Remember origami? It's gone digital ...

cd-rom review; Andy Oldfield and young friends test a program that lets you print out and make 600 paper toys

T he myth that computers lead to a paperless office has long been discredited. Even so, the amount of paper generated when origami - the art of folding paper into decorative shapes - goes digital is enough to make a conservationist quail.

Paperopolis, a program for eight-year-olds and upwards, is likely to finish off your printer's toner cartridge, too. It boasts of more than 600 paper toys - and instructions for building them - that can be printed out and assembled.

The program is easy for even the youngest to use, with everything accessible through a simple point-and-click cartoon interface, influenced by the style of BBC 2's Ren and Stimpy Show. Ted the Toad, a wisecracking amphibian with a Bronx accent and a line in excruciating puns, is the program's guide. Younger users love him, although teenage mouse-wielders soon lose patience with his limited repertoire.

Starting from a cartoon toytown, you have the option of visiting different sites: an airfield, a circus, shops, cinema, et al. Each location has a selection of goodies to print out and fold into shape. They range from the straightforward (such as the stunt planes at the airfield), through the moderately difficult (birds with flapping wings at the aviary), to the potentially troublesome (dinghies in the harbour).

Whereas traditional origami practitioners buy sheets of coloured square paper, Paperopolitans have to make do with A4 of whatever quality is to hand, and if that is too thick then problems can arise with small, intricate folds. Although the option of choosing various designs to be printed out on the paper is appealing, having to cut out accurate squares to start the model off can lead to heartache as the model progresses and early inaccuracies get magnified.

One of the aims of the CD-Rom is to promote critical thinking. The quality of instruction sheets for making toys seems designed to do just that - they are variable and can lead to heated disputes in group folding sessions. Instruction sheets range from a single side of A4 with nine steps to follow for a stunt plane, to five sides with 37 steps for a flapping bird. In the case of the flapping bird, none of my volunteers, aged six to 13, could get past step 20. Neither could I. Fortunately, I had an old paperback book which had the same model in only 21 steps. With the book, my volunteers and I succeeded.

The QuickTime movies and animation are impressively done and the soundtrack is crystal clear. For the most part, the instructions are fairly clear, too. Perhaps the best recommendation, however, is that kids come back to the CD for more - even after a failure or two.

It might be an idea to buy a book as expert back-up, though. It will be more likely to give you a structured overview of the basic folding and creasing techniques, enabling you to sort out any problems with the instruction sheets. In turn, that will help to safeguard your printer ink and paper supplies.

Paperopolis, dual format for Windows and Macintosh, pounds 29.99, Funsoft (0181-748 7565).

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