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Dystopika is a toy for making cyberpunk cities and it's rad

Bring on the Light Brush.

A cyberpunk city drawn in green neon in Dystopika. The image has the Wishlisted icon in the bottom right corner.
Image credit: Voids Within, Unikat Label

Dystopika is a city-building toy, but it's also a place. It's a place loading before you drop your first superscraper in or pan the camera to frame the luminous smog of the eternal sunset. Just start the game up and there's a sense of urban life twinkling in the darkness, while the soundtrack moans and warps and chatters to itself. Dystopika is already here. It can feel complete before you've started.

A note at the start of the current Steam demo reveals that this design toy is the work of a single creator, Matt Marshall, and it's been inspired by a year of travelling in Asia and walking huge cities at night. The cities you can make in the game have a definite sci-fi, cyberpunk edge to them, but they wouldn't be too out of place in the work of photographer and game designer Liam Wong, a poet of the late night urban experience.

Everything is wonderfully straightforward. I suggest setting things to random, and then every click adds a skyscraper to the city you're building. You can go in deep and choose between a range of different districts, if you want, but a huge part of the appeal of cyberpunk has always struck me as being a sort of hypermodernism, with buildings of different eras, uses, and cultures smooshed together in the night. "Smooshed together" is an architectural term, incidentally.

As is "Light Brush", an excellent piece of accidental poetry in Dystopika and the name for the tool that you then run over your skyscrapers to add neon lights, advertising, and all manner of other Blade Runner detailing to them. As with the random button, you can actually be more precise, but the jumble, the authorship split between player and tools, seems to be where Dystopika feels most like itself.

A cyberpunk city shines in the night in Dystopika. There is a projection shaped like a blue whale above one building.
A cyberpunk city at sunset in Dystopika.
Dystopika. | Image credit: Voids Within, Unikat Label

After you've built your city there's a lovely range of tools for photographing it, and once I'm done here today I'm probably going to head back in, tweak settings, and take some truly cursed screenshots. For now, though, with Dystopika playing away to itself in another tab, I can just enjoy the feeling of having muddled around with a sweet toy for a few minutes, making something that feels coherent despite the fact that it will never be exactly finished.

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