Toy town
Edge|October 2020
Toy town
Understanding the success of Townscaper, the non-game breaking into the mainstream

When it comes to island-building game Townscaper, it’s the little things. We plonk down colourful houses, and mathematical magic works to shape them into a place that looks lived-in. In one click, Townscaper creates a balcony with a tower viewer pointing out to sea. In another, we extend a cottage – and the game places a tiny pair of wellies outside the new front door. We rarely set out with a plan, instead following the game’s lead in search of fresh delights.

Perhaps Townscaper is the latest in a line of what late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata once termed ‘non-games’: software toys without goal or end, often encouraging the player to invent their own through self-expression – the original SimCity, DS synthesiser Electroplankton, and Jeff Minter’s player-controlled light show Psychedelia among them. Or maybe it’s something else altogether: Shed works co-founder Gregorios Kythreotis recently tweeted that he feels it’s “a new kind of ‘architectural exploration’ game about discovering the hidden configurations of spaces available behind the algorithm.” In either case, it is doing phenomenally well – when we talk to creator Oskar Stålberg, Townscaper is about to hit 100,000 early access copies sold in just over two weeks.

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October 2020