‘Townscaper’, a pretty game about making cozy towns, shines in its simplicity

Elise Favis

THE WASHINGTON POST – Most games revolving around user-generated content require patiently mastering a learning curve. In Townscaper, though, everything comes easily.

Townscaper, an early access game on Steam from Swedish game developer Oskar Stålberg, lets you instantly build cozy, coastal towns. You start with a blank canvas: just a blue sky and empty sea. Controls are limited to placing one block at a time. Blocks placed on water become harbours, and blocks placed atop other blocks make rising towers, apartments and houses. You can undo and redo the placement of said blocks, and change their colour as well. And that’s about it. It is not as complex as those other creative games, but Townscaper provides a joyful and easy creative outlet.

As someone who enjoys making virtual things but isn’t particularly skilled at it, I found its instantaneous nature gratifying. You feel like an excellent artist without any training. I love clumping blocks together to form unusual architecture, like a cityscape held in the air by many small metal rods that extend into the sea below, or mixing and matching colours to make a single building with many different colourful compartments. You learn as you tinker. I enjoyed the small discoveries I made, like realising that deleting blocks can make arches or terraces, and how enclosed spaces generate gardens within.

Townscaper has a hidden algorithm that instantly adds little flourishes to your creation. Many of these are small and randomised, but they bring life to your sleepy town. These include coin-operated binoculars appearing on paths, seagulls perched on rooftops (they fly off if you change the structure under them), and a string of paper flags strewn between buildings in alleyways. Much of the fun is rooted in the magical unknown. It’s amusing to see what pops up next.

Minimalist sound design, like the bubbling of water or the “pop” when you layer blocks, is inconsequential to the gameplay but adds an additional sense of satisfaction. Townscaper is visually impressive; players may recognise the art style as similar to Bad North, an indie strategy game Stålberg worked on prior to this title. Most design decisions look beautiful with little effort, and the clever audio elements only heighten the feeling of accomplishment.

As simple as Townscaper is to use, it doesn’t mean your creations have to be simple too. Despite only releasing a week ago, players have made grandiose creations, some building replicas of architecture found in pop culture like The Lord of The Rings or Tetris. Others have drawn on their own imagination. Townscaper is gaining traction on social media: A quick search of #Townscaper on Twitter yields hundreds of results.

Described by Stålberg as an “experimental game” and “more of a toy” than a game, Townscaper may change based on user feedback.

Townscaper, an early access game on Steam from Swedish game developer Oskar Stålberg, lets you instantly build cozy, coastal towns. PHOTO: OSKAR STÅLBERG