Paper prototyping: Final thoughts on construction (part 6 of 7)

This post will wrap up my thoughts on paper prototyping construction and knowing your medium. It will document two more constructions I have created and will have some things to think about when working with this craft.


The last two constructions actually have functionality in mind. I left them last also because they were ones which also needed to be reproduced and be able to withstand abuse, and some thought was put into how they were constructed with that in mind.

Cardboard deck boxes


When my interest in creating card games piqued, I started exploring the idea of making my own deck boxes. This was also with the need of replacing certain other boxes which suffered some wear and tear. Looking at what I had, and the amount of pizza I consumed, I decided on using pizza boxes to create them. The photos describe most of the work done here, but I would like to mention that this is where lightly cutting the cardboard before it was folded was really helpful. The photo above shows one of the earliest iterations of making such boxes, while the photos below show the latest iteration. The slits that bend open at the top is meant to make taking cards out easier. As you see in the large photo below the corners where the flap is inserted are rounded to allow for easy insertion. As mentioned in a previous post, the view window was moved and resized to the bottom of the deck box so the top part does not become weak.


A bit off-topic but comes to mind as it's an 'edge' case: when it comes to edges on paper-based constructions that may suffer wear and tear. Think of them like business cards and, if possible, consider having them rounded. Having rounded corners removes having to deal with crinkly and creased corners in future. As rounding corners takes time, even with proper tools to create them, you may have to evaluate if it is worth the effort.

04 The left photo shows a business card without rounded corners. It lasted a few days in my wallet before looking worn. The right shows one with rounded corners.

SHMASH game controllers

So at some point I wanted to lasercut MDF (medium-density fibreboard) boxes to resurrect a game project that involved mashing two buttons per box. The problem was that I had less than 24 hours to make them and, unfortunately for me who visited all three places that have a lasercutter in Malmö, I found out that there was a 0% chance in making these controllers in that time frame. So I instead made a quick visit to Starbucks and requested some cardboard boxes. The plan now was to make 4 controllers using cardboard and masking tape.


As you may see I started with the top side, then made the c-shaped sides which I later bridged with a single piece spanning the front. I kept to the techniques which I described in a previous post, angling the sides and taping down the edges without using too many pieces of tape. I cut pieces of cardboard in much the same way, as using full pieces is much less troublesome and more stable than having to frankenstein multiple pieces into a part. One thing to note here and something that you do not really see is using the flute of the cardboard to my advantage. It follows reason that if I cut a piece with the flute going vertically and cut another of the same shape with the flute going horizontally, putting them on top of each other will make for a construction that resists bending and other mistreatment better than having the flute go in the same direction. You may also note that I thoroughly taped edges and reinforced corners and sides with tape.

The result is a very sturdy controller which can take on a lot of intense button mashing and rough handling. You can really bang on the box without it showing any signs of wear. Anyways, I was able to make four controllers before presentation time. It may have taken longer than lasercutting, but it was very doable and worked as intended.

Understanding the craft

If you want to build more experience and understanding about paper and related materials, I can recommend taking a look at origami and papercrafting. Origami is the Japanese art of folding what is usually a single sheet of paper into something decorative. You may try to work with different weights of paper and knowing the different kinds of folds and bases/grids to start with. If you advance further there are crease patterns and wet folding techniques. What's important with origami is knowing that you can 'tease' a model into shape and take advantage of the characteristics of paper. Papercrafting on the other hand let's you work with glue and cutting tools to create a paper model. This can include much more simpler constructions (also called paper toys), but can also be very complex and intricate where a lot of care and light handedness is required. People have used these techniques to create resin to fiberglass wearables (lookup Halo fiberglass). One may also delve into the realm of package design to pick up tips and techniques in creating box packages. What's important with papercrafting is knowing how the materials fit and what materials work well together. Either way, there are large communities for both origami and papercrafting if one decides to take the time and effort.

06 One of the more complex origami creations I have made, along with the kawasaki rose.

Finally, back to the point of playtesting early and often. When building for a project, you are here to experiment and rapidly build something that people can easily and quickly try. With some exercised caution and experience, you should be able to conjure constructions which fit their intended purpose or proof of concept successfully.

That's it for paper prototyping construction! I will of course continue writing more about paper prototyping, but will put more focus on game design principles and what practices make for good prototyping habits when making a tabletop game.

The paper prototyping series