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
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
- Simple interface
- Easy to use
- High "Fun Factor"
- Great instructions
for a real balloon car
- Could use better
- No way to save race
4 out of 5 Mice