Prison Architect comes to you from Introversion Software, the makers of Uplink, Darwinia and DEFCON, and shows the same pedigree of high-quality systemic gameplay with the constant fear of everything going completely balls crazy at the drop of a hat. You can currently purchase the alpha direct from the developer’s website for $30 (or more, if you’re enthusiastic and want to see your face in the game), and apropos to the theme, it’s a steal at that price. There’s a fair slew of bugs, but it’s a lot more feature complete than many alphas and, hey, it’s just great fun.
My first prison was a hellhole. Struggling with understanding how utilities worked, I confined my exponentially growing number of prisoners to an overcrowded holding pen until I could figure out how to make the toilets flush. Needless to say, this wasn’t a smart move: a riot ensued, and the only two guards I could afford were quickly mauled to death. I watched, giggling, as my prisoners bashed the door down and fled into the countryside.
I’ve learned a lot since then. Most of my prisons now last days, even weeks at a time before erupting into a vicious riot. Some of them don’t even riot at all. So that you don’t share my pain, I’ve whipped together a few quick tips for your first prison.
1. Money doesn’t grow on trees (it grows on grants)
The absolute first thing you should do is open up the reports menu (bottom right) and get yourself some grants.
The basic prison one is a good kick-off, but there’s no time limit on them so there’s no reason to not take literally all of them and give yourself a spare $90,000 (this will probably be patched out!).
With this cash in hand, there’s basically nothing stopping you. You’ve got 24 hours until your first prisoners arrive, which should be enough time to get the basics up (a holding cell, a kitchen, an office and a shower) as well as some cell blocks (start with 10 or so) and a common room.
Building foundations and walls and rooms can be confusing, so make sure you follow the tutorial. I find it’s sometimes better to build a massive foundation, then divide it into rooms as I need. You’ll probably end up restarting your prison about a dozen times too, as demolishing things can be tricky. Perseverance!
2. Get more staff (and more stuff) than you need
Two cooks isn’t enough to handle a prison full of rowdy convicts, and wages don’t really seem like too much of an issue in the current build. Hire at least three or four, and don’t forget to install a sink in the kitchen as well or the dirty dishes will just pile up. It may not be one of the minimum kitchen requirements, but every bit helps.
The same applies for other rooms. A holding cell technically only needs a toilet and a bench, but if you make it big enough and pop a bed or two in there you’ll calm a few hot tempers. Your yard doesn’t technically need a phone or weights benches, but if your prisoners can’t phone home, they’ll snap out and start beating up your staff. If you absolutely can only afford to build the minimum requirements for a room, make sure you come back later to polish it up, or it will come back later to bite you.
Hire extra construction workers to speed up building, and then fire them when you’re done. Heyooo! Thrilling commentary on modern workplace relations.
3. Prisoners are total idiots (and so are your staff)
You’ve spent all that money on a sick common room with a pool table, bookshelves and a massive TV, as well as a TV in every cell, and your prisoners are still complaining about being bored? This is because they are morons. Get yourself an office and a warden, and set up a regime (in the reports menu) to force them to do what you want. If you give prisoners free time they’ll use it to punch your staff in the face and break your toilets. You don’t want this to happen.
Unfortunately, your construction workers can also be total idiots as well. The best laid plans of mice and men can grind to a halt because your construction workers get stuck on objects and can’t figure out how to move, or just keep auto-failing building tasks even though there’s no reason. This is a known issue, so just cancel the task and re-issue it.
Speaking of construction, there’s another known issue where water mains (but not smaller water pipes) can only go under walls if you build the water mains first. Routing water mains through doorways is the best way around this.
4. Research early and often
Once you’ve got a warden you can unlock ‘Bureaucracy’, which is essentially a skill pathway for further unlocks. It takes hours and hours of ‘research’ to evolve the ability to hire accountants, lawyers, doctors and everything else, so the earlier you start, the better.
Having a big office block with a security door that only opens for staff is also a must. Your staff don’t need to eat, shower or use the toilet at any time, so feel free to actually make their life even more of a living hell than that of your prison population. They won’t care, as long as those nasty cons can’t get in and break their teeth. Awesome.
5. You’ve gotta keep ‘em separated
Make sure to segment off buildings as your put them up — it’s a lot easier to build an expansion outside the current prison, then expand the prison to include it, than it is to try and fit everything into your current setup. Your construction workers are unaffected by fences, so build in the room you have. Small maps are a lot more difficult to work with, so I’d recommend going with a large map to start with until you get the hang of things.
Finally, although it may seem like an obvious statement, make sure you’ve got a fence that completely encloses your prison (or at least closes the gaps between buildings). If there’s even the slightest gap, your prisoners will find it eventually and get out. Of course, you could always hire an army of lawyers to keep your penalty points down — but hey, that’s all part of the fun.
Prison Architect is only going to get better from here as they iron out the bugs, and since they’ve already made a metric buttload of cashmoney from the alpha sales, development should be (hopefully) able to ramp up at a spectacular pace.
Oh! Put a metal detector outside of the kitchen entrances and exits. You’ll shank me later.