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Hacking the Leapster, plus Squeak and procedural literacy
by Ian Bogost November 24, 2003
categories: Educational Games

From the Design Experience, Some interesting and helpful news on LeapFrog's new educational handheld, the Leapster.

First, and most interesting to me, the device apparently runs on Macromedia Flash. I don't know why I found this surprising, but I did. Flash is becoming more and more popular in embedded devices in general.

Second, and sadly, when Dave Bauer over at the Design Experience asked about 3rd party development, LeapFrog sent a quick NO in reply, explaining that all development is done in-house. Personally, I think this is foolish, but I'm sure LeapFrog is deadly neurotic about controlling the content on their devices.

Still, I'd challenge someone out there to figure out a way to hack the device and install new modules on it. It can't be that hard. I imagine there are some proprietary container calls that would be hard to identify, but not impossible. Let us know if you have any information.

Third, Dave makes the interesting point that Squeak would provide a good platform for a kids handheld device. For those of you unfamiliar with Squeak, it's a scriptable media authoring tool for kids, with some big names in children's software behind it. What's interesting about this idea is that the device could serve as both a general learning tool (maybe) and a tool for teaching procedural literacy. I'm not sure how practical such a device would be as a commercial product, but it's an interesting idea to bat around.

Comments (18)

My kids leapster is crap. the calibration is off. I've done the calibration screen several times with no sucess. I can touch the four outside targets but never the middle one.

I'm gonna call techinical support after the holiday. and see if they can help. Of coarse i don't have the box or i would return it to the store.

Michael Slotwinski on January 1, 2004 3:06 AM

Our second (returned the first) Leapster does not calibrate and now the system is unplayable!!! Leapfrog is not returning my emails and I don't think they have a fix.

(I was initially interested in its Flash hacking as well - or using it as a video screen!)

You might want to read my suggestions on how to reach LeapPad in another post on Leapster, here.

Let me know if it works out; I'm very interested in seeing how these issues get resolved.

I'm on the second one as well, the calibration becomes off after 2 weeks. I was able to return the product without a box, but with a receipt. Leapfrog has 2 options to calibrate the Leapster, but none seemed to work.

Well, we returned the second and final Leapster. I saw on the news something about the calibration issues. Apparently Leapfrog is aware of the issue and is doing an unannounced recall. That is, they are letting customers return their Leapsters back to the place of purchase for a new one. ;-)

I have also gone through 2 leapsters, hoping they fix this problem soon, as the unit is enjoyable when it's working correctly.

Leapster user on April 13, 2004 3:48 AM

I have also tried to calibrate the handheld many times and also I could never touch the center. I even took the unit apart to try and clean the screen better - thinking it had something (film or something along those lines) on it. And of course I have no receipt or box.

I have two leapsters. My children received them last Christmas. Could not calibrate one of them, so I called Leapfrog. They were very nice and told me that even though the warranty was out that they would replace it. No receipt or box are needed.

Leapster owner on September 3, 2004 10:53 PM

I have a Leapster that has some orange fixed dots on the screen. They are there when the unit is on w/ or w/out the cartridge. If you know there is a way to fix it, let me know. What is the procedure for calibrating the screen?

tly9 @ nospam netzero dot net

removing spacings and nospam from address


How do you calibrate a Leapster to get the pen to work?

Cory, leapfrog has it listed on their website how to re-calibrate your leapster.


Hold down home, hint, and b, all at the same time while in the sign in screen. Works best with leap into learning cartridge. Thats the one that came with it. BUt any cart that has a sign in screen will work. It will then direct you to push the big blue button. This is the a button. Then follow instructions and hit the targets. If calibration does not go through, call leapfrog. They are very nice and very willing to help.

I didnエt see the game yet, but anyway it brings me to another idea: a tiny game where you have to drop little boy on hiroshima - just for demonstrating the historical facts, the difficulty of hitting the city and dropping the bomb at the right time. the winner (the one who approximates the number of killed people best) getエs a certain amount of money, letエs say, the same amount of people the bomb killed.

weired... but it wouldnエt surprise me anymore

My daughter has had 2 leapsters that have stopped working correctly for one reason or another, mainly the calibration. First one was returned to Walmart, with out a box or reciept. (It was less than 30 days) Then that one went bad, I called leapfrog, where I have always registered all our leafrog toys, With out any trouble, leapfrog sent another one out. I first had to return mine, they ,upon receiving mine, they got one back to us in less than seven days. I had bought a lot of games, charging station, you name it, I got it. But then this one would not calibrate on the center.

I called leapfrog, again, they sent out another right away, plus, they paid shipping on mine for return. The screens are touch screens and are an assembley line product. Mass producing bad parts.

I think most of these will pass an inspection, but not for long. Leapfrog was great to me, I just called and spoke to great people, that have had this problem and will fix this!

Don't give up, this toy has tought my daughter so much, it is unbelivable! 4 years old, knows all letters and learning to spell and reconize words.

She now is getting into math and is learning to add numbers at a very fast pace!

I am proud of the LEAPSTER, and of the way LEAPFROG kept helping us, until we got it right!

Went through the dreaded calibration problem and was able to return; leapfrog was very supportive and acknowledged a widespread problem. We had to return 4 of them before getting a good one that would last more than two weeks without the center "x" calibration problem kicking in. We've had the 5th one for almost a year now and it has worked perfectly; and it gets a lot of use. We were tempted to give up on this product, but our kids enjoyed it so much and were learning a lot when it was working properly so we continued to try. We're glad we did. It may be a pain to deal with the malfunctioning ones, but if you can get a good one, it is well worth it and the company has demonstrated that they are committed to taking care of the issue.

We've had our Leapster for well over a year, and no problems to date.

It's been a very good unit and the kids have enjoyed it immensely.

To them, it's a video game...to us it's something they can focus on for more than 2 minutes and actually learn something useful in the process.

Based on a lot of the stories here, just thought I'd share our non-issue experience ;-)

My daughter also has the leapster and hasn't had any issues with it. After reading about the Flash player it runs on, I'd like to find out how to hack it to play videos of Kids shows imported into Flash.


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