The first time I encountered Prison Architect was at the Eurogamer Expo earlier this month. I was only able to play it for a few minutes before they started kicking people out of the venue. I played around 15 minutes of the tutorial and wasn’t really that impressed by the gameplay. Today, I randomly decided to pick it up the game and properly play through it.

Prison Architect is being developed by British developers Introversion Software. They are the same developers who created Darwinia and DEFCON which are both RPGs. It is still currently in its alpha stage but the game, as well as a few other deals and packages, are available for download at their website.

Prison Architect is a top down construction and management simulation. The player takes on the role of the architect as well as the manager of the maximum security prison. At the start, you are given an empty plot of land to build a prison from scratch. As the architect, you are able to decide the exact dimensions of the structure you are creating. As the manager, you are entitled to designating which roles the structures play in your prison. Initially, a prison needs a kitchen, a canteen, a warden and a holding cell to be shared by the first few prisoners. Each room requires certain objects in order to be officially assigned a role. A holding cell needs a toilet and a bench while a kitchen needs a stove and a fridge to store ingredients. Each building also needs to be connected a power generator. One generator can power up a small prison but as the game progresses more generators are required to cover a wider area. A water supply is also needed for toilets and showers.

The prison also needs an appropriate number of staff depending on how many prisoners are being accommodated. I started out with two guards for 8 prisoners and it did not work very well. The prisoners were terribly unhappy with the conditions and proceeded to beat each other up as well as the two guards (and an unlucky cook).

The prison gets a daily delivery of new inmates at 8am which encourages further land development. The inmates tend to be extremely violent and attempt escape frequently. The better the facilities the prison has then the more content the inmates will be resulting in less fights and escape attempts. If you click on an inmate it shows his current status, what he’s complaining about or if he needs medical attention. At one point, a prisoner got shipped in the morning with questionable ‘psychology.’ During a prison riot, he escaped from the holding cell, broke into the warden’s office, and sat on office chair. He had the best opportunity to escape. At the time I only had three guards and all were busy trying to restore order in the holding cell so no one could attend to the crazy inmate in the warden’s office. After all order was restored, the crazy inmate calmly walked back to the holding cell after which I decided to invest in a psychologist.

The game also gives you the ability to design a daily schedule or ‘regime’ as it’s called in the game. Default regimes have a standard day; 7am – wake up, 8am – free time, 1pm – eat, etc. Later on, when your prison is able to accommodate more facilities the schedule can be tweaked in order to ensure prisoner contentment. I decided to give eating breaks as much as I can. I thought maybe they’ll all get too fat to escape. Sadly, my dreams did not come true. Hopefully, when it is released they’ll add prisoner and staff health.

Your prison will run exactly how you want it to run. There are no limits to the capacity or capabilities of your buildings. However, this freedom comes at a cost; budget.

The true challenge of this game is the budgeting and prisons aren’t exactly businesses. The prison gets funded by the state everyday but the income gets deducted by supply usage and worker’s wages. However, you can apply for grants that give you money as soon as you apply providing that you fulfill the terms. The grant objectives are quite standard and all encourage development of the prison. It is probably possible to play through the game without opting for grants but it would be very difficult and very slow.

There are still a huge amount of glitches and the AIs are quite stupid. However, seeing that it’s only in its alpha stage, it is highly impressive. The only problem is that the alpha, as well as a pre-order of the full game when released, is priced at $30 at their website. I’m not exactly sure why Introversion Software decided to make it so expensive especially since it hasn’t even reached beta yet.

I’m expecting quite a lot from this game and I can’t wait to see how the finished product plays like. For now, I’m just going to keep stuffing my inmates with food in hopes of creating an obese prison utopia.