In The Fold: Ancient Workshop Reveals Origami Sim

kirei desu yo, hontou!
A mouse click has never been so powerful. The idea of simulating an aesthetically pleasing pastime, only to make it even more aesthetically pleasing, is something that James Brown of Ancient Workshop has embraced wholeheartedly. He has begun a task in earnest: to make a game that simulates the art of paper folding in a beautiful, soothing way. Watching the videos of his experiments is like getting a giant bearhug glomp from the videogame industry.

Codenamed Project Blue Comb, Mac developer James Brown has just posted up his first experiments with his new origami simulator. An industry veteran, James tells funambulist and all round friendly badger Dan Grill in this neat interview that he worked in the mainstream games industry for 10 years (including stints at EA & Lionhead) before going indie. His last excursion was Ancient Frog, a lush green sticky frog sim where you enable your tiny frog dude to eat his invertebrate dinner. It won all sorts of nice acclaim, including the Intel Atom Developer Challenge Grand Prize for Most Elegant Application and the IMGA Winner for Excellence In Design.

But grab a look at these little virtual folding experiments Blue Comb has produced:

Says James in his blogpost:

I started coming up with a design where you’d explore a world made up of collages, and along the way you’d discover new Origami models that you could transform into – a fish would allow you to swim, a bird would let you fly and so on.

So I sat down and started coding. Clearly the first thing I needed was some sort of editor to create the models… and that’s where I got trapped. It turns out that creating an editor for Origami is really tricky and really interesting. Eventually it became apparent that this game was going to be mostly about the editor, and the exploring portion was off at a bit of weird angle to it.

For a while I decided that I would do away with any game aspect – it would be purely an app for learning, creating and sharing Origami designs. Eventually I settled on the minimum viable game for it – a puzzle where you unlock Origami designs by matching patterns as you fold, but with a sandbox mode that contains All The Work.

The work on this looks exquisite, as well as being something that looks easy to understand and play. I keep thinking of my mumma bear, the artist, who pretends she hasn’t time to play games, but she will sit and play with materials, fabrics, felt, metal and threads as if she is competing against herself. When I lived in Japan she sent me a hundred green origami paper cranes in the post from Scotland, ones that she had folded since I’d left. It makes me think that those who might not be so keen on shooty-bang-bang-explosion-HURR games might find some pleasure from games in this form: in the quiet contemplative interactions, smooth slow motions of the mouse, and the graceful accessible platforms, like MacBooks, iPads and home PCs. That there is room for these, and scope for them to sell, is really a wonderful triumph.

The most intriguing thing about this game is the development process: not only has James described his journey from ‘gamey’ game – that is, the one in which you progress through collages and achieve several animals to transform into – to simple origami editor, but he is also detailing how difficult and interesting each of the folds are to programme. The involved way James talks about the folds makes me want to learn to code.

You really should read about this project. It’s really something. No release date as yet, but I hope we hear more about it soon. Lovely.


  1. krisanto says:

    This looks awesome! Origami has been one of my favorite hobbies when I was a kid. Really enjoyed memorizing the steps, and making sure the folds are neat and even

    To anyone interested in Origami, I advise you to watch “Between the Folds”. I think it’s available in Netflix.

  2. SuperNashwanPower says:

    Pre-order now for the Mega Super Papyrus and Ruler Pack. If enough people buy, unlock FREE A4 PAPER

    • The Random One says:

      A4 paper is actually awful for origami because, traditionally, all origami starts with a square piece of paper, which A4 is not.

      • Insufferable Bubbles says:

        Actually, A4 is a very popular size paper among European folders. The square still reigns supreme, but as the art form has broadened, so have the options. A strict classical definition might include five parts: One Uncut Unadorned Square of Paper…but it is no longer so cut and dry. Many models (especially modular ones) use more than one sheet; while most advanced folders won’t resort to drawing a face on a model (preferring to create the shape with the paper itself), decorative paper is often used; while, as stated, squares are, far and away, the most used shape, I was using a hexagon of paper for a complex model earlier this evening, while others use rectangles of many proportions, and occasionally triangles and the rare pentagon; furthermore, paper itself is only one of the many mediums the art takes: I’ve used metallic foil, wood veneer, brass mesh, sheet metal and thin sheets of plastic (to name a few), and there are others who’ve been more creative than I on that front. Only the “no cuts” rule tends to be held to particularly strongly today, though even that has the occasional exception among certain sects of folders.

        TL;DR? It’s a broader art than many imagine. A4 paper doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the modern diversity.

  3. emertonom says:

    This is awesome. The engine looks beautiful. I wonder if it’ll handle things that don’t fold flat? And I know a mathematician he should speak to, named Tom Hull–he’s done a lot of work on the mathematics of origami. (Among other things, I think he was the one who proved “does this fold pattern fold flat” is an NP-complete problem, so computational stuff as well, obviously.) Really, really hope this makes it past the “experiment” stage.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    A colleague of mine does Origami in his free time. Offices tend to be covered in all kinds of abstract shapes of folded paper when he’s around. I’ve got to show him this!

  5. Gap Gen says:

    Origami as an aesthetic for an adventure game would be awesome. Build your own paper creatures and lead them through a folded landscape.

  6. lordcooper says:

    Nice aesthetics, but couldn’t I just buy some paper?

  7. psepho says:

    Gosh I feel so conflicted about this. Origami is a wonderful art form and a great subject for simulation, from an intellectual point of view. This looks really beautifully put together, too.

    However, at the same time I find something a bit sad about rendering origami virtual. So much of the pleasure of doing origami comes from the tangible and tactile experience, the way that the paper moves and deforms in your hands, the way that no fold is ever perfectly uniform and no two models come out exactly the same. There’s a species of uncanny valley in seeing it simulated that makes me miss the real thing.

    Anyway, it looks like a great project and hopefully it will also inspire players to put hand to paper as well.

    EDIT: Just to clarify — I’m not being totally negative. I think this looks great and like it will be really good way of exploring origami. I am certainly be interested. But I hope people who play it will also feel encouraged to try the real thing.

    • rifflesby says:

      You aren’t wrong, but speaking for myself, this would encourage me to make more physical origami than I already do. Complicated models become very difficult, even discounting confusing or incomplete instructions, and being able to practice a few times virtually before bringing out the paper means a lot less wasted paper. Plus, an iPad would actually make a pretty nice folding surface; if there were a mode that replayed the creation of a model step-by-step, so you could follow along on paper…

    • Koozer says:

      I have the same feeling. Just watching the first video made me pull a frowny face – there’s so much more to it that just dragging a corner over to another, I would hate to think of people coming away from this thinking it is anything at all like actual Origami.

      From watching the third video, it’s pretty clear it works with templates at this stage. How is it going to simulate complex folds, eg. rabbit ears or squash folds without a more complicated UI? And how can it put across the feeling of triumph when finally getting a tricky sink fold in place?

      In conclusion: harrumph.

      • elevown says:

        But dont you think this is a great, easy introduction that could get people into real origami?

    • emertonom says:

      What you’re missing is that this would provide a beautifully simple way of producing step-by-step folding instructions for models. All you need to do is execute the fold, and it can generate the diagrams. It’d be a great tool.

  8. guygodbois00 says:

    James Brown? I Feel Good! Watch mee!

  9. Njordsk says:

    Damn I thought heavy rain was ported to PC.

  10. LTK says:

    Looks really nice! But can I fold a yellow and blue paper rabbit with this?