Two Blocks Away is heading to re:Invent!

Hannah Robinson 26th July 2018
Two Blocks Away

It all started with a Hackathon

Hackathons are great events for improving and up-skilling people, whilst having fun, creating and innovating as a team. Two Blocks Away was an entrant to our .create() Hackathon, and it was such a fantastic concept that we’re taking it to re:Invent 2018! We were looking for something eye-catching that demonstrates AWS technology in action to display to our sponsor booth, and this fits the bill perfectly!

The Two Blocks Away Team

The Team were battling it out with 7 other teams who also came up with brilliant concepts. There were contestants with projects such as Virtual Reality Cloudreach, Guess the Cloudiest and CloudyOrNot.

Two Blocks Away team members

The Game

The team planned to make use of a projector, AWS IoT button, some raspberry pis, a camera and some large blocks. The projector will display a game board on an adequate surface (floor, table, etc), the blocks will have AWS services and names drawn on them. The board will resemble an incomplete architecture pattern of some kind.

“The aim of the game will be to fill in the board’s missing components with the blocks, and when ready, trigger AWS Rekognition, in conjunction with AWS IoT via a (big red) button. The user will receive feedback about whether or not the board was completed successfully.”

Two Blocks Away Game

Q&A with the team

How did you come up with the concept?

The team came up with a workshop idea at 8:30 in the morning, and by 9 am they were all brainstorming ideas. They came up with a collection of words they connected to the aim of the hackathon theme.

As shown on the picture, the team wrote on post-it notes and stuck them around a big circle. Next, they picked words which were absolutely crucial to their game such as ‘play’, ‘visual’, ‘Cloudreach’ and ‘AWS’. Importantly, two words stood out the most ‘physical blocks’ and ‘Lego’.

Two Blocks Away Brainstorm

Yoyu outlined, “especially Lego, everyone liked it, which prompted the idea of blocks.

Importantly, the team didn’t keep their ideas a secret, instead, pitching to different people who helped them confirm whether the idea was good or not. The general idea was to ensure that cloud computing was accessible to non-technical people. Which prompted the idea to create it into a game. When Emily and Yoyu were discussing the ideas in the morning, Jeremy overheard the conversation (at breakfast!) and was intrigued by the idea. Jeremy naturally became part of the team with his contributions such as coming up with the name ‘Two Blocks Away’.

What Challenges did you overcome when trying to come up with the concept?

The team wanted the game to be ‘fun’, however ‘fun’ is challenging to design. Yoyu used to work for a gaming company, therefore was experienced in this field. From experience, she knew that the players/users should always have the final say, so stressed the importance of showing people their ideas and listening to feedback.
There were also a few challenges to the technical side of the game design. Initially, the challenge was deciding how to send images to AWS Rekognition in a format that can be parsed. Also, making the game as fast as possible by playing with the image capture capability of Raspberry Pi.

What changes did you make throughout the process to help with the final design?

Looking back, the team realised that the game went through many changes from start to finish. They switched Raspberry Pi models, how the games projected and the type of blocks used. To expand its capabilities they also looked at exploring different languages, frameworks and architectures.

What were the positive aspects of working in a team and coming up with Two Blocks Away?

Yoyu: “Emily and Jeremy are great people to have in a team.”

Emily has had a long love of software and Al, she is also an excellent people person, which meant she was able to passionately pitch the teams idea to everyone in the office. Yoyu believed this was a great aspect of the teams success.

Yoyu’s expertise in previously being a professional game designer, as well as her architecture and software skills ensured the Two Blocks Away project went to the next level.

Jeremy is an architecture expert, and helped the team design for the production environment at re:Invent. He also took action fast – for example when deciding to use Raspberry Pi, he made an order on Amazon straightaway, and the next day had it to experiment with.


Stay tuned for a follow-up post on the technical implementation of Two Blocks Away.