Pressure Games Toy Blog

Over the last 6 months, we've gone through 4 different iterations of the electronics in Countdown. Each revision has added and removed some features, changed the shape and size of the case we can use, and, most importantly, each revision has progressively been easier to assemble. That last point is critical because each little piece on our boards are currently hand-placed. Each new part to place adds a few minutes to our assembly time and, over the course of dozens of boards, that time adds up (and increases the chances of a mistake).

Below we take a stroll down memory lane and describe the changes over in both functionality and cost of the guts of Countdown.

Bringing a new toy or piece of tech to market is a painstaking process. No matter what you envision or plan, once your shiny new object lands in the hands of someone else (especially when your target audience is kids).. they'll immediately find something wrong. Some button is too hard to press, some light too bright or dim, some combination of standing on one foot while looking with only their left eye prevents some feature from working. 

And have I mentioned how good kids are at foiling your best-laid plans? After months of testing, we've come to the conclusion that if you could give a group of kids an armored tank, they would find a way to break it... in minutes. They're amazing like that!

In order to keep up with our testing plans and testers themselves, we have to create a lot of Countdown toys. Unlike manufacturing, where thousands of identical units are stamped out, during development, we need hundreds of units that change a little (or a lot) each time. Unfortunately, there's not an easy way to automate everything at small scales to accomplish that goal. While it's true that our 3D printer is running 24 hours a day, non-stop, every day, there are some things that just have to be done by hand at this stage of development. It's the only way to allow for maximum flexibility and rapid turnaround times. The main focus of this post, and the item that requires the most elbow grease at this point, is the electronic circuit board we developed.

Countdown is an exciting toy for playing hide and seek. In addition to being a small toy that can be hidden anywhere, it adds a timed element to win. Once hidden, whoever is finding Countdown has to find it and beat a set of puzzles using the game buttons, lights and sounds. When developing the puzzles, we established a set of guidelines for how each puzzle should challenge the player. These guidelines are meant to make sure that each puzzle throws something different at the user and, if when done well, there will be some puzzles that you're better that than others. The end-goal is a hide & seek game that the excitement doesn't just end when the toy is found.

Puzzle Development Guidelines

With 6 buttons, each with a bright multi-color light, and our screen for instructions, there's a lot of variety to each puzzle we create. At the concept stage, we categorize each puzzle into one (or more) of the following groups:

  • Reflex - Puzzles that require quick movements to hit a button at a specific time.
  • Cognitive - Use your brain to figure out a reading, math or other challenge to proceed.
  • Memory - Remember a light, sound or text pattern and repeat some or all of it.

We are so excited to announce that Countdown, our hi-tech hide & seek toy, won at the 2019 Outdoor Toy Awards in London. In early June, when we sent an early prototype unit off, we had high hopes, but realistic expectations about what was going to happen. Going up against Nerf water guns, electric scooters and giant trampolines isn't something any new toy company really wants to be judged against. However, we know that Countdown is something unique, and our active, social gameplay is unlike anything else out there... and the kid judges at the Outdoor Toy Awards agreed by tapping Countdown as the winner in the Outdoor Sports category.

The Outdoor Toy Awards judging panel was comprised of kids aged 5-14 who had the hard job of judging dozens of toys. You can see Countdown and some of the other entrant toys on the Outdoor Toy Awards 2019 Winners Page.

Of course we're not done yet. As noted, we sent an early prototype off, which isn't the final product. Countdown is still undergoing active development and lots of play-testing, which feeds back into the design to make Countdown even better. Currently, we're working on new clock-stopping puzzles, better sounds, a slimmer design and more. 

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When we started on Countdown, our hide & seek electronic toy, we never could have imagined the iterations and refinements that would take us to the product we have today. Through continuous modeling, concept rendering and 3d printing, we've landed on a design that has proven to be very approachable, fun and engaging to all that have been lucky enough to get their hands on it.

Since the beginning, we've always had a goal of launching Countdown in late 2019. With every startup, there are times of rapid progress and slower slogs through some difficult development decisions. All work is done with your eye on the end goal of getting a final product out the door, which can always seem far in the future.

But not this past month. In May, we had a firm milestone we knew we had to hit: The 2019 Outdoor Toy Awards.

Any startup has a lot of decisions to make early on. Each one has an impact on budget, time to delivery, capabilities and so much more. One of the biggest, and best, choices we made was to learn and use Autodesk’s Fusion 360 CAD software combined with a Prusa 3D Printer. The printer will be a topic of a different day, as it warrants a post all to itself.

As a quick primer, for our game, mechanical engineering is the design of the case and how everything fits together: the electrical board inside, the buttons, the screen, battery placement, you name it. I’m an electrical engineer, so I knew how to make the electronics used in Countdown, but I hadn’t used a CAD program since college (turn of the century.. so, yeah, that's not too relevant). As CTO at my previous company that made a connected GPS dog tracker, we contracted out the mechanical design to a 3rd party. That product was a much smaller and more intricate product in comparison to the game we're making now. 

Being a hardware tech startup has a lot of challenges. I come from a software background where it's much easier to come up with your MVP, iterate and make large changes every day. Hardware, as they say, is hard. 

When we first had the concept for Countdown, we knew it would have 5 gameplay buttons with lights, a screen for instructions and speaker, among other features. The screen and speaker are a conversation for another day, but honestly, were pretty straightforward. But those buttons and lights. Man, they kept me up at night. We knew the basic shapes and sizes for how the buttons should be laid out. The problem is that, when prototyping, you can't always get what you want. You have to find whatever works best and that's cost effective.

February was an exciting month at Pressure Games. After months of planning, developing and internal testing, we had a game that was ready to be played by anyone. We tested our Alpha (rev1) version of the hardware in a lot of different situations and it drew a lot of excitement whenever it was brought out. One of our most fun times was at a camping trip with lots of other kids. The video below is at night, but the excitement is obvious. 

 

We're well under way with the design and development of our second revision (which looks amazing, btw), and we'll be sharing more details of that version soon. Stay tuned to our blog for more updates.

If you want to be a part of our testing, or get a discount on Countdown at launch, be sure to sign up to our beta test list at the bottom of this page!

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