A prisoner's life for me...

Since the birth of the Personal Computer, simulations have been a cornerstone of gaming. The very first Sim City blew us all away back in 1989, the micromanagement of a city built from the ground up leading to obsession for many a budding PC gamer. The Sim franchise lead to many spin-offs from the virtual ant farm of Sim Ant to the eventual creation of the household Sims, not to mention tongue in cheek renditions such as Theme Park and the Tropico series.

Yet my biggest sim fixation to date is not a city, island, planet or plain old family home – it’s a prison. I’m not sure if it’s all the episodes of Orange is the New Black I’ve been watching or classic films like The Shawshank Redemption and Escape from Alcatraz, but I really enjoy seeing – and then controlling – how a prison functions.

I am the architect!

Prison Architect is the latest and greatest in the niche genre of prison management simulators. The game has been in Alpha since 2012, with developer Introversion Software (which consists of two guys in the UK, Mark Morris and Chris Delay) performing monthly updates with the full version planned to ship this October. At this point in the Alpha’s 35th update, most of the bugs from earlier versions have been taken care of and Mark and Chris are mostly looking at adding new features. Some nifty additions of late include prison gangs (awesome!) and the ability for prisoners to trade contraband (there’s already quite the complex economy going on among inmates). But that all comes after you’ve built up your prison, which is the focus of this piece – to help you get your incarceration facility off the ground and more importantly, making money.

Prison Architect Kept Simple

Keep it simple, stupid. Don’t over-complicate your first couple of prisons.

Be the architect, not the artist

It’s easy to get carried away with the aesthetics of perfectly aligned buildings and uniform cell block layout, but remember you can always expand and renovate down the track. Keep your first buildings strictly functional using the minimum amount of space (real estate isn’t cheap, even in this game). You want your prisoners to be able to walk efficiently between their cells, showers, labour duties and the canteen efficiently. Don’t be afraid to look up images of prisons from more experienced players for ideas.

Prison Architect Turtle

Leave aesthetic designs – like this “turtle” – until you’ve got the basics down.

Get your inmates working early on

Prison labour should be one of the earliest “technologies” to be researched by your Warden, if possible once you unlock Prison Maintenance and hire a Foreman. The benefit of Prisonl abour is twofold; you get to assign inmates to perform tasks that reduce your labour costs as well as getting inmates acclimatized to work, exposed to environment and helping with overall reformation score, which determines your prisoners’ likelihood to re-offend once released). Unlike offices and the staff room that require only a minimum space to function, workplaces have a capacity dependant on their floorspace. Have adequate room in your laundry, cleaning cupboard and kitchen for working inmates and build your workshop nice and big with room to expand into a proper manufacturing facility once the inmates have been trained. Don’t forget to install a metal detector at the workshop entrance to avoid shanks, drills and other weapons being circulated amongst the inmates. And don’t forget to schedule more work time in the Regime to allow for more training programs and a larger spread of beneficial programs.

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Keep your finances in order

When experimenting with your first couple prisons it’s worth checking the “Unlimited funds” box on start up while you are learning the best order to construct your various buildings. Always have the maximum number of grants active (after hiring an accountant you can unlock the ability to have three grants simultaneously) to make sure you’re receiving the funds you deserve for housing these convicted misfits. Don’t expand too quickly and be ready to turn off the daily prisoner intake if you need to get on top of things. It can be tempting to run your prison with a skeleton crew to avoid paying staff, but not having enough guards will lead to more fights, more violence and the occasional corpse to clean up. On that note…

Rule with an Iron Fist

As the architect you have absolute control over your prison and as such, don’t let the inmates get away with infractions. Dog teams can sniff out contraband, your solitary block should always have someone in it and punish violence appropriately. Once you’ve researched Intelligence recruit a couple of informants to find where the big stashes of contraband are. Be careful how much you use them though, too many searches will arouse suspicion and get your snitches shanked in the lunch room. It all sounds like a lot of busy work, but this is one sim that PC players simply can’t put down.