Inside The Game: Building Block’hood With Jose Sanchez

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It’s funny how easily you can move from one job field to another, while still keeping plenty of natural elements in place as you try new things. That’s exactly what Jose Sanchez did when he decided to give game design a try, working on such innovative efforts as Bloom and Block’hood, which should see release before year’s end, through Plethora Project.

We had a chance to talk to Jose about these two innovative efforts, as well as his transition into the gaming market.

First off, what motivated you to move between architecture to game design?

Well, I still practice as an architect, but have added game design to my area of interest. I was always a fan of SimCity and Minecraft, but lately I have been very impressed with what games like Dwarf Fortress or Prison Architect are doing in terms of the design of buildings. I felt the field of architecture needed to look deeper into what this games had to offer, so I decided to dive in and design a city simulator myself.

Block’hood started as an exercise of looking at the city of Hong Kong and how it grows almost organically. What would be the rules of such a city, and like a game, would the rules dictate the kind of buildings that come up. In this way, Block’hood was conceptualized as a vertical city builder, that would allow me or anyone to tinker with the rules that define a building.

Tell us about your Bloom and Block’hood game projects. What inspired their design?

As an architect, I was always interested in writing code and doing generative design. To do so, I had to study the rules of growth of plants and write code that could do that. Bloom started as an algorithm that simulates the organic growth of a tree, branching constantly. Later, the ideas was to convert it into a game. The project in the computer had too many possibilities or possible variations, so we decided why not allow players to decide how to build it themselves. Certainly inspired in toys like LEGO, we had the chance to make the Bloom Unit a toy and allow thousands of possibilities by its users.

Block’hood was a continuation of some of those ideas, but without being physical. Things like Minecraft were doing digitally what LEGO was doing in the physical world. What I felt it was missing was a stronger narrative of ecology and sustainability, allowing the work done by playing to become an educational tool and a design tool for the cities of tomorrow.

In this way, Block’hood is built upon mechanics of ecology. Every unit in the game requires resources to survive that are provided by other units, creating a web of connections between everything you build. If the player does not consider this relations, they will see a slow decay of their building until it becomes a ruin.

You are playing to survive and understand how the parts of the city are dependent on each other.

Block’hood looks to have a very savvy isometric design. What can players expect from it the first time they get into it?

Block’hood will be very different from traditional city builders. First of all, you don’t have a limit of things you can build. You don’t run out of money. So a player will find very easy to create a building very quickly. The problem comes when you start understanding the ecology mechanic of the game and how units need other units. Your first creation will probably collapse and fail, but out of that experience, the player is challenged to start over and build something that has more considerations of the requirements of each city block.

We consider this both a fun and educational experience that slowly teaches the player the mechanics of the game, which can become quite complex. The degree of difficulty progresses as you build more complex structures that will need more resources to support them. We currently have close to 80 tiles to pick from, but we expect to continue growing the inventory even after release.

Is there a chance we’ll see your games on other platforms? Or are you taking a slow but steady approach?

Yes, this is my first video game as a developer so we are making sure we reach a good experience on PC on steam, but we are hoping to port it to mobile if the community responds positively to the PC version. We don’t want to rush the game as we see so much potential of what the community can do with it. We are targeting a Steam Early access before the end of 2015.

For now, if you feel like supporting the game get into the market, please support our Steam Greenlight campaign by voting here.

Do you have any advice for those that want to try their hand at game design?

Sure! We are building a list of testers for the beta, so email us in case you are interested or drop us a line in Twitter @block_hood or @jomasan. The feedback from the community is crucial for us so we hope to have the beta ready as soon as possible. Let us know what you think and if you have any wished for new Blocks to add to the game.

All the information will be posted in our website, and more information is available on the Plethora Project website.

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