Kevin Kelly told me about Phil Scale's new iOS application to teach kids arithmetic. It's called Math Fleet and it sounds great. (Phil created Kevin's Asia Grace photobook app, which is also wonderful.)
I've been an independent iOS app developer for four years, and my wife, Jennifer, and I work together from our home in Austin creating games and educational apps. Our newest app is called Math Fleet, an action game set in space where players must use quick math skills to save Earth from invasion, all while dodging asteroids and battling enemy star fighters.
The inspiration for the game came from our sons, Jack, Luke and Dylan (ages 7, 6 and 3) for whom I've downloaded and tried many educational apps and games. At the beginning of the summer we were all home together and I was brainstorming the next game, which I knew I wanted to set in space. I had my sons Jack and Luke playing a math game I had downloaded to earn playing time for the other games they really wanted to play. We all agreed though that the math game I had them playing, which cost me $5, wasn't a very good game and there really wasn't very much math in it. I knew I could write a better game and we started talking about what we would do differently, and in that moment, we decided our mission was to create not just a better game, but the most awesome action math game out there, and that Jack and Luke would be in the driver's seat guiding how the game would take shape.
It became the ultimate geek dad summer for me as I fully committed myself to making their ideas a reality, and some of their ideas were pretty challenging to implement. Such as Luke's idea that the user pilot multiple ships, customizable and upgradable -- the eventual foundation of the game; Or the Patrol Sector concept drawn up by my 7-year-old, Jack.
Throughout the eight month journey, as I coded, they tested prototypes of controls, menus, action sequences, effects, space weapons, and ships. They told me what they liked and what they didn't like, what they'd do differently, and in many cases they would contribute key design concepts delivered as crayon drawings or Lego models. I learned more about game design by watching them, listening, and discussing ideas than I learned from writing my previous two games.
Finally, after eight months and 300,000 lines of code, Math Fleet is officially released, and is hopefully everything we set out to create to create an exciting math game that kids actually want to play, while also challenging their minds by combining fast problem solving with the stress and distraction of piloting a space fleet.
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Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects