When we meet, Mårten Brüggemann and Frida Schlaug have just returned from GDC in San Francisco – an odd place for a company that doesn’t strictly make games, perhaps, especially given the focus on VR at this year’s event. The two come from very different backgrounds: Schlaug from corporate app development, and Brüggemann from traditional game making (he was lead game designer at Magicka2 developer Pieces Interactive). Both have had to make adjustments to their ways of working in the production of Toca Blocks.
“We’re so focused on the core experience,” Brüggemann tells us. “You can’t really hide behind good graphics, because the kids will see through it. In traditional games you have a lot of interaction models that you know work, but when designing for kids, it might be the first time they’ve ever used an interface like this. It should be intuitive and welcoming, even for a person who’s never used a digital toy before.”
Toca Blocks certainly does that. It’s snappy, satisfying stuff, and the bar of inventory icons – one with flickering colours, another slowly rotating, others with blinking eyes – begs to be touched. The comparison with Minecraft is obvious, but there’s a distinct nod to SuperMario
Maker too in what Brüggemann describes as sitting somewhere between a world builder and a level editor.
There are also references to the physical world. “I really wanted a tactile feel to the blocks,” Brüggemann says. “We worked a lot on making it fun to just play around with, making the actions feel really tangible. You don’t really feel it with other digital toys – even Lego’s own digital products don’t capture the feeling of snapping two Legos together. It can be hard to translate it.” Toca Boca may have done so here, but elsewhere within the company a team is working on doing the opposite – turning digital toys into physical ones.
While some combos in Toca Blocks have predictable end results, patterned blocks can be blended forever, producing a different result each time