If you have an Elementary or Middle Schooler then I hope you have one of Dan Russell-Pinson’s apps on an iDevice. He’s the developer behind Stack the States, Rocket Math and the brand new app Stack the Countries. Stack the States is one of my eight year old daughter’s favorite apps and it’s great to see her get excited about geography. I’ve been playing Stack the Countries while I put together a review and it’s been both a challenge, an education and an addicting game all rolled up together. Dan was kind enough to answer a few questions about his apps, as well as a few personal questions. While doing some research for the interview I learned that Dan is a (an?) unicyclist. Keep reading for his advice to any readers who are considering the sport.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi, my name is Dan and I’m a programmer/designer from Charlotte, North Carolina. I am a husband to a wonderful woman and a father to a beautiful daughter. I’ve been working for myself at home since 2000 and recently have started to make a living creating iPhone games.
I tend to straddle the line between geek and artist. I have a computer science degree but I’ve always immersed myself in writing/recording music, graphic design and photography. Making games gives me the opportunity to put all of my interests into one package.
2. What were you doing before you began developing iPhone apps? What was the reason you made the jump into development? How did you get started?
I was lucky enough to grow up around the same time that the first home computers were just being introduced. Programming came very natural to me and I soon started making my first games on an Atari 800 computer when I was 14. I put game-making on the back burner as I attended college, began my career and started a family. I spent several years as a consultant before striking out on my own to pursue web site design and affiliate marketing.
About four years ago I got the bug to start making games again, so I learned Flash and made an adventure series called Tipping Point. I was thrilled to discover how many people were drawn to the game and I still get emails to this day asking me to complete the series.
About the same time the economy started to crash, so did my affiliate marketing business. Suddenly, in a weird turn of events, my side project (making games) was my only real source of income. So I decided to dive in full force and try to make a living with games. It took several unsuccessful attempts before I finally found my niche with educational games.
3. How did you come up with the idea for Stack the States & Rocket Math?
When trying to think of an idea for my first educational game, I went back to the basics and thought about what kids like to do. The first thing I could think of was stacking blocks. So I got the idea to build a block stacking game where you could launch things at it and knock it down when you were done building. This idea wasn’t very educational so I thought about having the player answer questions about the 50 states in order to receive a block to stack. The breakthrough moment came when I got the idea to replace the blocks with the states themselves. The rest of the game just clicked from there.
The idea for Rocket Math came from seeing a lot of drag and drop apps that let you build things. Most of the apps focused only on the aesthetic nature of what you were building. I thought it would be cool if you could build something that actually came to life and behaved differently based on how you designed it. After thinking about several things you could build (robots, cars, etc.), Rockets seemed to be the most interesting.
4. What’s been the most rewarding thing about producing educational apps for children?
By far the most rewarding things about making educational apps is hearing so many stories from parents and teachers about how my games have had such a positive effect on their kids and students. So many parents have told me that their kids weren’t interested in geography at all and, after playing Stack the States, they can now identify all of the states and name their capitals. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Another unexpected surprise was the number of adults who have written me to tell me how much they enjoy playing the games. I never expected anyone over 14 to be playing my educational apps, but now I receive emails from grandmothers thanking me for making my games!
5. Anything new on the horizon that you can share?
Right now I’m localizing Stack the Countries for Spanish and French with more languages planned for the future. Next, I’m planning another big update for Stack the States which will incorporate many of the new features introduced in Stack the Countries including: flash cards, state flags, ability to pick which questions to focus on and more.
After that, I’ll begin work on the next app which is still to be determined. I’m toying with the idea of making an app focused on the US Presidents, but we’ll see.
6. What is your personal favorite app? The one you use most often?I keep so busy trying to balance work and home life that I don’t actually spend much time “using” the iPhone. I tend to use the basic apps the most: Safari, Facebook, etc.
7. Any advice for beginning unicyclists?Don’t fall!
Review: Stack the CountriesReview: Stack the States Review: Rocket Math