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A Roadmap for Prison architect

A Roadmap for Prison architect

Postby Chris » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:14 pm

Our first major update to the Prison Architect alpha launched a week ago or so, and we are hard at work on the next. Now that the crazy excitement of the alpha launch has died down, we’ve had some time to look up from our desks and start to think about the medium to long term plans for the project. This blog is about those plans.

Firstly and for those that don’t follow us on Twitter, you may not have heard us expressing our shock and excitement at just how successful our alpha launch has been. Prison Architect has already raised a great deal of money for Introversion, and we’ve seen a fantastic community form quickly around the game. Our private wiki was previously empty but has already been filled by community written articles, the modding scene is already exploring the (deliberately) very open save game files and LUA scripts used in game, and we already have translations underway into several other languages. We have Alpha forums full of great ideas for the game and we have a growing bug database to match! And if you search for Prison Architect on YouTube you will find a whole host of brilliant and often funny playthroughs.

Haven’t you purchased the Alpha yet? You really should, we think you’ll enjoy it, and we want you to be part of the process. Go to www.prison-architect.com.

We decided early on that we’d share our sales figures, because there’s just no reason to keep this data secret, and it might help other indies with their own game launch plans. We think the model we’ve used - a Paid Alpha crossed with Kickstarter style tiers is an excellent model for Indie Games right now, and these figures back that up. Here is our first four weeks of sales data, complete with per-day graph and tier breakdown, so you can see who bought what. At 10,000 sales and over $360,000 in revenue in just four weeks, it’s fair to say these sales are way beyond our expectations.

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We had a fantastic time at the Eurogamer Expo recently, and watched with excitement as a LOT of people stopped by our stand to play our game. We did a stage talk on the Saturday and the Sunday, and we demonstrated many of the upcoming features of Prison Architect live on stage. Luckily Eurogamer recorded the whole thing, and you can watch the video at the link below. In this video I demonstrate Escape Tunnels, Deployment, Rioting, Riot Guards, Paramedics, and a few other things. Also see me having to think on my feet when I totally loaded the wrong save game and had to crash out to Xcode to fix it, live on stage.



So what are our plans for the Prison Architect Alpha?

Generally speaking we intend to remain in *alpha* for quite some time. We are not currently focussed on fixing bugs - although some bug fixes do occur naturally as part of the development process. We feel we are taking the game apart and putting it back together fairly regularly, so to fix the current batch of bugs as a priority makes little sense at the moment. That said, the bug database is an invaluable resource for us because it is logging all the problems that exist, and eventually we will get around to them. Right now though our focus is on major new features, some of which are nearly finished, and some of which haven’t even been started.

Underpinning a whole series of changes is the new Sector system. This divides the prison space up into sectors, which are self contained spaces surrounded by walls and doors. The first version of this new system has already shipped in Alpha2 (which was just released a few days ago), and you can see it in the new deployment screen. We allow the player to assign guards to each of his sectors, and thereby spread out his deployment throughout the prison to avoid trouble building up.

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We plan to use Sectors as the foundation for more changes, starting with better Zoning controls. We want to allow our architects to divide up their prison by tagging a group of Sectors as one particular zone (or Wing), and any prisoner whose cell is in that zone must stay within it - meaning separate showers, canteens etc. This would be the foundation of supporting different classes of Prisoner - Max Sec, Gen Pop etc, each with their own self contained wing. Incidentally, this “zoning” of prisons is currently the number one requested feature amongst our alpha community according to a poll we are running.

Sectors also underpin our plans for prison riots. Groups of angry prisoners can capture their sector by overcoming the guards protecting it, and then barricade themselves in before you can respond. You’ll lose visibility of those sectors you’ve lost, so you won’t know exactly what is waiting for you. You’ll have to use special RTS controllable Riot Police units to retake the lost sectors by force, and Paramedic / Fire Department units as support. This kind of “territory warfare” within the context of prisons is a really interesting game mechanic for me, because it’s a wonderful and unusual hybrid of several different genres, and because it gives a plausible threat against under-securing your prison.

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Other changes coming up soon (ie partially finished) are an overhaul of the door lock system - meaning prisoners will no longer be able to just wander through doors whenever they like. Guards must now unlock doors with their keys, and this can keep the guards very busy in large prisons. Even staff members have to be let through by Guards, so there is now an incentive to use unlocked office doors in non-prisoner areas - an interesting security tradeoff. Jail-Cell doors are the exception, opening automatically when it’s lunchtime, yard time etc, but I may consider making this automation something you have to build in yourself using servos and timers eventually. And of course, your Guards drop their keys when knocked unconscious, and Prisoners will pick them up...

You’ll also see Escape Tunnels demonstrated in the video above. These are a lot of fun, and quite interesting from a game design perspective. Escape Tunnels almost never happen in real life, and certainly not dug all the way from a prisoner’s cell, so that might indicate that we should steer clear due to realism concerns. But escape tunnels are so ingrained in prison “lore” that they show up in virtually every tv program and film about prisons - Escape From Alcactraz, Shawshank Redemption, Prison Break, even The Great Escape, all feature tunneling out from the cell itself. I think this will work great in the game, and I generally love any game mechanic that involves a lof of uncertainty or paranoia on the part of the player. The Uplink passive trace or the Defcon nuclear subs all seem related thematically to escape tunnels to me for that reason.

(Note: This screenshot shows escape tunnels with their Debug Rendering, which shows the underlying system that determines which direction to dig in for the quickest escape. That's why you see arrows over the whole prison - follow the arrows to get out!)

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There’s also a number of fairly massive “unknowns” in our design, which means we really aren’t sure what to do about them. “Guard control and Incident Response” is one of the top ones for me - I really am not sure what sort of level of control you should have over your guards. Maybe they should be directly controllable as if you are playing StarCraft, or maybe you should have zero direct control and they should simply respond to fights based on their training, equipment and orders from you. I feel like you need to be able to respond in some way when a fight breaks out, but I’m not sure how yet.

Zooming out a level, so to speak, I have always seen the project as being divided into three design areas. There is the Short Game, which is what the average player is playing during the first hour or two of any prison, made up of the satisfaction of constructing something under some pressure, and getting the basic features up and running. We’ve spent a long time working on the Short Game, and I think Prison Architect is pretty solid in this area already, although there is clearly work to be done on some of the interface. Then there is the Mid Game, which is the systems and events of your prison once the basics are taken care of. Escape Tunnels, Riots, Maximum Security prisoners, Fires, Industry, Employment, Reform, Education, Gangs, Narcotics, all of these are Mid Game features, and these represent the potential content of the game once the basics of construction are mastered. Without these there will never be any point to play the game beyond your first successful prison, and these areas are now my focus. Finally there is the Long Game, which I would say we haven’t even started. This could be thought of as the game that exists outside of your current prison, eg can you take prisoners/staff/research/money with you to your next prison? Is there any persistence between prisons, or some kind of campaign map? These are unanswered questions right now.

We can’t say for certain how often we will be releasing new alphas, but it should feel pretty regular. Probably somewhere between two and four weeks between each update is what we will be aiming for, and as we proceed we will learn more about that process. We can’t wait to get started on some of the new features we have planned. Stay in touch, talk to us in the forums and on Twitter, and tell your friends about our game.

Join the Prison Architect alpha now at www.prison-architect.com

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Postby ronanc » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:58 pm

I'm giddy with excitement after reading that! The future is bright - the future is orange jumpsuits!
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Postby qbicfeet » Mon Oct 29, 2012 2:49 pm

"fuckingnewprison.txt"

Hah.
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Postby koshensky » Mon Oct 29, 2012 3:10 pm

ronanc wrote:I'm giddy with excitement after reading that! The future is bright - the future is orange jumpsuits!


That. All of that.

I don't even know what to say, that's how awesome all of that just was.
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Postby ronanc » Mon Oct 29, 2012 3:14 pm

Yup, just awesome. The tunneling feature sounds amazing! As does the fog of war and special forces aspect.

I don't know how they did it but they just turned this game up to 11.. I'm absolutely stoked for it now more than ever :)
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Postby rsdworker » Mon Oct 29, 2012 3:17 pm

i played last night - i noticed when i set the guards to stationed (deployment) - and doors set to staff only and prisoners come to door and guard lets them in (manual opening) - this a ideal BUT in some prisons - eg LOW risk prisoners can open doors without need of guard unlocking or automated timers - a settings could be good idea

eg i set the door to Locked (requires Guard to unlock) then in Low risk areas - i set the door to (unlocked but LOCKED in night)

in my prison map - had huge dining room for all wings and also has 6 yards

a small High risk unit (7 cells) has two doors locked - so prisoners want go in or out has to request guard to open it

so this update would be great to see more features
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Postby danikov » Mon Oct 29, 2012 3:44 pm

The biggest thing that's missing for me is a sense of consistency. Sometimes it feels like a 1930's Alcatraz-style prison, but things like CCTV have snuck in. Maybe both time and location will play a part in the long-term game- technology evolves, going from fire buckets in the early days, to extinguishers and firemen, to an integrated sprinkler system.

The other thing that strikes me is context- at the moment, you play on floating plot of land with city noises in the background contrasted against what looks like an empty field in the middle of nowhere. Early prisons could be set in difficult-to-escape locations, such as Alcatraz or the middle of a desert, where most prisoners won't consider escape because of the difficult nature of doing so, and escapees are often captured, or result in small fines due to them dying in the attempt, rather than a full fine for a successful one. Modern prisons, on the other hand, exist in urban locations and have to be far more security conscious. An escapee in an urban location can slip away far easier and would do more damage to the reputation of the judicial system, resulting in far steeper fines.

In the same vein, not every prison is built on an empty plot of land. It'd be interesting to have existing buildings being adapted to suit.
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Postby Lance_Lake » Mon Oct 29, 2012 3:49 pm

How do I get ahold of the developers screen along with the cheat menu? C'mon.. Let us play around with the stuff like that. :)
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Postby koshensky » Mon Oct 29, 2012 3:51 pm

TooManySecrets ;)
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Postby xander » Mon Oct 29, 2012 4:44 pm

koshensky wrote:TooManySecrets ;)

Kickin' it old skool, eh?

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Postby thekev506 » Mon Oct 29, 2012 10:07 pm

love it!
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Postby owerdna » Mon Oct 29, 2012 10:09 pm

I love how the subtitles introduce you as Chris Relay... maybe when you are a famous Convict immortalised in a popular game they will get it right....? :P
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Postby Vertimyst » Tue Oct 30, 2012 5:13 am

danikov wrote:The biggest thing that's missing for me is a sense of consistency. Sometimes it feels like a 1930's Alcatraz-style prison, but things like CCTV have snuck in. Maybe both time and location will play a part in the long-term game- technology evolves, going from fire buckets in the early days, to extinguishers and firemen, to an integrated sprinkler system.

The other thing that strikes me is context- at the moment, you play on floating plot of land with city noises in the background contrasted against what looks like an empty field in the middle of nowhere. Early prisons could be set in difficult-to-escape locations, such as Alcatraz or the middle of a desert, where most prisoners won't consider escape because of the difficult nature of doing so, and escapees are often captured, or result in small fines due to them dying in the attempt, rather than a full fine for a successful one. Modern prisons, on the other hand, exist in urban locations and have to be far more security conscious. An escapee in an urban location can slip away far easier and would do more damage to the reputation of the judicial system, resulting in far steeper fines.

In the same vein, not every prison is built on an empty plot of land. It'd be interesting to have existing buildings being adapted to suit.


Registered just to say I love this idea. Something I've always liked in games like Civilization, for example, is the game changing as time progresses. I'd love to be able to construct different eras of prisons, or play through starting with say, 1930s style prisons and eventually moving on to modern or perhaps futuristic prisons with new types of security and such.
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Postby Zarkow » Tue Oct 30, 2012 6:10 am

Love the ideas with zooning, keys for guards, riots in cell-blocks etc - been following the progress of your latest (was in alpha and beta of DefCon and Multiwinia) and going to make sure I get this one too, if only I can overcome my own blocking of Paypal. ;)

Looking great guys.
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Postby Nightwolf42 » Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:15 am

After watching the video on here, I am more than excited than ever. I hope that most of what I see in that demo is in Alpha 3, because that sector, riot, door automation, and fog of war will add so much depth and interest to the game. The aspect of managing and losing of control in this game appeals to me very much. The prison is like an organic being that is always changing, and there is always that one thing you have to pay attention to or else everything, the whole system, falls apart. Epic stuff coming up guys! :D
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