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In days gone by, it used to be possible to find a management sim for almost any business you might care to imagine; the majority of which were ultimately tat. Let’s not be in any doubt here, these were not the halcyon days of Theme Park/Hospital or where only people called Sid Meier or Chris Sawyer made games with ‘Tycoon’ in the title. These numerous, forgettable titles have inevitably ended up splitting along two separate paths; the simplified, social, Facebook-fodder aimed at the pick-up-and-play end of the market; and the current crop of ‘Tediously Slow and Monotonous Vehicle Simulator’, games that certain sections of the internet have pounced upon such misplaced over-enthusiasm that it would make a children’s television presenter feel violently sick.

It turns then to indie darlings Introversion Software to try and reinvigorate the genre with Prison Architect, and bring back the success and charm of the classic management games of yesteryear whilst they’re at it. And what’s this they’ve brought with them?! It would appear that they’ve discovered textures!

Whilst many would agree that the functional minimalism of games such as Uplink and Darwinia was a large part of their appeal, there’s no denying that they did leave a little to be desired in the graphics stakes. Prison Architect itself remains firmly rooted in merely two-dimensions, but with graphical flourishes such as the movement of shadows as the day-night cycle progresses, it’s a CryEngine powered behemoth in comparison to Introversion’s previous work.

Prison Architect

The crux of the game itself, unsurprisingly, comes down to building and managing a successful penitentiary. Buildings and rooms are constructed in the traditional drag-and-drop manner, with roles and their requisite furniture being added after. Rather than magically appearing in place, construction materials must be transported and assembled by your trusty team of workmen; assigning a store room will allow you to keep frequently used items in stock, but the additional factor of having to wait for less common items to be delivered means forward planning is often essential.

It’s not all about throwing up a couple of walls and leaving your prisoners to rot; give your inmates too much free time and they’ll start causing trouble out of boredom. Alternatively, restrict their access to essentials such as food, sleep or exercise and you’re just as likely to have a riot on your hands. Balancing the needs of your prisoners turns out to be just as vital to success as balancing the books.

There is still some way to go with development, but already anticipation is building. Introversion began taking pre-orders at the end of September, throwing in access to the Alpha builds along with assorted other rewards using the now common tiered method; orders went on to hit the $100,000 mark within 72 hours. For those not tempted to pre-order, it’s still worth following their Twitter feed (@IVSoftware) just to see some of the bugs encountered during the development process; a particular favourite being prisoners deciding to take their meals to the showers and eat in the buff.

Beanz | 11th October, 2012

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