Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Hackaball Light Up Catch Surprise

Hackaball is a programmable throwable ball that kids can use to create their own active games. We've written a version of catch that keeps kids interested in playing for longer and makes playing catch fun in the dark - good for getting outside on long winter days.

See our Hackaball review for more general information about the ball.

Light Up Catch Surprise

"It's like catch, which is already fun, but funner." 8 year old
This game is played with multiple players and the goal is to keep going for as many passes as possible without the ball staying still for too long - either because it gets dropped on the floor or someone doesn't pass it on quickly. This means that everyone needs to pay attention and work together. 

What's the surprise? Every time Hackaball detects a throw it will change to a random colour. The Hackaball colours are gorgeous especially in the dark so this is quite rewarding! The ball will also make a Tweet noise so that you can tell it's detected a throw if the new colour is similar to the old one. 

The program also keeps track of the score - the number of throws - on a connected device. You can also play without a connected device, you just won't see the score. 

The Code

Hackaball code is created in the app and very visual so it should be easy to work out what's going on. 

The ball goes purple and miaows when the game starts. The two paths are active: one reacting to throws and changing the colour incrementing the counter, and one waiting for the ball to be still for two seconds which then triggers a rumble vibration and sound and ends the game. 

You can of course choose different sounds and colours to the ones we selected - that's part of the fun of hacking your own toy.

The Experience


The game played really well indoors (with enough space and instructions to be careful!) the colours are gorgeous and the sounds are fun. It was easy to keep the app nearby and check our score and then try to beat it. 

We found that not all throws would trigger the Hackaball. The children were really interested in this and we tried lots of different styles of throwing to see what worked best, was it to do with speed, loopiness, was it the thrower or the catcher than made the different. We decided loopiness was important. 

For younger children and kids who can be trusted to throw gently indoors, this activity was a great way to encourage the kids away from their devices. 

Outdoors: Daytime

"I like the way Hackaball feels, it's nicer than an ordinary ball." 8 year old
We took Hackaball to play Catch Surprise at our local park on a sunny winter's day. 

Unfortunately we could barely see the colours in bright daylight, the vibrant colours that we saw indoors were very muted outside. Brighter/more LEDs for the next version please Hackaball. 

We could still hear the sounds just fine but we had the park to ourselves (the temperature was around freezing!) A louder speaker would be brilliant too. 

We also found that Hackaball got a bit damp when it was dropped because the grass was damp, this made the outer cover start to slip off. Hackaball isn't designed for use in wet conditions but it is splashproof. We haven't found the cover slipping when it's dry.

When playing outside we discovered that a long throw would reliably trigger a throw event - our indoor throws were shorter. 

Outdoors: Night-time

We've also played Catch Surprise in the dark (it's winter, so that's pretty early) and it's awesome! The colours look fantastic.

The promise of playing Hackaball catch even gets my younger son out on an walk after dark or playing catch in the garden on a very cold evening.

The only problem we found is that while we can see Hackaball really well, we can't see each other! The kids have had the idea of programming other light up wearable gadgets so we can see each other, so that's going to be a future project. 


I did the coding this time to try it out, but my 8 year old has since coded his own Hackaball games - more on those and what he thinks in a future post.

I loved the way my kids got thinking about how a throw was detected. As it happens this is covered in the Hackaball FAQ "We’ve defined a throw as a strong impulse followed by a drop, or a strong impulse in one direction for at least half a second. The first throw is a hooped throw, the second a straight throw." This matches what we found - we needed loopy throws or long throws. Neat. 

My kids definitely play outside less in the winter when it gets dark early and Hackaball has made it easy to encourage them outside. Recently we were expecting a visitor and played Hackaball Catch Surprise in the front garden so we wouldn't miss them (who expects you to be playing ball games in the garden when it's below freezing?) My 8 year old said "Is this what it was like when you were a kid, playing out front?"

We were expecting Hackaball to be more of a summer toy, but our experience is that it's best in winter for indoor games and playing outdoors in the dark or low light. That actually works well for us as it's easier to get the kids active and playing outdoors in the summer, it's during winter when they need a bit more of a nudge and Hackaball is awesome for that. 

Hackaball: good old-fashioned outdoor play with a modern twist. 

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