Grandchildren help inspire local brothers to create game app for kids
There were approximately 85 million iPads and 250 million iPhones in the hands of consumers around the world as of Oct. 5.
Designing and marketing applications for those devices has become a most competitive venture; for instance, of the 1,100 new apps that are submitted daily, only 10 percent make it into the iTunes app store.
Recently, local brothers Jim and Tom Trunzo decided to enter the high stakes world of designing and marketing apps for iPads. Hardly novices in the field of game design (the brothers created their first game, the boxing-themed “Title Bout,” in 1979), the Trunzos thought it was time for a risk.
“We had been designing games and selling the rights to companies who did the marketing,” explained Jim Trunzo, who resides in Leechburg. “We were paid a royalty which was a nominal fee. It was a little risk-little reward scenario. I'm 63 and Tom is 60. We thought it was time for us to change the dynamic to big risk-big reward.”
The Trunzos' new game, “Picnic in the Park,” is available for purchase from the iTunes app store. An updated version is soon to be released.
The offering, which is priced at $2.99, is a departure from the niche-oriented games the brothers had been designing — first as physical board games and then for computer play. The new game is intended for an audience aged 4-8 and is intended as the initial entry in the brothers' planned line of kid-friendly games. These games are to feature no hint of violence, no direct competition and a consumer-friendly price.
“Our cost of $2.99 is a one-time cost — you pay it and you're done,” said Tom Trunzo, who lives near Saltsburg. “A large number of games advertised as ‘free' aren't actually free; there are hidden, in-game costs that might raise the price to the $5-$10 range,” such as fees for continuing to a more advanced level of play.
“Picnic in the Park” is designed to be easy for kids to play. In the course of the game, players need only concern themselves with rolling a die and selecting “good cards” to counter “bad cards.”
According to a press release issued for the game, the object is to be the first person to reach the “Picnic Grounds” with a full basket of goodies — such as chicken, pizza, apples and watermelon.
Players stop on squares with food items on them and add the items to their baskets. Certain food items are found throughout the game board while others are found only in specific areas of the “park.” If a required item is not collected before the player moves through the corresponding area, then the player must go back to the start of that area to collect the item.
Keeping in line with the non-competitive aspect of the game, one player cannot impede another player's progress — only the game can do that.
In addition to picnic edibles, players collect cards setting forth situations that either help or hinder their progress. For instance, a player may be troubled by a bear stealing a hamburger but may counter by having a park ranger chase the bear away.
The game can be played against the iPad or with as many as three friends. It was first constructed as a board game before it was adapted for the iPad with sound effects and music.
Along with providing diversion, the game gives younger players practice recognizing numbers and words. Advanced, older players can take advantage of five rerolls — a feature that adds a strategic component to the game.
Tom Trunzo noted players can determine when and where to use the rerolls. If the players agree, the reroll feature can be deactivated before a game starts.
In September, the brothers released a prototype version of the game to local friends via Facebook; since then, “Picnic in the Park” has gone through several major changes.
“We sent it out to our Facebook friends to get unbiased feedback. We also sent the game to professional reviewers. Their collected feedback led us to make four changes,”Jim Trunzo said.
One change allows players to toggle off the game's music while keeping sound effects in place. Another change, suggested by elementary teacher reviewers, replaced the pips on the die with numbers, to aide in development of numbers recognition skills.
A third change increased the chances for players to win without becoming frustrated; this alteration required the addition of special food-item squares on the game board. The fourth change, the aforementioned reroll revision, completed the game's modification.
The idea for the game first surfaced 28 years ago. At that time, the brothers were exclusively designing sports-related games. Tom Trunzo's wife, Mary Louise, asked if he could design a game in which bees, ants and other nuisances could disrupt a picnic. The brothers at that time thought the notion was silly since they viewed their sports game work to be much more serious.
“It's kind of funny now but it wasn't back then,” Tom Trunzo said with a laugh. “Soon after Mary Louise's suggestion, Atari manufactured a game similar to her idea. I got a lot of ‘I told you so's.”
The Trunzo brothers' iPad initiative was fueled by their desire to diversify their game design efforts.
“Our big opener, ‘Title Bout,' did very well. Naturally, we branched out into other sports-related games,” Jim Trunzo explained. The brothers also created games based on tennis and soccer.
According to Tom Trunzo, the brothers decided to develop “Picnic in the Park” because it was intended to have a broader appeal — a necessity now since they are investing their own money in marketing the product.
“We've learned that something could be the greatest game ever designed, but if people don't know about it, it may as well be non-existent,” Jim Trunzo said.
Marketing their product is not the only thing that has changed, Tom Trunzo indicated: “We're not programmers. We had to go to an outsource programmer. That's another cost we didn't have to worry about in the past.”
While the brothers have felt the pressure of going on their own, they're confident that their hard work will pay off.
“It takes about nine months working a couple hours a day, four or five days a week to develop a game, “ said Jim Trunzo. “We've been doing this for over 30 years. Obviously, we must be doing some things correctly.”
The fact that both are grandparents is another motivating factor for the brothers.
“Our grandkids have been our play-testers from the get-go,” said Tom Trunzo. “We want them to play games without excessive gore and bad language. That's probably the main reason we've gone this way with our game design.”
Jim Trunzo noted that Apple's standards for apps match their own: “First, the product must be one of high quality. Next, there can be no sexual references of any kind. Also, there can be no excessive gore.
“Furthermore, no extreme language is permitted. Finally, the game must be bug-free. In other words, if it doesn't play as it was advertised, or if it crashes, it isn't accepted.”
When it comes right down to it, the Trunzo brothers have always enjoyed playing games. That's probably why, after close to 70 years of combined experience educating area youth, they still retain a youthful enthusiasm for their work.
Jim Trunzo worked 32 years as an English teacher at Kiski Area School District. Tom Trunzo's career was more varied. He started as a business teacher at Bellefonte before going to Leechburg; a longer stint at Saltsburg followed. He finished as a high school administrator for the Marion Center School District before briefly returning from retirement to serve as acting principal of Saltsburg Middle-High School. In all, he served 35 years as a public educator.
It's true that Jim and Tom played board games when they were younger, but they were more apt to be found outside playing with plastic toy soldiers. It wasn't until they discovered Strat-O-Matic baseball — played with dice and player cards in its original version — that they were hooked.
“We would play whole seasons complete with statistics,” Tom Trunzo recalled.
For more information about the brothers' new game, visit their website at www.tjgameapps.com.
Kevin Judge is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.