May 25, 2003

Comic Book Dollhouse

by Michael Mateas · , 9:23 pm

Chaim Gingold, a recent graduate of the IDT masters program at Georgia Tech, has put his excellent written thesis (pdf) and thesis project (mac pc) online at His thesis provides a description of a miniature worlds aesthetic derived from the work and thoughts of Shigeru Miyamoto, Will Wright, and Seymour Papert, introduces the idea of “magic crayons” as lightweight computational languages that integrate conventions of artistic practice, and describes his thesis project, Comic Book Dollhouse.

His treatment of miniature worlds unpacks the design aesthetic of Shigeru Miyamoto. As Chaim states:

“Shigeru Miyamoto, designer of Super Mario Bros., often mentions his ‘miniature garden’ aesthetic in interviews with journalists. Probably attributing this curious phrase to a mistranslation from Japanese, journalists never fail to not ask the question ‘what do you mean by that?’ Miyamoto, without a doubt one of the greatest game designers, is telling us one of his fundamental design principles, and nobody bothers to ask him what he means. What follows is an attempt to interpret the phrase ‘miniature gardens’ with respect to games using materials on Japanese gardens, literary microworlds, constructionist microworlds, play, and game analysis.”

Comic Book Dollhouse (CBD) supports the construction of comic book stories drawn with an appealing pencil-sketch aesthetic. In CBD the player can easily move between authoring levels, reading already written stories, using an authored collection of verbs, props and characters to make new stories, or authoring new verbs, props and characters to create a new framework for story construction.

2 Responses to “Comic Book Dollhouse”

  1. andrew Says:

    At GDC last March I saw Chaim briefly demo the work, and spied Will Wright playing around with it :-). (I am still trying to find some free time to read his thesis and play with the works in depth — will do ASAP.)

    From what I’ve seen, I think Chaim’s work is fantastic, a rare example of someone actually writing new software to realize new ideas in non-trivially interactive, visual, computer-mediated narrative.

    Chaim, or Michael, how generative would you say Comic Book Dollhouse is? Or, where/how would you imagine making it more generative?

  2. Chaim Gingold Says:

    Comic Book Dollhouse (CBD) emphasizes end user experience and authorial ease

    over generation. That was a conscious decision on my part, since many other

    systems emphasize generation over authorship and/or user experience.

    I actually haven’t played around with the generative part enough to say how

    powerful it is. It’s certainly a simple system, and easy enough to author

    things in (though the author- interface for it isn’t very polished). The

    system examines the history of the story for plot patterns it knows, and

    suggests the remainder of partially matched plot fragments to players.

    During my defense Will Wright wondered what the optimal ratio of characters

    and props to plot fragments is, and said he was building things in CBD to

    get a feel for the system’s balance. As a game designer or storyworld author,

    a key concern is the ratio between author time invested and experience payoff

    for the player.

    Generative power is one way of thinking about the author time to player time

    ratio. Another way of thinking about this ratio is in terms of how easy it

    is for players to assemble stories from characters, props, and stickers created

    by authors. That was a primary design goal for CBD, and it seems to be very

    good at that.

    I’m sure there are lots of ways to add generative power to CBD, but the questions

    I’d ask of the features are:

    – how much do you improve the author time to player time ratio?

    – how much harder do you make authorship?

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