playlist creation, you'll always be able to find cool new things without having to even think about it.
Thanks for the top tips! So tell us how you got into the games industry. Was it something that you'd always wanted to do?
I've been playing games as long as I can remember, and I've always had a passion for games. I think with games I've just naturally been attracted to them because the way they tell stories is very unique and interesting. When I was at university, I was the editor of our university paper and I wrote a lot about film and TV, curating lists of things people should watch. But as I was doing that, I was also thinking that games are part of screen content as well and no-one was writing about them. So I found myself essentially single-handedly trying to write more games retrospectives and articles, and started doing features on storytelling in games like Inside and What Remains of Edith Finch. And I even got an interview with Sam Barlow, who's the designer and writer of games like Her Story and Telling Lies.
Which got me thinking, I do like this idea of writing critically about all art, but I think specifically there's something I really enjoyed with writing about games. Simultaneously to all this I had been playing a lot of Dreams. I was a big fan of Media Molecule's previous games, and I think with Dreams something really connected with me because it brought out my love of multimedia storytelling. This is an engine that can make games, but it can also do music and animation and film and sculpture all within the same creation suite. In that sense it democratises the creation process by making it all accessible through the same toolset.
So when I noticed the job opening at Mm, it was perfect for me, but at the time I was more of a lurker in the coMmunity. I created a lot in my spare time, but I didn't really release a lot. I was always browsing and searching because I was interested in seeing what people were up to with the tools and how they were evolving. So when I applied for the job, I was able to show that I understood how the game and the search engines worked through my own experience of the game, but having the journalism experience and clear passion for games helped a lot too. So it's an unusual journey, but also a very lucky and serendipitous one.
Do you have any advice you have for other people that are interested in a similar career?
Yeah for sure, as I think the way I came into the industry is important. I think for people who, maybe like me, love the art form of games and want to be involved but don't know how to get in, I'd say you absolutely can get in. The key there is finding your niche and what makes your perspective of the game industry really important and interesting. For me, that was writing about games. For others, it might be curation or art or programming, but you've got to find your niche, express your personality and don't compromise on your passion for what you want to do, as there will be a place for you in this industry. And sometimes you get lucky. With curation, it's a new department and maybe five years ago I wouldn't be here. The landscape of games as a medium is evolving so rapidly that we don't know in the next five years what wild new positions there are going to be. And it might be you that fills one of those positions.
Mm staff seem to have a lot of interesting items on their desks. What's on your desk at the moment?
That’s an interesting one for me because I have basically just moved to Guildford actually, to be closer to the Mm offices. So my desk at the moment does have stuff on it, but it’s a bit barren. But one interesting item I have is my lucky pebble, which I want to clarify that I had before a certain pebble-loving character was born into the Dreamiverse. It’s a pebble that I took from Sherwood Forest when I was there a few years ago, and my mum told me to pick it up and take it home with me to remind me of the trip. And I actually still have and it came with me in the move. It does remind me of that place, but now also has an extra meaning thanks to Megapenguin and it does feel like a very Media Molecule item now. But hopefully Megapenguin doesn't come and steal it because it's not for sale.
So to wrap up, what are your favourite Dreams, and are there any that you'd like to recommend?
Right, this question is hilarious because it's kind of perfect for me, but it's also the most daunting question because I could potentially list literally thousands of different things. One that just came out that is absolutely worth checking out is the RID sequel, RID: Memories of the Elders by Camian and LordBruce. People might be familiar with the first RID game, which is an amazing cinematic adventure game, very much in the spirit of games like Uncharted, but this new sequel is really incredible. It's a full-on open world adventure that literally has a 20-hour run-time which is utterly ridiculous for Dreams, and has a gorgeously designed open world with tons of different tools that you unlock over the course of the game that change how you move around the world and how you interact with different puzzles. It's also really cool as the creators that made it are two brothers, and it's just as massive as some of the big triple-A games we see outside of Dreams today.
Another one I want to shout out is Alaska by Dovahkiin_153. I just want to shout this out because this creator has only done three Dreams, and I love finding creators who have only published like one or two things but those things are sensational. Alaska is in the spirit of games like Firewatch, but you're walking along as a hunter around the Alaskan woods trying to track down a bear, as the bear is also trying to track you down. So it's this 30-to-45 minute game of cat and mouse where you're walking through the different environments with these different set pieces, and has this melancholic tone which reminds me of a little bit of films like The Revenant, perhaps, but it it's got a really unique Dreams tone to it and the world is beautiful.
Finally, for an animation pick, I would say A Deep Dive by GrimPinata136, who is an amazing animator. It's a four- or five-minute animation about a deep sea diver venturing into this mystical realm whilst submerged in the ocean, and they get lost in there and end up seeing a ton of stunning underwater vistas and creatures heavily influenced by magical realism. It's got some incredible visuals and music from SaucelessOne as well. So those are just some recent favourites. But again just check out the playlists in game and you can see a lot more. They'll have all been played and given the thumbs up by me and Alasdair.
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