In the start, there was an ocean. Vast and unbroken, it stretched from one finish of the horizon to the opposite, the blue of the sky barely distinguished from the blue of the ocean.
Then there was a pier, dredged up from the nothingness beneath the ocean, a stone-and-sand bulwark battered by waves. The not-ocean grew, the pier turning into a harbor, then an island, and on that island grew homes—in white and crimson and purple and teal. Cottages and ranch houses, warehouses and monolithic residence blocks, till ocean gave approach to a city.
This is how the story goes in my head, no less than. I’ve spent a lot of the final two days enjoying (or toying with) Townscaper, and thus far I’ve realized I by no means wanted the “Sim” a part of SimMetropolis in any case.
Beneath town two hearts beat
The video games trade shouldn’t be outfitted to speak about video games that aren’t overtly “game-y,” that don’t adhere to established tropes. Nearly a decade after video games like Gone Home and Dear Esther began these conversations, we’re…nonetheless having them. And whereas the Gone Home subset of first-person adventures has largely been accepted (no less than by critics), one thing like Townscaper remains to be certain to be controversial.
Is it a sport? If not, what’s it? A software? A toy?
I’m not keen on exploring this argument—or relatively, I’m uninterested in having the identical argument each time one thing comes alongside that doesn’t neatly match into established style norms. But I convey it up since you ought to know what Townscaper is and isn’t.
Released for $6 in Early Access on Tuesday, Townscaper has no express targets or win situations. There are not any factors. There are not any quests. There is not any simulation underlying the expertise, no faux-monetary constraint in your development software. You construct since you take pleasure in constructing.
If that doesn’t sound fascinating to you, that’s effective, simply don’t purchase Townscaper.
To me, Townscaper is the logical subsequent step after final 12 months’s Islanders. Billed as a “minimalist strategy game,” Islanders tasked you with inserting buildings on procedurally generated islands, developing first homes and farms, then mines and church buildings and docks and so forth till your city stuffed each potential plot of land. Progress was gated by a factors system, which gave Islanders its “game” credentials.
But Islanders felt as invested in aesthetics as scoring. Sure, factors mattered—however there was as a lot (or extra) satisfaction in developing an exquisite island getaway, inserting a home simply so on the seashore, or punctuating a dramatic cliff face with a towering spire. The longer I performed, the extra I wanted I may merely experiment with Islanders sans-limitations, as an artwork piece.
Townscaper is what I needed out of Islanders philosophically. It’s about structure and aesthetics and the best way people assemble livable areas. Or relatively, it’s about how these livable areas develop from nothing.
Most builders, together with Islanders, contain plopping down static buildings on a grid. Here, you might have your hearth division. There, your college. This has turn out to be extra modular through the years, and video games like Planet Coaster and Planet Zoo now mean you can mix smaller props collectively into bigger environs, however the concept is mostly the identical. What you see is what you get.
The magic of Townscaper is that it’s all procedural. Construction is ruled by guidelines. You start with a featureless ocean. Wherever you click on, you get one plot of land. Click once more, you get a one-story dwelling on that plot of land. Click twice, you get a tower. Add one other construction adjoining to the primary, you get a split-level dwelling.
And so on, and so forth. There are so many edge-cases to find, and I’m nonetheless discovering new ones the longer I play. If you enclose a plot of land, a la Parisian courtyards? The cobblestones disappear and also you’re left with a small patch of grass. If you construct over an empty “street,” you get an archway.
Townscaper is magnificent as a result of it’s actually a two-button sport: Left Click and also you add a construction, Right Click and also you take away it. But these two interactions (and a dozen or so constructing colours) enable for near-infinite prospects. Build a fortress, or an outdated medieval city like Stockholm’s Gamla Stan, or a small New England fishing village. Build one huge construction or dozens. Then scrap all of it and begin over.
There are a whole lot of instructions Townscaper may go in Early Access. I’d like to see folks wandering the streets, and even mild visitors puttering alongside. I’d like to construct seashores and parks. I’d like to swap architectural types, to make post-war brutalist blocks or San Francisco Victorians and even simply asphalt streets.
But there’s additionally part of me that thinks Townscaper is ideal as-is. Each new layer, every new mechanic, makes it extra a “game” within the conventional sense and fewer a curiosity. There’s an argument to be made that a part of Townscaper’s allure is how a lot is exterior your management. You can’t drive sure buildings to behave the best way you need, and also you can’t lay down a superbly straight street. It forces you to adapt, to create a city that feels certain by real-world constraints greater than something I’ve ever inbuilt Cities: Skylines. Does that make Townscaper higher? Maybe not—nevertheless it actually makes it fascinating.
You’ll want to search out your personal enjoyable with Townscaper, however then isn’t that true of most builders? Yes, it’s unsettling at first when introduced with what’s basically a clean canvas, however therein lies the fun as nicely. Experiment. Discover. Create artworks with buildings as your medium. A cottage right here, a lighthouse there—a steadiness between kind and vacancy. Cities are a set of areas, and nowhere is that precept extra apparent than in Townscaper, with its natural labyrinths of partitions and streets rising from nothingness.
Tool, toy, or sport—who cares, as long as you loved your self?