Townscaper is a thoughtful small scale city builder that understands the small details are the most important thing to get right.
Created by Oskar Stalberg and published by Raw Fury; Townscaper is by design more a toy than a game. Small scale, no real goals, just an interesting bit of technology that people can play around with. Simply place buildings on the grid, and watch an ocean based metropolis literally spring up.
Townscaper is meditative bliss. The design of the game requires each individual block/building to be placed with a click. No dragging, no highlighting to pop half a dozen houses in place. Initially, I was frustrated, the monotony of each individual click piling up. But after a while, the rhythmic pop and click of each placement took on a soothing deliberateness. It’s actually brilliant design. The musical tone shifts with each consequtive placement, while tiny pieces of debris scatter into the water around your new construction. A momentary experience, but one that provides tactile feedback and marks each placement as something meaningful.
That each option required consideration, or else an equivalently slow deletion process, resulted in me slowing down by choice. It also meant if something went wrong later, I simply made my peace and found ways to improve. Because otherwise I’d be manually deleting whole swathes of progress.
It’s akin to building something with Lego or wooden blocks. The conscious placement of individual pieces that will eventually coalesce into a whole.
This works because Townscaper more than any city builder I’ve played understands that developing anywhere into a meaningful settlement means filling it with life. In spite of never having any inhabitants.
As you place more cubic buildings on the grid, things develop from a single tiny house to full streets and grand edifices. You can create huge fantastical structures, or towering industrial gangways in the sky. It rewards experimentation!
Because for me, the most important features on Townscaper are the algorithmically generated details that spring up. It’s the boots and benches outside a home. The plant pots on a windowsill. The steps down to the sea. Many many flocks of orb shaped birds and swarms of butterflies. Because it would be very easy for Townscaper to simply allow for building placement. But it also grows and adapts accordingly. These little touches are each carefully applied in specific circumstances that are discovered through play.
If you place multiple buildings in a sealed line, any empty space inside will fill with green garden space. Place another building inside that and you’ll get tenement style stone walls and clotheslines.
Even if there’s never a person actually seen in Townscaper, you can clearly see that this is a world that’s lived in. Finding more of these tiny moments results in the player testing more and more designs to work ot what might come next.
There’s really not much else to Townscaper beyond that simple premise of building a toylike city. No scores or challenges, beyond those you set yourself, and no leaderboards. It really is more of a tech toy than a full game in that respect.
Theres additional functionality built to encourage sharing your builds in screenshots. A lighting manipulation tool allows you to set the time of day or angle of the sun. Or you can modify the textures to show a gray-scale 3D model instead of the Mediterranean inspired colour scheme.
The last feature addition before leaving early access was the ability to export your work as an .obj file. Not something I can use myself having neither 3D art software nor a 3D printer, but it’s an addition that some will find very entertaining.
It does however provide yet another avenue for learning about your creations.
At it’s tiny price point of £4.79, Townscaper is a fun diversion. An interactive experience that asks very little but offers far more to the user. It’s a game that’s sedate in tone, yet encourages considered exploration and careful development. A perfect way to de-stress or simply occupy a few minutes constructing a city with its tactile tools.