Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Killer Apps: Eighth-Grader's Addictive Games Selling Well

A great good news story from

Orange Middle School eighth-grader Brian Gorham displays one of
his games, Doodle Shapes, on an iPad. Gorham taught himself how to
write code to create the downloadable game and three others.
(SNP photo by Brett Nuckles)

When the weatherman forecasts a cold front moving in, you know to bundle up -- but do you know what conditions actually cause that scientific phenomenon?

You'd better, if you want to climb higher in Cloud Jump, a touch-screen video game you can play on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

The game challenges players answer scientific trivia questions to climb higher and higher into the sky on bouncy clouds. A wrong answer will send you back to the start.

The educational game didn't come from a computer software company -- it was designed single-handedly by Orange Middle School eighth-grader Brian Gorham.

Gorham developed the game for a science class project on weather and precipitation.

While his classmates toiled away on informational posters and PowerPoint presentations, Gorham got out his Mac computer and started coding.

"I thought it would be a fun way to learn about the topic, and it was a lot more fun to make," he said.

Gorham, 13, loves games -- but his on-the-go lifestyle, filled with long bus rides for travel baseball games, made it hard to find the time for them.

He played games on his calculator, but the graphics were simple and the controls clunky. That's when he decided to take the plunge and learn to make games for his touch-screen iPhone.

The young tech buff wasn't dismayed when he saw that programming classes didn't fit into his budget.

"I thought, 'Why not just teach myself?' " he said.

Gorham programs the games using special software on his laptop computer and collaborates with other game-makers online to perfect the graphics and sound for his games.

Since Cloud Jump, he has gone on to develop and release two new games, which can be purchased and downloaded for 99 cents each in the App Store on any iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

In Miner Escape, players take the role of an unlucky miner who must dodge falling icicles in a frozen cave. In Doodle Shapes, players roll from one ascending platform to the next to avoid getting crushed at the top of the screen.

Miner Escape is fun and pretty challenging," said Gorham's classmate, T.J. McCabe, 14. "I could play it all day if I didn't have to stop and go to school."

Christopher Deis, who teaches technology at Orange Middle School, said he is most impressed by his student's initiative and inventiveness.

"This is the epitome of self-education," Deis said. "The challenges and concepts that are involved in coding like this are very high-level. It's not something you typically see from a 13-year-old."

Gorham's games already have racked up about 5,000 free downloads, and about 100 more since they went on sale.

He currently is learning more complicated programming languages, and even has plans to port his games to Android smartphones this spring.

For now, he is hard at work on Ice Sled, a high-speed action game featuring a sledding polar bear -- and he said his days as a developer are just getting started.

"Programming can be frustrating, but I think it's fun," he said. "Right now I just want to keep learning, improving my skills and making new games."

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