A Brief Chat with Daniel Burgess

I recently had the chance to ask an acquaintance of mine, Daniel Burgess, a few questions about his experiences in making educational games and tools for augmented reality applications.

I’d like to thank him for taking his time in his busy schedule to answer my questions. I hope you all enjoy!

freshAiR splash screen

A lot of people may not know who you are; Could you give a short introduction?

My name is Daniel Burgess, and I’m a co-founder of MoGo Mobile, the creators of FreshAiR. I was homeschooled my whole life, up until I went to New River Community College, where I received an A.A.S. in Information Technology, specializing in Computer Graphics and Web Design. From there, I went to Radford University, receiving a B.S. in Computer Science, concentrating in Software Engineering and Databases. While attending Radford, I really started to get into larger projects as a programmer for the GAMeS Lab at Radford.

So, what did you do at the GAMeS Lab? What kind of games did you make?

Initially I built Flash components for (the now defunct) mscape, which we used for research in educational instruction using technology. mscape was a basic location-aware editing platform that worked on HP Pocket PCs, and eventually I built a full on Flash engine to run everything for it. Within that framework, we created several location aware games that we tested at local schools. You can learn more about the games we created on the Radford Outdoor Augmented Reality (ROAR) site.

After being there for a while, we actually started making educational games for iOS, which was a lot of fun and I learned a lot! My first game, made hastily in just a few short weeks to enter a contest, was Freddy Fraction. Freddy ended up winning 2nd place in the whole state of Virginia, which was pretty exciting! Soon after, I moved on to another project which would eventually become FreshAiR. I still helped heavily on other projects with design, programming help, etc, such as Cell Defender, one of our largest, most ambitious (and arguably best) projects ever.

What was a typical day like there?

Working there as a student was great. The lab was on campus, so I’d pretty much just hang out there and work in between classes. Work consisted of many parts programming, whiteboarding out ideas, walking around outside to test games and components, doing research playing the latest games, and often times finding a nice spot outside to get work done and do testing.

What did you learn from making games?

Making games is hard! Especially for education. Building a game, especially a modern game, is a huge technical challenge. It is immensely difficult from a management perspective to combine design, programming, sound, music, graphics, and many other components all into one cohesive, beautiful, fun experience. Not to mention leading the teams and people involved, ensuring they are all happy. It is easy to criticize and find flaws in games, but I definitely have a larger appreciation for game designers and developers. I’ve only learned a small portion of what most of them have forgotten.

What caused the change from the GAMeS Lab to FreshAiR?

We saw the rapid growth in smartphones, and realized eventually that’d be the platform people would use for what we were doing with mscape. We quickly hit a technical limit on what we could do with mscape, and HP actually decided to shut it down. Other similar platforms existed, but none had quite what we needed. So we decided to try and build our own so we could continue our research. Soon after, we realized what we had built might have commercial potential, so we licensed the software from Radford University, and have set out to see if we can build a business out of it.

What do you do at FreshAiR?

We’re a very small team, so as a founder, my responsibilities end up falling pretty much across the board, doing a little bit of everything. Meeting with potential clients, sales, marketing, content development, programming, graphic design, legal, accounting, etc. It keeps me quite busy!

Do you have a lot people coming to FreshAiR with game ideas?

We only officially launched last year, and we’re still learning how to best help people find out about FreshAiR and the potential for what can be done with it. But the response so far has been pretty positive, we’ve talked to a lot of people who have some really cool ideas, and we’re hoping that interest only grows as we gain exposure.

What are the best applications for games using FreshAiR?

I’d have a hard time picking the best, because we built it intentionally to be a pretty open ended toolkit. One of the things we’re most excited about is seeing what creative ideas people come up with. We’ve already been surprised and seen a few use cases people have created that we would have never thought of on our own, so the best application may likely even be something we’ve never thought of! Off hand though, I think it is particularly well suited for games where you explore the world and environment around you, such as a role playing game, or mystery style game.

Have you made anything with FreshAiR?

I have a few game ideas bouncing around in my head that I think would be fun, but unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to personally make anything publicly available yet. I’ve collaborated with our team on a few different things, many of which aren’t games at all (since FreshAiR can do more than just games). A lot of what we’ve created isn’t publicly available, as it was made privately for clients. Wolf Runner is an interesting game we made that we call a “timed survival” game. It is a short, fun demonstration of what is possible with FreshAiR. You start out stranded in the wilderness in the territory of some feral wolves, and you have to scavenge the area and gather supplies to survive. You can check it out in the FreshAiR App.

What would you like to make, should you have unlimited time and resources?

That is a tough question! I regularly have random ideas floating around that I think, “that would be cool!” But right now, I’m 100% focused on making FreshAiR a great platform for other people, so I honestly haven’t given much thought to anything else.

Is there any words of wisdom or good advice you’d like to impart on people like me who’d like to get into the games industry?

The best advice I could give you is to just start making things. The first few things you make probably won’t be that great. I’m very proud of what I accomplished with Freddy Fraction in the time I did. However, looking back on it, I see so many things I could have done better, but I wouldn’t have learned those things if I didn’t make it. So just get started and make some terrible things. Don’t be afraid to share them, because getting feedback from other people is a critical piece that helps you learn. Then, write about what you’ve learned. Writing more about what I’ve learned is a personal goal of mine, because I don’t do it enough. This blog is a great outlet for that though, so you’re already off to a great start, using it to share your experiences!

Any closing thoughts?

Thanks for the fun interview, and the opportunity to share my work with you. I hope you and your readers get a chance to checkout FreshAiR!

Again, I’d like to thank Mr. Burgess for the interview.

I’d also like to comment and say that what Mr. Burgess said about making games as soon as possible is really good advice. No kindergartner fingerpaints Starry Night on his/her first try. You’ll make lots and lots of horrible games before you finally make a good one. But in order to make a good one, you have to slog through making terrible, disappointing games that will likely crush any morale you had.

Good luck to any future game developers!

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