Rising from the ashes of the long-delayed Subversion, Introversion Software’s Prison Architect has caused quite a stir for not only resisting the indie scene’s current love affair with Kickstarter, but also doing it in style. With overall revenues of the alpha fund campaign sitting at well over £200,000, it’s safe to say that plenty of people are pretty buzzed to incarcerate, rehabilitate and maybe even execute some digital felons. So then, what better time to sit down with Introversion’s very own Mark Morris (Managing Director) to discuss the finer points of the alpha funding craze, the touchy subject of prisons abroad, and spending over a decade being a Indie?
Indie Statik: You guys have been in business for way longer than a lot of other indie outfits out there, so how have you seen the indie landscape change in the 11 years since Uplink?
Mark Morris: It’s changed hugely. When we started there was no digital distribution – we had to physically print the labels and burn the CDs. Steam (and the rest) have radically improved routes to market. There’s also a whole indie genre now that didn’t exist back in 2000.
Indie Statik: Is it all for the better, or do you think some things have gotten worse?
Mark Morris: It’s 90% for the better I think. Marketing is a little harder than it used to be, but I think we are living in a golden age for indies.
Indie Statik: It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a new, non-multiplayer game from Introversion. Has it been easy to jump back into the saddle with a single-player focused title?
Mark Morris: Yeah, it’s easier. Chris Delay, [the dude what makes the games] had the vision for Prison Architect and didn’t really see any multiplayer options. It’s quite a relief to get away from all the networking headaches!
Indie Statik: Is multiplayer something you’d be open to in the future?
Mark Morris: For version 1 of Prison Architect it’ll definitely be singleplayer only. We have some cool plans for map share and video stuff, but nothing more than that. If the game does well enough we may consider some multiplayer, but it’s not on the table at the moment.
Indie Statik: In previous Introversion games the player has always been detached from reality in some way, has it felt different making something more “real” this time?
Mark Morris: I don’t think this is more “real” than Uplink or DEFCON. You played a real-world Hacker, then a real-world General and now a real-world Prison Architect!
Indie Statik: So putting a face and a name to those you influence or kill hasn’t changed anything?
Mark Morris: There is a very different tone to Prison Architect and we are very aware of that. We spend a lot of time making sure that we think hard about the issues and try to represent a balanced and well thought-out game. We don’t want to glorify or trivialise prisons. In that regard it’s very challenging.
Indie Statik: Is the setting of Prison Architect drawing more from “real life” prisons than fictional depictions of prisons?
Mark Morris: Not really. It’s heavily influenced by prison media, but we do have an ex-prisoner and a UK prison officer advising us.
Indie Statik: Will it be mainly from a British angle then? Or will we see cultural and social elements from other countries?
Mark Morris: That’s a very interesting question. We are British, and we draw heavily on our own understanding of prisons. But most of the media is American; Shawshank, Green Mile, Prison Break etc etc. So it’s kind of a middle ground. We’re actually trying hard not to situate it. There should be a question in the players mind about where this prison is geographically and what year it is. We’re deliberately obscuring those issues.
Indie Statik: Will the player be able to take their own stance on divisive subjects like executions in the story campaign, or is the law “the law” in Prison Architect?
Mark Morris: There’s less choice in the story, but 100% freedom of action in the sandbox. As the story rolls forward it’ll become less directive than it currently is, but it’s hard to tell a story if you don’t maintain some control over the direction the player takes
Indie Statik: Going back to geography a sec, what’s the donation divide been like from the US compared to UK?
Mark Morris: Hmm – I’m not sure if I actually know the answer myself. Hang on a sec……….
Indie Statik: Haha! Well I got a lot more from that question than I was expecting!
Mark Morris: Yeah me too! I didn’t even know we had that view in google analytics!
Indie Statik: Oh wow, I notice there’s not much difference between the two donation amounts!
Mark Morris: Yeah, it’s pretty much neck and neck at the moment!
Indie Statik: Anyway, will it ever be possible for someone to make a “perfect prison” in Prison Architect, one that basically runs itself?
Mark Morris: We’re trying to balance things so that it should ultimately be possible to make a “perfect prison”. That’s not really a design aim, just a kind of principle behind what we are doing. We develop Prison Architect by making a system – like the canteen system. We then layer system on top of system until we start to see emergent behaviours that we (as designers) couldn’t predict. The game has to be deterministic, but ultimately we want the game to surprise us!
Indie Statik: Would you say that’d be a “win” condition for sandbox mode, or is that meant to be more of a “see how long you survive” kind of thing?
Mark Morris: We’ve not figured out the “end game” yet. We’re thinking about having different metrics, like number of prisoners, number of days without incident, number of Rehabilitations, those sorts of things. But it’s still early days.
Indie Statik: Ah, so stuff like that’s going to evolve as the alpha goes on then?
Mark Morris: Yeah, we’ll ask the alpharites what they think and implement the most popular options.
Indie Statik: Wow, that’s brave to give the players that much influence!
Mark Morris: Well, yes and no. We’ll decide what list of things to include and then put them out there, then the community can vote and suggest things that we may have missed. If there’s something we really want to do, but it doesn’t get the community massively animated, we’ll probably do it anyway – silent majority sort of thing. We really do want to have a strong relationship with the community, but the game won’t be “designed by committee” if that makes sense.
Indie Statik: What was it like sitting on the “go” button for the alpha campaign? What were your expectations?
Mark Morris: Tiny. We were hoping to get 100 people in the first 24 hours. But it exploded!
Indie Statik: Haha, it sure did. I’m glad you were wrong!
Mark Morris: Me too!
Indie Statik: On that note, do you think the current alpha funding mania is a bubble that could potentially burst, or has it changed the indie scene forever at this point?
Mark Morris: I think it’s changed forever. It makes a massive difference being able to get funding when you are 2/3 of the way through development and I think there is a certain type of gamer that really wants to be involved early and help out. I think the actual way in which alphas are implemented may change, but I think (hope) that they are here for good now.
If you fancy giving Prison Architect a try (you should, it’s pretty rad!) then head over to the official site and contribute ~ £19 or more to get yourself an spot in the ongoing alpha test, plus a copy of the final game when it hits! Or if you’d rather wait it out, keep an eye on us here at Indie Statik for future coverage!