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Interview with Tom Dent - Media Molecule, Dreams

Published: 22:42, 05 December 2019
Updated: 23:17, 05 December 2019
Media Molecule
Tom Dent and two polar bears from Dreams
Tom Dent, Community Manager - Media Molecule

As Dreams prepares to exit its publicly available Early Access phase, we sat down with Tom Dent, community manager and all round nice guy for Media Molecule's Dreams, to discuss the challenges of supporting a game that is always changing

It's admittedly a curious proposition, pitching a game with seemingly limitless potential but is technically still in development. But Dreams has captured the hearts and minds of a sizeable hardcore faithful, and has continued to evolve over the course of its first few months in the wild. Today's announcement of the first annual "Impy" awards (Media Molecule's celebration of the user generated content featured in their game) felt like the perfect time to dig deeper into the studio culture at the house of Sackboy.

Tom Dent, as a spokesperson for the game and company behind it, is responsible for working with the development team, making sure that community facing features are present and accounted for, as well as hosting live streams and leading the charge at events like EGX. His role within the studio is multi faceted, and requires interaction with almost every aspect of production. 

Media Molecule A detective and a train driver in Dreams by Media Molecule Ahhhhh seeeee! I got a train to catch seeeee...

It must be fascinating to be involved with all the different parts of Dreams' ongoing development...

That's one of the things that I love about what I do. We work with everyone. I will collaborate with artists for social media assets, designers when planning [live] streams, and even talking with our coders... I'm still learning from all of them, and I'm one of the only people in the team, alongside Abbie Heppe, our communications manager, that gets to work with everybody.

Media Molecule has a long, well earned reputation for putting many years of work into their titles and releasing games only when they're ready.  Do you see Dreams as "Chapter 1" of a much larger story?

I think it's the game that the company was always going to make. It's absolutely inherently Mm [Media Molecule]. The mantra of the studio is "give creativity to the player". We started that with LBP [LittleBigPlanet], but Dreams is bigger, grander, and more ambitious, while still being an Mm game. We see Early Access as one chapter, and the full release as another. Even the beta was received really positively, and is a testament to the hard work and brilliance of the team. This is potentially a never ending book.

Dreams places user generated content at the forefront of its experience. Does this support from the community allow Media Molecule to siphon off a small group of developers to potentially work on different projects, or is everyone laser focused on supporting Dreams? 

We're absolutely one team, all focused on Dreams, but with various different roles. Our content team are working on our story mode for when we reach final release. Our tutorial team produces how to videos. They'll be people working on different aspects of Dreams, because it's absolutely a platform for games, music, movies, animation, even short sketches. But we're all one team, feeding in to this one project.

From the outside looking in, it seems like Sony have given you extraordinary freedom to take your time and make the game you want to make...

Sony have been amazing. I've only been with Mm for a year and a half now, but they have always been hugely supportive. LBP [LittleBigPlanet] was a bit like us going "Err... hello everybody!" [for the first time], but they had complete trust in us. They [Sony] know our plans for Dreams, and have been fantastic. Early Access is part of that. We're the first "first party" studio to release an Early Access game, so it has been a learning journey for both of us...

Media Molecule A lone figure plays the piano in Media Molecule's Dreams. Motorbikes, pianos, and tall grass. Yep. It's a Dreams creation.

Shaping this project with input from your community is so intrinsic to what Dreams is as a platform. Has there been an aspect of their creativity that really surprised you?

I think the speed at which people took to the tools surprised the entire team. We knew they worked well, but within hours people were making amazing things, and they're still surprising us. One of the things I look back on is my own personal perception of LBP; a platformer, 2.5D, but people were finding ways to make first person shooters with it. I couldn't help but imagine that within a few days, people would produce some crazy things with Dreams and blowing our minds on a daily basis.

We have a TV in the middle of the office where we just have the game running. Folks can just go up at lunchtime, or when they need to get away from their desks, and explore Dreams. One of the most amazing things about Mm is people just love to play Dreams. The amount of times you hear someone yell "Huh?!" because they can't believe what people have made. Someone designed a living clock screen saver a few months ago, and we had it on for the whole day. People would get excited when it was heading for a big number change. It would get to 12.59pm, realising it's about to change to 13.00pm. Everyone gathered round, and literally applauded when it worked. 

The other week we found someone had designed a gateway that when you walked through you were in a different world, but there was no loading screens. Our technical director, Alex Evans, sat square on to the TV saying "How are they doing that?!". There are things that people are doing already, six months in, that we didn't expect. 

The culture at Media Molecule definitely seems to foster a spirit of collaboration...

Absolutely. The culture and mentality that Siobhan [Reddy, Studio Director] has created in the studio is exactly that. It's one of the things that we pushed towards Dreams itself. You can collaborate with friends on projects. We've had community members at the show [EGX 2019] who have worked with each other but never met, and yet have designed games together. 

We have families that make games together. There's a couple in Germany who designed a game called Pig Detective, which is an episodic series that is just phenomenal. She designs the characters and writes it, and then he puts in all the logic and builds it. They've done two and a bit episodes so far, and it's brilliant. There's collaboration at the heart of the game, and it's the same in the studio.

An enormous thank you to Tom Dent for taking the time out of his insanely busy schedule to talk to us at EGX 2019, and to the teams at Media Molecule and Sony for giving us this opportunity.

Dreams is available now in Early Access for PS4, until Saturday 7th December.

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