The Magic Paintbrush

A multiplayer interactive experience that empowers children to turn their physical drawings into animated virtual objects, allowing them to be the active agent of a reimagined Chinese folktale.

Year: Sept 2015 - April 2016
Team: E-Go Studio, Beijing
Role: Interactive Developer & Designer
Tools: Unity3D
Deliverable: Interactive installation


The Magic Paintbrush is one of the most beloved Chinese folktales that tells the story of a kind young boy who loves to draw. One day, he's gifted a magic paintbrush with the power of turning whatever he draws into reality. So he started to help everyone in his village with his magic brush. Leveraging the power of computer vision and CG techniques, E-Go Studio was able to bring this tale to life with a digital twist. The E-Go Magic Paintbrush empowers children to turn their physical drawings into animated virtual objects, essentially allowing them to be the active agents of a reimagined narrative experience.

The recontextualized story revolves around an adventurous young boy who constantly finds himself in all sorts of trouble. As the story unfolds and problems start to crop up, children are encouraged to wield their 'magic power' by drawing different tools or things to bail him out. They first choose what they would like to draw, according to the presented scenarios. Then, a scanner will help convert their colored drawings into digitally live game objects that they can in turn interact with and see how they impact the virtual game world and the story. The game was designed as a series of chapters of stories, each with different themes and challenges, to maintain a sense of structured gameplay for older kids, while keeping the flexibility to accommodate younger children's whimsical and spontaneous open-ended play.

Changing the perception of
traditional video games


The Exhibit Goals

1. Provide opportunities for guests to play physical-digital games with an emphasis on games that they cannot play anywhere else.
2. Illustrate the purpose of play and how it connects us to others.
3. Draw connections between digital game playing and real-world skills, interactions, behaviors, and emotions.
4. Have fun!

Design Value

Based on the exhibit initiative and after in-depth discussion within the exhibit design team, we prioritized the follwing design principles as the guiding experienctial criteria for my gaming creation.

The game should possess these qualities to align with exhibit goals: fun, joyful, social, inclusive, educational.

The game should employ unconventioal interfaces and interactions that are creative, intuitive, and immersive.

The game should bring out the unique voice of MSI and fit the varied needs of our internal teams.

lOREN Ipsum



To better understand the broader picture of the design context, I delved into relevant gaming community, experiential design principles and game design methodology, which kept me on track and also well informed on my design decisions.


Classic analog and digital games are powerful hooks for evoking fun, communal and nostalgic feelings. Riffing off of these time-tested positive gaming memories, but with just a whimsical and clever twist, it's possible to create something brand new out of the familiar. 

Gameplay Design

During brainstorming, I was drawn to the shared intuitiveness, simplicity, and sociability between Connect4, Arcade Basketball, and Candy Crush, each initially representing a different gaming context (party game, arcade game, and mobile game). A reimagined mash-up of their affordances exudes elements of pleasant surprise and seems to ensure a good time together.



Multiple prototypes were made and evolved in the iterative process to answer various core questions: Would the game be feasible, playable, and most importantly, experientially sensible and sustainable?

Technical Prototype
The core actions of the game are built off of the color sensors correctly registering the colors of the balls. It's imperative to first test out the capabilities and constraints of the sensors which will inform the gameplay: What ranges of colors and ball textures are the most sensor-friendly? How does ambient lighting affect the accuracy of the sensors? How well do multiple sensors communicate with Unity?
Core Game Prototype
After figuring out the technical infrastructure, I constructed a flexible physical structure out of modular off-the-shelves materials. It's then time to bring all the core parts together to see how the whole game feels and plays: Does the game deliver the expected sense of whim and fun? What's the optimal height of the hoops and their distance from the players? Is it well balanced between the physical and digital aspects of the game?
Complete Game Prototype
Once I arrived at a prototype that embodied the full play experience and was able to be played through from start to finish, my team invited museum guests to help playtest and evaluate the game's design. Real player reactions and feedbacks brought the game into life and expose questions that aren't thought of during internal testings.  A detailed walk-through of the playtest sessions can be found in the next section.
Exhibit Programming Prototype
As the game takes shape through multiple interations and playtests, our Guest Experience team took inspiration and futher expanded the design value of the game. Would it be possible to create a structured exhibit programming experience out of this game by giving leverage to exhibit facilitators so that they can customize the game to hit the educational goals?

Prototype Learnings

Physical challenges quickly emerged throughout the early prototyping process. The follwoing are some of the key learnings and solutions.

Ball Choice

Varied materials, sizes, and colors of balls are tested to find out what is the best for prototype and gameplay. Red, green, blue, and yellow are the most stable colors to be registered. Vinyl balls prove best for throwing but wear out a prototype quickly, whereas foam balls feel a bit too lightweight but can be prototype-friendly.

Customized Joints

Off-the-shelve modular frame structure from a toy set saves time and resources for fast prototyping. But they comed with certain joints that are limiting. I modeled and 3D printed the customized joints I wanted which futher expaned their flexibility to be able to build the structure I wanted.

Color Sensor Enclosure

Though mostly workable, the Adafruit color sensor comes with its own whims and quirks. Through trials and errors, I figured out an enclosure structure that can significantly stabilize its performance and improve consistency in color reading while also preventing violent direct contacts with coming balls. The enclosure was also measured, moldeled and 3D printed.

Modular Structure

A modular structure is super beneficial for prototyping: I can quickly come up with structes of varied sizes and shapes and tweak and adjust as I see fit. They are also easy to assemble and dissemble, which proves very uesful especially when dedicated prototyping spaces are scarce on museum floor and the prototype need to be transported and installled from places to places.


1. Questions

"All game designs were perfect until they were playtested", said game designer Reiner Knizia. As soon as I had a guest-ready prototype, I reached out to our Guest Experience department and set up a team to help me facilitate playtest sessions and see how the game actually plays out. The following are some of the key questions we hope could be answered through playtesting.

What would players think of the physical and digital challenges of the game?
How would different types and numbers of players change the dynamics of the game?
What instructions or affordances are needed for players to understand how to play?
How migh we tweak the game on the fly to explore other interesting possibilities?

2. Process

Exhibit Programming


the educational component: how to get people think like a game designer?
flow theory. parameters. obstacles. cooperation and competition
remote control

"This could be an ever evolving prototype throughout the exhibit. I really like the idea of a facilitated interaction that gets people thinking like a game designer. If we co-designed a game with our guests that could be a lot of fun."

Anthony Vitagliano

VP of Exhibitions, Museum of Science and Industry


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