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*Nuclear warning siren in the distance*
"...oh that can't be good..."
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A character needs to build a town, fast. Maybe it's to make themselves seem important, maybe they need to lay a trap for some unsuspecting victim, or maybe they need to test a dangerous weapon.

The solution? If there's no need to spend too much on it, slap up some plywood billboards made to look like the fronts of buildings. As long as no one looks behind it, the illusion should be effective. For a version not as dependent on viewing angle, you could also slap up empty shell buildings made from cardboard or other cheap materials. It doesn't need to be structurally sound, it just needs to hold up long enough to fool whoever it needs to fool. Or, should the fake town really need to look realistic, build actual houses and roads, perhaps install a power grid and water network; make it look like a thriving and inhabited place, except for the fact no one is supposed to actually live there.

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That's Exactly What It Says on the Tin: fake towns may be built for the most disparate reasons.

Frequently, they are erected for deceiving purposes: in a Crapsaccharine World, they're helpful for creating a falsely peaceful and idyllic atmosphere, hiding away unpleasant realities; as a trap to lure enemies or, conversely, as a tactical decoy, to distract them from a crucial target; in times of war, this often turns out to be a rather useful military strategy. This specific application is referred to as a "Potemkin village".

When they lack a deceptive purpose, they may be set up as a staging ground for simulations, trainings or experiments, with the occupants aware of the fictitious condition of the place. This makes them an excellent Simulated Urban Combat Area or Deadly Training Area, if something has to be tested in an environment that resembles an actual inhabited place, but, for safety reasons, there'd better be no civilians around.

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A similar concept is Artificial Outdoors Display, although it tends to be used mostly for esthetic purposes with no deceptive intention. Do not confuse with Ghost Town or Ghost City, as they used to be actual functional living areas at some point, unlike fake towns built specifically for non-residential purposes.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • As revealed near the end of Blood-C, the entire town where the protagonist Saya lives in is actually an experiment set-up designed by the Big Bad who is trying to test if he can restore Saya's ability to feed on humans. All the inhabitants in the town are paid actors with some acting as Saya's classmates. One clue on how eerie and fake the town is whenever there's an Elder Bairns attack, some would complain that they were never warned about it.
  • One Piece: Whiskey Peak appears to be a peaceful town that welcomes pirates, but it is actually a trap to capture pirates set up by a group of bounty hunters part of a group called Baroque Works.

    Comic Books 
  • The very first issue of Suicide Squad featured a complete American airport in the middle of the Qurac desert, used as the training grounds of the titular team's first opponents, the Jihad. President Marlo pulled all the stops to perfectly simulate the ambience of the real thing, even staffing it with real people for the team's combat demonstration - which ended with everyone in the "airport" brutally killed.
  • In G.I. Joe, Cobra controls a town, or a series of towns, called Springfield as their base. It looks like a quaint little slice of Middle America, but many buildings are just sets, and all of the inhabitants are trained Cobra agents.
  • In "Tintin in the Land of the Soviets", the very first Tintin story, the title character sees a group of English communists being shown Soviet factories that appear to be working at full speed. From where he is, he can see that the factories are facades with people burning wet straw and banging on sheet metal to make it look like the factories are running at all.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Issue 32 opens on Uvo making practice bombing runs on scale models of several city blocks of New York, Paris and London in preparation for an attack on Earth.

    Films — Animation 
  • In a Deleted Scene from The Emperor's New Groove, Pacha is making his way out of the palace when he walks into a room with a replica of his village. He then watches as Kuzco's guards attack it, as a run-through for when they level the real village to make room for the emperor's new summer home.
  • In Hotel Transylvania Dracula constructs one of these, complete with zombie actors playing humans, to convince Mavis that the outside world is dangerous.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The decoy version of Rock Ridge from Blazing Saddles, where the inhabitants of the real Rock Ridge build the fake town as a trap for outlaws that are threatening their town. Its design is similar to a movie set for an Old Western street scene.
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: After the title character escapes from the warehouse, he comes upon a suburban neighborhood and goes in looking for help. In short order, he discovers the neighborhood is entirely populated by mannequins. A short time later, he realizes he's walked into a nuclear test site and they're about to conduct the test.
  • The Interview plays with this trope with an apparently nice and well stocked supermarket in Pyongyang. Later in the movie, when Dave is stepping outside alone, he comes across it again and realizes that the "aisles" are merely wallpapers and the "food" in the basket is fake, made of plaster.
  • A high-tech version of this appears in Star Trek: Insurrection with a ship that is essentially a massive, mobile holodeck that was set in secret just outside of the Ba'ku village and had an entire holographic replica of the village already made, waiting for the villains to teleport the whole citizenry into it. It becomes a Chekhov's Gun for the climax.
  • In The Truman Show, the entire town of Seahaven, Florida is a fake town populated by paid actors created to serve as the location set for a show that stars the unwitting Truman Burbank as protagonist, who was adopted as a baby by a corporation who turns his entire life into a 24/7 reality TV show. Several buildings are not even completely functional, but mere empty facades. Later in the film, as he starts to suspect something is wrong, he begins to catch glimpses of camera operators, stage crew, and backstage areas. Eventually, Truman steals a boat and sails until he punctures the boundaries of the self-contained dome and finds an exit.

    Literature 
  • The Belgariad: The Citadel of Algaria is a huge, imposing Citadel City and the Born in the Saddle Algars' only permanent settlement. In fact, it's Schmuck Bait for the enemy Murgos that invade from time to time; the entire city is nothing but a death-trap maze that's optimized for Urban Warfare. The Murgos keep attacking it because they can't believe that there's nothing of value inside, which saves the Algars the trouble of hunting them down in their vast prairies.
  • The Charm School has a fake American town in the Soviet Union, where Soviet agents go for training to pass themselves off as Americans; many of their language instructors are captured American pilots from the Vietnam war.
  • In Deltora Quest, the Ralad tribe build one of these in order to fake their extinction and thereby remain safe from the Evil Overlord. (Their real city is an elaborate underground complex.) It works like a charm, not least because the Ralads' hat is architecture.
  • In the book "Nuclear Time" of the New Series Adventures, the 11th Doctor and his companions land in a place called Appletown. The town as it turns out is fake: the grass is artificial, there are televisions but nowhere to plug it in, and the plumbing doesn't work - the town was built because the US government needed to get rid of a bunch of androids and only nuclear weapons could do the job.
  • In The Phantom Tollbooth, the aptly-named Illusions appears to be a fancy city but isn't a real city. Despite this, a few people who live in the neighbouring city have mistaken it for a real city and moved in.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alias: "Welcome to Liberty Village". Posing as Russian nationals, Vaughn and Sydney are brought to a "village" located in Russia that resembles a typical American town. It was once used to train KGB agents in how to blend into American society, but is now being used by a terrorist cell to train operatives in preparation for bringing down America's economy using an electromagnetic pulse weapon.
  • The Avengers has the episode "House of Cards" in which a Soviet spymaster has trained sleeper agents to pose as impeccable British citizens. This training includes a very London-like town where the agents are given immersion training in British mannerisms. The regimen is so intense that one trainee makes the mistake of addressing his commander as "comrade," which nets him a bullet to the head.
  • Danger Man: In "Colony Three", British communists are disappearing behind the Iron Curtain. Drake follows their trail to a replica of a British town used to acquaint Russian infiltrators with British ways.
  • The Western TV movie Dead Man's Revenge (1994) ends with The Reveal that everyone in the town is a former victim of the Railroad Baron working an elaborate con. Now that they've successfully stolen his money, they quickly pack up everything and leave before he comes back.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Android Invasion", Styggron creates a replica of the village of Devesham on Oseidon and populates it with android duplicates of the villagers and Space Defence Station personnel as part of the Kraals' plan to conquer Earth.
    • "Castrovalva", a Wham Episode of the series (as it's the Fifth Doctor's first story, post-regeneration), has this trope as its major plotline. Castrovalva looks and feels like a city, except it's a trap set by the Doctor's frenemy, The Master, in order to trap the Doctor, but it ends up turning on the master.
    • The sunken village in the episode "Before the Flood" turns out to have been built as a fake "Russian" village for training spies and military personnel.
  • Mission: Impossible: "The Carriers". In order to stop an expert in American traditions, slang, and customs from conducting his plan of bacteriological warfare against the U.S. and to put him permanently out of business, the IMF team infiltrates a mock-up of an American town located behind the Iron Curtain where enemy agents learn to act as Americans.
  • The New People: A group of college kids are stranded on a deserted island after their plane crashed. The island seems to have been chosen as site for a nuclear test; an entire a town was built on it, but the test ultimately didn't happen: so there were buildings, supplies, food, etc. still left behind for the survivors to use. The first episode involves them entering the town and being creeped out by not understanding why it was there.
  • The Prisoner. In the episode "Living in Harmony", Number 6 is a sheriff in a The Wild West town. At the end of the episode it's revealed that the town was a fake created by the Village leaders to trick Number 6.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series
    • Episode "Errand of Mercy". When Kirk and Spock beam down to the planet Organia, they arrive in a small town with medieval technology and peasants. At the end of the episode they learn that the entire town was an illusion to give the Federation and the Klingons A Form You Are Comfortable With.
    • Episode "Spectre of the Gun". The Enterprise landing party ends up in the town of Tombstone, Arizona in the year 1881. At the end of the episode they learn that the whole town is a telepathic illusion. This is foreshadowed during the episode by depicting the exteriors of buildings as facades and the interiors of buildings not having walls.
  • With the Founders from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine being shapeshifters with a liquid natural state, they don't exactly have "towns", but when they found out about the Cardassian and Romulans knowing about their hidden homeworld and planing to wipe them all out in a single massive attack, they went to a new hiding space and left behind devices to create fake life sign signals. When the attacking fleet dropped its stealth cloaks to begin the bombardment, they were ambushed by the Founders' hidden Jem'Hadar fleet and completely annihilated.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "Stopover in a Quiet Town" a man and woman wake up in a completely deserted town. As they explore it they regularly hear a young girl's laughter. At the end they discover that the town is actually the toy of a gigantic alien girl who is keeping them as her playthings.

    Video Games 
  • Afterfall: Insanity: The player flees the underground vault, where most of the game takes place, to a city on the surface inhabited by mutants, but it turns out it's actually a fake city built inside an even larger vault. It was part of an experiment to study how the survivors would fare on the real surface, which is reached later in the game.
  • Call of Duty:
    • Nuketown from Black Ops and its remakes in subsequent games are set on a nuclear test range, befitting the original game (and aptly-named sequel)’s Cold War setting. Rather memorably, the bomb is dropped on the town at the end of a match, resulting in the end game scores being displayed in front of a nuclear blast.
    • Black Ops: Cold War also has another example in its Campaign. The Spetsnaz set up a large simulation replica of an average American town, complete with restaurants (including the famous Burger Town), an arcade, and all the flashy '80s fashion you'd expect.
  • In Command & Conquer: Generals: Zero Hour, the GLA Demolition general can build "Decoy Structures," whose special ability is to explode.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert: The Allies can erect fake buildings to set up decoy bases and deceive enemy forces.
  • Old Town in Pepperpain Prairie in Ittle Dew 2 consists of building facades with absolutely nothing behind them. When you find the "new" town, the facades actually do lead into little rooms built into the hillside, but there's transparently nothing of the kind in Old Town.
  • At the end of the first MechWarrior 3 operation, the player is supposed to destroy a Mech factory. Turns out it is a wooden decoy, and you don't get to wreck the real factory until Operation 2. The novelization even refers to the Potemkin villages by this name.
  • Mercenaries has the Propaganda Village at the southern end of the southern map. The "village" consists of "buildings" with only two sides and a roof so that they look like real buildings from the south. The game takes place in North Korea where this apparently Truth in Television.
  • New Pork City from Mother 3. It was built by the leader of the Pigmasks as a monument to their power. However, more than 99% of the buildings are plywood cutouts.
  • Overwatch: The map Hollywood takes place just outside and inside of a Hollywood sound stage themed around the Old West. As the attacking team pushes the payload (a limousine carrying B-list director Hal-fred Glitchbot), they must navigate through the streets of the fake Old West town. Aside from unused equipment, cameras and cranes left in plain sight, as well as the obviously fake sky painted onto the surrounding studio walls, it could almost pass for the real thing.
  • The Age of Ahnonay in Uru: Ages Beyond Myst is an island with several islands visible in the distance, some of which have buildings on them. When the player manages to calm the ocean currents and swim to them, however, they'll find that the buildings are just painted onto screens, and moreover, the islands and the sea around them are all part of a gigantic artificial sphere.
  • The Potemkin Gang in West of Loathing is a trio of bandits who built a false town out of planks and paint. The girl and one guy are wracked with guilt, while the other knows that the second you try to enter a building, the jig is up and keeps you away from them. The object of the town is to beat them by getting them all to gather in front of one facade propped up on a barrel of dynamite (DEAD), or one held up by a rope (OR ALIVE!).

    Western Animation 
  • DuckTales (2017):
    • The episode "The Town Where Everyone Was Nice" takes this trope Up to Eleven with an entire Brazilian town populated by fake people. They're puppets on the end of the tendrils of an intelligent, carnivorous plant. Turns out that it had invited Donald Duck's old band to be entertained so that the flower could eat them together with visiting tourists.
    • "Beware the B.U.D.D.Y. System!" has a fake town built out on the desert to test Mark Beak's new driverless car prototype, inspired by the ones mentioned on Real Life below.
  • One episode of G.I. Joe had COBRA pull this on Shipwreck, trying to gaslight him into believing that he was several years removed from the mission he was on, suffering amnesia, all in an effort to extract a formula for an advanced fuel from his mind. Most of the people he met were either Cobra operatives in disguise or synthetic beings.
  • Discussed but not used in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. In "Swarm of the Century", Ponyville gets overrun with parasprites just before an official visit from Princess Celestia. When Twilight realizes she can't get rid of the infestation in time, she goes crazy from panic and suggests that they build an exact replica of Ponyville and trick Celestia into visiting that instead.
  • In the Steven Universe episode "Rose's Room", Steven's attempt to leave the titular room just causes it to make a fake version of Beach City, one riddled with errors. The room's intent may have been accidental or deliberately deceptive to prove a point.
  • Xiaolin Showdown: An episode involves Omi discovering his hometown and what appears to be his true parents; which is later revealed to be a fake hometown where all its residents, including Omi's alleged birth parents, are robots.

    Real Life 
  • Potemkin villages were supposedly an invention of a Russian minister in which fake villages were erected and filled with adoring crowds as the oblivious royal convoy went past, then torn down and rebuilt further ahead. The veracity of these "villages" however remains dubious.
  • Near the end of World War I, the French built a replica of Paris, to scale, in the hope of tricking German bombers into bombing that instead of the real one.
  • In Nazi Germany, during The Holocaust, the Theresienstadt concentration camp, called "the Paradise Ghetto" in World War II, was designed as a concentration camp that could be shown to the Red Cross, but was really a Potemkin village: attractive at first, but deceptive and ultimately lethal, with high death rates from malnutrition and contagious diseases. It ultimately served as a way-station to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
  • Finns built a complete fake Helsinki city plan out of firewood on nearby uninhabitated islands to deceive Soviet night bombers in 1944. When the bombers arrived, the firewood was ignited, resembling a city in flames.
  • During WWII, the British built up a huge fake army to make the Germans believe the D-Day landing would be in Calais. Among other aspects like false troop movements and command structure, they set up plywood and tarp tanks, airplanes and vehicles to inflate their numbers, allowing German spy planes to report back with their findings. It was a complete success, fooling Germans into thinking D-Day was a feint until it was too late.
  • The massive Boeing Plant 2 aircraft factory in Seattle had a fake town built on its roof to make it impossible to identify as a single building from the air, complete with lawns, trees, fences, and cars. The builders also added little street signs like Synthetic Street and Burlap Boulevard.
  • Also during WWII, the US built fake Japanese and German towns at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah to test bombing strategies.
  • Self-driving cars are tested in specially built fake cities, for obvious safety reasons.
  • Peace Village in North Korea is one, near the border with South Korea and visible from there.
  • In September of 1896 the town of Crush, Texas was temporarily erected so spectators had a place to witness two locomotives crashing into each other, a scheme originated by one William Crush. It ended up with two deaths and numerous injuries after the boilers exploded.

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