Balloon Car Builder, by WGBH Interactive
Posted: 19-Jan-2002

4 out of 5 Mice

Author: WGBH Interactive Type: FREEWARE

Reviewer: Moe Bradley Class: EDUCATIONAL
     
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Balloon Car Builder is an educational game in which a player designs and tests a virtual balloon car. A balloon car is a simple vehicle made from a carton or box, straws, spools, and a balloon. The car is propelled by the force of air being released from the balloon. The point-and-click interface is very intuitive and easy to use; the children I tested it with (five children, ranging in age from four to eight) needed no instruction or assistance to design, test, or re-design the cars.

The program opens with a screen which gives you a choice to build a virtual balloon car, or a real balloon car. Choosing "Virtual" scrolls you to a screen which is divided into two sections: one section contains the parts of the car, and the other (larger) section shows the car as it is being constructed. The construction is simple; locate the part of the car you want to work with and then click on one of the arrows next to the part to choose the shape or size you wish to use on your car. Each click on an arrow will also play a sound associated with that particular body part. For example, clicking on the arrows next to the spools results in a sound like an impact wrench. Clicking on "Tips" shows pop-ups containing suggestions on car-building from other kids. Clicking on "Help" shows pop-ups which explain what each part of the screen does.

Once your selections are made, click on "Test Drive" to see your car's time and distance performance on a virtual track. As your car is propelled down the virtual track, it sounds like air is escaping from the balloon as it shrinks in size. After your test drive, you may go back a screen to change the design of the vehicle, then test it again to see how the time or distance traveled on the test track was affected by the changes you made.


If, on the first screen, you choose to design a real balloon car, you will scroll to a screen which gives instructions on how to build a real balloon car. The instructions contain a parts list, plus simple, step-by-step directions on how to build the car. A small amount of "grown-up" assistance may be needed to cut the cartons; adult supervision is advised as straight-pins are used to attach the wheels to the axle.

This program entertained my son and several friends on a rainy afternoon. After playing with different virtual designs for over an hour, they each came up with definite ideas of how they would build a real balloon car, which they all did. The result of all this? Several hours of safe, creative and educational play for a group of young kids.

Pros

  • Simple interface
  • Easy to use
  • High "Fun Factor"
  • Great instructions for a real balloon car

Cons

  • Could use better sound effects
  • No way to save race results

Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice