Sunday, December 5, 2021

Software Review - Townscaper

Title: Townscaper 
Year: 2020
Developer: Oskar Stålberg
Publisher: Raw Fury
Platforms: Android, iOS, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Macintosh operating systems and Steam.
Rating: 2 of 5 Stars

Townscaper isn't much of a game to be honest. You can design a town on an oceanscape. You can manipulate the colors of buildings, camera angles, and lighting. That is pretty much all there is to it. It's more of a toy than a game at this point which is important as the author still seems to be in the process of development. 

It is relaxing. 

Townscaper features an audio track of wind and waves. It also has a simple yet pleasing color pallet which is key to creating coherent images. Sound provides feedback for the changes you make.  

There are only three actions the user can take: place a structure, remove a structure or rotate the image. Technically, there are a few other actions having to do with light levels and sun angle, but those are tweaks to the main process of design.

Given that you can only add or remove structures, the process is very complex and creatively implemented. Shorelines rebuild themselves as you work. So do the actual buildings. The action is enhanced by "the grid", an invisible guide for dropping pieces onto the scene. The grid is not orthogonal, it is irregular. But an irregular plan that adds to the organic feel of your town. 

As you play, you'll notice some of these additions cause dynamic reactions. Drop a building next to another and birds appear on the rooftops. Drop the third building and the birds fly away. After a while, they come back. Towels and laundry lines appear from the windows.

Simple structures become more complex as you add and remove height with the addition of stairs and pylon supports. It's easy to create cute plazas and bridges, which are detailed with moving water, shadows, and even tiny sandy shores. By ringing a plaza with buildings, a green space forms complete with trees and bushes. 

None of these "dynamic features" are documented. They are there for you to discover. And that is the charm of this game. Townscaper is strangely addictive. 

By zooming in and out, you can add drama to the Townscape scene. It has a screenshot and save feature for your town so you explore more without losing what has been done. Intriguingly, there is a special update to output your town as a .obj for 3d printing, which seems to work well as demonstrated by other reviewers. 

The game retails for $5.99. I kind of feel bad for the low rating but this software is only as exciting as blank canvas. If you're the kind that loves a blank canvas, 2 of 5 stars is more than enough, while if you hate that sort of thing, it won't be enough. 

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