A high school math teacher and a former console game developer stomped the competition in the Battle of the Apps with AWEsum Friendzy where “the game is the math, and the math is the game.” As the winners of the Battle, Mike Reiners (the teacher) and Reuben Simonson (the developer) received the first place prize of a Horizon 2 27” tabletop PC and a check for $1,000.
Reiners and Simonson know a thing or two about educational apps. As co-founders of development studio NOMAD (Naively Optimistic Mobile App Developers, LLC) in St. Paul, Minnesota, they have created several award-winning educational apps. For Battle of the Apps, Reiners and Simonson built a version of their AWEsum Friendzy app for the multi-user, multi-touch (MUMT) environment.
AWEsum Friendzy is a Tetris/Sudoku-style two-player game where players guide and place a pair of falling numbered cubes onto other cubes so that the single digits assigned to each cube when added together, equal the game’s predetermined “AWEsum.” Playing becomes progressively challenging as the AWEsum changes and the speed increases. Users can play together (co-op mode) or compete against one another (versus mode), making it essentially two games in one.
The judges ranked AWEsum Friendzy on several criteria: educationally based (40%), functionality/use of multi-user, multi-touch technology (35%), adherence to Common Core curriculum (15%), and creativity and originality (10%).
Developing an app for a fast-action multiple-player environment didn’t come without its challenges. Reiner says it took thousands of hours, many design meetings, and some coding and engineering breakthroughs to make the game feel fluid.
For example, they were used to applying touch input and output on a small, hand-held screen, now they had to consider those gestures across a 27-inch display. “Scaling up to a large screen was a challenge,” says Reiners. “We had to think about how a small child would use this on a large screen.”
At one point, they encountered a bug in the code that was difficult to fix. When they instructed the game to take advantage of 10-point touch in the competitive mode, they noticed that a player could beat their opponent by putting more than 10 points on the screen and their opponent's play wouldn’t register. How did they discover it? “I let my 1½-year-old daughter play it,” says Simonson, "and she was putting her face and fingers on the screen! We saw the bug had something to do with more than 10 fingers on the screen.”
“These are the types of things you don’t ever have to think about on a handheld device,” says Reiners.
Another obstacle was the user interface for the game. “We didn’t foresee the difficulty of that,” says Simonson. “We’re showing two windows on one screen; it was a challenge to create all of the game modes and orientations.”
Simonson and Reiners offer some advice to first-time developers who want to create apps for the multi-user, multi-touch environment:
- Make connections. Getting in contact with other people allows you to expand your boundaries. Make good connections on both the engineering and PR side of things. You have to be proactive about it, but there are people willing to help you.
- Ask a lot of questions. It’s just like developing for any other platform you haven’t developed on before. Think about the amount of time it will take, and ask a lot of questions.
While Reiners and Simonson haven’t made a final decision on what to do with their winnings, they’re considering loading the Horizon 2 with Friendzy and putting it in a classroom for further testing and user observations. “It’s a valuable test device,” Reiner says of the Horizon 2. “It provides a rich testing environment with teachers and students and an opportunity to promote Friendzy.”
AWEsum Friendzy is available in the Aura Interface Store on YOGA Home PCs and can be played in Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Hong Kong (SAR), English, French, and German.