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Educational Feature: Paper Prototyping

To make casual games for the iPhone, students at the ETC at Carnegie Mellon used paper prototypes in their pre-development planning. A new article on GameCareerGuide.
To make casual games for the iPhone, students at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University used paper prototypes in their pre-development planning. Paper prototyping can be an extremely efficient and low-risk way to test game ideas, but there are a few quintessential things the developers must do to make the process effective. A new article on GameCareerGuide.com, written by one of the ETC students, highlights the five most important facts the student team discovered about using non-digital prototypes. The games the students made are a series of quick puzzles, most of which take between 5 and 15 seconds to complete. Although the games themselves are small and relatively simple for video games (both in terms of play and coding), the students were developing for a platform that had a lot of “unknowns” in store for them; in fact, they were planning their development before they even had the ability to put custom code onto the device. Nailing down the game on paper before programming was perhaps the most efficient way to approach the pre-development phase. The students created prototypes for their mini-games and puzzles out of paper, glue, markers, brass brads, transparency paper, and other common office supplies. Then they conducted a series of play tests with people who were not involved in the game development. Here are the top five findings they uncovered about using paper prototypes effectively: 1. Create standard procedures. Have a set of standard procedures to ensure that the people who are administering the test are not inadvertently affecting the data that is collected. 2. Test the games before the official play test sessions. 3. Size matters. Users approach and play games differently when they are presented in different sizes or on different dimensions. 4. Paper is “accessible” in more ways than one. Not only are the tools affordable and easy to come by, but also the team is encouraged to collaborate in ways that make their thought processes and styles more accessible for other team members to understand. 5. Paper inherently is on one side of the digital divide. Players approach paper-based games with an ease that they won’t necessarily have when faced with an electronic version of the same thing. The GameCareerGuide.com article “Paper Prototyping: 5 Facts for Designing in Low-Tech” contains more analysis and concrete examples of what the students learned while using non-electronic prototypes. Also available are pictures of two of the games’ paper versions.

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