Sometimes you just need to escape from the real world for a while, and the farther you go—like, say, to a remote tropical island—the better. That’s the idea behind Little Cities, which is out now on the Quest Platform for $19.99 USD. It’s a wholesome and accessible city building game with a simple goal: to give you a space where you can relax while crafting your own mini society.
With its charming soundtrack and breezy island locations, Little Cities has a more laid-back feel compared to other city sims. You’ll pave roads and construct homes and other facilities in several different climates, each with their own unique gameplay twists. Working on a desert island, for example, means you’ll have to protect your city from sandstorms from time to time. And if you're on a volcanic island, you’ll have to keep an eye out for any sudden eruptions.
Indie developer Purple Yonder built Little Cities specifically for VR, so you’ll find an intuitive interface that helps you handle these natural disasters in addition to the day-to-day needs of your citizens. Instead of being overwhelmed with menus or numbers like in flatscreen city sim games, you just have to poke floating bubbles and icons to access your tools. You can also check on your city’s overall happiness level and other important stats through an in-game wristwatch.
To celebrate the launch of Little Cities, we spoke with James and Kelly Howard, the husband-and-wife team behind Purple Yonder, about why they wanted to make such a relaxing and approachable game, as well as some of the exciting updates they have planned for it over the next few months.
What was the inspiration behind Little Cities? How (if at all) has the game’s premise changed over time?
James and Kelly Howard: VR is such an interesting space for game development, pushing the boundaries of both tech and design, so we were naturally attracted to the idea of developing for this medium. We wanted to bring a much-loved genre and personal favorite to Quest, a re-imagining of the traditional city creator, that would appeal to both old and new fans of the genre.
During the game’s development, we were stuck at home under lockdown, so our vision for Little Cities was to be a relaxing escape from reality. We wanted the game to be a cozy, positive space, set on idyllic islands that were reminiscent of a picturesque holiday. This shaped the mood, score, and art style of the game. That feeling of escapism was really important to the overall design and concept.
How long was the game in development?
JH & KH: The original prototype was first started over four years ago, before the first Quest had even launched! It started as a passion project that we worked on in our spare time. As the game grew, we saw the huge potential it had and ultimately decided to quit our jobs to establish our own indie studio, Purple Yonder. We were then able to throw our full efforts at Little Cities.
We’re a little team at Purple Yonder, so Little Cities was a considerably ambitious project for us. We’ve been fortunate enough to partner with world-leading VR game developer and publisher nDreams and to be the first title to be published via their third-party publishing initiative.
Little Cities is our labor of love, and we hope that this shines through! There are so many aspects that we revisited and refined during development—we must have redesigned the user interface at least five times! How the player engages with the game in VR is such an important aspect, so we really honed the interface to be user-friendly for players. We wanted to ensure that the game was making the most out of the medium, purposefully elevating what a VR UI interface should be for a game in this genre.
How does Little Cities differentiate itself from other city-building sims on the market?
JH & KH: Little Cities is built from the ground up for VR. Everything is designed to be unfussy and approachable, from the cozy art style to the intuitive motion controls which help the player feel present in the game world.
The interface was heavily influenced by the style of infographics, displaying large amounts of information while remaining text-light and visually interesting compared to a traditional flatscreen city creator. After much iteration and testing, we crafted an interface which was intuitive, comfortable, and (importantly) fun to play. Little Cities is a game that anybody can enjoy, even if you’ve never played a city builder or even a VR game before!
Any pop cultural references players should be on the lookout for?
JH & KH: We’ve filled the world of Little Cities with something we call little moments, which can happen as your city grows. They bring the world to life and can be as simple as watching a whale breach the ocean surface or a police car rushing to respond to an emergency. We don’t want to spoil anything, but there are some fun moments to observe if you have a keen eye!
What’s the best reaction you’ve seen when playtesting the game?
JH & KH: Something that we’ve seen time and again throughout playtesting is how players get absolutely absorbed by Little Cities. We’ve had players exclaim that they only intended to do a quick playtest but found they played until their headset had run out of battery. One playtester told us they started playing in the afternoon and ended up playing for so long that when they removed the headset, they were sitting in the dark!
Although Little Cities is first and foremost a game about creation and relaxation, we noticed that playtesters also enjoy watching how the fire, police, and medical services tend to the different emergencies. Natural disasters were specifically one of the most requested features from our community, and playtesters loved it when we added the volcano island with its eruptions. Every fan of the city creation genre needs a good volcanic eruption to set their pulse racing now and again! Molten rock aside, playtesters also enjoyed combating the sandstorms in the desert-themed locations to create beautiful, leafy cities.
What influenced the character design and overall art direction?
JH & KH: To compliment the beautifully composed music, the charming island settings, and intuitiveness of the gameplay, we aimed to develop an art style that was fuss-free and approachable.
Little Cities has a low-poly art style with soft lighting and shadows, which really leans into the cozy theme and made-for-VR approach. The Quest display panels specifically have a brilliant color range which we exploited to make our color scheme vibrant and create a positive tone. It really does pop in the headset.
Players can view their city from both far away and right up close, and due to the nature of VR, they have complete control of the camera. For this reason, it was essential for us that the building designs looked great from any angle or distance, so this had a huge influence on the game’s overall visual style.
Who did you work with on the soundtrack and sound design? What was that experience like?
JH & KH: Little Cities features a delightful soundtrack composed by award-winning composer David Garcia Diaz. We were so fortunate to have him onboard as the music absolutely transforms the whole feeling of the game. It really does draw you in and complete the tone of Little Cities.
What’s your favorite part of the game and why?
JH & KH: We wanted the islands that you get to play with to feel alive, especially as your population grows. The little moments we created happen in and around the island as you play naturally, such as hot air balloons taking flight. These don’t all serve gameplay directly, but it really helps create the sense of immersion and makes the world beneath your feet feel more believable. They’re nice little touches which we enjoyed implementing!
We’ve also included a lot of unique and special buildings which do directly impact gameplay. Depending on where they’re placed in your city, they have a chance to boost the income or the happiness of residents in the immediate area. We’ve put a great deal of effort into creating these interesting and unique buildings, which vary between the different island themes we’ve built.
What advice would you give to a developer looking to start building for VR?
JH & KH: VR is such a new and inspiring platform to develop for, with so much ground still to be broken! Our advice would be to explore how VR can be used to provide a completely fresh perspective and invent new ways to play.
What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?
JH & KH: We’ve announced our first two, free post-launch updates for Little Cities which we’re incredibly excited about. Next month, we’ll be bringing hand tracking to the game which will really enhance the immersion of creating your city, and in July we’ll be adding in new buildings and cosmetic items. We’ve got lots of post-launch content planned, so keep an eye out in the coming months for more.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
JH & KH: We’re so humbled by the response that we’ve received from our community, press, and influencers for Little Cities. We’re only a small team, and we’ve poured our heart and soul into this game, so it means so much to us and we hope everyone enjoys it.
Start building your own delightful island towns in Little Cities for the Quest Platform today.