Our first developer of the week is Chuck Bergen, CEO of VTree Entertainment, based in Bensalem, PA. This selection is significant because VTree's core business is creating and modifying apps for people with special needs. As you'll read, they've achieved far beyond material gain, and actually changed people's lives, from kids to US veterans. Read and learn more about Chuck ...oh and and learn what legendary rock band he's jamming to. --Krista
1.So Chuck, tell us a little about your background. How'd you get into app development?
"For over 20 years, I developed software for the United States Navy, and other governmental agencies. On one of our projects, we were supported by NASA for advanced graphic designs. As I worked with them, it became very apparent that Virtual Reality and Motion Control software would be an extremely great system for use by individuals with cognitive and/or physical challenges.
And that led me to the biggest decision of my life.
I founded VTree, Inc. 15 years ago with the sole purpose of developing Virtual Reality systems for the special needs communities. Our first products were our Wheelchair Mobility Simulator, I-C-Me and Practicing Street Crossing, all of which were Virtual Reality and motion control systems. Each project was critically acclaimed, and received many awards and news articles for innovation.
After 12 years of exclusively developing virtual systems and video games for the special needs community, we determined that we needed to branch out into the “mainstream” video gaming market to make profitable games that could support the intensive research and development costs of making games and digital products for those with disabilities.
Over the last 3 years, we have released two new games that can be manipulated by motion control as well as gaming controllers and your standard keyboard; Pro Rider Snowboard and Volleyball Extreme.
Through it all, we haven't lost sight of our original mission to improve the lives of those with disabilities by developing fairly accessible games, with each new title, we develop a second version of the game for our core, special needs communities."
2. What would you say are your proudest moments?
"Personally, I have been very fortunate to have several great moments. The one I would say that will go to the grave with me was when a Non-Profit Organization was donating one of our original products (ICME) to a family with a young child that had cognitive difficulties and wouldn't speak.
During the presentation I was showing the family how to use the system. After about 10 minutes of coaxing from her mother, the little girl allowed me to show her how to physically use her arms to interact with the motion control/vr game.
In less than 30 seconds the young girl was laughing and out of nowhere asked her mother "verbally" to play with her.
We were in a room full of adults, including the girl's parents, who all began crying. The fact that she was so excited by our game that she found her voice, and asked for her mother to play is something that I’ll never forget.
Professionally, It's really a tie between when Mr. Ernie Els, a hall of fame PGA golfer, who allowed us to use his name and likeness on our Golf Game, and when EA Sports allowed us to take 2 of their biggest selling games and re-work them to be accessible for individuals with cognitive and physical challenges.
My Golf Game and My Football Game are extremely popular at VA Hospitals because of the games abilities to work with a large array of assistive technology.
Being able to take some of the biggest selling video games and make them accessible to individuals who couldn't enjoy these games otherwise is just the greatest combination of my two passions; video games and helping those in need."
3. What are your goals in the next 5 years for yourself and your company?
"In the next 5 years, I hope to have at least 5 more games published under Vtree, all with accessible versions. I would also like to make a breakthrough in a game that crosses over between mainstream and the special needs community.
If we can find the right business partner, I would love to work on more applications for the special needs community. There are so many niches that still need to be filled and people that still need to be helped."
4. What's the coolest thing about partnering with Lenovo as a developer?
"We have partnered with many large corporations over the years, Lenovo has been the best group we have worked with to date. Lenovo has been crucial to our business plan by helping promote our games and introducing us to other individuals and companies that benefit us, but also companies that can benefit from our experience. The one thing that I personally have been the most impressed with on a personal level is that no one at Lenovo has ever asked me to this date "what is it in for them." This is probably the best accolade I can give to any company I have worked with in my career. I think we all know that most companies are only interested in making investments that can later be “returned”--the old R.O.I.-–but Lenovo demonstrated outstanding principles by working with us."
5. BONUS Fun Fact Questions...
What are the top 3 sites you currently have bookmarked/in your RSS reader?
www.AbleGamers.com for all the work they do for people with disabilities. I have had the pleasure of working with them for almost 7 years. Fantastic charity.
http://mashable.com/tech/ for keeping up with the world of technology. Everything’s being invented so quickly, you’ve got to stay on the cutting edge.
http://techcrunch.com/ more of the same, only with a little bit more humor.
What book is currently on your nightstand or in your eReader/Tablet?
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Jobs was such an inspirational man, creative thinker, who didn’t know the words “can’t be done.” That’s an inspiration to me. I had always wished to meet the man, but that dream ended when the news of his untimely passing came across my television one sad morning.
Last album/song you downloaded or streamed?
Rolling Stones - Hyde Park Live. The Stones have been my favorite group for a very long time.
To connect with Chuck or learn more about VTree Entertainment:
LenovoDev Forums: Handle @bowamme
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/vtreeentertainment