Sometimes, paper is your best prototyping tool - even if you're Nintendo
"Oh, it's made out of cardboard! (laughs)"- Nintendo president Satoru Iwata marvels at the simplicity of an early prototype of the Wii U's tablet controller (pictured above).
Nintendo is banking on its Miiverse -- a sort of mini-Facebook with a layer of console game makeup -- to draw players to its new Wii U console. It was a new concept, running on a new type of game hardware with the tablet-like GamePad.
Nintendo contracted fellow Kyoto social media company Hatena Co. Ltd. to do a lot of the Miiverse design work. The Wii U's tablet-infused GamePad hadn't been finalized yet, but Hatena UI designer Kazuyuki Motoyama felt that he needed to know how the Miiverse would feel in his hands, so the company developed the basic feel of it with this simple cardboard prototype.
"We wouldn't know how it felt unless we could actually hold it, but since we didn't have one, the only thing to do was make one," Motoyama explains. "In the middle of the night, I cut pieces of cardboard and glued them together."
I think there's a game development lesson here. You can prototype just about anything with the tools available to you, on just about any budget. Whether it's paper or an HTML website or even a free copy of UDK or Unity, you shouldn't let available technology hold you back from trying new ideas.
If paper prototyping is good enough for a feature embedded in millions of Nintendo-made consoles, it's probably good enough for you too.