Creator Profile: ghostfruit64
Dylan Aiello is interested in just about everything. Some days, he’s a painter, his soft-focus portraiture flickering with life. Other times, you might find him composing a catchy folk-pop song, before shooting and editing a music video for it. Then there are his interactive works, made in Dreams under the moniker ghostfruit64: compulsive Rareware-esque minigames, a clever symmetrical puzzler, a narrative told with just one word. In fact, the only thing Aiello’s creations ever seem to have in common is quality.
Aiello was perhaps destined to be a patchwork of creative influences. He was born and raised in the tiny, picturesque Californian coastal town of Carmel: it’s a place known for its artistic history, bohemians having fled to it following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Fairytale structures built by musicians and poets bump up against sleepy suburbs overlooking the bay. Briefly, in the ‘80s, Clint Eastwood became mayor. It’s eclectic, to say the least.
It was fitting, then, that Aiello would be introduced to that most eclectic of mediums at a young age. “I’m the youngest of three boys, so that put me in the lucky position of videogames just falling into my lap,” he says. “Videogames have always been the way that I connect with my brothers.” Super Mario World was his first-ever experience with a game, the Super Nintendo his first system. “I remember my parents telling a story about how they got it for my oldest brother, and they had stayed up all night on Christmas Eve playing it ‘til two in the morning, and then they put it back in the box!”
Thus began the tradition of going to the local Blockbuster - a videogame rental store from Ye Olden Days - and selecting games based solely on whether the box art looked cool (almost all turned out to be terrible). The next big moment for Aiello was when one of his brother’s friends brought over a Nintendo 64 in a brown paper bag. It was plugged into the family computer, and the boys gathered around. “The moment going from 2D to 3D was so mind-blowing for me,” Aiello says. “I think I must have been in kindergarten or first grade when Super Mario 64 came out. I’m sure I couldn’t really play it at all, but it still felt like I was a part of it."
A PlayStation came soon after, with Final Fantasy VII introducing him to the idea that a videogame could make you cry. “The PlayStation - I barely remember this - my oldest brother told a story where he had to somehow come home from school, take the bus out to the shopping centre, get the PlayStation - and try to take the bus home before my parents came home. Of course, as he’s running from the bus, my parents are pulling into the driveway!” He laughs. “I’m sure he got in some kind of trouble. At that point, they probably realised, ‘Okay, this is an unstoppable train.’”
It was - although Aiello would also take interest in music and art. “I don’t really know which came first, but they both came really early.” He’d watch his older brother drawing cartoon characters, drawing Spider-Man, and head to the library to check out endless ‘How To Draw’ books. “And apparently, I was really into country music when I was young,” he says. “My parents say, like, ‘You were glued to the TV, you’d just sit on the floor and watch Garth Brooks.’”
Several years and bands later, Aiello would end up at the prestigious Berklee College Of Music as a drum set principal for two years - but not without a fight. “All of a sudden, my parents were like, ‘We can’t really afford to send you, though’.” Aiello scraped the money together by putting on benefit concerts and doing car washes. “I was written up in the local paper, and people sent little cheques from everywhere,” he says. “I walked into the bursar’s office with this manila envelope full of all these fragments... I’m sure they were like, ‘Oh my god, this is a nightmare!’”
Quite apart from getting in, there was the matter of being able to afford to stay. Fortunately, he spotted a job posting for a graphic designer. “But the posting said, ‘Send in your portfolio tomorrow’. I wasn’t a graphic designer, so I didn’t have a portfolio!'” That night, he managed to whip up fake posters and album covers using friends' gig photos from Facebook. He got the interview - and the job. “I just Googled it one project at a time, and figured it out. And somehow that's become my career.”
The bio on Aiello’s website reflects the broad remit that has helped carry him through life, describing him as “a multimedia designer, creative director, and musician”. It’s missing one more recent addition: game developer. The possibility had always been in the back of his mind, he tells us. “It feels like putting all the things that I’ve developed into my life into one thing, as opposed to just being like, ‘Why did I learn so many things? What am I doing?’ Because half the time I feel like I’m so distracted, and doing too many things. But actually, Dreams has been amazing for me, because when I started making games, and I was using all those different skills in one project... It was a really validating experience for me for having a weird, diverse skill set.”
With Dreams, Aiello feels as though he was “a latecomer to the party,” he says, “because I was on PS1, PS2, and I missed the whole PS3 and PS4 era.” LittleBigPlanet? He hardly knew it. He’d been playing with the idea of tinkering about in Unity or Unreal when YouTube’s algorithm served him a video of someone making an ornamental tile in Dreams. “I saw the cloning and I was like, oh my god, what is this?” He’d just bought a PS4 Pro so that he could play Final Fantasy VII Remake, with the intention of reliving some happy childhood memories. “As soon as that was done, I was like, okay - so now it’s time for Dreams.” He pauses briefly, then starts to laugh. “It almost felt like... I had this feeling when I was downloading it, like, oh, here we go! I know that this is gonna consume me!”
The first thing he made was a sentient vacuum cleaner. “His name is Hoober, and he’s got moving eyes and all these parts - really super cute. I was just learning how to do joints.” He started building out an overworld; the intention was to make a game inspired by Banjo-Kazooie. “I’ve heard this from other dreamers as well, especially from cutaia with Hops - except he actually finished his game! - where you start out with this huge idea. I was going to make this big platformer game where you jump into paintings, and it takes you to levels. I spent all this time creating it, and then the One-Button Jam came up, and I thought ‘Okay, let me take a break.’”
Motion-controlled, incredibly stressful game Cake Snakes - where you must fling marauding danger noodles away from a delicious confection - was the result. “I learned so much from doing the jam, and I loved having that deadline,” Aiello says. “Having a specific prompt reminded me of songwriting class, where you’d have a prompt and you had a week. I wrote some of my best stuff in those types of conditions.”
Jams were an opportunity to learn the basics of Dreams, and to try out not just a variety of styles, but a whole new discipline in game design. “I really feel like Dreams is built for someone like me,” Aiello says. “I feel like I'll never be able to understand non-visual scripting. So as soon as I saw how the visual description worked in Dreams, that's when I was like, okay, I can actually making something - because it's just drawing a line from this to this. That made so much sense to my artist brain.”
Jams soon became Aiello’s main focus. Rare and Nintendo’s 3D games are clear influences on his early games. As he’s become comfortable with the tools, he’s begun to experiment further with playable jam entries. The arcadey Pixel Fish was an early adventure into two-dimensional Dreams creations, while more recent puzzler The Symmetry Institute shows an impressive flair for realistic sculpture, sharp writing and thoughtful design. His Word! jam entry, Go, is a narrative-driven game that manages to tell a heart-rending tale with just the titular word.
While he’s clearly at ease when in his musical element - You Do You, a life-affirming ditty about being yourself, placed second at the Open Mic Night jam - or creating digital portraiture such as Rose and Lullaby for a Beagle (all with a wireless controller), he still sees himself as a beginner when it comes to making games. “I think I’m still in the trial-and-error phase,” he says. “I’m not really following any kind of specific formula or anything - but I am trying to keep in mind some of the practices that I’ve learned from other social media, like trying to have a catchy thumbnail, and hook the player in the first five seconds. I guess I'm always striving for low friction,” Aiello says. “I think my process is trying to create short dreams that feel really good, that are satisfying and feel high-production value, that take advantage of little details like the rumble and the shake, lighting and textures and things - but that are also fun, charming, and not rage-inducing.” He laughs. “I'll let Entropy-Tamed do the rage games!”
As ever for Aiello, it’s a wide remit - and one he thrives off of. “It's hard for me to focus on a daily basis because there are so many things going on!” he says. “But when I find something that can put me into a flow state, I'm there one hundred percent. So that's another reason why I like music, and painting, and drawing, and playing games, and making games - those are all things where I actually get to feel focus.” For a creator with Aiello's range, Dreams is all flow, all the time.
Outside of the game, where Aiello’s past experience with needing to savvily market his talent to get by seemingly has more of an influence, it’s a different story. Aiello’s approach to making art for Instagram is “a lot more analytical” and largely based around figuring out how the platform’s algorithm can bring him an audience as an artist - a holdover from those days. “I’m gonna try to do that in a way that I feel good about, and still feels cool and like it’s me, but I’m kind of letting the platform push me a lot, which I have mixed feelings about.”
But the push Aiello feels from Dreams is different. It goes in all different directions. “The thing on Instagram that's been tough is it's like the platform punishes you for deviating. And my whole thing is all about deviating all the time,” he smiles. “That's why I kind of love Dreams right now, because I can have these crazy ideas and go way down here and make a 3D painting, and then I can make a minigame. Then I can work on a music video. It feels like such a relief from being in this really strict box where you have to make the same thing that your audience is expecting over and over again.”
Aiello is drawn to Dreams because he’s allowed - encouraged, even - to be interested in everything. “It feels so fast - you can rapidly prototype a whole game,” he says. “If you want to treat it as the best wireframe with a built-in test userbase, that’s another thing. And then there’s this coMmunity attached to it, spreading love on this platform and helping each other. What better way to learn game design than in this beautiful place where everyone’s making stuff you can all use, and people are ready to help you? What other engine offers that? So that’s a huge part of it.” He smiles, and for a brief moment, we see a flash of a young Aiello sat in front of the N64 with his brothers, eyes wide, marvelling at videogames together. “I mean, that could be it just on its own.”
Visit ghostfruit64’s creator page to see his full body of work in Dreams.
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.