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ODU Ph.D. Student Develops App for Exciting Word Game

rojo-kris-wrightODU Modeling and Simulation student Kris Wright has helped bring the locally developed word game Rojo to life as an iPhone and iPad app.
rojo

An Old Dominion University modeling and simulation doctoral student has created an algorithm to turn a locally-developed board game into an iPhone app that plays like the popular Words With Friends at lightning speed.

Kris Wright said the classes in modeling, simulation and visualization engineering he has taken at Old Dominion University have proven invaluable in the creation of the app, which has been downloaded about 20 times a day since being introduced in late November.

The game, known as Rojo, was invented around the kitchen table by Virginia Beach family game-making company ZiggityZoom. The company, launched in 2008, had previously had success creating a number of family-oriented websites.

Their latest venture, Rojo, was conceived as a dice game, where participants would attempt to rapidly make words with the letter combinations that appeared with each roll. The game was being considered by commercial companies, but hadn't yet been picked up. But a fortuitous meeting at a Start Norfolk event for entrepreneurs at Innovation Research Park @ ODU linked Wright up with the game developers, and took Rojo in an entirely new direction.

Instead of rolling dice to create letter combinations, they are generated automatically inside the iPhone and iPad app.

"It really involved thinking about the game in a different way," Wright said about creating the app.

"For Rojo we knew we need a developer who could not only code but grasped all of the statistical data behind all the letter combinations and word possibilities," company CEO Kristin Fitch said.

"After meeting Kris at Start Norfolk, we met for lunch and I learned more about his abilities and interests. Within that one conversation, I could tell he would potentially be a great fit for the game. After just learning about the game, he discussed ways the game might be tweaked. It was also apparent he was very good at statistics as he rolled off several statistically relevant numbers during our lunch."

Now, Rojo plays as an iPhone and iPad app, and crackles with excitement. Game participants have 60 seconds to make as many word combinations as possible with a randomly selected collection of seven letters. The game interface uses familiar online tools, making it extremely playable.

"We're still trying different backgrounds, different designs. We're always tweaking the game, and we think the game is really good," Wright said.

John Sokolowski, executive director of ODU's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center, is Wright's Ph.D. adviser. "Kris is very innovative and the game he developed attests to his ability to craft complex games and simulations," Sokolowski said.

Fitch has been impressed with Wright's work.

"What sets him apart from so many developers, is that he sees our venture as a long term partnership, which it is, because in order to have a successful product, app or game, the team has to be committed to it, and committed to improving and adding to the product and Kris does just that," she said. "While he was able to do what we needed him to do, he was able to bring additional ideas and suggested improvements to the table throughout the entire process and implement the best ideas that were suggested."

At a recent event for new businesses in downtown Norfolk, the Rojo team demonstrated the online app on a big screen, then held a competition so attendees could compete at the game with company executives.

The Rojo team members, including Wright, have gotten pretty good at the game, through developing it and bringing it to market.

"It's kind of addictive. I couldn't tell you how many times I've played it," Wright said with a laugh.

Old Dominion University is the only school in the country that offers a complete advanced education in modeling and simulation engineering, from undergraduate through to post-doctoral. Hundreds of modeling and simulation engineering grads from Old Dominion work around the world, in the military and government, and in start-ups and Fortune 500 companies.