Steam Challenge: Prison Architect

-Welcome to this series where I resolve to play my Steam games backlog! Here are my discoveries!-

Game: Prison Architect
Time Played: 5.5 hours

I picked up Prison Architect back during the Steam Winter Sale because I heard a lot of good things about it. Recently, Doone posted about experiences with the game in what is a much more thoughtful post than this will be. I’m only going to touch on gameplay because I haven’t had time to really get into the needs/psychology aspect of caring for prisoners. I’m still just fighting with the somewhat wonky building controls to ensure I have enough cells with running water and that prisoners are properly being fed. ^^;

What is Prison Architect?

The best way to describe it is a scaled-down city builder crossed with Sims who all have the criminal trait. I mean this in the most affectionate and positive way possible. I was having flashbacks to days of playing old skool Sim City games where you had to manually hook up power and water utilities and everything. And this is a very good thing.

You are, obviously, the prison architect. Not only do you build the grounds that hold your prisoners, but you manage the finances, manage your staff, and balance money with the needs of the inmates. You control how many new prisoners you get every day – you can keep piling them in somehow, or take breather and spend your time expanding what you have. The more prisoners you take in, the more you get paid.

Why do I get the feeling that this prisoner was created by a crowdfunding backer?

Prisoners have different levels of offence, depending in their crimes, and just like mini-sims, they have wants and needs. I’m still learning about this aspect of the game because I spent most of the learning curve building. But I have watched fights break out. I’ve seen guys forced to go cold turkey suffering from withdraw. I’ve seen guys with high repeat offender rates… and something in me wonders if there’s something I can do to help these guys stay out of trouble next time. I guess I’ll have to keep experimenting.

My Playthrough

The game starts out with a tutorial that throws you directly in the middle of the story of a prisoner on death row. Set to be executed, you are the one who builds his death chamber. You get to see his story and the crimes he committed, and are told not to feel for him. Afterall, it’s out of the architect’s hands, isn’t it?

This was a pretty gripping and effective way to introduce the game and the building concepts. Once the tutorial is done, you get your own blank slate to begin building upon. You can choose whether to build a large, medium or small prison. You can also choose settings, such as removing the fog of war, going completely sandbox (where money is not a worry), and turning off lose conditions. For my first attempt, I went completely sandbox so I could just learn about building.

While the tutorial did a good job of giving you the tools, it didn’t explain things that ended up catching me up in my first attempt. It didn’t tell me I could shut off the daily prisoner flow (I was getting 17 or more flooding my holding cell every day and had no more room!). It didn’t tell me that in order for my prisoners to actually move from building to building (to the canteen to eat, for example), I had to ensure everything was completely enclosed everywhere. (Yeah, duh. But still.)

Here I was just building away and wondering why the huge pile of inmates weren’t ever moving from the holding cell to shower, eat or spend time in the yard. Yeah. I did have a perimeter wall, but I guess it wasn’t completely closed or something, because… well… it wasn’t pretty.

First Prison Fail

So, the next day, I spent time watching some Let’s Plays, Googling why prisoners wouldn’t eat, and eventually finding the very expansive Steam Workshop for the game. There’s tons of great pre-built prisons there to play with, so I started to study them and saw the error of my designs.

I wiped my slate clean with a new prison and started over. This one is actually working! Prisoners are eating, showering and using free time. Well. That only took me about 4 hours of play time to figure out.

Yay! This prison works!

There is a little learning curve to the game. But those familiar with city builders will be right at home. I tend to have some issues figuring out the way the perimeter wall tool works. Sometimes it doesn’t want to create rooms right. Sometimes I have to drop doors to rooms just to get them completely finished. Sometime it knocks other walls down that I didn’t intend. I’m sure I’ve wasted a lot of money on unneeded doors and rebuilding walls.

Now I’m looking forward to playing the more Sims-ish part of the game, and seeing if there’s something I can do to keep these guys from coming back to my prison. I’ve got way, way too many waiting to get in, sadly.


PS. Their alpha video is hilarious.