Prison Architect Alpha 20 Sends You To, Er, Prison

How many posts have I written about Prison Architect alphas since joining RPS last October? Checking the tag page for the game suggests seven thousand. It’s not my fault, it’s just that each one adds a feature or set of features I find irresistible. The latest, alpha 20, introduces a set of failure states to the game, including the ability to be convicted of criminal negligence. You will then “spend time within your own jail as a prisoner.”

The regular developer video showing the new features is below.

As well as judging your own performance, the game does more to judge the progress of your prisoners as their way through your penal (snigger) system.

– PUNISHMENT To what extent has this prisoner been punished? Long jail terms and solitary increase this.
– REFORM How successful have your reform attempts been? Passing reform programs and working increases this
– SECURITY Was the prisoner kept safely locked away? Fights and escapes detract from this, armed lockdown counts towards it
– HEALTH A measure of the welfare of your prisoner. Keeping them well fed and exercised will increase this.

These factors are combined, together with their age, number of prior convictions etc, to produce an estimate of their re-offending chance.

This is all part of expanding – or even adding – the idea of an endgame to Prison Architect, rather than leaving the game to become shapeless once your construction has hit its maximum size or has become self-sustaining. Find the full set of patch notes through on the Prison Architect forum.


  1. Carra says:

    Played the alpha for a few hours some months ago and it was already fun back then. Bought it as I missed those good old tycoon games. Where are all the Theme Hospitals clones these days?

    Looking forward to the release, looks very promising.

    • anaemic says:

      I dont know where all the theme hospital type games are, theme hospital used to set objectives and let you try to achieve them.

      Prison architect simply tells you you must build a prison, to the developers exact specifications and design, or else you fail. No tycoon style fun here, just do as you’re told gaming.

      • Doganpc says:

        Please explain

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          Malarious says:

          Theme hospital was a hundred times more railroaded than Prison Architect. I have no idea what he’s talking about.

          • AimHere says:

            The only thing I can think of is that he’s confusing that brief storylined tutorial about building the electric chair with the actual main gameplay.

      • Bent Wooden Spoon says:

        Normally, the proper (yet still quite tired & tiring) response to a post like this is the stock “it’s an alpha”.

        In this case though, it’s pretty apparent anaemic has no idea what they’re talking about, because the fact it’s in alpha means that up until this very release there were no fail states at all, you’ve been able to build whatever you like with complete impunity. Unless anaemic’s somehow managed to play this update substantially since release they’re just pointlessly trolling.

        • JamesTheNumberless says:

          That doesn’t stop people deciding their own fail states, as I have, when my prison gets ridiculously out of control and everyone starts dying I don’t really want to continue it.

          But I agree it sounds a bit wrong, what he says here. Maybe he means it in the same sense as I do, that you only really have the option of having a perfectly balanced prison if you want it to function at all properly – otherwise you get chaos.

          Maybe your goal is to make a huge riot, but that’s not how most people will want to play the game, and they’ll very soon discover that there isn’t much freedom to do things their way, because it won’t lead to satisfying results. Even learning from your mistakes is difficult because there are so many variables involved its hard to realize where your mistakes actually were.

      • JamesTheNumberless says:

        In its current state I just find this game gets too hard too soon. I build up what should be a reasonable little prison, with everything I’m told it needs, then the first load of prisoners arrive and immediately start killing each other. It seems as though you either have everything perfectly optimized or you fail, which means you have to know all the systems and understand how they interact. Hopefully they will add a mission based mode that introduces the systems one by one, so that people can play through that at their own pace before diving into the full sandbox experience.

        • Zalzany says:

          Here is how it works it doesn’t have to be perfect, and you can take in low risk instead of medium risk. I only have done 4 starts now and am I novice at best, I know the basics, and I had fights right off the bat in only one start because things weren’t up and running fast enough. Although I watched a tutorial video my first run, and pause like crazy every time I build a new prision as I play triage on what gets built first.

          For me its always a toss up, I want the cells in first, but right at the start, the prisoners need chow, and a shower doesn’t hurt only thing the cells provide is something other then a holding cell for them to actually get dragged inside, and toilets; I never checked but after a long ride I like to use the toilet.. You got to remember its like the sims, they have needs, and if you got the basics, some times they are just violent, or don’t feel there is enough security pressence.

          First thing I do every time is administration building, then power and water is put in que, I do little layout plans for the rest while they work on that. Key thing is you need to have the cooks after midnight to avoid the daily salary, but still early enough there is food waiting the second meal time strikes. Number one thing that drives cons and even armies crazy is not eating. I never did prison but in bootcamp we got lost on a march and didn’t eat breakfast till about 10 am, we normally eat before the sun is even up, people including me were on the verge of fist fights while setting up tents from the hunger. Cons have an active schedule not much to do but be paraded around, and workout so they need their food, or bad things will happen.

      • Zalzany says:

        Wait what? What did you play the very first alpha I got this after the sale and this update. It has as much if not more then theme hospital. I think your confusing the dull as hell scenarios it had for the tycoon part. The tycoon part was pretty simple they check in, get examined get treated get billed… In this you got to worry about needs, contraband, tunnelers, riots, fights and ways to turn a profit while managing all of that. Most in depth you got to worry about in them hospital is whether or not the staff likes each other, and it never resulted in murder, fires or dogs being sicked on people…

  2. minstrelofmoria says:

    I did some digging for studies, and there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that longer prison terms can reliably and consistently reduce recidivism: link to link to This might sound like a small thing to complain about, but I’ve seen a lot of complaints that the mechanics in place overvalue more punitive approaches to prison-making.

    • witzkawumme (wkw) says:

      I think they “know” that, but for game-play it makes sense… because only having the “reform” rating would be kinda “boring”. It serves more like an “evil karma” system.

      In a book on penal law (Austria) it was written almost in verbatim that punishment does basically nothing at all. Now, I had classes with the author/professor, he wasn’t what people would call a liberal/wuss/leftie etc. Furthermore, he was one of the few who talked a lot about court and other practical stuff during classes.

      • The Random One says:

        My solution would be to have “punishment” have no effect on reincidence but a huge effect on your government budget.

      • Nevard says:

        I honestly don’t know what I think about their staunch decision not to try and make a message, there’s a lot of good you could do with a prison sim but at the same time… would trying to guide the player’s hands take it away from a “sim” game? Surely they could do both? Maybe?
        I don’t really know what the answer is here.

        • The Random One says:

          Trying to not send a message is indeed an awful idea, because all it means is that you won’t own the message you’ll inevitably send.

          • Nevard says:

            @The Random One: That’s mostly what I’m worried about.

            @EValdR: Nothing’s really as simple as “just a game”, especially if it’s explicitly a game emulating real life.

        • EValdr says:

          What “good” could they do? It’s a game. That’s it. Stop trying to find some sort of greater message and enjoy the game or whine about the state of the penal system elsewhere.

          • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

            “It’s a game” is the message: networks of massive multi-billion dollar trauma factories are reduced to just being games. It’s repugnant.

      • Geebs says:

        Is there any data on whether prison is better for society in general rather than the individual offender, though? Like reducing vigilantism, family feuds etc. if justice is “seen to be done”?

    • zontax says:

      I feel like they are trying really hard not to offend anyone and gave both schools of thought tools to make their perfect prison. You also don’t want to punish people for making a really depressing prison because it is fun to play around with.

    • danijami23 says:

      That’s because prisoners get playstations and fucking pocket money while they are in there. The ideal solution would be to make it so hideous that re-offending and ending up back in the chokey would be last on your mind.

      • magogjack says:

        The problem with that logic is that it makes criminals worse because often the reasons for committing crimes have more to do with up bringing and mental health problems. Making the punishment worse just means they will go to further extremes to stay out of jail for example any state that has a three strikes law.

      • Matt_W says:

        link to

        tl;dr: “The measures of prison severity do not reduce the probability of recidivism. Instead, all point estimates suggest that harsh prison conditions increase post-release criminal activity.”

      • Tacroy says:

        It’s funny you should say that, because generally the more hopeless you make prisoners the more likely they are to re-offend.

      • Hanamigi says:

        That’s not how it works, mah boi.

        Suppose you go an awful jail, where you get raped daily, cannot see your family, eat hideous stuff and have no leisure time, no job, nothing.
        Imagine this for some years, every day.
        Now, would you come out of that as a newly functional member of society, ready to get a job (how? You’re from JAIL!) and rebuild your life (it goes on in your absence), or would you be quite destroyed indeed, and either become a husk or get back into crime?

        hint: you’d prolly be quite fucked.

        Depends on the type of offender ofc, a professional hitman/punisher/gangsta/mafioso/whatever would surely go right back to his “job” with a (renewed?) hatred for those who oppose him!

        It is a complex matter.

        • aldo_14 says:

          That’s not how it works, mah boi.

          It’s a convenient concept, though. Much easier to develop the ‘prison is a hotel’ stereotype/myth than it is to actually consider how societies can prevent crime and rehabilitate criminals; means you can arbitrate any responsibility for thinking about it.

          • P.Funk says:

            Thats because people naturally respond to extremism and hatred. Its so much harder to get most people to really rally around concepts that are unfortunately as nuanced as real life.

          • Gap Gen says:

            At least if they’re good they get to sit in the canoe.

          • magogjack says:

            Exactly, even past that point, some people can’t be rehabilitated and need to be removed society but we don’t need to act like a sociopathic society by resorting to the tactics of these people we say are too dangerous to live among us. I think that makes society a lie.

          • Gap Gen says:

            Yes, politics seems to be largely rhetoric and tribalism rather than a will as a society to understand how the world works to better our lot. Granted, certain issues that would benefit society as a whole would disadvantage certain groups, but in general public discourse is pretty terrible. It’s telling that at a (British) cabinet level there’s no support for leaving the EU because, surprise, it’s beneficial for Britain to remain involved in the continent, and the most dangerous thing strategically for Britain is when Europe is unified against it (as with Napoleon and Hitler). But emotionally, the idea of being (standoffishly) involved in Europe is inimical to nationalists, even if in fact it hurts Britain to demand a full withdrawal from the EU. (And this is even just reasoning on a tribal level; as a species global peace and unity sounds like a pretty neat thing).

          • Volcanu says:

            To Gap Gen – “How funny is it? Bury the beds”

          • Gap Gen says:


      • Chris D says:

        1. That’s not how deterence works. The chance of being caught is a far bigger factor than the fear of punishment if you are caught.

        2. If you want to lower the rate of re-offending give people the chance to be something other than a criminal. If you leave people with no way to pick up their life afterwards then you leave them no choice but to re-offend.

        • P.Funk says:

          This is where not allowing pardons is a big factor in criminal re-offense. How do you get a job with a record when the law won’t let you have that record cleared? Its like a whole extra prison term.

    • Rizlar says:

      The tone definitely puts me off wanting to try this game, even though the management sim core seems right up my alley.

    • Bent Wooden Spoon says:

      Mechanics in place, maybe. The devs have stated frequently they’re trying to make it so both authoritarian and liberal prisons can work as well as each other. To me it sounds like a rather tall order, but we’ll see – once again, it’s an alpha.

      • Gap Gen says:

        There’s an interesting article to be written on the role of devs in taking a stance on issues, or their responsibility in designing simulations that might inform public debate.

      • Rizlar says:

        Attempting to balance one viewpoint with another can be problematic. Like the radio show that ‘balances’ a scientist’s comments on climate change with the views of some nutcase they found.

        Basically, balancing a misrepresentation, even with something more truthful, still leaves half your game/airtime devoted to a misrepresentation. And the two views may come across as equally credible, even if one is based on facts and the other isn’t.

        Prison Architect seems like it isn’t taking this stuff particularly seriously, it’s all cartoony, so it’s playing with pop culture ideas rather than realities, which is fine. But I would be more interested if it was based on facts, since criminal justice is an interesting, important, misunderstood subject.

  3. j3w3l says:

    66% off on steam now too

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      phuzz says:

      At $30 I wasn’t too sure, but at £6.75 it’s a buy.

      • Maritz says:

        Me too, except I picked up the £8.83 bundle as I shockingly haven’t played Uplink, Darwinia or Defcon before, and that seems like a right bargain!

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        phuzz says:

        Ugh, and the next thing I knew it was 1am and my bladder was bursting.
        Definitely ‘moreish’ gaming, although I can’t see it being as much of a long term fad for me as FTL. I suspect I’ll play it for a bit, and then put it down for a couple of releases until they add a new feature or ten, and then another late night binge.
        I am sat here this morning still thinking about planning a better prison, which is a good sign (for the game) I think.

  4. bills6693 says:

    You didn’t mention that part that if there is an out-of-control riot, the national guard comes in and literally machineguns their way through the entire prison, killing all your prisoners. (also a failure state). It gets a bit messy. I’m tempted to make a riot myself just for that to happen.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      Jesus. I guess the option to negotiate meaningful reforms with protest leaders wouldn’t quite have the LOL UNDERCLASSES wackiness the devs seem to be going for.

      • Dominus_Anulorum says:

        He mentions in the video that he plans on adding prisoner surrender during riots when riot guards or the national guard shows up. So they aren’t going for a lol underclasses wackiness, they just haven’t implemented everything yet.

      • EValdr says:

        Think you could stand to the side a bit? Your heart is bleeding all over the carpet.

        • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

          I always found the “bleeding heart” epithet to be more appropriate for delicate flowers who get the vapours around anyone expressing critical opinions of anything. Toughen up a little, eh? But excellent use of concrete imagery, B+.

  5. Severian says:

    Ok, so here’s the obligatory, “should I buy this now” post.

    Should I buy this now? Steam is having a great deal. But I never buy alphas/betas (don’t have a strong motivation to offer feedback).

    Is it playable and fun right now? Is there a tutorial, or would I need to watch lots of videos to figure the systems out? Is anything completely broken?

    • Matt_W says:

      I bought it a couple months ago. There was a short tutorial at the time, which actually has a compelling storyline that highlights the so-far untapped potential the game has for exploring the moral ambiguity surrounding the game’s subject matter. Hopefully there’s more content like that eventually. I haven’t played since; waiting for final release, but I’m happy to have it on my backlist.

    • 6unn3r says:

      Ive owed it since Alpha 12 or so and its run flawlessly for me, obviously there are bugs, but hey, its alpha. Nothing that will CTD or fry your hard drive.

    • Shadow says:

      It’s a pretty damn solid experience even in its current unfinished state.

      Especially if it’s 66% off (about 10 dollars), like right now.

    • sophof says:

      I’ve played it for several hours having grat fun but I would say no, don’t buy it yet. The experience isn’t finished in the slightest and it is obvious this is going to be a great game. I think you waste some of your fun (as I have) by playing it early. I suspect you’ll enjoy it much more by waiting until it is finished and polished.
      I’ve taken this as a lesson personally and have stopped myself several times of buying into ‘early access’ no matter how much fun something looks in a lets play.

  6. Dominus_Anulorum says:

    So apparently someone was digging through release files and found that prisoners now have a gang attribute. I’m looking forward to alpha 21.

  7. Ianuarius says:

    Yeah, I’ll probably buy it when it comes out.

  8. CowTsign says:

    Did anyone else notice the 19 year old prisoner that had served 15.2 years?! I think they need to tweak their prisoner generation system!

    • Harlander says:

      Tough on tantrums, tough on the causes of tantrums

    • melnificent says:

      You made me look and there’s also a 25 year old that is 20.9 years into their sentence…. He really wanted to watch childrens TV.

      Do we win a prize for the spotting the youngest to have entered the Prison system?

  9. xTrinity says:

    You guys should definitely add a feature that allows other players to tour and be part of the population in your prisons! I know for a fact me and my friends would love to torture each other. :D

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      phuzz says:

      If you pay them $50 for the game then your name and biography is put into the game (which is why some of them are quite badly spelled I suspect).
      Pay $250 and you get your face in the game too.
      I suppose rather than your name you could use someone else’s who you don’t like very much.

  10. bongosabbath says:

    I really, really hope they add a Dwarf Fortress-esque adventure mode selectable from the start. Being able to escape from pre-made prisons or your own would be a TON of tun. I think I need to play Chronicles of Riddick again.

  11. WetVein says:

    I love the game.. and this update sounds cool. Sadly, I haven’t played it in a while. I’ve been real busy lately.. and when I play.. I tell myself “I’ll just play for an hour” … then my back starts to hurt and I realize I’ve been playing for 3 hrs.

    I was just wondering… is there still a way to name an inmate? I remember that you could when I first bought the game… but I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like it.. so I didn’t pay the extra money. Is it still an option? Even thou I already own it?

    Keep up the great updates!

  12. OzthePunyandPitiful says:

    What I want to see is What happens when the Prisoners who rioted just happen to get to a few armories and had a shootout with the National Guard and Actually won?
    That’d be cool.