Before I begin eagerly gushing, it’s worth noting that I had to be reminded more than once that I have an article to write, and that I need to stop playing in order to write it. What I’m saying is that Prison Architect has, aha, taken me prisoner.

I had intended to play three hours or so, take some screenshots, and get some words down, but once I started playing I remembered exactly what it was I love about the game. I’ve always enjoyed designing and building things in games, from the fiendish goblin grinders of Dwarf Fortress, to the fanciful kitsch of the Sims franchise on occasion. Prison Architect scratches the itch for complex design without a massive learning curve. In other words, the intended three hours was almost completely taken up by the building phase. Admittedly, this is because I decided it would be quicker and easier to use the “infinite money” option, which I’d never previously used. I was wrong.

Time well wasted

Time well wasted

Story time! There was once a prison designer who spent an insane amount of time building a prison. He double checked his measurements, researched every benefit, spent a small fortune on construction, and employed a battalion of guards. Gazing upon his works, he was pleased, and opened the gates to the prisoners of his locale. Soon they flocked in, not that they had much of a choice really, because they were prisoners and that tends to offer limited prospects. The designer’s glee soon turned to consternation as he noticed the guards were bringing the prisoners in through the kitchen.
“What is this lunacy!” he asked both rhetorically and angrily, “I’ve built a perfectly good entr-”
At that point he’d noticed something, and his anger turned into subdued embarrassment. In his eager planning and building, he’d forgotten to make an entrance area.

Fix'd!

Fix’d!

Chided and humbled, our designer moved on to getting the prisoners settled. Since they’d arrived in the middle of the daily regime, not to mention the fact that they’d just been transported to a new place full of new people, they were a little unsettled and chaotic. The danger levels fluctuated erratically, and there were a few fistfights, but it didn’t seem too out of control. Anyway, there was an armed guard on staff, what could possibly go wrong? That question would soon be answered. On the very first day of the prison opening, the architect was pottering around somewhere. Probably, somewhat coincidentally, doing work on either the morgue or the adjacent psychologist’s office. It was in the middle of his work that he heard a ruckus, followed by an all silencing “bang.” The details are unclear, but it appears that someone, a prisoner, had been shot during the course of some or other altercation. The board of investors would not be amused.

Good thing we installed that morgue then.

Good thing we installed that morgue then.

The story of our intrepid designer doesn’t end there of course, there’s more to come, probably involving a riot or two. Subsequent to the little death debacle, the armed guard was sacked because it turns out he makes prisoners SUPER unhappy. It makes sense, you wouldn’t want some guy walking around waving a shotgun around, no matter what crime you committed. Most recently the feeding plans were upended, partially to fulfil a grant, and partially to mess with the prisoners because they’d been fairly dull for a while. There are also plans for expansion, with a second medium security annex due for construction and one 32 prisoner maximum security wing having been put into blueprint.

This could never be a mistake!

This could never be a mistake!

Aside from problems with ineptitude (including poor door placement), the process hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. There are still some issues with the worker AI in that they have a tendency to build themselves into corners from which they can’t escape. At least twice they’ve trapped themselves and I had to tear walls down or build doors so they could get out and complete their work. In my experience this is a recurring issue, which it seems has yet to be resolved. It’s fairly amusing the first couple of times, but after building several prisons it tends to get annoying fast. The pathing also tends to be a bit unreliable, and can end up causing some problems, particularly if the prisoners can take advantage of the workers moving to areas in an unexpected way. Jobs performed by prisoners are immediately dropped when the “Work” phase ends too, which can end up either being annoying or potentially disastrous. I had a prisoner end his laundry job and leave a basket in a cell doorway, preventing the door from closing. Minor issues, yes, but ones that have surely been noticed and that one would expect to have been fixed by now. That said, it’s entirely likely that they will be fixed once any more major bugs (which I haven’t yet noticed) get fixed.

Not very bright are they?

Not very bright are they?

The last Prison Architect build I played was Alpha 24, released in August this year, and while the changes aren’t staggering with the release of 26, they do mix things up a bit. Tazers have been nerfed since 25, and guards need to be trained to use them before they can carry. A prisoner reputation system, which I admittedly haven’t really encountered yet, apparently motivates certain prisoners to “mess things up” according to the patch notes. Probably down to boredom in my opinion. 26 fixed numerous bugs and errors, though its crown jewel is… wait for it…

Digital clock son! #SWAG

Digital clock son! #SWAG

Prison Architect remains, despite its quirks and minor annoyances, one of my favourite games to play when I need to dive into some design and practical chaos. It’s a really well thought out and implemented game in my opinion, well worth a laugh and a wasted evening or two. I feel that it will continue to deliver long into the future, hopefully with more and more shenanigans as the development cycle goes on. I know that I’m not escaping its walls any time soon.