Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Small Worlds

Today we accidentally visited the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan. It is a marvelous edifice, a fantastical ivy covered mansion straight from one of Miyazaki’s films that sits unexpectedly on the edge of a local park. We had fed the monster koi in the nearby lake and were wandering quite aimlessly about when we saw the sign. The sign lead to a gate, which in turn was occupied by a young Japanese man with immensely expressive eyebrows. Apparently tickets are nearly impossible to get even for locals, but we happened to arrive at a rare break in the reservation schedule. Entry was procured and we strolled in through the ornate gate expecting no more than a mild afternoon diversion.

The entire experience proved to be the most inspirational of the entire trip. Recommended.

One exhibit stood out for me. There is a scale model of a scene from an old animated television show called Heidi. The whole thing is approximately 10 feet wide and 6 feet deep. Carefully sculpted characters, the size of action figures, are frozen in time on a verdant mountain side amidst patches of brilliant flowers. Flocks of adorable sheep roam about. Most are white, but one or two are grey and black. A boy is paused in mid stride while a small girl runs towards him. The light, the shadows and the colors paint a 3D world that you can imagine springing to life at any moment.

“This”, I thought to myself, “is why I create games.”

Everyone who creates games has a vision of their dream game. It often isn’t so much a complete game concept, but instead is a taste or emotion drenched feeling of what the ultimate game might be like. This vision exists always just out of reach and striving to make it real is what inspires each of us to great feats of creativity.

Seeing this beautiful model reminded me once again of the visions that made me fall in love with video games. For me, the model of a hillside in an anime museum in Japan sparked ancient memories of playing Populous on my Amiga 1000. I remember idle hours spent dreaming of the little playful gardens that might one day be brought into existence by the simple act of imagination.

We seem to be getting so close. Advances in graphics and technology are beginning to allow those perfect worlds to be visualized in breathtaking clarity. The tools exist. The opportunity is there. All it takes at this point are visionaries of the caliber of those at Studio Ghibli. Where is our “Princess Mononoke” or “My Neighbor Totoro” full of boundless creativity? On days like today, when I am inspired by such examples of greatness, I say that we just need to strive a bit harder. The small worlds that light up my heart will soon be within reach.


  1. I hope you got to see "Mei and the Cat Bus", the "Totoro" sequel that ONLY shows at the Ghibli museum.

    I would also propose (although not very strongly since I've never played it) that "Animal Crossing" is the video game equivalent of "Totoro", or at least a step in that direction; no "bad guys", just exploration and socializing.

  2. Oh man... I'm sooooo envious. I love anything Studio Ghibli. I'm glad you were Spirited Away! ;)


  3. I'm a huge Animal Crossing fan and it certainly gets close to that feeling of building a small world. Odd as it may seem to folks reading about my relatively niche game designs like Space Crack, most of my personal designs fall into the realm of virtual pet / playground-like titles similar to Animal Crossing or the Sims. A highly underserved genre.

    The Mei and the Cat Bus flick sounds amazing! They weren't playing that one and instead I saw one about a small lost puppy (also an exclusive). Very charming.

    take care

  4. Amazing luck getting into the museum on off chance. I booked tickets here in Australia before going over.

    Apparently they are restricted to selling a certain number per day. The plus of being a tourist is that your allowed to wander through all day. The local tickets have restricted hours.

    The museum like Ghibli's movies is inspirational. Well worth the visit.