Pittsburgh stars in First Sight game app

| Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

For three months, Jason Shurgot and Joe Blasko have devoted much of their free time to a self-taught crash course on how to develop a mobile phone app.

Both have day jobs. Nights and weekends have been spent working on First Sight, the picture puzzle game with a Pittsburgh theme the two best friends since high school are turning into a downloadable app, or application, for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

Shurgot and Blasko created a company called Cazooie LLC to take their game idea from sticky notes to an app that can be played for free or purchased for 99 cents. The paid version takes a player to higher skill levels.

“This is something I've always wanted to do. We've always wanted to be in business together and create something,” said Shurgot, 28, of White Oak. “This didn't exist 12 weeks ago. Now it's here.”

Shurgot came up with a basic version of the game on paper in April, to help his three young nephews learn vocabulary skills.

Starting with a photo that's nearly covered with squares of paper, two or more players take turns peeling away the squares. The first player to identify what's in the photo wins.

Images at the easiest levels have dashes underneath to identify the number of letters in the answer — similar to “Wheel of Fortune.” Puzzles are tougher to solve in the upper tiers of the six-level game, and Shurgot and Blasko have added features such as a lose-a-turn “curtain” for the screen to help defeat an opponent. Players can buy or win “tickets” to trade for defensive cheats to help them win.

In the upper levels, “Eventually, it's just the picture with no dashes and the pictures become more specific — instead of ‘dog,' the answer might be ‘Pomeranian,' ” said Blasko, 30, of North Huntingdon, a structural engineer with Orbital Engineering Inc.

Many of the photos on the game are familiar Pittsburgh scenes, such as the obelisk at PPG Place, Downtown.

“We want our whole entire initial data base of images to be Pittsburgh so the world sees how beautiful it is,” said Shurgot, a consultant with information technology company SDLC Partners LLC.

Players will be able to submit their own photos, for consideration as additional puzzles on First Sight.

The Cazooie partners have been promoting the game on a website and Facebook, and have mailed out T-shirts to early fans. Friends and family members have been testing the game in a beta (test) version, but it's scheduled for a wider release online on Aug. 8, for free.

By September, the plan is to have First Sight available for distribution on the Apple App Store and Google Play. Approvals from both companies are needed.

Then, advertisements can appear along the bottom of the game screen, generating about a penny for Cazooie every time a player clicks on the ad, Shurgot said. The paid downloads and defensive cheats also will generate revenue.

The Cazooie partners said they invested $15,000 to have the concept codified into a game suitable to run on mobile devices.

First Sight nears its debut at a time when smartphones and other mobile devices are the fastest-growing segment of the consumer electronics industry. There will be 10 billion mobile Internet devices globally by 2016, or 1.4 per person, a recent report by the Pew Research Center Internet and American Life Project said.

Simple game apps can lead to big things. Angry Birds, which players launch, slingshot-style to attack pigs' fortresses, has been downloaded more than a billion times and has led to toys and other related products. Finland-based Rovio Entertainment Ltd., which created the franchise, said it took in $106.3 million in revenue last year.

Could First Sight come close to that success? Maybe, but Shurgot and Blasko said their goal is to create a community of users who play the game and share photos.

And the company name? It doesn't really mean anything. “It's a fun-sounding name,” Blasko said. More importantly, when Cazooie is searched in Google or other search engines, little else pops up that is similar.

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