Liverpool MakeFest is a family-friendly event celebrating low level technologies, hardware, hacking and making. Here's our review on what we did and what we learnt.

Makefest celebrates it's 5 year annivesary this year! We participated with a stand at the 2019 event and built an immersive Internet of Things gaming experience, called Wack-a-Light to engage with those attending and learn more about Kotlin, Firebase and IoT for ourselves.

We have been participating with MakeFest for the last 5 years and every year it gets bigger and better. This year we brought back our Dungeon Crawler game to the stand to have alongside Wack-a-light We had a lot of people visiting our stand of a wide range of ages and all with a wide range of knowledge, which made for some great conversations. People played the games and were really interested in what Android Things is (every is suprised when they hear about a Raspberry Pi running Android) as well as the Pir matrix for this years game. Most attendees of MakeFest were families with children aged 7–17, which is why we created an IoT game.


This year we took inspiration from the human habit of using materials once. We had a wine advent calender (empty) laying around the house and wanted to see if we could repurpose it for a game. we wanted to build something that would be engaging to people of all ages. So we decided to build an IoT Wack A Mole game. Basing the game on the original arcade versions (see wikipedia).


Wak-a-light uses 24 Pir motion sensors to detect hand movements over each of the holes in the box. It also has a 24 LED matrix for lighting up each hole, as well as a 8x24 led display at the front for showing another representation of the game and the score when the game was over.

The game was written in Kotlin, with a game loop running at 10fps. This meant we could detect motion as often as the hardware allowed, and updated the position of our 'moles' 10 times a second.
The app itself was architectured so that it could detect if it was running on a mobile device or on IoT hardware, that way it could show an game app using your touch screen if running on your phone and use the LED matrix if running on a IoT device.
The game is arranged so that the 'config' of the game is a set of properties that are loaded before hand. i.e. the length of the game, the number of moles at the beginning, the respawn rate of moles, the duration of moles, is all configurable as a set config.
After someone plays a game, the game stores their score and the config that they played in Firebase. A separate tablet application then loads those scores into a highscore table. A player can click on their score in this tablet and claim it as their own. To claim is as their own they need to feedback on the "fun factor" of the game 1-5 represented as 5 sad to smiley faces. Once that's done they can add their name for the highscore table.

With this data gathered, it's now possible to correlate the config & scores of the game to it's rating. In another post, we will show you how we took that dataset and pushed it through a generated neural network to create a Machine Learning Model. This model can then be used to determine if any new game config will be a "fun" game to play.

I really enjoy Makefest, every year their are new things and really interesting builds or people to talk to. This year a lot of the kids where very savy about Makefest and where asking questions about how to do things themselves, which is so awesome! I learnt a lot from building the Wak-a-light game, especially about user feedback and how the sensors can be tweaked to be even better next time!

Paul Blundell

My first ever Liverpool Makefest was lots of fun. Between seeing what other stalls had been tinkering on, and explaining both of the innovative games - I met lots of new faces and enjoyed understanding how stuff works. Our stall was pretty busy throughout Makefest, with children and parents alike participating and enquiring in both games. Games went down well with the audience and kids especially loved them. I'm feeling inspired to brainstorm my own game ideas for next years Makefest - Its amazing how entertained everyone was (myself included!) by a door-stop joystick and an LED strip.

Frank Boylan

Some of the other interesting stands we noticed included: TrainTrack LED strips with kinetic controllers. Object scanning lasers for recreation with 3D printing, Nixie Clock and mechano kids toys that where recycled to give them a new quirky lease of life.


Grumpy Mike's electro gadgets


Object scanning lasers


Nixie Clock


Refunctioned Kids Toys

Attending MakeFest had two aims for us: We love helping the community, and seeing young people engaging with technology is a real inspiration. We enjoy helping to spark creative ideas and showing how easy it can be to get into technology. Secondly, we are always learning and trying to push the boundaries of our own knowledge. Working with hardware is not a daily occurrence yet for most of our projects, so working on a new project for MakeFest really pushes us to learn new things.

We can't wait for next year. Each year we learn more and want to make it more awesome than last. Next year we want to perhaps demonstrate Machine Learning technologies in a kid accessible way. If you have a platform or product and are interested in collaborating, feel free to reach out to us @Novoda. Stay tuned!