IGM Exclusive Interview From Eurogamer Expo : Talking Prison Architect With Chris Delay
The other week I was lucky enough to go to the Eurogamer Expo in Central London. It was great fun, and allowed me to really experience a whole other side to gaming, along with being able to talk to the developers. I got a whole load of great interviews with many fantastic indie studios. I am going to kick it off with my interview I had with Chris Delay (Lead designer) from Introversion.
Introversion is a long running studio located in the UK. It has produced some fantastic indie games in the past with the most popular being: Uplink, Darwinia and DEFCON.
Their latest title Prison Architect which had currently been in development for around two years has finally moved into alpha. Introversion hope to blow all their previous titles out of the water and so far it look likely.
With the highly successful funding method Introversion used, Prison Architect had now a strong financial backing but what about the game?
Me: It was great to actually come face to face with the legend that is Chris Delay and I started off by asking what games does Prison Architect take inspiration from?
Chris: It is very much a management strategy game. We have taken influence from games such as Dwarf Fortress and of course Dungeon Keeper, in the way you produce your prison
Me: To me it seems very interesting that Introversion would come up with inspiration for a game about running a prison. It is not the first environment that would come to mind when designing a new sim strategy game. So I asked Chris what inspired him to design a game based in prisons?
Chris: I actually got the inspiration for the game from my holiday in San Francisco. I went to visit Alcatraz, and while exploring this fantastic prison with the audio guide, I could not help but be enthralled by the place. The stories, the inmate bartering systems used to create an economy within these walls was fascinating. Of course the prison had so many great mechanics that would really translate well into a game. On the flight home I started my work on bringing this idea to life.
Me: One look at Prison Architect told me that the art direction had gone off in a very different way for the studio. A lot of Introversions earlier work was created in a more abstract, computer style. I asked what has inspired this new cartoony look?
Chris: We felt that the abstract approach that we have used commonly in the past, in titles like DEFCOM and Darwinia would not really be appropriate for a prison game. Although we did not want to go the other way and try to make it look realistic, we never do realistic.
I was rather interested in Ryan Sumo’s work in Spacechem. The crisp look he put into that game really came across fantastically. So we contacted him and he was the one to come up with this particular cartoon look that we can see in the game now.
He also designs all of the polaroids used in the game. The polaroids are the main mechanism to deliver the story to the players. We found they work well in allowing us to convey more of the dark sinister side of Prison Architect.
Me: This lead me to ask about the story(naturally). As I wondered how much story can really come across in a game where you design a prison?
Chris: Prison Architect will contain a rich story relating to the prison system. Although not implemented in the alpha yet, as I am still writing the story. It will contain all the key elements found in any story.
The first level is all about infrastructure and power management, teaching you how to setup a basic prison correctly and then power it. This weaves into the story, as the first level will contain a story focused around the electric chair. So the elements are introduced and then capitalised on in a story capacity, which is the planned route we want to take with the story.
Me: In any sim styled game you expect it to come with not only a campaign / story mode, but also to have a sandbox mode. Just to allow players to fool around with all the mechanics, I asked Chris if this was the case in Prison Architect.
Chris: We have indeed implement a free play sandbox mode, the alpha is actually set in this, as the story is still being worked on. This will allow the player to really mess around and produce innovative and interesting new prisons anyway they see fit.
Me: The alpha is still in the early stages and currently only has one type of prisoner (the archetype prisoner), however I quizzed Chris on how much depth we will see from prisoners and facilities overall in the finished product.
Chris: Currently we only have one type of prisoner in the alpha, however we have plans to implement a variety of extras. The first to be implemented will most likely be a maximum security type, who will visually look different (have a red uniform).
With these prisoners you will have to produce special holding cells and even segregate them from the overall population. They will of course be more hostile and less willing to cooperate with the guards, making them quite a challenge to manage.
It is our aim to add all types from these maximum security prisoners, right the way down to day release prisoners. The Day release prisoners will actually leave the prison in the day to work in the community. It is an interesting concept, prisoners with keys and is one that exists out in the world.
The aim is to allow the player to generate prisons from harsh right winged fully locked down prisons to really open, almost holiday camp-esque prisons.
Me: A key point I found very interesting was the use of a Kickstarter model, but generated internally inside Introversion. I was not sure why Introversion would use this model when Kickstarter already existed, So I posed the question to Chris.
Chris: We believe that Kickstarter is about funding projects that do not yet exist. We already had a fairly good idea about the game by this point. I felt that launching it on Kickstarter would be a little disingenuous on our part. The concept of Kickstarter is you have a limited time to raise all the funds or you get nothing nothing, we didn’t like this time restrictive model.
We didn’t feel that we needed to set a level of funding that we needed to complete the game. We have been more than happy to just run it this way and allow people to put in as much money as they want, with no time constraints. We like the idea of running an alpha for a long time.
We really love the alpha process, very much like that of DayZ we want to bring new content frequently to the players. That was one of the things I loved about DayZ, I would frequently login to see what new content had been added.
This is what we want to emulate with Prison Architect, make it a much more personal experience with the community and be able to bring them new content on a regular basis.
Sadly I didn’t have much more time with Chris Delay, as the Expo was a busy time for everyone and one of the lead men from Introversion obviously had plenty to do. Though I felt that I had learned a fair amount more about Prison Architect and Introversion overall.
Prison Architect is currently available in alpha stage from the official site here. There is no current plan to move into beta, but expect many updates frequently to keep you busy. It looks a great game that is right up my alley (strategy nerd), so I look forward greatly to hearing more about the project.
I would like to thank Chris Delay for giving me the time in his very rushed schedule at Eurogamer Expo, to talk me through some of the aspects of the game. I also would like to thank Introversion overall for their excellent presence at Eurogamer and their fantastic developers session. I enjoyed it greatly and look forward to hearing more about their latest project.