Block'hood, which is released today (10 March), is the latest game developed by Los Angeles architect and game developer Jose Sanchez’s studio, Plethora Project, which explores the relationship between architecture and gaming.
Sanchez, who was born in Chile and is an assistant professor at the University of Southern California's School of Architecture in Los Angeles, said that gaming is becoming increasingly important to both architects and non-architects involved in the development of cities.
"I developed Block'hood from the perspective of an architect to raise issues of ecology and lifecycles of cities," he said. "More than 90 per cent of our cities are done by non-architects," he added. "The UN is using games like Minecraft to re-think neighbourhoods and disaster zones. I think that Block'hood is opening a door for the field of architecture, one that many other disciplines have started exploring."
The new game allows players to create neighbourhoods that need to take account of environmental, as well as social and economic, factors in order to flourish.
The simulator involves creating city districts from a range of predefined "blocks". Each of these blocks have input requirements, which must be satisfied to create a sustainable neighbourhood; a tree might need water and an apartment will need electricity, water and public space for example.
Block'hood gives gamers a range of 96 interdependent blocks from which to construct their cities. These include architectural elements such as apartments and shops, natural features including trees and bushes, and power sources such as wind turbines and photovoltaic panels.
In future, Sanchez believes, video games will become powerful tools to understand complex urban design issues, and to encourage collaboration between professionals and communities.
"For me tools like Block'hood are not meant for architects only, but rather to a larger community of people that might be interested in sharing and contributing to the problems cities face," he said.
"I think we're getting closer and closer to allowing games such Block'hood to become a tool of participation and public engagement."
Find out more about Block'hood