Food For Thought: Prison Architect’s Alpha 27 Update

In a recent talk about maintaining motivation and marketing for his game Spy Party, Chris Hecker mentions that “every damned update Prison Architect does” gets a post on RPS because someone who works there just happens to like the game.


Alpha 27 of the prison management sim is out as of late last week and adds a new supply and demand system for food, along with the ability to tap phones and more. The traditional update video is embedded below.

Also, I didn’t write about alpha 26. Take that, Hecker.

The new supply and demand system has been introduced in order to fix long-standing problems with players’ ability to feed their prisoners, such as cooks’ who would produce too much food or food that would be improperly distributed between different canteens. The last update also included a solution to these problems, but it was slightly-cheaty and players discovered they could exploit the bodge in order to teleport food across their prisons.

Now the system is far more robust and properly calculates accurate supply and demand values for different cellblocks, kitchens and canteens. This means that it can automatically work out how much food a cook in a given kitchen needs to make, but a new Logistics screen also gives that information to players so they can tweak the values themselves should the AI get it wrong.

Also featured in the video: the sound of Chris Delay’s son crying in the background. Good annotations for that. Good parenting tips/warnings.

Chris Hecker is at least partly right, in that I do just happen to like Prison Architect. I also think it’s one of the better games for this kind of development method, though. Each new addition doesn’t just add a new button for players to push at or a new location for them to visit, but tips, twists and bends Prison Architect’s simulation in some new way. That means small or individual changes – the kind which the PA team can add in a month of work – can have large knock-on effects for persistent players, as well as making each update video interesting and entertaining to watch in its own right.

The full update notes are available over at the Prison Architect forum.


  1. HermitUK says:

    To be fair you post about most of the Spy Party updates as well, they’re just far less frequent than PA’s (though I’ve not booted Spy Party for a while, maybe the pace has picked up).

    • Emohawk says:

      I’ve given up on SpyParty now. I see it as a valuable life lesson. Played PA to death in the earlier releases. Resisting temptation now until it’s fully released.

  2. Michael Fogg says:

    The PA updates are really fun to watch even if you don’t play the game

    • Martel says:

      I think that’s a big part of it. I have a few friends that love to see the updates for this game even though they don’t own it and may not.

  3. Stellar Duck says:

    I love these videos.

    I haven’t played the game in a while but I love listening to these guys talk.

  4. mukuste says:

    I haven’t really followed this at all, though it pops up again and again… is it turning out to be sort of Dwarf Fortress-y, or more like the management sims of old?

    • Cinek says:

      Slightly more like the management sims of old, but you can see clear influences by dwarf fortress here and there.

    • RanDomino says:

      I will be interested in Prison Architect when it adds horse castration.

      “Here is another release for November, mostly related to livestock.

      New stuff

      Added gelding and associated profession/skill/etc.”

    • Stardog says:

      It’s like Theme Hospital + Dwarf Fortress.

  5. Distec says:

    Prison Architect is the only Early Access game on Steam that I loved from boot. I saw it on sale for some ridiculous cheapo price recently and found myself thinking “No. You should be charging more for this.”

    There are bugs and missing features, but it I’ll consider it a worthwhile purchase even if it never sees a “full” release.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      It’s Prison Architect and Kerbal Space Program for me. Although now I think about it, I’ve not backed any other early access games that I can remember.

  6. heretic says:

    Really love their videos! I haven’t really visited the game since earlier this year when I spent hours on it until I figured out you could pause automatic prisoner uptake.

    Before that it was a mad rush to keep expanding to accomodate more prisoners, but once I turned that off and my prison turned profitable I didn’t really feel the need to come back sadly, back then it was missing a way to keep me hooked.

    Maybe they should do dungeon keeper style levels where you unlock new tech through story levels or something to keep the player coming back.

    I will definitely come back to it once it’s all done at least to see what it’s like, from the updates it looks quite different already!

  7. P.Funk says:

    To me PA is like the answer to every cynical assessment of the universal evils of early access and the recent kickstarter period. Its right there next to KSP as an example of what success can and should look like. Its not massive, its not got sexy brochures and its own animated knock off of Top Gear, however its growing, slowly, steadily into a brilliant game. Its amassing a wealth of detail in a way that only those old Tycoon games of the 90s have and its obvious that, like KSP or Minecraft, it will be alive for a very very very long time.

    PA makes me happy because I can’t think of a reason to hate it. I also love those update videos because Chris describes everythings and Mark just agrees like a fiend just babbling “yea yea… yea yea yea….” which is so… weird and hilarious. But they’ve also got that classic British kind of odd wit (which as a Canuck I find endlessly amusing). “So is this what you’d call the pathological case?” <- XD

  8. velvetvoulge says:

    Is it possible for a game to be TOO deep? I played PA about 12-18 months ago for a little while, and really quite enjoyed it. Was just waiting for the game to become a little more polished before I sank a lot of time in to it, and got burned out. However, the more alpha videos I see, the more features they seem to be adding to the game, and I’m unsure any more if I’d even enjoy the game in it’s full state. There’s just far too much going on for my liking. Shame.

    • The First Door says:

      I know exactly what you mean! I’m starting to get a little scared of that too, which is why I’ve played more Rimworld as that seems easier to get into at the moment.

      I suspect it will all depend on how well the mission based mode (which I really hope they are still planning) works. In Theme Hospital they slowly the introduced rooms and illnesses so you could get a handle on them. If it’s done well, it can really make a game like this shine, getting you hooked early so you are willing to put in the time to understand the more complex mechanics.

    • P.Funk says:

      Developers can’t win. Release a game without it being done, you’re another kickstarter fraud. Pour months of development into a game well past the point where they could probably sell and make money and walk away from it, they’re just trying too hard.

      Oh boy it must drive them batty.

      For what its worth my last play of it seemed to indicate that while there’s lots of complexity you can ignore a lot of it and over time learn to use some of it while only incorporating bits you need. Expansion is limited by your own ability to comprehend and use those deeper features but there’s no real penalty for not pushing deeper. For instance you don’t need to make a workshop for your prisoners. You don’t need to do schooling. Like they said in the vid, you don’t need to micro manage the kitchen supply and demand either. I think they really hit a good balance since they’re doing what they can to make the systems in the game hands off while offering the more experienced player the option to meddle if he chooses.

      Be frustrated by deepness in the short term, be happy in the long term that the game has the depth to be interesting months after a simpler game would become tame and boring. I can see PA being a game with an active community for years to come. Just look at the longjevity of a game like OpenTTD. EA’s SimCity ain’t got shit on that mid 90s deepness.

  9. CaperCapri says:

    Chris Hecker? The guy who ruined Spore?