Dream Toy for Emerson

This Dream Toy project is a part of MSTU 5199 & 5197: Beyond Bits & Atoms class at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Sam Thanapornsangsuth and Lilian Lin

“Little Big Planet Emerson Edition” by Sam Thanapornsangsuth and Lilian Lin
Suitcase cover

We designed “Little Big Planet: Emerson Edition” for Emerson, a 7-year old boy who is a big fan of the Playstation’s “Little Big Planet” platform building game. Through user interviews and prototype playtest, we made a physical version of Little Big Planet. Emerson can interact with his favorite characters while continue building more levels in the game in a constructionist manner.

The game consists of a piece of 17*11 in. pegboard, 2 pieces of 8.5*11 in. pegboard, 5 laminated background variations, 6 original characters from Little Big Planet #3, 4 additional “boss” characters designed by Emerson and us. We include game-like items such as sticker bubbles, small and large platform pieces, and wooden toy pieces like a treasure box, a cage, ladders, zip lines, bouncing pads, and a smasher. Lastly, we also make simple machine miniatures such as a pulley, ramps, and lever.

Characters hand-made by air-dry clay

Apart from the hand-made characters, we also print “Sack Boy,” Emerson’s favorite character with Form Lab. We downloaded a file from Thingiverse.

Emerson requested a 4-eyed crab as one of the 4 bosses in the game
Characters from Little Big Planet #3 by Emerson, as appeared on the suitcase cover
The design team!
Packing up! Time to go home.

User Interview:

A summary of the interview notes:
Emerson: 7 years old, Grade 1
Emerson and his sister were finishing their dinner at home when Nicola and I arrived. It took us around 30 minutes to encourage them to eat before we could begin the interview. I have known Emerson for about 4 years and I think we get along well. He was very comfortable being silly around me and was very playful when we began the interview. We sat at the dining table and sometimes he would sit or roll on the floor. Emerson’s favorite color is yellow. His favorite characters are from the show “Octonauts.” If he can unlock a new skill, he wanted to know how to climb a tree. He loves the game “Little Big Planet 3,” “Rayman Legends” and “Super Mario Party.” He likes the Super Marios Party because it is like a board game and it is fun. I think Emerson must really like the PlayStation’s Little Big Planet 3 mainly because it is the game that he has been talking about since I knew him (he always has new game or characters that he like every time I met him). Emerson likes the game because “there are a lot of stuff in there and a lot of items.” Little Big Planet 3 is a platform building game … His favorite character is Sackboy. We were looking on the interest to see his favorite characters from Little Big Planet 3 and Super Mario Party, and Emerson said “we should make a Little Big Planet 3 Make Set” I got very interested in his idea and got him a piece of paper so that we can start drawing. He said “I can make little levels for Sackboy. I like drawing.” He asked if I want to level to be “hard, normal, or easy.” Then he started to draw a platform game with multiple obstacles. He asked if I wanted a “skateboard level” and drew skateboard on the paper. I came up with an idea of a physical Little Big Planet game set which he can physically design his own levels and obstacle. We ended up playing Little Big Planet for the last 30 minutes. He showed me how the game worked.
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Emerson is my co-designer!
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Our plan
Emerson showed me Little Big Planet on the Play Station

Prototype & Playtest

emerson gif
Emerson played with the level he created while controlling a price bubble with magnets.

We went to Emerson’s place with a cardboard suitcase, a pegboard, and several wooden platform-building pieces and simple machine miniatures. We made prototypes of his favorite characters with found materials. Magnets are essential to our design as it created a magical playing experience. It allowed Emerson to control his favorite characters and bubbles as if they were automatically moving.

Newton prototype on a suitcase
Our platform-building pieces

Once Emerson saw the materials we brought, he knew exactly what to do with them. He had a lot of interesting ideas on the scrap pieces that we found from the laser-cut recycle bin. “This can be a cage, like a prison” or “This piece can be like a hammer that falls from the sky.”

Showing him the toy for the first time.
Emerson was setting up a zip line on the pegboard.
Emerson was thinking about the items he wanted to add to the game

He thought of more items to add in the game and gave us his list.

Lastly, we asked him to draw the suitcase cover
Little Big Planet Emerson Edition!

It was a pleasure designing with and for Emerson. I’m also very thankful to work with Lilian who is such a great maker!


Thanks to Lilian for the awesome photos!