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Developer Interview with Skye Wallin of Blocks Rock

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Thank you for participating our interview. Please tell us a little about yourself.

Our team is made up of Project Manager Skye Wallin, who graduated from Denison University in 2011 and also studied filmmaking at FAMU, the film academy in Prague. Dr. Melissa Donohue, who is an educational consultant and also the Director of Research and Development of the Blocks Rock! company, is the other team member. Melissa, who has a Doctoral degree in Education and experience developing financial education programs and doing educational research, was the Entrepreneurship teacher who originally help start the Blocks Rock! company.

How did the idea for your app come about?

The app has a long history, first in the development of a table-top block game. The game, known as Blocks Rock! was invented in 2005 at Wilbraham & Monson Academy by a team of middle school students. The game was then developed into a company as an experiential learning project by WMA Entrepreneurship students, led by their teacher, Dr. Melissa Donohue. WMA alumnus Jim LaCrosse eventually got involved in 2007 to fund the growth of the Blocks Rock! educational game company to help support the school. About a year ago, the Blocks Rock! company, now a team put together by Jim LaCrosse, decided the game would make a perfect educational mobile app. Jim’s grandson, Skye Wallin, along with Melissa Donohue, who was a that point an educational consultant, were chosen to lead the app project.
The goals of the app are to broaden the knowledge of the Blocks Rock name (for table top) but also to adapt BR’s educational, competitive, and colorful qualities into a contemporary medium. Melissa and Skye began the search for a developer, not knowing much about the process. After some research in the Mom Blogosphere, and the long process of vetting several potential developers, we decided on Kenny Johnson and his company Zephyr Games.
Zephyr, Melissa, and Skye, collaborated closely for the past 5 months to make a game that replicated the table-top (as best as possible) but also took the game to new worlds. With dynamic backgrounds and themes, we have been able to create a cool Block world that really is a joy to see.Wwe are very proud that this game developed like it did… from idea to iOS, this piece has come a long way, and for the original middle school inventors 8 years ago, this app is a real affirmation of their brilliant creation.

In early 2012, Skye wrote a one-page proposal to the Blocks Rock! team about adapting the table-top game into an app. He thought the table-top game would convert into a fun, educational app, that would be a great game in itself, but would also bring more attention to the Blocks Rock! table-top game. While there was some skepticism at first, the company eventually decided to take a risk on the idea, so Melissa and Skye were put in charge of development.

And how long was the process from the original idea to the release of the app?
The original idea of Blocks Rock of course came from middle school students eight years ago, but for the app, it was around summer 2011 when Skye first floated the idea with Jim LaCrosse. Later he discovered that Melissa had come up with a similar idea, working with Entrepreneurship students, so it was a natural thing to happen. The project was approved about one year ago, so we will release close to the anniversary!

Did you hire a developer or do it yourself?

We hired Zephyr Games… led by Kenny Johnson.

What has been the hardest obstacle you have had to overcome in the development process?

Ensuring that the mobile app kept the integrity of the table-top game. Video games are fundamentally different from board games, but we knew that if the video game didn’t match the table-top one, it would defeat our original purpose. Blocks Rock was the creation of students, and we have to preserve those ideals or we haven’t done our jobs. What we have done is maintain the original game, but have brought it to new worlds with interesting backgrounds and unique block patterns.

Have you had much support during the development process (from family, peers, Apple Inc.)?

The biggest support came from Kenny Johnson and Zephyr Games, the developers of the app. It would be a lie to say that every step was a joy. Arguments and disagreements happened, but they were rare and ultimately, these disagreements were good ones. Important ones. In the creative process, a team must disagree at times in order to make the best possible creation. Good teammates fight back on issues when they believe it is right, and this respectful but honest process yielded some of our best ideas. Melissa and Skye have an excellent working relationship, and feel quite accomplished by the past year’s work. Zephyr has been a blessing in their creative vision, flexibility, and high standards.

What are your plans for the future? Will you be developing any more apps?

I have concepts for another Blocks Rock that carries more of an adventure aspect to it. I will stop there. 🙂

What sort of feedback has your app been receiving so far?

My friends are extremely impressed and proud. Testers, including kids, enjoy the game quite a lot, and this is the best sort of reaction. To see someone open your app, jump into game play, and actually have fun is all we can really ask for. At this point, based on the reactions, I feel like the mission is accomplished. Obviously the Blocks Rock app adventure is just beginning, but to see joy on one person’s face is all I really wanted from this. That has already happened a lot, so I know we did the right thing making this game.

And finally, what advice would you give to anyone considering creating their own app?

Plan it, study other games, know the music, the colors, the sound effects, and create a world! One great thing we created was Block Buddy. He is a fun character made of the game’s blocks, and has a smiley face. He is now the guide of the game. He is the heart of the style now. You must humanize your app or no one can relate. Remember: you are creating this app for PEOPLE. If you forget that, your app will reflect that. Bring people into your game, don’t shove technology into their faces. Respect the folks. Excite them.

Thank you so much for talking with us today and sharing a bit about your company. We really appreciated the chance to get to know you!

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