Jack Barber Design & Technology

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Hackaball - It Was Worth the Wait!

Hackaball - It Was Worth the Wait!

Hackaball was the first thing I ever backed on Kickstarter - now well over a year ago.

I don't remember how I heard about the project - but I'm glad I did. I decided to back the project, expecting to receive my Hackaball sometime at the end of 2015, or beginning of 2016. Like many Kickstarter projects, Hackaball ran up against some challenges and was delayed, for months.

I have to say though, the Hackaball team did a great job of keeping their backers informed of progress - and I'm sure everyone's glad they product was properly developed rather than being pushed out too quickly.

I recieved mine just over a week ago, and have now used it twice with our youth group Unity - here are my first thoughts about using Hackaball in the 'real world'.

Creating Games is Hard - K.I.S.S

Despite the relatively wide range of movements Hackaball can detect, and the wide range of processing and output options, I've quickly discovered that keeping things simple yields better results. Simple games are always the most fun - particularly in a group when it's important everyone 'gets' the game quickly.

No doubt I'll have a go at creating something more complex as I become more comfortable with using the device and creating games - but for now, something with 2 - 3 steps seems to be enough, and provides enough of a framework for a reasonable game (see below).

Last week the most fun was had by simply playing 'pass the bomb' - just the threat of the mysterious glowing orb turning red was enough to elicit shreaks of terror as the ball was passed ever more quickly from player to player!

Kids Will Always Try and Break Things

In the promo videos for Hackaball you see groups of children chucking the ball around in a park - they make a big thing about it being robust.

Good job.

Last week, when it was brand new, it took no more than 30 seconds for an over-excited teen to chuck Hackaball at the pavement, with quite a lot of force, just to see what would happen.

He went red. Hackaball survived.

The harder plastic inner, containing the electronics, slipped within the silicone hemispheres so the ball became mishapen, but that was the only 'damage' done, fortunately. So yes, Hackaball is pretty tough. But remember, kids will always try and break stuff, especially if you tell them it's ok to throw it around!

Different Groups, Different Rules

The same programme will inspire different rules depending on the children in the group and the environment in which you play. I think it would be interesting to use the same programme for a few weeks and see how many different types of game can be devised.

This is particularly important to remember if re-programming the ball in the middle of your session isn't really viable.

Don't be afraid to keep the ball loaded with a simple game - but think more creatively about how different rules could be created for different scenarios, ages, locations etc.

The Good

  • The lights are really bright - it's fantastic to use outside on a dark night, but works just as well in a lit-up living space, and the colour combinations are really nice, UFO is my favourite!
  • It seems really robust - as mentioned above, it has survived being thrown around on concrete, and also purposefully thrown against paving stones with force
  • It's really engaging - everyone wants to touch it and find out more about it, even if it's not lit up
  • Battery life seems good
  • The software is simple to use

The Not So Good

  • It's a shame there's no way to turn it on/off without taking it apart - the silicon is bendy enough to accommodate some kind of internal push switch - although this was perhaps an engineering step too far for a first generation project - maybe something for Hackaball v2, if there is one!
  • The speaker is quiet - even on full volume it's difficult to hear the sound effects when using Hackaball outside
  • Connecting Hackaball to my Mac seems little glitchy - but perhaps that's just me being impatient!

Tonight's Game

This evening I programmed Hackaball with a simple set of instructions - something like this:

  • Light up white
  • When hit light up blue and begin counting down from 30
  • If dropped before 30 is reach turn red and 'explode'
  • If 30 is reached turn yellow and start counting down from 10
  • Once 10 is reached turn red and 'explode'
  • Restart (turn white and wait to by hit)

We only had a few children this evening - but we created a game which was a kind of cross between netball, capture the flag and pass the bomb. The basic rules were:

  • 2 teams of equal players start at opposite ends of the playing area, in their 'safe zones'
  • Hackaball is placed in the centre of the playing area and hit to turn blue and start counting down
  • Players run to grab ball and then must pass between themselves to get Hackaball into the opposing team's 'safe zone'
  • Players cannot move while holding Hackaball
  • If Hackaball is dropped and 'explodes' 0 points are scored and the game restarts
  • Once Hackaball turns yellow players can roll, throw or run with Hackaball with the aim of getting Hackaball into the opposing team's 'safe zone' at just the right time for it to 'explode'
  • If Hackaball 'explodes' in the opposing team's 'safe zone' a point is scored
  • The game restarts

It worked really well with only a handful of players - we'll try it again next time with more and see how we get on. Please get in touch if you've got good ideas for other games!

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