Prison Architect

I've been privately lamenting the lack of PC game demos lately. There was a time when demos were commonplace: a chunk of a brand new game you could try out for free before you bought the full game. Demos gave us a chance not only see what a game had to offer and whether or not we enjoyed it, but also allowed us to continually tweak the settings and try different graphics options to see how our PCs handled it. Plus, instead of waiting months for a sale to try the game without a lot of risk, you could play right when the game came out, while everyone else was still talking about it.

While I was at PDXCon this past weekend I spent a few minutes talking with Kim Nordstrom, former general manager of Swedish game company King and current leader of Paradox Interactive's mobile initiative. We chatted about PC and mobile games, and especially about Introversion's Prison Architect, which is making an unlikely appearance on mobile platforms with Paradox as the publisher. Nordstrom's plan for Prison Architect provide a few lessons PC games could learn from with its unusual, almost shareware-era approach to pricing.

Mobility

Big, meaty mobile games have a challenge when it comes to sales. The roots of mobile are in free games, or exceedingly cheap ones: 99 cents, maybe a couple of dollars. Pricing a mobile game at $15 or $20 is a dubious prospect, which is why so many are free-to-play with microtransactions: get the game into players' hands first, and try to get money out of them later. The issue is that 'microtransaction' has become something of a dirty word, and that's mostly true on PC as well. While there are a number of great free-to-play games on PC like Dota 2 and League of Legends, there are scores more that have left us highly suspicious of the F2P model, with gated progress and gameplay designed around making you so damn impatient you'll pay just to advance at a reasonable pace.

On mobile, Prison Architect will cost around $15. That feels like a fair price for what you get—it's a complex management simulation and a great game, one of my favorites from 2015—but Nordstrom knows simply plopping it on mobile stores with that price tag probably won’t fly. So it will be free to download, and unlocking the complete game lands somewhere between free-to-play and full-price.

"It's not a free-to-play with microtransactions, nothing like that, it caps at $15 right now," Nordstrom told me. "But we basically just made it so anyone can install it, and it's a try before you buy."

Nordstrom holds out his hands a few inches apart, then widens them as he describes how the game unlocks more content for those who purchase it in chunks. "And the game size is this big, we offer you this much for free, and then we're very clear on if you pay whatever dollars, you get the sandbox, if you pay [more] you get the chapters, and if you pay the full price you get the full game."

So, you get to play a portion of the game as much as you want for free, just like a PC demo. Inside the game itself there's a store that lets you unlock the rest of the features at certain price points. While that sounds suspiciously like microtransactions, there's a difference: the total amount you can spend is capped. You won't be nickel-and-dimed forever. If you decide to spend money, you'll know exactly how much, in advance, it will cost you, and once you've spent it, you're done. You own everything, and you're never prompted or even tempted to spend more.

The demo, man

As Tyler concluded recently, big-publisher games can cost a lot on PC, especially when you factor in their many special editions, and that along with having no way to try a game before buying it has kept me away from a lot of games in the past few years. With Steam refunds, you can play a game for two hours before returning it or deciding to keep it but as we pointed out recently with Prey, which had a console demo but irritatingly none on PC, that's nothing like a proper demo at all. (The reason given by Prey's co-creative director Raphael Colantonio was "It's just a resource assignment thing. We couldn't do a demo on both the console and on the PC, we had to choose.")

Sometimes there are free weekends for games, which are great, but that's usually well after launch (this weekend’s Rising Storm 2 beta excepted) and usually long after people are actively talking about the game and your friends are still playing it. I've never bought a game just for a pre-order bonus, because pre-purchasing isn't a great idea and the bonuses aren't much to speak of (what am I really going to do with a digital art book, besides either flip through it once and forget it, or completely forget to flip through it at all). And pre-orders don’t always include a discount, so there's rarely any real reason to pre-purchase anything.

We do get a few demos nowadays, but we need more, and more games with something like Prison Architect's mobile model.

We do get a few demos nowadays—though most often they don't arrive as a game is released, such as Dishonored 2's demo which came months after launch—but we need more, and more games with something like Prison Architect's mobile model. If Deus Ex: Mankind Divided had been downloadable for free on day one, with a nice chunk of it playable indefinitely (like Prison Architect's mobile version), players who were undecided about purchasing it for $60 could have gotten a good long look at what it has to offer. It would have given players like me time to play with a selection of augs and try out different playstyles. And it would've provided us with a good chance tweak the settings to see how well the it ran on our PCs, something the two-hour Steam refund window simply doesn't allow for (and really shouldn't be used for anyway).

If a potential customer such as myself ultimately decides not to buy the rest, what does the publisher really lose? I know creating game demos means more work, and that it's not as simple as cutting off a slice of the game and plopping it in a folder. But in addition to demos being beneficial to gamers, developers and publishers can gain valuable information from making free demos available. As Kim Nordstrom told me, there's value not just in the sales a company makes but in having information about the sales they didn't make.

"The problem is that we as a company, we would never learn if we [had] a $4.99 price point in a storefront, or even a $14.99, because we wouldn't know," Nordstrom said. "We would just know who bought it, [but] we wouldn't know who didn't [buy] it."

Information on who didn't buy your game is useful. How many people were interested enough to download it but were turned off by something in the opening hours? How many people were willing to pay some, but not all, of the full price? Plus, it could whet the appetite of some customers who would then buy later during a sale instead of simply forgetting about it. This strikes me as a net positive for both developers and players.

Even if people don't buy Prison Architect on mobile after trying it for free, Nordstrom says, "...they'll play the game and if they enjoy it they might get interested in the company, or the brand, or Introversion's games, and such. And they might spread it in terms of [word of mouth], and some people say 'Holy crap, this is a great game, I'm going to buy it.'"

For publishers and developers, demos put a game in front of more players on launch day, provides them with additional information on how their game is being played and received, and can increase interest in their games even if not everyone who tries them, buys them. They can even get more technical feedback if their game is having problems on launch day. For players, they're given a chance to sample more new games, to properly try before they buy, and less incentive to abuse Steam's refund policy or wait months for a sale. PC demos are good for everyone, and it's time for them to make a comeback. 

PC Gamer

When Mark Morris and Chris Delay of Introversion Software began working on Prison Architect, they knew it was a game that would stir controversy. They never expected, however, that a simulator about the incarceration of cute, blobby humans had the potential to make them criminals themselves. Their crime? Displaying a tiny, five-pixel wide red cross on the hood of the ambulances and backpacks of paramedics. It might sound laughable, but it just so happens that those five pixels arranged just so are an internationally protected symbol.

Days before Christmas, Delay and Morris received a concerning email from the British Red Cross.

"My immediate reason for writing is that it has been brought to our attention that in your game ‘Prison Architect’ a red cross emblem is displayed on vehicles," it reads. "Those responsible may be unaware that use of the red cross emblem is restricted under the Geneva Conventions for the Protection of War Victims of 12 August 1949, and that unauthorised use of this sign in the United Kingdom is an offence under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957."

Delay and Morris didn't know it, but for years they had been breaking the law—a very serious sounding one at that. "We actually thought we were being spoofed by somebody and that this couldn't possibly be real," Delay tells me. But, to their amusement (and anger), it was.

Delay and Morris, like many of us, had made a common mistake. "In my mind that the red cross is the universal symbol for health packs and health add-ons—anything to do with healing in videogames," Delay says. "I'm sure there are red crosses on Doom health packs from 20 years ago." And while he's right about Doom, he was wrong about the red cross. 

That tiny little red cross on the hood of the ambulance is where Delay and Morris went wrong.

More than just a health pack 

See, the red cross doesn't belong to the public domain. It's the protected emblem of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), an organization that dates back to the 1863. The ICRC was critical in establishing human rights during wartime as laid out in the Geneva Conventions that 196 countries have since agreed to abide by. For the average person, these conventions are usually understood as "don't harm prisoners, the wounded, and the people who are just trying to help them." For the ICRC and its various child-organizations around the world, that mission is a lot more complicated—especially when it comes to their emblem.

"The reason for this strict control is that the red cross emblem is an internationally agreed symbol of protection during armed conflicts," the email continues. "It is used to safeguard the wounded and sick and those who seek to help them in a totally neutral and impartial way, and can save lives."

Originally, laws prohibiting the misuse of the red cross emblem were used to prevent armed forces from exploiting it to gain a tactical advantage. In 2008, one such instance occurred when Colombian intelligence forces posed as members of the Red Cross to save political prisoners who had been held for years by FARC rebels. Doing so is a war crime. But is there really no difference between a tiny red cross on a videogame ambulance and one used to misrepresent military personnel in combat?

"If the red cross emblem or similar signs are used for other purposes, no matter how beneficial or inconsequential they may seem, the special significance of the emblem will be diminished," the email reads. "The red cross emblem or similar designs are not general signs of ambulances, health care, first aid, the nursing or medical profession, or similar matters. Moreover, they are not signs to be used for commercial purposes, such as for advertising campaigns or on products." 

Health packs in Halo: Combat Evolved used the red cross but were changed to a red 'H' for Halo 2.

Yet the use of the red cross for just those reasons is common. A Google search for 'health pack' returns dozens of results for everything from Doom to Halo. Outside of videogames, it appears in comic books, movies, and even theater. With misuse of the symbol so apparently widespread, Delay tells me he was a bit upset to find that Prison Architect had been one instance where the hammer would fall.

"Red crosses are such a minor five-pixel wide symbol in Prison Architect," he argues. "There's one on the ambulance and one on the back of a health pack. They are so tiny. I think it's ridiculous. It's not like we had these enormous red crosses everywhere on the sides of vans in war zones. It's this miniscule pixelated red cross you can barely make out."

But Introversion Software isn't the first developer to draw the attention of a Red Cross organization, either. In 2006, the David Pratt of the Canadian Red Cross sent a letter to a law firm representing several game developers urging them to stop using the symbol in their games. "Our philosophy is that there's no emblem abuse that's too small to report, because you have to try to get them all, which is a practically impossible task—but one thing we saw with the videogames industry is that it has a huge reach, especially with young people," Pratt said in an interview with Shacknews. "It may create an impression that the red cross emblem is part of the public domain."

On the surface, this sounds like a typical case of enforcing the misuse of a trademark—the kind that videogames have been dealing with for decades. Except that the Red Cross isn't a business where misuse of their logo might result in financial harm. According to an article published by the Canadian Red Cross, it's that misuse of the emblem could lead to physical harm. 

The red cross appeared in Doom but was later changed with the re-release to a red pill..

The real issue, at least where Delay and Morris live, seems to have more serious consequences than just being sued. In the United Kingdom, the provisions of the Geneva Conventions were incorporated into British law in 1957. Prison Architect's misuse of the emblem wasn't just breaking the Geneva Conventions (which feels kind of like some distant bogeyman), but the laws of their own country. That's why, upon getting the email, they were quick to comply. Boot up Prison Architect and call in some paramedics, and you'll no longer see that red cross. Now it's green. Delay tells me the change took seconds to make in Photoshop. "It's not worth taking the stand," Morris says. "You have to pick your battles." 

Drawing the line 

While both developers recognize that the red cross can be an important symbol in the right context, they can't help but raise their eyebrows at the fact that a charitable organization is spending its donated resources to cracking down on indie game developers.

"Lots of people donate money and the assumption is that that money is going to treating [people in need] and it turns out that a portion of that money is going to lawyers writing letters to videogame companies who are apparently abusing use of the red cross symbol," Morris says. "How much money do they spend every year enforcing their abuse of the red cross emblem? We are one videogame out of thousands, so many of which use that emblem to indicate health. Do they just cherry pick the odd person to approach? In which case, it would feel like a complete waste of time to spend any money at all, if you're not going to enforce it consistently. If they were spending large amounts of money to persistently and consistently enforce ownership of their red cross around the world in industries that are completely unrelated, is that a legitimate use of money for a charitable organization?"

Is the supposed dilution of the red cross' important meaning really of such importance? Internet activist, journalist, and author Cory Doctorow doesn't think so. "Is there any question that the use of red crosses to denote health packs in games will bring even the most minute quantum of harm to the Red Cross?" he wrote in a blog post criticizing Pratt's letter. Doctorow reached out to the Canadian Red Cross for comment and they appear to not have responded. 

Medics in Half-Life 2 also bear the red cross.

On a broader spectrum, various Red Cross organizations have come under scrutiny for how they choose to spend their money and the lack of disclosure that can sometimes go along with it. While there's no denying that the mission of the Red Cross is noble, how efficiently it goes about it is contentious. "When you're a charity, you need to talk about these things I think," Morris says. "People donate, and I really believe that you have an obligation to tell people where the money is spent."

For Morris, who tells me he's donated to the British Red Cross, the situation has an interesting wrinkle: Some tiny sliver of his own charitable givings has fueled the action taken against him. "I'm not saying I'm going to stop, but until I get some kind of understanding of how much of my money they're using to pursue infringement claims, I'm starting to think, maybe they've got a little bit more money than they need?"

For a game that has a history of spawning thought-provoking discussions, this latest development was never intended, but Morris and Delay see it as just another day at the office. "This is just the latest fascinating twist and turn. That's what's really interesting about it, Prison Architect gets people talking," Delay says. Now that the issue is settled, both developers are relatively good-humored about the experience.

"I think of myself giving an after dinner speech on my 70th birthday and talking about everything I've achieved in my life, and one of them will be my war criminal status," Morris jokes.

"That's not exactly a list you want to be on," Delay fires back.

But, among their jokes, one question still needs an answer: Is a little red cross really worth the trouble?

We've reached out to the British Red Cross for comment and will update this story should they reply. 

PC Gamer

In August, Prison Architect launched its 45th update—version 2.0, the final instalment of the jail simulator's impressive list of feature-filled incremental amendments spanning Early Access into full release. With it, Introversion gave players access to the game's dev tools and cheat mode and announced plans to focus its attention on its next project. 

That's been the case, so says producer Mark Morris and designer Chris Delay in the latest developer-led trailer below, however Prison Architect has also now received its 11th post-launch update.   

"This frosty December, we give you guard needs," explains the video below's description. "No longer can you treat your hard working prison officers as robot gaolers. They're going to need their own toilet and canteen and your staff room is about to get a whole lot busier."

Morris notes above that until now, Prison Architect has focussed on its prisoners and not its guards for good reason—that narrowing the scope of the latter's credentials allowed the game to be more fluid in its earlier stages. 

"You need your guards to do what you tell them to do otherwise it will look like it's just broken," says Delay. "If you say build me a building here, make a holding cell or a toilet block or something and your guards just don't do it, an early player is just going to go 'this game's rubbish'."

Morris adds: "Those are valid concerns and that's probably why we shied away from it for all this time. We thought from a gameplay standpoint it'll be better if your staff are more like automatons and the prisoners were where all the magic was. But I think the game is mature enough now and established enough, and there are enough systems in game to telegraph to the player what the hell is going on that we can get away with it."

A whole host of considerations are now tied to staff wellbeing including toilet breaks, meal times, health and safety concerns, recreation allowance, comfort in the workplace, and rest to but some of the new criteria. Full details can be found on the game's Steam page, alongside details for installing the Update 11.   

Prison Architect is out now and costs £19.99/$29.99 on the Humble Store.

Some online stores give us a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Read our affiliate policy for more info.

PC Gamer

Any week where I get to write twice about Devil Daggers by Wednesday is a good week. On Monday, the lightning-paced 90 s-style arena shooter where you fire glowing magic knives at waves of hell-bound monsters added a nifty top-down replay mode via its version 3 update. Now, it s part of the latest Humble Bundle which is live from right now until October 4.

Alongside roguelike dungeon crawler Runestone Keeper, and the wonderful RollerCoaster Tycoon 2: Triple Thrill Pack, Devil Daggers features in the pay-what-want tier of the Humble Jumbo Bundle 7.

The familiar Humble setup applies in that paying above the average price which is a clean $5 (about 3.85), at the time of writing also nets you tinyBuild s retro boxer Punch Club, Stronghold Crusader 2 (which is currently 29.99/$49.99 on Steam), and Introversion s lovely prison-builder Prison Architect the latter of which recently launched its final update, granting players access to the game s dev tools and cheats.

Should you wish to get your hands on all of that and an Early Access key for survival em up Miscreated, it ll set you back $9.99 (approximately 7.69). As always, payments are split between developers, organisers and charity at your discretion. There's some goodies for free-to-play card game Duelyst up for grabs too.

The Humble Jumbo Bundle 7 runs from now until October 4.

PC Gamer

After several years of tinkering, tweaking, and video series updating, Prison Architect has finally launched its version 2.0 the 45th and final amendment to Introversion s jail management sim.

To mark the occasion, producer Mark Morris and designer Chris Delay recorded a typically jovial send-off diary and explained that, as this is their ultimate video, developer tools and cheats seen featured in a few of their alpha videos are now available to everyone.

The world found time to have two rounds of Olympics; Usain Bolt won six gold medals in the time it took us to do Prison Architect, says Delay in the dev diary below. Morris intervenes: But I reckon the International Olympic Committee probably look at us and go: Those Prison Architect guys, they made Prison Architect in the time it took us to host two games!

Once triggered, Prison Architect s cheat mode allows construction to occur immediately; it adds a new Spawn toolbar that permits instant creation of objects for zero cost; water can be placed like any other building material; and research in the bureaucracy screen can be sped up at the player s discretion, among a range of other unscrupulous undertakings. It s worth noting that cheat prisons can t qualify for achievement unlocks and also can t be sold on for profit.

Function keys can now perform debug services, behaviours settings can be altered, and the game s modding system has also been bolstered. All of that, plus an extensive list of bug fixes, can be found this-a-way.

Introversion will still be at hand to provide support moving forward, however instilling players with the ability to cheat feels like a fitting way for the studio to part ways its prison management sim.

While the previous update suggested the developer s next project will be either first-person cave explorer Scanner Sombre or bomb defusal game Wrong Wire the above video appears to point to the former.

PC Gamer

After years spent making Prison Architect, then updating it pretty much every month after release, Introversion is ready to move on. The icing on the cake (the cake has a file in it, because prison) is a huge new update that revamps the UI, while making changes to the way modding works and adding more, well, just more. Prison Architect will continue to be supported after version 2.0, but the team is finally moving onto pastures new. Specifically, onto one or both of the prototypes the developer recently put to a public vote.

But before that, there's the little matter of version 2.0, which the team discuss in great length in a new update video.

2.0 hasn't officially launched yet, but you can opt in to the beta on Steam by following the instructions in the YouTube video description. Here's a big list of what's included in the update.

What about that next game, then? Well, have a watch of this footage of first-person cave-explore-'em-up Scanner Sombre, and of bomb defusal title Wrong Wire, two prototypes Introversion showed off recently (skip to 26:05).

Introversion's next game will build on one of those prototypes, BUT WHICH ONE. I got the impression that Scanner Sombre was next up, from the previous video, but I'd be happy with either.

PC Gamer

Prison Architect's hidden 3D mode was discovered the other week, and with the cat firmly out of the bag, developer Introversion said there may be updates on the way to the experimental mode. Said updates are now here as part of the grandly titled Update 5, which also adds hot water boilers, hot water pipes and, yes, hot water to the prison management sim. No wonder your prisoners have been trying to flee this whole time: they've had to make do with tepid showers.

Of the 3D view, Introversion says that it's "improved 3d mode with new shapes, new shaders operating on all objects, and better wall geometry", but that it "remains very experimental", so use at your own risk.

You'll need a boiler, hot water pipes, and a direct electrical connection to funnel hot water to your inmates, but it does come with a few benefits.

"When supplied with hot water, showers will also reduce a prisoner's Warmth need. When supplied only with cold water will apply a Frigid effect, which acts as a kind of short-term suppression while also spiking their Warmth and comfort needs."

There are other additions and fixes included in the update, detailed here, or if you're not in the mood for reading, you could watch this video:

PC Gamer

Prison Architect left Early Access back in October of last year, but that hasn't stopped Introversion Software from continuing to deliver monthly content updates to the game. And recently, a rather significant new feature has been discovered that was never in the patch notes; a hidden button that renders out your prison and all of its denizens in 3D, allowing you to zoom in and get a rather unique look at what's always been a flat, top-down game.

I reached out to Introversion's lead designer Chris Delay to see what he could tell me about this seemingly new addition to the game, and it turns out it's been in there longer than anyone realized. "We are astonished it took this long for the secret to be found!" Delay said. "3D Mode has been present in the public version of [Prison Architect] since v1.0, so that s October 2015—almost six months. We actually believed it would be discovered in days initially."

But evidently, it took much longer than days. Delay mentioned that the first public post he saw about it was from Steam user Rico on the game's Steam forum late last week. But the post went largely unnoticed, and the feature remained rather hidden, until TheLogical Lowdown posted a video of the feature (embedded above) a couple days later, which then picked up steam on the /r/Games subreddit

However, a big question remained; what was the 3D mode for? Delay told me they started working on it during the Alpha as an experimental visualization. "It was basically a massive engine hack that gave a fascinating alternative view on your prison—literally looking at it from a new angle. We never managed to bring it up to a decent quality sufficient to actually say 'This is now an official feature.'" Despite not being happy with how 3D mode was turning out, Introversion decided to secretly put it into the 1.0 release of Prison Architect for players to stumble upon. "We did think it was very cool, hence hiding it as an easter egg for people to discover. Why let such an awesome, albeit completely unfinished feature, go to waste?" 

When we had Delay and Introversion producer Mark Morris on The PC Gamer Show last September, they both expressed their excitement for VR and mentioned that they were already playing around with it, so I thought maybe this 3D mode had roots in making Prison Architect more appealing (or at all usable) in VR—but Delay said that wasn't the case. "Yes we do have a Vive kit and yes we are totally in love with it and VR in general. I don t think the 3D in our secret mode quite stacks up to the quality required for VR, but it would definitely be cool to look down on a wargaming table that had a Prison built on it, all animated and alive." Whether or not that was their intention, it'd be great to see a modder make this new mode work in VR eventually.

Delay also made it clear that 3D mode was nothing to be alarmed by for those who prefer how Prison Architect looks now, saying "we don t see it replacing the main game view. That said, we will probably do some improvements to 3D mode now that it s been discovered." Five months is a long time to wait to update a new feature but, like Delay, I'm pretty amazed it's gone by unnoticed for this long in the first place. 

PC Gamer
CHRIS LIVINGSTON'S 2015 PERSONAL PICK

Along with our group-selected 2015 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen one game to commend as one of the best.

Early on in my first game of Prison Architect, I found I had to readjust my thinking. I'd been playing the good warden, being as attentive as possible to my growing population of inmates, constantly checking their list of needs to see how I could improve things for them. Were they missing their families? I built payphones, a mailroom, and scheduled time for visitations. Were they looking for ways to improve themselves? I built classrooms, a library, and acquired grant money for alcohol and drug rehab, workshop training, and other life-enhancing programs. I added a second kitchen and cafeteria after noticing some prisoners weren't getting enough time to eat, and I put bookshelves and TV in every cell to ensure they weren't bored. For a while, I treated Prison Architect like any other building and management sim. If I kept everyone happy, surely nothing could really go wrong.

Then five prisoners escaped. They'd been digging a network of tunnels at night with tools they'd smuggled from the workshop, and they dug their way to freedom right under my wall. That's when it finally sunk in: Prison Architect isn't really like other sims. Sure, there's the same management tasks like planning, construction, power and water distribution, budgeting and schedules—but no matter how hard you try to satisfy the needs of your civilian population, it won't change the fact that they're prisoners. Work hard at creating a humane facility and there may be no outright complaints, no violence, and no major disasters, but there will never, ever be real happiness. No one wants to be there, and even the best of wardens can't change that.

Prison Architect works well on both a large and small scale. The planning and construction of buildings is enjoyable and challenging, and I'd even find myself mentally planning projects when I wasn't actually playing. It can also require a laser-like focus on specific issues and even on individual inmates. After a virus swept through my prison, I had to check each individual prisoner for illness and lock the sick ones in their cells, one by one, to avoid spreading the disease further. Another time, an informant told me one of my inmates had been targeted for a hit because he was a former prison guard. I put the target in solitary while I set about planning a new protective custody wing to keep at-risk prisoners safe from other inmates. I eventually realized I hadn t paused the game while planning my new annex, and that he d been released back into gen-pop. I found him just in time to see him being stabbed to death in the cafeteria. Oopsie.

Trying to keep your prison free of drugs and weapons is a huge challenge until you learn a few tricks, and every time you turn around you'll find cellphones, drugs, and weapons arriving concealed in deliveries, smuggled in from other buildings, even thrown onto the grounds over your outer wall by visitors. Even when things are running smoothly it's hard not to feel paranoid and unsafe, leading to metal detectors at every door, tapped payphones and security cameras, frequent shakedowns and lockdowns of cellblocks, as well as an army of informants who provide good information but may wind up dead if anyone catches wind. It's an interesting feeling, staring at what is essentially a city similar to the ones in other simulation games, yet knowing every tiny little cartoon man on the screen hates you, is plotting against you, and wants nothing more than to leave your carefully constructed paradise far behind.

As grim as it all sounds, it's still a joy to play, a deeply engrossing exercise in planning and management, and there are plenty of ways to have additional fun, such as when I tried to escape from a modded-in Star Wars prison, and the time I built a prison to cater to a single inmate.

PC Gamer

In Prison Architect, I'm always anxious when I'm done building my prison and the first inmates arrive. Have I forgotten something? Do I have enough of everything? Is this going to be a complete disaster? I'm feeling that doubly so today: I've spent ten game-days and hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a very special prison. A luxury prison. It will house a single inmate, and he's due to arrive in a couple minutes.

The idea here isn't simply to build a prison for one inmate and see what happens. As I explained in my review, the first time I had prisoners escape my prison it genuinely hurt my feelings. I'd been trying very hard to meet the needs of my residents, to keep them calm and satisfied, and when five of them tunneled out I felt betrayed and embarrassed that all my humane efforts had been for naught. With my new prison, I want to see if it's possible to make an inmate so damn happy and comfortable that he never tries to escape, never hits a guard, never busts up the place, and never breaks any rules.

It's got more TVs and sofas than my actual home.

So, I've built the most luxurious prison cell I could manage. It's spacious, with large windows, wood and tile floors, a private bathroom and shower, a pool table, sofas, a telephone, several television sets and a radio. There's just a regular door on the cell and there will be no lockdown time on the schedule—my prisoner will be able to enter and leave his cell whenever he wants. 

There's also a roomy kitchen a short walk away with an eager staff of cooks on hand. There's an expansive, grass-covered exercise yard that overlooks a lake. There's a workshop, library, classrooms, common rooms, and a chapel. I've got an army of janitors and groundskeepers to keep the place tidy, and while there are a number of guards in my employ, none are assigned to rooms my inmate will spend time in, so he'll never feel like he's being oppressed or monitored. Sure, there's a fence around the jail—it's still a jail, after all—but it's hard to imagine it feeling less like a prison.

It takes real dedication to keister something so big and sharp.

My sole inmate arrives, a 33-year-old convict named Sean Matile. He's serving a nine year sentence, perhaps ironically, for false imprisonment. He's also married and a father of four. He's guided into the reception area and searched for what I hope will be the only time during his stay here. My guard finds that Matile has attempted to smuggle a pair of gardening shears into jail, which seems an odd and incredibly uncomfortable choice.

The discovery of contraband means he won't be taken to his cushy cell but will instead spend a little time in solitary. Luckily, I've planned for this eventuality, and have a pleasant little box ready for him: bookshelves, sofa, TV, toilet and shower, even a phone. Unfortunately Matile is shackled so he can't enjoy the amenities, but hopefully he realizes this is more of a hotel than a prison.

Bookshelves put the 'lit' into solitary.

Soon he's in his proper cell, where he slowly mopes around his new surroundings. After a look around, he drifts out to the yard for a bit, then moves to the canteen for a meal (high quality, of course). He heads back to his cell where he spends the entire night slowly pacing around instead of sleeping. I figure that's normal: who can sleep their first night in prison, especially having recently had a pair of hedge trimmers forcibly removed from his butt?

In the morning he showers, puts on a clean uniform, uses the payphone to talk to his family, and begins what will be his routine for the next several days: eating meals, watching TV in his cell, talking on the phone, and occasionally visiting the yard to stare at the lake. Soon he begins taking a workshop safety class, led by my construction foreman. He eventually passes the class—I'm quite proud—and from then on he spends several hours each day making licence plates and cutting logs. Matile has one other hobby, a mildly troubling one, which I'll get to in a minute.

Here's hoping he won't try to smuggle that table saw in his butt.

There's a downside to a prison with only one inmate: it prevents me from reaching a few grant milestones, which ultimately limit Matile's options for rehabilitation. For example, since he's shown an aptitude for shop work, I'd like him to partake in a Carpentry Apprenticeship Program. The prerequisite, however, is the grant for the Prison Manufacturing Facility, which has its own prerequisite, the Prison Acclimatization and Engagement program. To complete this program I need to assign three inmates to work in the laundry, the kitchen, and the cleaning cupboard. I can't do that simply because I don't have enough inmates.

I consider constructing an entirely separate prison on the other side of the road, going as far as building a massive foundation, but then the reality sets in. That's a lot of extra work. New rooms and buildings, utilities, guard patrols, schedules and classes and staff and everything else that comes with running a real prison. It seems exhausting and pointless, especially since I've already got facilities to spare. Much as I don't want to mess up Matile's life by introducing new prisoners, I start planning a small cell block just outside Matile's hotel, capable of holding a couple dozen prisoners. Hopefully nobody will stab him to death.

While that construction is underway, the unfortunate time comes where I have to perform a search on Matile. See, he's been occasionally making trips up to the northern fence, where he mills around in the trees for a bit. These trips take place in the middle of the night. I know this is more than just a leisurely stroll.

Just a midnight stroll near the fence. Nothing to be suspicious about.

I search his cell first (while he's at breakfast so he's not disturbed), and I also search the workshop while he's sleeping, finding nothing. Finally, I pat him down, and my guard finds some contraband: Matile has a cellphone. I'm relieved—for a guy who arrived with garden shears up his butt, I expected much worse—but I can't help but be a little disappointed. First of all, if it were drugs or booze, I might get a chance to use all those therapy rooms I built and use those psychologists I hired, who have spent weeks just hanging around in the offices I built for them. Alas.

Mainly I'm just annoyed because why would he need a cellphone at all? There are two phones in his cell—cell phones, I guess you'd call them—and several in the yard. Does he just want to play Flappy Bird or use Snapchat? Is Sprint's new friends and family plan that irresistible? Does he think I've tapped the payphones and I'm listening in on his calls?

Yes, that's a tiny morgue with one slab. I planned for everything.

I have, of course, tapped the payphones and have been listening in on his calls. I have an entire dedicated security room with guards assigned around the clock to monitor his conversations, which is how I confirmed my suspicions that he's been arranging for someone to visit the prison and chuck things over the fence for him. I know I could put a stop to this by building a second fence around the perimeter, but the idea isn't to prevent him from breaking the rules, the idea is to make him so damn content that he would never want to break the rules. Apparently, as swank as my prison is, it's just not enough to keep him completely happy.

As infractions go, it's not a major one. With no metal detectors or supervision, with no one restricting his movements or needing to open doors for him, Matile could have been smuggling kitchen utensils and workshop tools all the live long day, but has chosen not to. I guess that's a plus, and when his family arrives for a visit I don't think he'll have much to complain about.

Don't worry, kids, Daddy's cell is probably better than your actual house.

I put the new cellblock online and receive a bunch of new inmates, which is strange for what has been feeling like a luxury hotel built on a college campus. Naturally, the whole place becomes more like a prison immediately. I begin finding drugs and booze in cells and thrown over the fence, there are brawls in the showers and regular tazings (at least my team of doctors finally have something to do). Luckily, Matile barely mixes with the new inmates. He's got a short stroll to the canteen and is done eating by the time the crowd arrives, and then he either goes back to his cell or to the workshop. Nobody messes with him, possibly because he's simply not around them enough.

In the end, Matile does escape my luxury prison, but in the legit way. He's paroled. On the one hand, it's nice to see him free. On the other, I'm left with a worrying thought. Will he have trouble adjusting to life on the outside, not for the usual reasons but simply because there aren't enough sofas and TVs and good, hot meals? I made his prison stay so damn comfortable, filled with freedom and luxury, it might be in his best interests to come for another visit.

Be good, Sean.

...

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