Hands on with Blokify

TL;DR Summary: If it’s not a federal crime to give away an app this fun for free, it should be.

We’ve been busy here at Zheng Labs since the turn of the new year. It’s a bit of an open secret among the 3Dprinting cognoscenti that I’ve got a 3d printing Kickstarter in the works; the duergar eat and sleep at the Forge these days, prototypes of prototypes are drafted and printed at a breakneck pace, and if the bellows withstand the strain and the flow of anthracite remains steady we should have something ready for public consumption in a month or two. Sooner, hopefully, rather than later.

Here’s a teaser image. #staytuned, #watchthisspace, and #allthatjazz.

teaser

But! It can’t all be long-term projects at Casa de Zheng, lest the six or seven malcontents who follow this blog lose interest and wander off into Mirkwood. So let me dig into an app I’ve been wanting to play with for a while: Blokify.

opening

Blokify is designed to make crafting 3D models kindergarten-easy. There’s only so many ways one can build with cubes, after all, so I see some Minecraft influence here, but the designers have eschewed the ultra-low-resolution aesthetic in favor of nicely-designed, toony blocks.

If you’d like to get Lao Zheng on a get-off-my-lawn rant, ask me how Minecraft’s (WASD && voxels) method of 3D modeling leaches poison into the young minds of the next generation of CAD UI designers. Thanks mucho, Notch.

The flowing river is a nice touch. The pleasant music puts me into a building mood.

Kid-level software needs to be crazy intuitive as far as I’m concerned, so I just jump right in to the app without reading any startup guides or watching tutorials. The first UI element I poke the cobblestone block in the upper right corner. This brings up a bunch of other blocks that I can use, but for now I think I’ll stick with basic stone.

blocks

I turn my attention to the gubbins in the lower left corner. It looks it might be a camera navigation tool, so maybe it’ll orbit the camera around building area. Turns out it does something else, to which I’ll return shortly. But I still have to figure out how to move my camera around before I can build anything of consequence.

I recall that I don’t live in 1995 anymore and I’m holding a device that responds to swipes and multitouch, and start doing that. Touch with one finger to pan the camera, multitouch to orbit. Pinch to zoom. Ok, now we got this.

Tap the helpfully-checkerboarded ground to place a block and it drops onto the field with a meaty thunk. Tap the top of the first block and a second attaches with a satisfying crunch. In a few seconds you’ve got a field full of stone blocks. Sometimes blocks fly in from the sides of the field, their origin determined by some algorithmic sorcery. The sound effects really make this app entertaining. CRUNCH! THUNK! SNAP! Every block addition creates a little puff of dust.

first build

I could do this all day.

The edges of the checkerboard and an invisible ceiling limit a build to 13x13x13 blocks. Some non-triskadekaphobic over at Blokify likes primes, apparently.

Touch and hold a block for a bit and one can swipe to make a row or column. Swiping blocks into existence is fun and clicky-clacky.

horizontal

Touch and hold a little longer and the block crumbles into nothingness.

The circle in the lower left corner turns out to be an undo queue. Scrub counterclockwise and watch your model undo itself in time, then scrub clockwise to restore it.

The medieval themed blocks I’m working with naturally remind me of Seej bloxen. So I’ll make one of those.

A Seej bloxen is roughly 5x3x3cm. If I assume each Blokify block is 1cm, I’ll have to make a double-scale bloxen to get enough resolution to make the mortises underneath. Scaling the bloxen down later is trivial.

But first a few thoughts on the building process. It’s very easy to just tap tap tap the bloxen into existence, although here and there I have a bit of trouble hitting the hotspots on the sides of blocks when I need to make an overhang. It’s easier (and more fun) to sketch out my empty volume with a few wooden support blocks, and then destroy them later.

bloxen supports

I want this Blokify bloxen to be backwards-compatible with existing Seej bloxen, which means the tenons on top need to be aligned down the x-axis. Unfortunately there’s no way to put a Blokify block halfway between two others, so centered tenons are impossible with a 6-block wide bloxen.

blocks

I was looking for an opportunity to bring the model into Maya anyway, so I’ll do my vertex surgery there.

The export is two taps away through an email attachment, and it’s on my desktop in a few seconds. Well played, Blokify.

For most folks, this is where the creation ends and the printing begins, but I’ve got some edits to make and I’d like to poke around the polygons for a bit.

Here’s my first surprise; the textures on the blocks are actual geometry! The stones here are bumped out a bit and tile nicely.

into maya

The second surprise is a little less exciting: the are some long, thin, nasty-looking polygons at the junctions between blocks. Polys like these make editing a model difficult. Down this path lie non-manifold geometry and madness, so approaching these goblins with a keen eye and a keener blade is in order.

In my humble assessment Blokify doesn’t deserve to have this feature held against it, though; the subset of users who are going to edit these models in a third-party application has got to be vanishingly small. In-app editing is perfectly cromulent.

I’m able to delete the top faces of the bloxen, align the tenons down the midline, and sew the patient back up without any trouble.

The print proceeds without incident, and I’m staring at a new bloxen. Five minutes from first launch to the start of printing. Nice. For those poor souls without access to a 3D printer there’s a Shapeways export option.

Here it is, printed on my Replicator 1 with this Blue PLA.

Bloxen, Blokify

downloadTo sum up: I really like this app. It’s easy, really easy to make kid-friendly models and get them onto a printer. There’s a more-than-adequate library of free block types built into the app, and premium content’s just an AppleID password away. (Blokify lets you purchase “diamonds” for spending in-game on new blocks and environments.)

Two features I’d like to see:

1. Explosives. If the proclivities of the younger Zhengspawn are any indicator, the ability to make a design go kablooie when I’m done with it would be a huge hit with the under-10 set.
2. A bevel feature. The final print’s edges are a little sharp. Not so much a problem for me, but little hands might find the corners undesirable.

Blokify’s available on The App Store, natch.

Happy building!

One thought on “Hands on with Blokify

  1. Bill Owens

    Well, now, Blokify is neat and all, but. . . Zheng3 Kickstarter? That’s something worth talking about. If I had to guess, and there’s nothing else I can do since I have no knowledge, I’d say that the best bet for the nature of the offering, in declining order of likelihood, would be:

    – Action Zheng figure construction set (that part looks somewhat like a shoulder)
    – customizable vacuum cleaner attachments (Suggested motto: They Don’t Suck, Because They Do Suck)
    – a cake frosting printer (edible Seej!)
    – something completely other, with the object in question merely a feint to distract us from the real attack. I mean, project. I hope.

    Reply

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