Prison Architect Interview
The critically-acclaimed Prison Architect will soon be released (pun intended) on consoles. To get you positively jumping with anticipation, have a read of our interview with developer Double Eleven’s Design Manager Gareth Wright, covering what’s new for the console versions, –, and what type of warden he is!
Xbox One UK: Prison Architect is nominated for an impressive two BAFTA’s. How did Double Eleven come to be working on bringing the game to consoles?
Gareth: We were delighted to hear that Introversion and Prison Architect were nominated for two Baftas and won Best Persistent Game! In terms of how we got started in working on the project, it was very old school, we pitched for it! We’re big fans of the game and when we heard Introversion were open to the idea of getting it published on console we pitched a design for what our version of the game would look like on Xbox. The rest of course, is history!
XOUK: As a company you’ve an impressive catalogue of games developed for platforms they weren’t originally released on. What’s been key in establishing yourselves as a publisher and developer other developers can trust?
You’re right it’s all about trust! Although we may be unknown to a lot of people, in the industry I like to think we have a reputation with developers as a trusted pair of hands. This included studios like Media Molecule, Playdead, and Coffee Stain who have, over the years, entrusted us with really what are their babies. For the developers we work with it isn’t just about money, it’s really about them having the confidence that we would do right by them. It helps that as a publisher we think as a developer, so when we get involved with another studio it isn’t only about the title. In practice that means we’re more concerned with passion and capabilities than a track record of previous successes. It also means as a developer we can get stuck in and help out on a project if it’s not ours and if we’re working on a console title (which usually needs to be optimised), we’ll share those optimisations so they can go into the original version and make it better. We’re not precious about stuff like that, it’s good for the original devs and the people playing their games. Ultimately we see every title as a collaboration and both studios should benefit from working together.
Part of this also comes from the fact that our main motivation for publishing is so that we can pick the games we want to work on. So intrinsically we’re only going to pick titles we really enjoy and more importantly that we can deliver to a really high standard. Although it’s certainly not obvious to anyone outside our studio, that really is the common link between our titles. The same can be true for what we do in publishing. For example we made a conscious decision that the console editions should have a new prison population. Rather than just seed it with random prisoner information we decided to offer people a chance to get their own name in the game. As such, we went out and designed an online prisoner creator on prisonarchitect.double11.com so that people could be a part of our game. We’ve been running competitions and mentioning it on Game Hub to get people to sign up and the response has been great. We much prefer this approach, creating something hopefully more personal!
XOUK: Developing a PC game to play on consoles ostensibly seems like it could be a tricky task, but is that the case? And what was the first aspect you and your team looked at when redesigning for consoles?
G: For each game we may look at porting, it’s a different set of criteria. Something that is successful on PC isn’t an immediate draw for a console audience, without considering how much differently a console player might approach the game, and what their expectations are. We knew that Prison Architect would require a completely fresh UI and controls system, which is also one of the first things Xbox fans were interested to see how we tackled.
The console audience for a game of this type is quite different from PC so it was paramount for us to start thinking very early on about that “console feel”. The experience is great on PC and clearly very popular, but it would have to look, feel and play like a console game for the the console audience to enjoy it just as much. Reimagining the game’s Controls and UI were the first step towards that goal, and these two components often have to be designed hand-in-hand. In terms of the UI design, ultimately we wanted something that looked shiny and fresh of course, but the initial design and brainstorming was more centred around ensuring that it would gel with a brand new set of pad controls, that features in the game were just as quick to access as they are on PC (but not all in your face at once), that we maintained as much of the space on screen for the game as possible, and that the messaging and guidance to the console player was clear.
Although of course we wanted a visually pleasing and modern looking UI, we knew that console gamers, both new ‘prison architects’ and fans of the original wouldn’t forgive us if the controls felt sluggish, or if performing the things they’d do the most, such as construction or demolition, was not immediate and intuitive. So our initial focus was in those areas, before any of the visual dressing discussions. Through focusingtesting and the feedback from our Xbox Game Preview community, it’s clear that taking that step back and scrutinizing the UI and controls design over and over, way before much of it went into game, has helped ensure the very best console experience.
XOUK: There will no doubt be many minor changes you and your team have implemented that may go unnoticed by those who haven’t played the game on PC. Are there any of these changes you’re particularly proud of?
G: Yes, there are literally hundreds of improvements big and small across the game. There’s not a single feature or area in the game that hasn’t undergone some kind of little extra for the console audience. It’s not so much about changes as it is new stuff, different methods of doing the same thing, consolespecific quick ways to build, or additional messaging to help guide newer players. Here are a few of my lessknown, personal favourites:
Sometimes it’s entertaining to just follow the prisoners in game and watch what they’re up to, but I found myself asking; “Where’s this guy’s cell, I want to search it as he’s acting suspicious”, or “He’s had a run of good behaviour so I think he deserves some additional comfort in his cell, such as a TV or Radio.”. From any inmate’s Bio screen, players can now jump straight to that prisoner’s cell, via the new “View Cell” option.
Guard Response One thing that we noticed a lot whilst watching players play, was that in an emergency such as a riot, players would instinctively hire more and more guards in that area, to deal with the problem quickly. To prevent players ending up with more guards than they may need, or having to fire the extra ones after the situation is in hand, we created the Guard Response option. Simply highlighting Guard Response and pressing the (A) button continuously will deploy as many nearby guards to that area as you wish. When the inmates have been dealt with those guards will return to their duties.
Players can now add and remove water to their maps, providing an extra layer of creativity with the ability to design lakes, moats, rivers or island prisons.
Similar to the Guard Response feature, we found that players would often wonder whether a construction job was going to get done, and instinctively they would hire more workers often unnecessarily. Now players can track any construction job to see the worker assigned to it, and follow him as he gathers the materials and makes his way over. Jobs can also be prioritized with a single button, for players who want a particular door, building, or hole in the wall dealt with immediately, before any other job.
We’re also responding to the suggestions and ideas from our players currently in Game Preview. Prison Architect: Xbox One Edition has been in the Xbox One Game Preview program since March and we are seeing how it’s a great program for getting that hands-on gamer feedback on the improvements we’ve made, as well as receiving some good ideas from both new players and original fans of the PC game.
A much requested feature from the community was to be able to turn plans straight into actual walls and foundations. The game’s Planning feature would let you draw out the placement of walls and rooms to use as a guide to build on, but now those blueprints can be transformed into buildings with a single button-press.
XOUK: Two of the biggest new features for the console version of Prison Architect are ‘World of Wardens’, an online platform players can use to share their prison designs, and ‘Warden Mode’, whereby players unfamiliar with the game can take control of a ready-built prison. What process did you go through with Introversion Software to implement these features?
G: World of Wardens (WoW) was envisaged a couple of months into development. From the start there was no setin-stone agreement about which features we had to include and Introversion have been great in trusting us to have free reign to create the definitive console experience.
We never wanted to do a straight port, and both us and Introversion felt that a way to share and showcase prisons on console would be a great and almost crucial addition to the game. We share a belief that Prison Architect is as much about creativity and imagination as it is about running a prison, so what’s the point in creating something awesome if you can’t share it and show it off… And how cool would it be if other players can then play on or change that prison?
We hope that players who may want a bit of inspiration before they start their next prison, or simply want to jump in and run or expand someone else’s prison, will find WoW the perfect place to do that.
Introversion loved the WoW idea and the fact that it plays into what is at the heart of Prison Architect, empowering player-created content that anyone can enjoy, so it was a real no-brainer. Introversion’s PC game had a way to share prisons through the Steam Workshop, but nothing like that exists on console, so the trickiest aspect then became how to design something that would ‘live’ inside the game, and be immediate to all players. We then discussed with Introversion how we might be able to squeeze it into the schedule, early enough so that the Game Preview players could try it out.
Warden Mode came a little bit before WoW and was an idea that we felt would fulfil a range of goals, the main two being to show and inspire console players with the diverse, crazy and huge prison possibilities in the game, and to provide console players who were fascinated with prison running, a way to jump straight into an up-and-running prison and take immediate control.
Both Introversion and our team felt that it was also important for players to be able to make these Warden maps their own, to expand, demolish or change things, as much as they could with their own prisons.
Introversion helped us choose and reach out to some of their best prison creators for their permission to get a diverse range of pre-made maps in Warden Mode. Since then, the Double Eleven designers have also been hard at work building some of our own maps for Warden mode.
XOUK: Both modes are thoughtful additions to the game. ‘World of Wardens’ in particular is an exciting prospect – is it one you hope will encourage a community of console players to build around the game in a similar manner to those PC players have?
G: Absolutely! There is a tremendous community around the game on PC, we’ve been learning from it to create something suitable for the Xbox community, it’s really why we chose to be in Xbox Game Preview (XGP).
The game is of course is already a known entity however we wanted to be able to actively respond to how people were playing our edition. XGP was very much the test bed for World of Wardens. We created this entirely new infrastructure to allow players to have one ID (a DoubleID) so that they could sign into the game to create, share and rate prisons and discuss on our forums with the same ID.
Later on we’ll also be introducing a new addition to our website that will show Double Eleven curated and top prisons from the game. We’ve seen people invest a lot of time and thought in their prisons and we’re always looking for ways to bring those stories forward.
XOUK: Also regarding communities, will any feedback received during Game Preview or post-release go towards shaping the future of the game? And might we see future content released through updates or DLC?
G: Our Game Preview community has already helped to shape the game through their suggestions and feedback on our forums and comments on the Xbox One Game Preview Hub. Even players that stream and play the game inspire us in the design team, with things we hadn’t previously thought about. We’ve already implemented a range of ideas and tweaks in our Game Preview updates based on that feedback. There’ll definitely be more updates to come.
In regards to DLC, we’d love to introduce some additional big chunks of content or modes to the game, we are looking at some of the biggest fan-requests, but have nothing to confirm right now. If the game is a successful as we hope, we’ll do it and have some pretty good requests from the fans.
XOUK: With a core premise of Prison Architect being to allow the player as both architect and warden to design a prison after their own choosing, whether minimum or maximum security, an environment of rehabilitation or hard line incarceration, what’s your own particular modus operandi for prison construction?
G: I like this question as on the whole I really enjoy creating prisons with an interesting theme, a unique look, or a representation of a real place (that might not necessarily be a prison), so when I show the other devs at Double 11 they go: “oh that looks like…”.
As an example I’d love to make a prison that looks like a stadium event, focused on a small wrestling ring in the centre. The ring would essentially be a small yard, with rows and rows of seats around to watch. What would be the locker-rooms in real-life would be the inmate’s cells, and at ‘yard time’ they’d leave their cells, walk down the ramp to the ring (yard) and in that tight space no doubt carnage would ensue. I may even have the Warden and his Chief of Security commentating at ring-side ha ha. I’m quite excited to try that out next, if someone else doesn’t beat me to it. I think it’d be really funny and rewarding to try to build something like that, that plays out how you’d hope.
Ultimately I like trying something new and like to ‘think’ I’m a nice warden. The most recent prison I created, which might become playable in the final game is called “The Lap of Luxury”.
I wanted to turn the idea of a prison-life on its head and provide inmates with ultimate, over-the-top luxury, each with their own private villa, complete with a swimming pool, gym, pool table and shower. The Lap of Luxury complex also features a waterside restaurant, cinema room, woodland walks, and a pier with great views over the lake. Even with all this luxury the prisoners being prisoners, are still trying to sneak in contraband and misbehave! I said I was a nice warden, but if these darn prisoners try to stretch their privileges any more, or I find one more mobile phone hidden in their cells, I might have to dish out some harsh punishment, to remind them just how good they have it at The Lap of Luxury.
There really is a lot of creativity and opportunity for wannabe prison architects to “think outside the block” when dreaming up a new prison. Clearly from a lot of the prisons we’ve been seeing shared in WoW on Game Preview right now, many other players are thinking the same, which is great to see as it inspires other players, and us.
XOUK: Finally, whether it’s what you’ve played or developed, which game or games has been most influential for you personally?
G: In terms of Prison Architect, there’s not a lot of similar games on console, one of the reasons we found the project such a cool and interesting one to pursue. Theme Hospital was one of the games we looked at for some inspiration. Theme Hospitals’ gameplay is a lot more light-hearted but we like how easy some of the building was in that game. It inspired us to think up some new ways to make construction and demolition the most frequently used actions in Prison Architect quick, easy and console-friendly.
The game that is perhaps the most influential to my overall style and design-beliefs is one that I also enjoy playing the most: the Borderlands franchise.
I appreciate games with great design, UI and strong player messaging. Also, as I’m not the world’s biggest shoot-em-up gamer it did a fantastic job of drawing me in with its charm, longevity and pick-up-and-play gunplay style. The thought that I can find a gun or shield that has stats or elemental effects that are slightly different to everyone else’s version is very cool. The amount of customization is pretty immense, and I’m constantly evaluating the best load-out and kit combinations after each mission, alongside my character’s skill tree. The art-style, storylines, and character design are all incredibly innovative and gel extremely well together in the Borderlands universe, without unbalancing any of the gameplay. The design thought-process when adding a new character or mission is not just about introducing more variety, but also empowering and often challenging players to find new ways to play.
As a designer I also tip my hat to the Fifa Ultimate Team concept. Such an awesome idea, and clearly one that is now being adopted into other genres of games.
XOUK: Gareth, many thanks!
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