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Alum's software aims to educate, cyclops and all

Carl only has one eye. But that doesn't bother him.

The laidback cyclops stars in "What is Bothering Carl?", a new interactive book written — and programmed — by Andy Hull '03, the founder of Story Fort, a children's learning software company.

The former Herald cartoonist, who founded Story Fort shortly after his five-year college reunion last year, said, "I went to the reunion and saw everyone doing cool stuff, and I thought, ‘It's time for me to try it.'"

After working at Melissa and Doug, a children's toy company, for five years, he realized he loved working in the children's entertainment industry but wanted to add his own spin — more "zaniness" — to it, he said.

In Hull's new book, the reader follows Carl, a young cyclops, through 19 illustrated scenes to find out what is annoying him. Each "page" contains hidden features the reader can click on to explore the scene. Hull's book also features narration by the author, music videos and games, and is geared toward children between three and six.

The innovative book was recently chosen as one of the ten finalists in this year's PAX10, a competition sponsored by the Penny Arcade Expo, an independent game festival.

Hull said the acclaim surprised him because his book is a step away from the usual computer and video games that dominate the show. Blogging moms have also praised the book for its educational content and fun interactive features.

But Hull said he has struggled to convince parents and publishers, accustomed to traditional, tangible children's books, about the merits of his digital venture. The publishers he has met with were not sure how to distribute the content, he said. 

Still, the winds seem to be changing. In 2006, the MacArthur Foundation began a $50-million digital media and learning initiative to further explore and support this emerging field. Some schools are also incorporating more computer games into their curricula, and Quest to Learn, a new public school in New York that uses a computer game-like program as its primary teaching tool, opened its doors this month.

Hull and Story Fort's next few steps are up in the air. He is working with other authors to get their work on his platform, programming for a console game and developing a more marketable traditional computer game.


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