Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!
It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)
For the entire month of August, I’ll be introducing the PuzzleNation readership to many of the members of the PuzzleNation team! So every Thursday this month, you’ll meet a new name and voice responsible for bringing you the best puzzle apps on the market today!
And I’m excited to continue this series with Fred Galpern as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!
Fred is our Director of Digital Games, and he’s been the driving force behind our mobile app brand since Day One. With previous video-game experience working on iconic games like System Shock 2 and Thief, Fred brings illustration, digital art, and graphic-design knowhow to the table, bringing pen-and-paper puzzle concepts to new formats like mobile gaming and solving.
(He’s also a pretty sharp guitar and ukulele player, but as far as I know, that hasn’t factored into our app-development efforts yet.)
Fred was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!
5 Questions with Fred Galpern
1. As Director of Digital Games, you’re the head honcho around these parts when it comes to app development. What does that job entail? What role do you play in bringing new features and apps to market?
PuzzleNation is a small team, which means we all wear multiple hats. For me, the most important, and coincidentally the most fun, hat is product management. In this role I set the direction for each of our apps, including sorting out what new features to add, which existing features to improve, what new content to offer to users and how to improve the look and feel of our apps.
Our approach always starts with what will be best for the app user; we then figure out how to make that good user experience work for us as business. Finally, we do our best to listen to user feedback so we can improve a feature after it’s released, so that our apps get better and better over time.
2. You had a background in game development and design before you began developing puzzle apps. How has your work in traditional video games informed your work with puzzles, and has working with puzzles changed how you view game design as a whole?
Prior to joining PuzzleNation I was fortunate to have had experiences all around the game industry, from intense hardcore game development projects to family-oriented games and even some gaming hardware. All of these experiences have been valuable, especially my experience at Blue Fang Games, where I was an Art Director and Producer for the Zoo Tycoon series. Working on that series showed me how fulfilling it can be to create games that appeal to people outside the stereotypical gamer audience of males aged 13 to 35.
PuzzleNation strives to provide users of all ages with great puzzle-solving experiences. The lessons I learned at Blue Fang are useful every day at PuzzleNation. Whether we’re planning new apps or improvements to our current apps, I often find myself recalling a previous project that suggests a solution for today’s projects.
3. The PuzzleNation audience first got to know you in our post announcing the free daily puzzle feature for the Penny Dell Crosswords app, where you mentioned you and your family are big board game players. Are there any new games that have become favorites in your house?
Oh yes, our passion for board games has not slowed down! Our current favorites include a mix of old and new games: X-Wing Star Wars miniatures game, Star Realms, Ascension, Marvel VS and 7 Wonders.
Of those, 7 Wonders has gotten the most play. It’s a wonderfully fun game that has a small learning curve followed by hours of enjoyable, strategic gameplay that works for all different play styles. I usually try aggressive strategies which are countered by more thoughtful approaches by my wife and kids. Board games are still in the midst of an amazing renaissance. I encourage readers to learn more on sites like Board Game Geek and The Dice Tower and Watch-It-Played YouTube channels.
[Fred, alongside the Puzzle Pope at last year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.]
4. What’s next for Fred Galpern and PuzzleNation?
For me, next up is lunch! I know that sounds like a joke, but it’s true. Since I work from home, getting out of the house at lunchtime is a ritual that adds a bit of adventure to my day. I’m lucky to live in Providence, RI, a small city with an abundance of excellent restaurants. Today, I’m thinking of heading to historic Federal Hill, well known for several of the top Italian restaurants in the country. I’ll most likely indulge with a delicious Italian grinder sandwich or maybe a chicken parmigiana.
As for PuzzleNation, our what’s next may not be as literally delicious, but you can be sure it will be equally enjoyable. We’re deep into development of two great new apps, and at the same time rolling out performance improvements for our current Crosswords apps. I can’t go into specifics but can say that puzzle lovers who enjoy the puzzles found in Penny Press and Dell Magazines will be pleasantly surprised. Stay tuned to the PuzzleNation blog and Newsletter for more details soon!
5. If you could give the readers, writers, programmers, aspiring game/app designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?
One piece of advice for all of those different folks? Wow, that’s a puzzle in itself!
I learned something many years ago about achieving goals. The only way to reach a goal is to never give up. On the surface this can seem like rah-rah, sports minded, “stay strong” type of advice. For me, the thinking behind it goes a bit deeper. “Never give up” doesn’t speak to just tenacity and willingness to keep trying, but also to the need to think differently about the path to a goal.
Sure, sticking doggedly to the path you’re on may get you to your goal; however, creative exploration and finding alternate paths is often a more enriching, fulfilling journey. I know that may sound a bit mystical, but I assure you it’s not. It’s as simple as settling on a goal to strive for, then waking up every day and checking in that you’re still on a path towards that goal. The path may change every day, every few days or not at all. As long as you’re still on a path that can logically lead to the goal, you are making progress towards that goal.
A huge thank you to Fred for his time! I can’t wait to see some of those new apps hit the market and watch the PuzzleNation brand expand and flourish!
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