Wot I Think: Prison Architect

It wasn’t long after I attacked the officer that I was killed with a shotgun. A fight had broken out near the cell block entrance and my friend Tapper and I decided to use the opportunity to gain some prison cred by battering the guard who came to break it up. It did not go well. My character, Pratt, is now lying in the morgue and I have become Tapper, inheriting his body in a ghostly fashion. I am locked and restrained in my cell. Through the bars I can hear the faint sounds of a riot. I am sad to be missing out.

This is Escape Mode, just one of the features added to Prison Architect [official site] for its final release. After four years in development and alpha the game is finally out. Is prison the absolute LOL sesh it is made out to be in popular television show Orange is the New Black? Or is it more like the Midnight Express? Come with me, into this dark corner of the holding cell, to find out Wot I Think. Please mind the vomit.

You may not have heard of Introversion’s prison sim, but only if you yourself have been in prison for the past half a decade. It is a game in which you lay down a prison piece by piece, from the armory and the cells, to the toilets in the cells, to the pipes that connect the toilets to the sewer, and so on. It plays a little bit like traditional management games and a little bit like PC gaming legend Dwarf Fortress. Thankfully, the creators have forgone the ASCII horror of the latter and given it a cutesy comic book art style. This sometimes clashes with the strangely serious tone of the introductory chapters, which see you execute a prisoner on death row by electric chair. These opening “missions” are called a campaign but they are more of a tutorial, easing you in and letting you play around with optional tasks at the close of each level.

And if ever a game needed a tutorial, it’s this. PA in its final form is complex, refreshing and sometimes frustrating. It will take you hours to get to a state of semi-comprehension and days to fully understand every little cog of the machine. In fact, I still can’t brave the use of logic switches or pressure plates, which can be used to micromanage every tiny movement of your prisoners and staff. I have just about got my head around installing a viable back-up generator and plumbing system, for when my primary power centre explodes and several janitors burn to death (this has happened twice).

That brings us to the core of what makes Prison Architect so appealing. Things can and do go wrong. A recently added events system throws disasters at you while you build. So you may be in the middle of scheduling a drugs programme to relieve addicts of their dependencies when suddenly the mayor calls you and tells you that a news story has broken about visitors smuggling heroin into a nearby prison, and we can’t be seen to be complacent. Shut down your visitation rooms or face fines, he will say. And you will look at your prisoners, trapped in their cells, shouting about their families, and wince.

Sometimes multiple things will go wrong at once. A fire broke out in the central power hub of my facility, knocking out both water and power to the maximum security wing. It was 2am in the morning and the firefighters I called in worked through the night to douse the flames. But at the same time, the mayor called me and told me casually that I was to remove all the weights benches from the prison because of public pressure. In my mind, I threw the phone to one side and thought: “I will do that later, for God’s sake, we are on fire here.” But as the dawn broke, power and water had still not been restored to the maximum security wing. The kitchen staff were unable to cook breakfast and as the prisoners woke up and roamed from the showers to the canteen, all they found were empty serving trays. The riot began almost at once. Five chefs were murdered.

Then the mayor called. I was being fined, he said, because I still hadn’t removed the weights benches. “And you will continue to be fined every day until they are removed.”

I do not like the Mayor.

Problems and crises like this happen constantly. Prisoners are stealing poison from the cleaning cupboard, others have started digging a tunnel, and I am so understaffed that dead bodies of murder victims are being left to rot in the yard. But this feeling of constant pressure never feels stressful or irritating. And good management in an emergency makes you feel like a hard-headed veteran of the justice system. One day, a doctor called to tell me three inmates had contracted a contagious disease and needed to be isolated. As they slept, I examined every inmate with a probing mouse hover until I found the three poor souls. I called in some paramedics (not wanting to risk my own staff doctors catching and spreading the disease) and quickly treated the ill prisoners. Then I force-locked their cell doors. In the morning, when all the other cells automatically opened and everyone went to the showers, the three sick men shambled around behind bars. They had been treated and were recovering but they were still infectious. I was very pleased that only one of them started trashing his cell in protest and had to be beaten unconscious. Ultimately, they all recovered and what could have been a disastrous contagion was suppressed on day one. I was very happy with my cool handling of the crisis. The mayor did not call to congratulate me.

The events feature is not the only fresh thing since the last time I tackled the penal system. You are now able to recruit informants to build up intelligence on your prisoners. Using a network of snitches lets you see hidden or incoming contraband and examine the traits and behavioural quirks of many of the men. Some may be tough, able to take a thrashing more than your average con. Others might be stoical, which means they won’t become “suppressed” when put in solitary. It’s questionable how useful this information is, given you will usually be too busy with larger things to micromanage the interactions of each tiny orange sprite. But it is good to see anything that gives the wee men some semblance of character because, sadly, this is one of PA’s flaws. The prisoners may have traits, but how these traits affect day to day life isn’t really noticeable when the game is played on larger scales.

It makes me think of the lesser-known Rimworld, which matches the aesthetic of Prison Architect (eerily so). It’s a management game about a keeping a few space explorers alive after being marooned on a faraway planet and it too owes a lot of its ambition to king of games Dwarf Fortress. Sometimes people will come and attack your colony. If you knock an attacker out, you can capture them and after some time convince them to join your own burgeoning settlement. Over time, your colony grows. Escape pods fall from the sky. Cryogenically frozen inhabitants are found buried under layers of rock. One by one, your camp becomes a little village. It is a slow growth and each new member feels like a new character being introduced into this ridiculous space opera you are creating. They can be depressive, ill-tempered, drunks, even missing some or all their limbs. And each characteristic is visible and influential. People with missing limbs walk and work much slower. Depressive colonists refuse to work, drunks go on benders, and traumatised veterans walk around in a tragic fugue state. More than this, you will recognise them by name and try to keep them all in good spirits. My point is, you get to know your little community. With Prison Architect, I never really get to know anybody. You can dial back your intake and make a small communal prison if you really want. But the management aspect just feels so much better when you build as big as your cashflow allows. The sheer number of inmates makes it unlikely you will ever really care too much, or notice when they do something hilariously in-character.

All this said, it was still nice to have a network of touts working for me against their own criminal compadres. My very first informer, a money launderer called Matt Sandy, is the closest I got to being interested in an inmate as an individual. It was exasperating to see him arrive in solitary again and again for violations of contraband. But I suppose he had to keep up appearances. And, yes, his cocaine habit. To make things more varied, some prisoners may also belong to a gang. This seems to be a very slow-burning feature however. So slow-burning that it seems to neutralise whatever effect gangs were supposed to have. New members come along so seldom it took about 10 hours of play before there were two distinct (yet nameless) gangs. One of which only has a single member. There has yet to be any gang-related violence or trouble.

Less has been added on the staff side since my last prison. I have employed several of the dog units to catch out ne’er-do-wells, and I have used the patrol system added last to mark paths for them to follow. They are walked around the fenced buffer zone outside my perimeter walls to sniff out any tunnelling going on underfoot. Reluctantly, I also installed armed guards in my maximum security wing. Right now they are only using tasers and I have promised myself never to use the blood red “Freefire” button in the bottom of the screen, which allows them to use lethal force on prisoners. As far as I’m aware all these roles have been in the game for a while now. I could have explored the death row options, which is more recent. But I find something about having an electric chair in my prison instinctively distasteful. Which is strange, considering my prisoners die on a daily basis from beatings and fights, and I suffer only the most fleeting frown.

For a while, after building my back-up generator, I found myself at a loss. What more could I do without approaching the dreaded logic circuit mechanics. I was worried that PA, while a great game, would have too early a turning-off point. The moment I rediscovered my admiration for its complexity was when I used the intelligence screen to check on the contraband that seemed to be flowing into my prison without end. At this point I was performing nightly shakedowns on all cells and prisoners and discovering huge amounts of weapons, tools and narcotics. It was leaving my staff exhausted but I had no other option. In one instance I discovered over 100 sets of prison keys had been stolen from a security room with a missing section of wall. The inmates were able to go anywhere they wanted and smuggling had become rife. I sealed up the wall and declared war on contraband.

The intelligence screen was going to be my friend in this endeavour. It includes one of my favourite features. One tab displays all the contraband that has been confiscated or discovered in the last 24 hours, another in the last 7 days. It also highlights where it was found on your map. Hover your mouse on this and a giant red scribble appears. This is the route the item has taken through your prison from the moment it arrived, or from when it was stolen from a genuine source, like the infirmary or kitchen.

I traced most items back to new prisoners, who were not being thoroughly searched. The unsecured storage room was also a treasure trove of drills, hammers and screwdrivers. I invested heavily in metal detectors, which I installed over the main prison entrance, cell block entrances and canteens. As well as suffering a massive power outage because of the necessary electricity, there was also a huge spike in numbers of prisoners sent to solitary, as prisoners were found smuggling items faster than the guards could process them. But every problem is also an opportunity. I recruited dozens of informants in the wake of the contraband crackdown.

The supply of weapons and tools dropped dramatically and the tunnel problem dried up overnight. 10 prisoners had escaped my facility in total, I had accounted for 9 of them who used tunnels. I speculate that the tenth had simply waited for a moment the guards weren’t looking and escaped out the front door, with one of the 100 missing keys. Whoever that was, I salute him.

Yet looking at the intelligence screens I found that, while the presence of weapons and tools were dwindling, supplies of narcotics and alcohol were skyrocketing. I could also tell this because alcohol and drugs were all anyone in my prison was talking about (the prisoners have little speech bubbles). The floor of every room in the prison was also caked with thick layers of vomit. Intoxication and alcoholism proved to be a bigger epidemic than the would-be doomsday disease I had averted just weeks before. I went back to my trusty red squiggles and discovered the source of the problem.

Somebody was throwing things over the walls.

I had seen prisoners walking along the perimeter wall before and noted this as “suspicious”. But with the tunnel problem so prevalent I put this down to escape artists scoping out their exit routes. In reality, a handful of smuggled phones were allowing prisoners to co-ordinate with some unseen agents from the outside, who were tossing drugs and drink over the wall. It was a simple and elegant solution to their metal detector problem. That night, I got to work. When the prisoners woke up, they discovered an interior fence all around the perimeter wall. Shortly afterwards, several prisoners entered withdrawal.

The alcoholics were having it bad. There was a problem. Nobody was attending the addiction meetings I had scheduled. I tried for a long time to understand what I was doing wrong. Did I have a room for it? Had I scheduled it properly? Were there enough seats for everyone? I even speculated that the reason this support class had stalled was because the freshly-hired prison psychologist was refusing on the grounds that the prisoners had murdered the last one during a particularly emotional therapy session. And while this must have been very cathartic for them, it made me worry I had no chance of reviving the program. I fired the psychologist and hired a new one. But he too did nothing. The therapy program was just broken.

This is another of PA’s unfortunate shortcomings. Despite the years of craft and attention, it still entertains the odd bug. One annoying glitch meant that several dead bodies were not being put in the morgue or collected by medical cars when they were supposed to be. Instead, each body had attracted its own guard, who would approach the corpse, pick it up, set it down immediately, walk away, then stop. They would then re-approach and do the whole thing over again. It was very comical seeing these officers become permanently enraptured with their cadavers but it also meant that I was noticeably short-staffed until the bug magically disappeared (an update to the review code? A simple matter of time?). While a bug has never ruined my prison, they are frustrating to deal with. Especially when part of the appeal of running your prison is about wrestling to maintain total control.

Let’s talk about escape mode. It feels simultaneously like an excellent addition and a tacked-on one. You can play this mode on your own prison, or grab one of the mad supermax creations of the community and lose yourself in that. You arrive on the bus to be escorted and processed according to however the player has set up the prison. Playing on my own map, I was left in the reception for over 20 hours before I decided to process myself. I got into the store room and stole a hammer and wooden pickaxe. In the evening I began a tunnel, but accidently surfaced too soon and was put in lockdown as workmen sealed up all my hard work. Thankfully, you can spend “cred points” to skip the time spent in your cell as punishment. The idea is to get some cred by beating people up, recruit some dudes as help, and try whatever method you can think of to bust out. What I like most about this mode is the simple ability to explore and see your creation from the inside. Zoomed this closely in, the sounds and sights of the building become clear and significant in a way that isn’t possible when you play as an omnipresent manager floating in the sky. Inmates howl, jail doors clang, guards bark orders and talk over their radios. Even if you only spend a little while in escape mode, it will be time well spent. Speaking as an RPS diarist, it is the stuff dreams are made of.

That’s the ultimate point to make about PA. Even if it doesn’t fully satisfy my desire for followable characters, it is still an excellent story-making game. Disasters are part of daily life, death and drama occur alongside logistical cock-ups, leaving your prison without flushing toilets for days. Riots start over the dumbest oversights, and cute little men in orange uniforms barricade themselves in kitchens, murdering all the cooks. You can lose control of an entire cell block and have to call in the riot police. Once, I had to call the fire brigade three days in a row. It is the only management game that has made me feel sheepish.

There is only one major difficulty for any reviewer of Introversion’s incarceration fest. It isn’t deciding whether or not to recommend it. I very much do. It is that anyone who is interested in Prison Architect is already likely to have picked it up. Many of us have already had 36 months of early access to amuse ourselves by building giant toilets with some prison beds inside. And those who haven’t got it by now may be quite happy to continue ignoring it. I think this would be an enormous shame. If this is you, I want to tell you that it is a game worth playing. If you already have a copy, however, I want to tell you it is worth going back to, even if how much you get out out of it will depend on when you last played. Three years ago? Absolutely, get back in there. There’s a lot to mess around with. One year ago? I don’t know. At the very least, it is worth firing up escape mode and throwing yourself into an old prison you made, as an exercise in memory and nostalgia. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Just try not to get yourself killed.

Prison Architect v1.0 is out now and available from Steam, Humble, or direct from the developer.

90 Comments

  1. iucounu says:

    This is a great game and I agree with all this – but especially about the game’s major flaw, which is the lack of personalities. I did want to become invested in characters here and there and although you can get some info and background on prisoners it doesn’t seem to connect in the right kind of way. It needs a bit more Toady-style granularity to the way they’re generated and presented I guess?

    • Radiant says:

      I think this games major flaw is that it trivialises mass incarceration.

      But whatever. Games.

      • iucounu says:

        Well, actually, I see it as quite an effective critique of privatised mass incarceration, given that you’re continually being pressured to run your prison as a profit, and should you be spiralling towards disaster you can simply sell up, leave all your problems and corpses and blighted lives behind, and plough the cash into opening an even bigger prison.

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          shevek says:

          Whereas I’m… conflicted, I guess? I have no problem with the game in existing in principle, but on a personal level it’s not something I’d feel comfortable playing and it bothers me slightly that so many people seem to be so enthusiastic about it.

          • LionsPhil says:

            It’s fundamentally fun to have power over your fellow man, and almost every game going derives its fun from exploring that fantasy.

            I find it very notable that the fail-states of this game as played out as a loss of personal control over the prison (national guard roll in and violently seize control), or even yourself (incarcerated for criminal negligence). The ultimate threat it wields is not death or destruction to yourself or your creation, but simply to take your power away.

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            shevek says:

            @lionsphil – I take your point, but the figurative “I’ve always wanted to run a prison! Please take my money!” from so many Kickstarter backers is a bit too Stanford Prison Experiment for me.

          • iucounu says:

            Give it a go, though, if you get the chance. I totally know what you mean, and I was bothered by the implications, reading about it before I played it. It’s a cartoon, yes, but an interesting and thought-provoking one.

          • Ejmir says:

            I understand what you’re saying, but what kind of games are you generally playing ? Games where you re-write history by exterinating entire civilizations ? Games where you kill people for no reason and and great variety of weapons ? Games where you exploit the population to generate more money ?

            Maybe you play only puzzle games but I doubt that all your games are angelic. Here at least it’s openly a critic of the carceral system of the USA. Remember that mass incarceration is not the only think in that game, there is also death penalty – and if it wasn’t made on a critic point of view it would probably be banned (de facto) in Europe. Except in Belarus.

      • Brendy_C says:

        I’d actually love to see a breakdown of this game’s political side because I think the systems involved are far smarter than “ha ha, here are some prisoners, look at them riot”, even if that is part of the general appeal. I’m just not the one to do it.

      • noodlecake says:

        I don’t think it does at all, especially if you take the time to watch the development videos. They talk a lot about design decisions they were making in the name of trying not to trivialise it, particularly in the case of death row. They’re pretty entertaining watches too!

      • grimdanfango says:

        Lol. I see your point, but if that bothers you, it might be worth starting with all the games that trivialise mass murder first. Glorify it in fact…
        I’d argue that making a game that references any kind of serious matter is almost unavoidably to trivialise that matter. Games no matter how earnest or serious, are still a form of entertainment, and thus inherantly trivial on at least some level.

        If this game were somehow a distasteful mockery of the subject matter, I’d understand the issue, but to my eyes Introversion always appeared to treat the subject with a reasonable level of respect and dignity.

        • Nogo says:

          Modern game design ethos basically boils down to “terrorism is fun” if you really think about it. Plucky, lone underdog takes on an overly large and numerically superior force, toppling the status quo.

          It just so happens that we’re totally fine with it if the status quo is ‘Nazis rule, freedrom drools.’ I don’t really know where I’m going with this, but a little honesty, recognition and thought of the actual themes in the mechanics is nice.

      • darkath says:

        As other said the game brilliantly avoid to manage this pitfall and do not trivialize anything, rather it’s silently making you think on an absurd system, while still being a pleasant and fun experience.
        Remember Papers, please for instance, it’s also a good example of a fun game tackling a serious issue with a fun and somewhat humoristic presentation.
        It’s kind of like John Oliver videos. He talks about serious issues like mental illness or migrants, in a comedy show, and often make fun of absurd systems in place in the US without trivializing them.

      • Dominare says:

        Oh come on. You might as well complain that Theme Hospital trivializes for-profit healthcare. You’re completely missing the point.

        • mukuste says:

          It might help your argument if you stated what, in your opinion, is the point that is being missed.

      • AngoraFish says:

        I agree that the theme seems distasteful, although it’s hard to say how much more so this is from shooting thousands of people in the head in your average FPS.

        The difference between Prison Architect and many other distasteful themes in games is that you can genuinely run your prison for the betterment, happiness and rehabilitation of your prisoners.

        Sure, you can also create a human sewer, but mass rioting and death is a pretty disastrous and ineffective strategy.

        Overall, the game does a pretty effective job of describing the actual implications of punitive prison policies driven by a media whose primary interest is in drumming up hysteria about prisoners “living in luxury at taxpayer expense” simply because they are provided with a shared TV and weight room.

        • Scrape Wander says:

          I totally understand the perspective on this game as being disrespectful to the prison system – in a weird way, it’s what initially made me purchase it on Early Access. Almost as if I was like “here’s my money, proceed to piss me off please”. I dunno, I’m weird like that.

          In practice, it becomes a kind of meditation on the madness of these systems, which requires this level of attention. I think it’s fairly successful in its aims. The “cute-ification” of it is almost a distinct requirement to these goals, in that it would be irrepressibly crushing if it had any greater level of realism. I wonder if there is a modder out there interested in giving it this kind of skin, though, I’d be willing to try it out.

          I would say, overall, that The Escapists does more to trivialize the system, but that game is also more concerned with turning “prison sim” into “playable experience for kicks”. I actually like both games, but this one has been more thoroughly weighed for its critical content. At its best, it’s hard to call playing PA “fun” or “enjoyable”. Caldwell nails the sisyphean paranoia of competently playing this game, and I think it adds to the discussion of these systems and does remarkably little to trivialize them.

          Also, I agree with other commenters who recommend the update videos, they’re fantastic.

          • RegisteredUser says:

            Camus concludes “one must imagine Sisyphus happy” as “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.”

            I for one find PA incredibly enjoyable.

      • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

        @Radiant

        Look, ultimately the game will be what you make it. If you choose to trivialise it by being some kind of brutal overlord, then that’ll be on you. If you choose to be a benevolent rehabilitator then you will be making a statement on the function of the for-profit prison system, don’t put the responsibility onto the developer for providing you with a system in which you can choose to be a dick.

        The game is just that: it’s a set of very sophisticated systems, with a bit of a sense of humour. I don’t see anyone pissing and moaning at KSP for having the physics which allow you to crash rockets while laughing about it. Lots of astronauts died for the good of science, why aren’t we all frowny faced about that?

        This kind of thought process in my opinion is neatly in line with blaming Marilyn Manson for columbine because he mentions guns in songs.

        Ultimately people will find ways to be dicks with or without prison architect, so it really isn’t worth having a go at them when we should first all be holding a mirror.

      • SomeDuder says:

        Maybe you shouldn’t commit a crime if you don’t want to end up in prison. These, and more helpful hints and tricks to life by your fellow poster.

      • RegisteredUser says:

        Only someone who hasn’t played story mode (or listened to the dev videos where their personal opinion on this shines through as well) could ever say something foolish like that.

  2. Superpat says:

    I for one was waiting for it to come out of early access, though it will still have to wait, since I’ve recently decided to wait at least a year before I buy a game.

    That way I can get it cheaper and with (hopefully) less bugs and more content.

    Though I might make an exception for management games like this or strategy games like crusader kings, since the actual game sometimes almost completely changes over the course of a year. The problem is mostly with rpg’s where I dont necessarily want to replay the campaign.

    • Vandelay says:

      Same on the waiting on this until release. The previous article on PA said the same thing (don’t know if it was Brendan) and I thought it was a strange comment then too. Do you not realise how stubborn those of us that won’t buy Early Access are?

      Seriously though, why would I want to buy a game that the developer has decided is not fit for release when I have umpteen other completed games to play? Prison Architect has always looked good, but I am perfectly happy to have waited for 1.0, even if they inevitably continue to add more. There are more than enough games to have kept me entertained while I wait, save in the knowledge that I will have a more polished experience when I do play it. I don’t really see why that would be a surprise for anyone.

      • ironman Tetsuo says:

        Well in the case of PA, buying in early has been nothing but a joy. I received a great insight into how an incredibly complex game evolves from the simple seed of an idea over the course of 3 years whilst being treated to an always (incredibly) entertaining monthly update video. 10/10 will pledge again!

      • Llewyn says:

        It’s a rational comment purely because of the staggering numbers the game’s sold during it’s very lengthy (and sale-filled) EA period. I don’t think it’s a “why on earth wouldn’t you have bought it yet?” view so much as a “can there be even more people who want it?” view.

        • Sin Vega says:

          Yup. I don’t buy unfinished games, and even I’ve still had Prison Architect for over a year because it was part of a bundle.

    • rodan32 says:

      Go ahead and buy this one (next time it’s on sale). I’m not saying to break your one-year-wait law, but I’m saying if you like this sort of game at all, this is a great one to pick up.

      • Superpat says:

        Yeah I just might, I’m still longing for some game to make me feel dungeon keeper feelings again (and no, wfto was not up to the task, seems like it lost most of the magic I liked from dk).

  3. CidL says:

    Somehow, I’m one of the few who’s never plated it but have been tempted by it. I’ll now grab it thanks to this review. I love dead chefs. Nice one RPS.

    • CidL says:

      Or played it, even. Plating is what I’ll do to the governor’s office while half my inmates are protesting on the roof and the rest are wheeling around the nick liked a lubed-up Bronson.

  4. simakuutio says:

    For me, one thing and one thing only, prevents me to buy this game:

    Game graphics. I can’t accept those very poor and primitive coder-graphics, especially character graphics. I know, that style is what they wanted but for me, it’s a sign of lazyness.

    When they do something for those graphics, I’ll buy that game. Not before that. Period.

    • Canadave says:

      What exactly is wrong with the graphics? They’ve gone for a very clinical blueprint style, and I think it works very well for the game.

      • JamesTheNumberless says:

        Because obviously photorealism is the only graphical style, and anything which isn’t photorealistic is obviously trying to be, and failing. Also I am 12 years old, and what is visual abstraction?

        • Synesthesia says:

          Yes! My thoughts exactly. I bet he played minecraft with those ultrahigh-def hideous texture replacements.

    • ironman Tetsuo says:

      People have certain aesthetical dislikes that can be really off-putting when it comes to approaching the game behind them, I know I have. But to call PA’s graphical style “lazy” is an awful critique. Form should always follow function, and what functions best for sprawling management games are visuals that are quick and easy to read at a glance and from a zoomed out viewpoint and PA’s style perfectly embraces that need.

    • jonfitt says:

      Your strong aversion to a particular graphical style is causing you to miss out on a great game. Perhaps you can work on that?

    • Crusoe says:

      You are missing out on a lot of fucking great games, then.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    I really don’t get this comment. What is it you want it to look like exactly?

  6. gorzan says:

    I’d been playing the prison mode again these past weeks after almost a year since the last time. As then, this was great fun, made only better by everything they added over the time.
    As soon as it updated to this version I excitedly launched the game to escape from my last finished prison and was disappointed. Escape mode is too easy to exploit.Mostly, I’d say, because traits are too easy to easy to get and because the skipping of punishments is badly thought out.
    So, it’s very easy to get your prisoner to legendary status, getting every trait at super level. You just need to break a bunch of things like showers, and you’ll get a bunch of rep points, enough to put them in tough and expert fighter twice you’ll then resist most tazings and will have it very easy to just steal a shotgun from an armed guard or a tazer from a regular one and go on a rampage. You just keep killing guards until you get knocked out or are forced to surrender by another armed guard. Once this happens you can spend a single reputation point to skip the punishement (you get this single point simply by punching furniture once) this does not skip the punishment by getting you to the end of it in a few hours, instead, it simply takes you to your cell instantly, without resetting anything. Thanks to this you’ll have enough rep points to get a whole crew of legendary prisoners, and most guards will be incapacitated already, the floor will probably be littered with keys and weapons, you’ll be guaranteed to escape now. Racking a huge kill-list too (At the end it gives you a score based on how many of your crew you got out and how many people they killed).
    There’s also the fact that you don’t play by the same rules as the other inmates. You don’t need to eat you don’t need to sleep, you don’t have to deal with addictions, you can access the kitchen without passing the necessary course (Because you can’t take part in any sort of education)…
    It’s still a great game, but I feel like this mode could have been much better, I’d rather it were paid DLC and more fleshed out.

    • ironman Tetsuo says:

      They (Introversion) mentioned in a pre-release Dev video they intend to expand the mode after release with continued support and updates for a little while after release. I think they’d be the first to admit the mode needs fleshing out, hopefully it will improve!

  7. Laurentius says:

    I love Introversion since Uplink and I love simulation games. I love seeing things into motions propelled by video games be it all this transport in Transport Tycoon, all footbal wolrd in Football Manager, medieval feudalism in CK2 etc. I played so many tycoon games in my day, from Rollercoaster to Pizza or ccean shipping but with this game I am out. I just can’t get into building a prison, even idea of this is icredibly fatiguing and mentally draining for me. I so whish that Intoversion build this clockwork with different theme as I am target audience for that type of game but unfortunately not this game :(

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      You’re in luck then because this game is an unbalanced mess in comparison with those examples you cited. Setting up one bus route in Transport Tycoon is 1,000 times more satisfying than trying to do anything at all in this game. If it had a mode that played anything like I wish it would play, I’d be here to tell you how foolish you are to overlook it based on its theme.

      This isn’t one for people who enjoy building and planning. It’s more for people who enjoy micromanagement for its own sake, juggling disasters, and trying to find exploits in mechanics.

      • JamesTheNumberless says:

        Introversion have simply cared more about feature overload than they have about gameplay.

        • Llewyn says:

          In my opinion, your opinion couldn’t be more hopelessly inaccurate if it had been David Icke’s 1989 preview of PA.

          • Sin Vega says:

            To be fair, 1989 was pre-bonkers Icke, he was still doing the sport and everything.

            Which isn’t really relevant but I get a kick out of remembering his bizarre career trajectory.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            You’re entitled to your opinion of my opinion, however, you’re clearly a reptile.

            I was an enthusiastic early backer of PA, but I just find it hard in ways which aren’t fun. As opposed to games like Europa Universalis 4, or Crusader Kings 2 which are hard in ways that are fun. In PA I kind of feel as though all the game mechanics are there to give me a hard time, and for no other reason. There’s no pleasure from getting things running smoothly, just momentary relief before the next thing throws it off balance again.

  8. v21v21v21 says:

    Good. Now for that WWII PoW Camp Mod.

  9. heyhellowhatsnew says:

    This is one of the few times I turn on comments (thanks to shutup.css), log in and comment.

    This is a poorly written article. Ever since RPS started the contributor program, they’ve gotten new writers who really aren’t good writers at all.

    I don’t know if there are editors for this site, but there needs to be. The older writers, the ones who were here first, are so much better… like Pippa and Alice… but the quality has gone down so much.

    This was basically an article of “I’m writing this as I learn to play the game, but because I haven’t learned the game, here is what I think is wrong.”

    One of the points they mentioned during the making of the game was that it was a critique on the Justice System. Millions of unnamed anonymous people roam in jail. You want it to be like Shawshank Redemption, but that’s not prison in real life. You should really educate yourself on the Prison Industrial Complex and how much money they make and how corrupt it is.

    Also, if you think Orange is the New Black is a “absolute LOL sesh”, you’ve either never watched it, or you’ve completely missed the point… much like this game and your inability to understand it.

    RPS, please hire an editor or better writers. Please. Quality over Quantity.

    • ironman Tetsuo says:

      What does the quality of the author’s writing have to do with “what they thought” about the game? Besides, they mention quite early on that those interested in PA already own it, those left to buy it are the unaware and the early-access phobic. Writing an informal critique from the perspective of an interested but under-informed new player was probably the best approach I think.

    • rodan32 says:

      Well, I’m glad you checked in to bitch. But you’re exactly wrong on every point.

      The writing shows the experience of playing the game. This is a game with a steep learning curve, and it’s ridiculous to think that a review should be written only from the perspective of someone who’s already awesome at the game. I’ve played the game for probably 100 hours (I’d have to check), and I think this review provides a very good picture of what it’s like to play.

      PA doesn’t say a lot about the “prison industrial complex”, but by not saying much, it says everything. Have you played the game? Do you have any sense of exactly how expansion occurs? More prisoners = more money = bigger prison. I think anyone, no matter their politics can be inspired to think more deeply about the problems of incarceration in our time.

      I’ve never watched OitNB. Don’t care. That’s not the point of the article.

      I didn’t notice a single editorial issue with this article either.

    • klops says:

      PA devs said that the game is critique on justice system.
      Far Cry 3 writer said that the game was critique on video game cliches. How well does the message get through?

      I don’t think about the shitty prison system in the States because of this game. I play it like a management game and believe that most other people do so as well. Should the review cover the fact that in one or more development blogs the makers mentioned the game being a critique towards the prison system or should he cover his own expressions? I’m for the latter.

      I also disgree on the poor writing and poor review.

    • DrollRemark says:

      Pip and Alice, older writers than Brendan? Eh?

      • Stellar Duck says:

        They’re all avatars of Karen Gillen anyway.

        KG

      • Fiatil says:

        I feel like someone started liking my favorite band with the release of their 5th album, and upon their release of an 8th album that’s a commercial success, begins loudly proclaiming how lame the new “bandwagon” fans are and pining for the old days.

    • Mr Coot says:

      Disagree. An excellent article that informed on features and the state of gameplay while seamlessly telling a story. More of this sort of thing. I loved it and am encouraged to re-visit the game.

      Did enjoy iucounu’s comments re: game as critique. I find the game concept a bit mentally exhausting, since I find my frame of reference bouncing about a bit as I play it: is it a game, is it a critique, is it a tool for self-reflection? How easily and happily I coast along doing shocking and confronting things all in the name of task-oriented behaviour, as Mr Caldwell writes: “I was very pleased that only one of them started trashing his cell in protest and had to be beaten unconscious.”

    • AngoraFish says:

      Your critique starts with arguing the need for good quality writing and editing, however the sole basis of your rant seems to be that you think that the author should have produced a hard-core socio-political critique of the “Prison Industrial Complex” instead of describing his experience with “Prison Architect”.

      I think, perhaps, that you may have stumbled accidentally onto a PC game website when you were actually looking for Mother Jones.

    • Thants says:

      Please turn your comments back off.

    • alms says:

      “The older writers, the ones who were here first, are so much better… like Pippa and Alice”

      Troll detected.

    • noodlecake says:

      Orange is the New Black is a really funny show. If you’re watching it like a documentary then you probably need a sense of humour check.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      I disagree with your points but do find sympathy towards the one in which the ‘game as critique’ idea could’ve been addressed. In any case, it seems like PA is quite a bundle, so that idea is just one among many upon which writers can concentrate. This review opted for the more personal, experiential way (and I thought it was pretty good), while you can read something that might be more to your liking over at Kill Screen. The review over there even has pics on the Panopticon and namedrops Foucault and everything.

      What I’m getting at: games are now more evidently complex, so there’s no longer just one apparent way to write about them, or just one idea to hold onto in order to say what makes them interesting. Where RPS found a great game, KS found a non-critique, and these things are neither incompatible nor should be necessarily the task of a single writer or article… diversity is good.

      • Scrape Wander says:

        The Kill Screen article is pretty good. Strange, though, how when summing up its (many) criticisms of the game, it also recommends it as a buy. Almost like, in conclusion, it struggled to appease someone like OP, who may have been looking for that information in the article, when it was entirely unnecessary.

        The larger point of the KS article is basically that this game squanders its best intentions by not representing race as a mechanic/component/critical-inclusion.

    • quietone says:

      Well said! This place has been paradise on earth in the good old times. I still remember those crazy days filled with articles about MGS V. It has gone downhill from there, but hey what do these younguns know?

    • Frank says:

      > This was basically an article of “I’m writing this as I learn to play the game, but because I haven’t learned the game, here is what I think is wrong.”

      Oh? The paraphrasing game is fun. Here goes. Sounds like you’re just a pompously long-winded “gimme my buyer’s guide; this isn’t a review!” type. But, hey, you can’t help it. You have no editor.

      You did manage to fit in a nice condescending lecture on the justice system, but what makes you think the author doesn’t already know about it? It’s not like he needs to go into a thematic analysis in the review. Not all reviews have to conform to your silly requirements (presumably, “gimme a Marxist analysis and history lesson” rather than a buyer’s guide, but same difference).

    • Gnoupi says:

      About Brendan, let’s take this occasion to read again the Worms Golf review : link to rockpapershotgun.com

      And for that matter, anything by him : link to rockpapershotgun.com

  10. slerbal says:

    So after picking up PA in a bundle a long time ago (despite feeling more than a little uneasy by the concept) I thought I’d give it a go now it is 1.0 and I got stopped by the tutorial where I am required to make an execution cell. I couldn’t/wouldn’t do that so quit. I want to give it a second go, but as the campaign is out for me: how hard is the game to learn otherwise?

    • slerbal says:

      Actually on second thoughts, don’t worry about it. PA isn’t for me.

    • Mr Coot says:

      Yes, I played the tutorial fully intending to leave it unfinished so I didn’t, on principle, execute anyone. Unfortunately I misjudged where to stop taking actions and the game wrested control from me and proceeded inexorably on with the execution. An unobtrusive little signpost such as ‘After you complete this action, the execution will proceed’ would have been nice.

  11. caff says:

    It seems well made, but the tutorial where you build an execution chamber is pretty depressing to the extent I haven’t really persevered much.

    • slerbal says:

      Kinda glad it wasn’t just me :)

    • Vandelay says:

      I’ve just had a quick go at it and I do agree that this was an uncomfortable introduction to the game. Not so much because of going straight for the capital punishment angle of law enforcement, but because the gameplay is so cold about it. You are told straight up by The CEO that it is not your’s or his decision as to what punishment the convict receives, but from there on out it is just “layout the plans for the execution room, give the room power, why not put a book case in the prisoner’s cell?” The game seems to just not acknowledge the ramifications of what you are preparing to happen.

      But, I would urge you to continue with it. Although there is a coldness to the actions it asks you to do, the game clear is not seeing this as the right thing. There is definitely sympathy showed towards the prisoner in the end.

      You are then moved onto the next level in which you are sorting out a fire and then asked to heal an injured prisoner, who happens to be a mob boss. So the game isn’t all doom and gloom as you might expect.

    • alw says:

      It’s a shame if that put you off, because unless they’ve changed things since my last play, you never have to build another execution chamber again after that tutorial. The approach you take is completely up to you.

      • CidL says:

        Sounds a lot like they’d do well to make the tutorial a little less…Arkansas.

        • Distec says:

          Or maybe some people are just a little over-sensitive to the execution of a sprite.

          Play what you want or don’t, but I am bemused by anybody who says they can’t continue the game because of the tutorial.

          • slerbal says:

            Please don’t do that. No need to be snarky. You don’t know what death other people have seen or encountered in their lives. You should never have to justify *not* wanting to kill someone.

      • MikhailG says:

        Wait what? Why is it in the tutorial if you never ever build another one? The decision to start with this makes even less sense now.

  12. Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

    “…Rimworld, which matches the aesthetic of Prison Architect (eerily so).”

    Christ alive, they look like the same fucking game! Very cheeky reskin Ludeon.

    • AngoraFish says:

      Rimworld dev Tynan Sylvester is quite upfront about the similarities. He reports that he has “talked with Ryan Sumo, the artist on PA, and he’s fully supportive of RimWorld.”

      Tynan Sylvester doesn’t pretent to be an artist. Using the PA art-style enables him to maintain his focus on strengthening the simulation aspects of his game. FWIW, I think that’s a good choice.

  13. alms says:

    Y’know? I wanted to get back into it but then you mentioned bugs and that reminded me why I stopped playing it.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      To be fair, the bugs that stopped you playing last time have almost certainly been fixed (the ‘it’s impossible to schedule classes’ bug stopped me).
      Now they have new and exciting bugs!
      (But less than the earlier versions, it really depends how long ago you last played)

  14. PampleMoose says:

    TBH, the thing I most dislike about this game is the microing of construction. I don’t really enjoy the building of everything, and having to plan precise sizes of things before you start building or risk building a whole bunch of junk that you then have to fiddle with after. I hate having to build plumbing, and I hate marginally less having to run power lines. I’d much rather just plonk down templated cell blocks, canteens, etc for a specified population size, have plumbing be automated, and then spend more time with the population management and routing stuff. I’m always loathe to starting a new prison because I really can’t be arsed spending enough time building stuff before I get to the point where the game actually becomes fun for me.

    Having said that, I don’t just want pre built prisons. I just think a happier medium between the two extremes, or at least the option for that mid point, would be more fun.

    The CIs feature is definitely the one that brings the most character to your prison. I had one guy (whose name actually escapes me), who was a CI that developed a near total coverage of my prison. He was also out of his mind because of his drug addiction (which was basically what led to his CIing in the first place), and was moved to max because he murdered a snitch (he’s now basically in for life).

    He’s failed pharm treatment four times, and has basically no prospect of a life outside of prison. One time when I pulled him in for questioning, after informing he then managed to escape (my staff offices are detached from the main prison and are the least secure part in relation to the outside world) with a drill that he managed to get from somewhere. He killed a guard dog, and was running for the edge of the map, before I had one of my armed guards come around the corner and taser him down.

    I just imagined him waking up in solitary after that, and sobbing onto the floor at how close he’d come, and how hopeless his situation was.

    Buuuuuuttt, he’s a good informant. I love him and hate him and want him free and want him with me forever. That’s about as close as this game gets to emergent storytelling.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      Pipes and electricity are actually a breeze compared to trying to set up surveillance and remote doors. Wiring and remote control is a frickin’ nightmare, and, in my opinion, needlessly so.
      I don’t see the harm in simplifying it into a more streamlined “one control station can host xx cameras / doors” concept, without also having to have servos and a spiderweb of wires. And we need 2 tile remote doors, too, of course.

      I get where you’re coming from though, the first thing I always unlock is the “clone” function without which I’d go absolutely mad. And which I think should be a default UI option, not an unlock. And allowing users to create deployable building templates would be a GREAT feature, too.

  15. C0llic says:

    I feel proud to have backed this from version one of the alpha. Well done IV, your update videos and the finished product have been more than worth it.

  16. RegisteredUser says:

    “PC gaming legend Dwarf Fortress” < thankfully, Prison Architect is nothing at all like that horrendous piece of convoluted, overcomplicated ugg-fest.
    PA is a quickly learnable game and despite a lot of shortcomings good to pick up and play. It is a game that deserves not at all to be mentioned next to the DF "we hate our users(in the sense of giving them any comfort, UI or anything at all to make gaming fun or manageable) and hope they die just like our dwarves" spiteful game development nonsense.

    Prison Architect still has a long road to go (you can't even move an object over a tile once it is placed, you must dismantle and redeploy it, there are no real key keyboard shortcuts and a lot of other small niggles), but it already at 1.0 gave more fun to me than either the Anno or Sim City series or Cities: Skylines ever did.

    I hope they give people a chance to check it out somehow, because a lot of people would likely buy it after trying it (the ones that haven't already – it apparently was quite a successful alpha runup).