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*Nuclear warning siren in the distance*
"...oh it 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 in 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 up actual houses and roads, perhaps install even a power grid and water network; make it look like in all 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; they can be built as a trap to lure enemies or, conversely, as a tactical decoy, to distract them away from a crucial target; in time of war, this often turns out to be a rather useful military strategy. This specific application is referred to as "Potemkin village".

When they lack a deceptive purpose, they may be set up as a staging ground for simulations, trainings or experiments, with its occupants aware of the fictitious condition of the place. This makes them 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 reason, there would 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.

Although it may literally be a world made out of cardboard, do not confuse with "World of Cardboard" Speech.


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 
  • 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.

    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.

    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.
  • In The Truman Show, the entire town of Seaside, 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 
  • 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.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 

    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.
  • 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.

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