Papercraft and games

2013-05-01

So, some friends of mine were talking RPG miniatures, and someone came up with this list of papercraft resources as an alternative. My first thought was adding it to one of my link collections, but of course I lack an appropriate category. And why should I have one? No Time To Play is mostly about (making) computer games, right?

See, that's exactly the problem with us computer heads. We've started forgetting why physicality is important, and what we can learn from the analog world.

For example, have you ever noticed how much papercraft is like 3D modeling? In both cases, you abstract and decompose a shape from the real world into polygons. You need to be frugal, either because of machine limitations or because there's only so much you can do by hand. You need to recognize where you're better off painting some details on top rather than forcing more triangles into a tight space.

Sure, the computer makes things easier. But that can be a trap.

I had played with papercraft before, but only started seriously paying attention around 1994, when a friend of a friend was making awesome spaceship models out of little more than card stock and glue. Being a sci-fi geek, I immediately wanted in, but while my drafting skills were good (thanks to a mild case of OCD) and my crafting ability would have improved with practice, it wasn't so easy to come up with compelling designs. Apart from one, which in retrospect was a lot like the yet unborn Enterprise E. Amusingly, the model would glide well -- a completely unintended effect.

In any event, early negative feedback discouraged me, so I never got into this particular hobby. But papercraft turned out to be quite useful when later I developed an interest in board games, and needed a way to make pieces in less common shapes (not to mention quantities).

Then, of course, I got my hands on a modern computer, and the rest is history. But while I haven't practiced any handicrafts in nearly twenty years, the lessons I learned back then are still with me.

It's good to have an undo button for everything, but when any mistake costs you money, you learn to do things right the first time around. That means less wasted time, plus you won't have to repeat the same actions until you start to hate them.

You also learn to plan, because wasting space on the sheet also costs money. Not to mention you'll want your model to rely on folding -- as opposed to gluing -- as much as possible, for robustness and ease of assembly. Except when your best or even only option is to divide your model into parts and build each one in turn. Believe me, you don't want to force this particular issue.

Last but not least, no advances in rendering can supplant the ability to turn the model in your hands. And while 3D printing might bring back some of that, it's both expensive and far from ubiquitous for now.

You'll say I sound like an old curmudgeon, but think about it: we're wired to interact with physical objects. Try performing some of your daily tasks while wearing blinders and two pairs of mittens; that's how much computers take from us. We devise increasingly sophisticated ways to simulate the real world, while the memory of what we're trying to simulate is fading away.

Do yourself a big favor: use your hands for something else than typing and clicking from time to time.

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