I recently had the chance to try out two apps from Fashionbuddha, in their new Piece Me Puzzle line of apps. The first is Piece Me Birds and the second is Piece Me Circus, and each features seven simple puzzles. One thing that sets these apart from other puzzle apps I’ve seen is the focus on the artists: the birds were created by Portland artist Amy Ruppel, and that caught my attention right from the start. I first met Ruppel several years ago and really love her work — I’ve even got an Amy Ruppel original hanging in my front hall. The Circus puzzles feature artwork by Alberto Cerriteño, who lives in Seattle, and his drawings have a real energetic, playful feel to them.
Each app has a short bio page about the artist — it’s not very in-depth, just enough for younger kids. It has a photo of the artist, two more images of artwork, and a paragraph about them. The artist websites are listed, but are not active links — that’s because the app is designed for younger kids and this prevents them from winding up on the internet through the app. It’s a nice touch, actually, if you’ve ever had your kids end up on a webpage or the App store because they were tapping things in an app.
From the title screen, you can tap any of the images to get to the puzzle screen, which has the outlines of the drawing. Tap on the screen and the pieces appear with a clatter, and then you can drag them onto the right spots. The pieces are all oriented the correct way, so there isn’t any rotation, just dragging. Once all the pieces are in place, the name of the puzzle appears (and is said out loud), and the puzzle comes to life with a little animation. Tap in the top left corner to go back to the main menu, the top right corner to reset the puzzle, or swipe to go to a new puzzle.
The Piece Me Circus puzzles are just slightly more complex than the birds, because there’s a little bit of layering. You can see it in the picture below, which shows the Kingly Lion puzzle. The nose is a separate piece from the rest of the face, and the mane and the crown actually overlap, rather than being cut-out pieces as in a real puzzle. It’s a subtle difference, but it does make the circus puzzles just a little more interesting to put together.
Older kids won’t find the puzzles much of a challenge, but my third-grader still likes to play with them because of the fun artwork and the kid’s voice announcing the names of the puzzles. At times some of the pieces don’t quite “click” into place as easily, and my five-year-old wouldn’t always notice that a piece was next to, but not all the way in, its place. I know from doing some beta testing that they’ve improved this aspect of the app, but it still comes up on occasion.
The apps are $.99 each in the app store, and are universal apps that will work with an iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.
I did a brief Q&A with Adam Sager, the Creative Director for the Piece Me Puzzle apps.
GeekDad: What inspired the Piece Me Puzzle apps?
Adam Sager: Short answer: My kids. Long answer: This past summer, I bought my wife an iPad 2 to enhance her arsenal of homeschooling tools. After several weeks of observing our children utilizing the device for reading, drawing, and playing various educational games, I asked my eldest daughter what kind of apps she’d like to see more of. Her answer: “Puzzles!”
Fortunately, I work for a studio — Fashionbuddha — that consists of animators and interactive developers, so the idea was an easy sell to my boss.
GD: How did you pick the artists for the puzzles?
AS: Fashionbuddha Studio doubles as an art gallery, so we already had a large network of artists who we collaborate with from time to time. Amy Ruppel and Alberto Cerriteño were two of the first artists we featured in our gallery, and they both have a huge heart for kids, so it was a natural reflex to approach them with the puzzle idea.
GD: Could you tell me a little bit about Fashionbuddha in a nutshell? I know you’ve got a lot of other things going on besides apps, so what sorts of things do you do?
AS: Fashionbuddha is a versatile studio in that it employs a myriad of talent. Our interactive developers have created interactive exhibits for the Portland Art Museum, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), Portland Children’s Museum, and the U.S. Winter Olympics Team in Vancouver. On the other side of the room, our animation team created four commercial spots for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and recently collaborated with Ty Mattson to create an unofficial animated title sequence for Showtime’s Dexter. There’s also a flurry of cool projects that are buried in NDAs; otherwise, we’d tell you about them too.
GD: What are some of the projects you’ve had the most fun with?
AS: Dexter was a lot of fun. Many of us in the studio are big fans of the show, so it was an amazing experience adapting Ty’s poster into a Saul Bass style animation. We’ve also been playing around with the Xbox Kinect sensors lately, so that’s made for some fun too (as seen in our latest reel).
GD: How old are your kids? Do you use them for playtesting and market research?
AS: Natalie is 7, Maggie is 2 and half, and Corbin is 7 months. Natalie and Maggie served as our first beta testers on both puzzle apps, and both actually played roles in creating the apps as well — Natalie’s voice is used throughout both apps, while Maggie served as our playtester in the promo video for Piece Me Birds.
As a parent, I wanted these apps to be both entertaining and educational. Since the release of Piece Me Birds, there’s been numerous occasions when one of girls will scream with delight because she’s recognized a specific bird’s song in nature… “I hear a chickadee!!! That’s a chickadee!!” Definitely one of those “well, that app was worth the 99 cents” moments, and yes, I still had to buy the final version when it released in the App Store.
Another couple features that were important to me as a parent:
- No external links within the apps. Too often my kids are ending up on a website or in the app store because they’ve clicked a link within the game. There will be none of that in our apps. It’s a secure, looping gameplay. If you want to buy another one of our apps, you can exit the game and go to the app store manually, because we’re not going to link your kids there.
- We showcase the artists. Not only do we want to introduce your child to amazing artwork, but to the artists as well. Each app contains a meet the artist page which allows parents and child the opportunity to learn more about the person who designed all the artwork within the app.
GD: What’s the next puzzle app going to be?
AS: Next up — Piece me Dinosaurs with Benjamin Burch.
Disclosure: GeekDad received review copies of both apps for review purposes.