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The Young Catholic Behind a Hip New App

The Young Catholic Behind a Hip New App Petros Media

Petros Media

Eugene Gan - published on 01/24/14

Flipsquare may be your new go-to video game on your phone.

At CES this year, an app called FlipSquare was attracting crowds to its booth. I decided to interview one of the developers of the app, Franciscan University of Steubenville student Matt Sich. Full disclosure: Matt was a former student of mine, and I’m pleased with what he’s trying to do with his talents! Fuller disclosure: I know his parents, too, and when I was invited over to the Sich residence one day, Matt showed me his FlipSquare app. I was delighted and decided to interview him to grant you a behind-the-scenes look at starting app development, and an insider’s sneak peek into the mind, vision, and faith of a young, successful Catholic app developer.

Tell us about your new app, Matt. What is it all about?

FlipSquare is a new and exciting puzzle game that really makes you think. It teaches you to plan ahead and find patterns. But that’s just the campaign – the multiplayer, ShareSquare, brings together all the skills of the campaign and allows the users to create maps, comment on maps that their friends have made, and even compete for time.

What can players expect to see after the first 25 free levels?

The first 25 levels are just the beginning. The last two levels of square one (the first level pack) introduce the cross square as a teaser for what’s to come. Square one familiarizes the player with the game and gets him ready for the special squares that then put a whole new twist on the game. The levels get much more interesting as you continue playing, and I really encourage people to give them a shot.

What inspired you to make this? How did you get the idea for it?

I always want to learn new skills. If I’m not learning something new, then I feel like I’m taking one step forward and two steps back. My first programming class (C++), taken during my first semester of college, was not all that interesting because I already knew how to program given my experience using PHP and JavaScript for web development. The first week of the class, I made a tic-tac-toe game in C and then made the computer play against me, which quickly became boring. The second week, I made flipsquare. I didn’t call it flipsquare back then – it was just "the puzzle game." It was all text-based, and the map would redraw after every move. I finally made a graphical version of the game for iOS a year later when I was traveling in Europe on a train from Milan to Genoa. I had my Mac handy and was tired of playing card games to pass the time, so I made the game and programmatically put in different maps for it to figure out. It in turn asked me to add functionality, which has led to all the special squares and sharesquare.

What kind of response have you been getting now that it’s been released?

The response has been overwhelming! People really love the game, and I didn’t expect it to get this much attention. There was actually one person at CES who ran up to our booth on the last day of the show and told me that he saw someone wearing our promotional glasses download the game and love it. He had been looking for our booth for over an hour because he wanted to talk to us about it. It’s really humbling to see people enjoy the game so much.

How is this different from other games out there? What makes it unique?

FlipSquare is not mind-numbing. It makes you stop and think ahead instead of mindlessly swiping around the screen like in Candy Crush and games similar to that. It also has a simple design and concentrates on user experience. The goal is to get people to play the game without needless distractions.

What’s the difference between having an app that’s engaging and a video game that’s addicting?

Addicting games manipulate people to get money out of the customers and capture the user by convincing them that they have invested too much time to stop. On the other hand, a game that is engaging achieves success on the merit of its quality and insight.

What’s important to you when designing video games? What do you want for your players to take away from your games?

When designing any UI (user interface), the UX (user experience) is the most important thing for me. I really enjoyed watching people play the first versions of the game because I was interested in seeing how they would interact with it. I’d like my players to feel like they haven’t wasted their time, but have actually learned something.

If there’s a younger person out there wanting to make apps, what kind of advice do you have for them?

Start small and build on it. There are many people I know who want to go from zero programming knowledge to immediately building a game. Doing this will just end up discouraging the individual. If someone wants to learn to build an app, they should start with HTML, CSS, and PHP and connect it to a database. I would also stress the importance of design. The skills to build the website amount to nothing if the website isn’t designed well. Doing that will equip them with the basics, and there is a plethora of resources easily accessible by just googling for them.

How has your Catholic faith impacted your app development?

My Catholic faith was paramount to my app development. My first app was "St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration To Mary," and it’s the fact that it was a Catholic app that caught the attention of the company of which I am now the CTO. When planning out the profit split for FlipSquare, we all unanimously voted to give 10% of the income from the app to a select charity every month. Prayer has been at the center of FlipSquare’s development from start to finish.

Tell us about your education – where you’ve come from, where you currently are, and where you think you might be headed?

I was home schooled up until high school. I think what really put me on this path was watching my brother, who was 16 at the time, hack Motorola phones and design custom boot sequences for them. He used a lot of Photoshop, and I picked it up by watching him. I eventually grew tired of the stationary images and moved on to After Effects. I discovered when it was just starting up. I became a moderator on their forums and made many valuable contacts in the field of motion graphics. Once I realized that I didn’t have much more to learn, I moved on. As I said before, if I’m not learning something, I feel like I’m falling behind. This eventually brought me to web design. I was completely self-taught by trial and error and using Google to find the answers to problems I encountered. I was eventually given some small jobs and became very good at building the websites with WordPress. At that point, I was making responsively designed websites, and this sparked my interest in mobile development. I had been paid for a website with a MacBook Air, so I downloaded xCode and started tinkering with sample code. I didn’t get anywhere until I found the iTunesU Stanford University course. I barely left my room for a full week over Christmas break because I was watching the recorded lectures and doing the homework assignments. When I was done, I built the Total Consecration app. Currently, I am a second semester Junior at Franciscan University studying Computer Science while working on projects for Petros Media. And in addition to all that, somehow I manage to fit in time for a social life.

Any video game app recommendations for those who want to live out their Catholic faith?

I would definitely recommend Letterpress. FlipSquare’s design was very much affected by the Letterpress design and the game is a mix of word-search and strategy. You mention game apps that help Catholics live out their faith – none come to mind because there aren’t many openly Catholic games since there aren’t enough good Catholic developers and designers available. I constantly get emails from Catholic organizations asking if I know someone who could fill a developer or designer position and I always have to say no because I would be hiring them myself if I did.

What’s next for you? Any new apps in the works?

I always have a few apps in the works but at the moment I’m doing my best to take care of FlipSquare. We’re adding new things to it to make it more fun and interactive.

Thank you for sharing, Matt! I certainly hope to see many others discern their talents and calling to become media professionals – learning, developing, and applying their skills and talents in powerful ways that can give glory to God.

Dr. Eugene Gan is faculty associate of the Veritas Center and Professor of Interactive Media, Communications, and Fine Art at Franciscan University of Steubenville in the United States. His book, Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media is grounded in Scripture and magisterial documents, and is a handbook and practical guide for understanding and engaging media in meaningful and healthy ways in daily life.

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