I'd like to give you my views on paper prototyping. While we're finishing making Firecracker Fight laugh-out-loud fun, or at least loud, I'm starting designs for our next game. As much as I love to share my every thought, I'm not completely ready to tell all about the actual game yet. It still might veer off in some unexpected direction, and besides, isn't it fun to keep a secret at least for a couple days? I'll start putting updates in the weekly email soon though, so subscribe if you want the early scoop. What I will say is how highly I recommend paper prototyping for whatever you're working on.
There's a great story about the origin of one of the most influential pocket technologies in the last 20 years. Remember before the iPhone there was the Blackberry? And before the Blackberry there was the Palm? The story says the founder was shopping his idea around Silicon Valley looking for funding and backers. Picture him with a very early functional version of a digital organizer that would kill and loot every address book that stood in its way. Now forget that picture, because this man walked into million dollar investment negotiations with a block of wood with a stack of Post-It notes on the front.
Okay, that's a little hard to believe, so let me Google that for you. Yeah, pics or it didn't happen.
Paper prototypes have two main benefits:
Fast to Make
Yes, you can mock up very plausible on-screen experiences in Sketch or Proto.io. I love both of them (don't tell either of them though. Jealousy.) But you should always ask yourself if you could do it faster on paper. Sometimes the visual treatment can get further along with digital design, but the interaction and game design work better in analog, because it's easier to fake it. That's why you see me cutting out cards, so I can do a trial of a game screen of random, hidden items you discover in the game. And I can add and remove cards without creating new screens in a complex prototype.
For the tabletop game designers who read this, I hardly need to explain the picture of me sleeving cards. For the rest of you, I'm sleeving cards. Specifically, they're card-sized printer paper with a card backing, in a collectible card sleeve, so they're easier to handle and they don't blow around. You can get these at a hobby store, even if you do something boring with them like a categorization card sort.
So again, the key is finding the fastest way to make something just functional enough to test your ideas, without the expense of any real design or software development.
A Hands-on Feel for the Product
Sometimes the problem with a prototype is it demands too much of the audience to imagine what it will actually be like when not confined to a screen. Sometimes the problem is it's too realistic, and the audience can't get past telling you the buttons are the wrong color, when the real point is you want to see how they will hold the groundbreaking augmented reality solution you want to put right in their lap.
Today I'm testing a gameplay experience, so I'm not building a faithful reproduction of the physical play space, which will be shown on your 174 gram pocket supercomputer, but instead I'm testing the flow of affordances and obstacles the game will present. I decided that was the key element I needed to explore. Since it's a paper prototype, if there are too many Impassible Mountains, I can just take some out and play the prototype again.
To conclude, always be asking yourself if you can produce a working version of your product faster. Can you stack Post-Its for a screen flow experience? Can you lay out all your web pages on a wall and see if there are just too many? The main benefits, I assert, are getting a version made faster, and giving you the hands-on feel right away. And if there's a way to use a 30mm tall, hand-painted wizard somewhere in there, I would strongly encourage it.
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