Right now, in the dark recesses of the internet, there’s a light that just went on. It’s the first spark of the first flare of the Prison Architect alpha program, allowing you to finally find out what Introversion have been spending all this time doing.
From right this moment, you can head over to the Prison Architect site and decide if you want to lay down cold hard cash to get access to the Alpha of the game, or lay down even more cold hard cash for extra goodies.
After they’d put Subversion out to pasture, Introversion took everything they’d learned about creating complex mechanical systems and started creating Prison Architect. You play the warden of a prison, and it’s your job to make sure they serve out their carceration, one way or another. Chris Delay, Introversion's lead designer, says Dwarf Fortress was “probably one of the biggest influences on Prison Architect, along with Dungeon Keeper and Theme Hospital. Just about any Bullfrog game.” You’re the warden of a prison, and it’s your job to make sure they serve out their incarceration, one way or another.
The Prison Architect alpha is tiered like a Kickstarter, with $30 being the base price that gets you immediate access to the Alpha build of the game, as well as becoming an ongoing part of the game’s development. Each further tier offers you a little more. Pony up $35 and you get an art book in a PDF, along with the Official Sound Track. Go up to $40 and you get all that along with every previous Introversion game, which includes Uplink, Darwinia, Defcon and Multiwinia.
After that things get a little more interesting, with $50 getting your name in the game as one of the prisoners, along with being able to customise their rapsheet. Go to $100 and you get a physical copy of the game, a poster, a t-shirt, an art book and all previous tiers. And if you want to actually get your face stylised and put in the game, that’ll be $250, while $500 lets you help create one of the polaroid vignettes that tell the more sombre stories of the game.
Finally, laying down $1000 gives you the opportunity to work with Introversion to create one of the five wardens that will be seen in the game, each with their own buffs or features that make them unique.
I asked Mark Morris, one of Introversion’s Directors, why they didn’t just do a Kickstarter when it’s so clearly structured like one. “The big difficulty with Kickstarter is that you have to set a target. And for us, that was the trickiest part. We don’t need the money to complete hte game, that’s not the objective. It’s much more that we want to run an ongoing alpha process where we can engage with the fans.” It’s still very early in the development of the game, and while the core game is mostly in place, there’s still a lot of work to do.
Which is where the alpha testers come in. Chris Delay, another Director, added “we’ve had a lot of history in having large blind spots in our games. We really want the first alpha testers to get into the game and look at it and tell us where to develop next. We have our plans about where we’re going to go with it, but the details are all up for grabs. We’ve been developing it in the quiet for too long, and it’s time that stopped.”