Here’s a confession which to most of you shouldn’t come as a surprise: We have been way too lazy with the game development lately. It would be easy to blame this on realities of life, but it’s not just that – sometimes your work becomes this enormous hurdle
which seems impossible to overcome. When you haven’t worked on the code/script for months, you tend to forget where you were, what you were supposed to do or even what has been done. Because of this, it is challenging to get to that flow-like state where
you bang on your keyboard and something magical happens. Basically, I haven’t done any development for Prisonscape in months.
It seems that I have been trapped in a world of instant gratification for a while now, and this needs to change. I am actually the only one of the team who had no other than made up reasons explaining the lack of development. It’s not a writer’s block, per se, I just got overwhelmed by the complexity of the game at its current state (you REALLY should make your first game simple!). I got even more discouraged after our first alpha wasn’t very successful due to several bugs and plain bad writing and designing.
So, here we are. A lot of people have already forgotten Prisonscape, and those who are still checking it from time to time probably think that it’s yet another game that’ll never be finished. But I’m not gonna let that happen. We’re not gonna let that happen. I think the game still has crazy potential to become an interesting roleplaying game in a very interesting setting. I think we already we have plenty of great material for the game. I think that at times the writing is good, and the characters are interesting.
I think we can do this, we’ll just have to get back to work. Actually, I already started.
We’ve been quiet for a long time, but we have not been idle. Prisonscape has progressed slowly but surely towards the alpha phase, which will be started in the upcoming weeks. We’ll also start releasing gameplay videos during the next months, now that we have more elements that are in their final form for the game.
Like with most games, the development of Prisonscape has been delayed for various reasons. In this blog post I’m not going to talk about that, instead I’ll show you all the cool stuff we have done. Some of these are old, some new. Without further adieu, I present Prisonscape:
It’s been a little over two years since we started making Prisonscape. Even though some of the main elements have remained, a lot has changed, too. Let’s go through some of those changes!
First of all, in our early blog posts we wanted to make a game very similar to Chrono Trigger in gameplay. A lot of people argued that the open world mechanics of CT wouldn’t go very well with closed prison space and they were right. Me and Tuomas are both big fans of Chris Avellone’s games and especially the Fallout series. Eventually we started getting a lot of inspiration from them, including the tactical combat (more about it here, here, here and here). Second thing we did pretty early in the development was simplifying the gaming mechanics – we reduced the amount of basic statistics to Strength, Agility and Intelligence (Fitness, Mental Health and Charisma were removed) because including all of these would’ve been too much work.
In the beginning, we also hadn’t hired an artist. That’s right, I was doing the art, and it really shows in this screenshot:
After that we hired David and the game looked immediately much better (and got tons of more attention from people, too!). With graphics, we learned the hard way when we used mismatching pixels for the UI – David drew these AMAZING UI’s but we ended up scrapping them because they just looked… wrong because of the mismatching pixel size.
Previous UI with mismatching pixel size. It looks fantastic.
New UI. It looks fantastic, too.
Initially we also shunned the idea of experience and levels. But after thorough playtesting of the first area we noticed one very important thing about Prisonscape – it was boring as fuck. It had no sense of progression and it was basically a walk’n’talk simulation. Reputation and items didn’t give enough sense of accomplishment while playing, so we decided to add the leveling system. There’s a reason why it’s used in almost all RPG’s.
I also changed the storyline a LOT. The first idea was that the game would consist of episodes or levels, so you would start in a minimum security, escape from there (easy) and eventually end up in max and try to do the same thing there. There was a LOT of branching, which would’ve been way too much work in the end.
Oh, and in the first design document we planned so that the player wouldn’t see any of their stats, but just an indication of it (“you are in good shape”). We also reduced the number of gangs from 9 to 6. We also planned several minigames (rewiring the alarm system, playing domino’s, etc.).
What have I learned during these short two years:
– Don’t use mismatching pixel sizes!
– Even smaller tasks can take a lot of your time
– Working fulltime drains a lot from you and hinders the game development
– Don’t be afraid to show your game to people, even the spoiler-y parts
– Start building your audience early on
– Also write some technical blog posts/reports, people are really interested in them
– You can’t force writing dialogue. Sometimes you can’t get shit done, even if you have all the time in the world
Happy new year, hopefully it is the year when you can finally play Prisonscape! 😉
Sneaky edit: One more thing – for your first game, don’t pick an RPG/adventure game with branching storyline, complex game mechanics and tons of dialogue. Just don’t. Make Tetris, or Pong. I warned you.
It gives the basic information about how prison jobs are given and how much they pay.
The second area in Prisonscape, the Miranda maximum security unit, is the largest and longest area in the game. One of the main objectives in Miranda is getting a job. Jobs grant you (a little) money, but the most important benefit you get from having a job is access to specific areas in the game. Getting a job is not based on merit, but who you know and what you are ready to do for said job. You also have to be in good terms (reputation) with people who give out these jobs.
These guys worked too hard.
Let’s look at two examples:
#1 The player has arrived to Miranda and he needs to find a job that gives him access to the commissary. The work pays very little, but working in the commissary has several benefits – all commissary items are discounted, and there’s a chance to get unique items (commissary workers can buy unique/new items before anyone else), for example food items (+ health), hygiene products (great for trading), healing lotions and rubs (+health), electronics (+crafting ingredients, great for trading), etc.
The commissary is under control of the Mexican Mafia, and their leader, or ‘shock collar’ is responsible for giving out this job. There’s also a prison staff worker who can give out this job regardless of the Mafia’s opinion. The player could for example beat up and extort some of the current workers to get this job (combat-oriented method), be in good terms with either staff or the gang (reputation oriented) or bribing (trading oriented).
#2 The player needs access to the workshop so that he can steal some items for weapon crafting. Workshop is organized by Nuestra Familia, who are very dominant gang who often resort to violence. This gang has a very deep hate for other gangs in the prison system (especially Mexican Mafia), so the only ways to get the job is to bribe the staff worker (which makes you very vulnerable for attacks from the Familia) or overthrowing the Familia from the workshop (sabotage, “accidents”, beating up people).
The Familia does not mess around.
These are more complex examples of prison jobs, some of them are easier to acquire and give you smaller benefits. But the general idea with all prison jobs is the same – gaining access to new areas, more powerful items and important NPC’s.
I’ve been wanting to write my thought on GamerGate for a while now. I suppose there’s always the chance of getting no coverage for our game, but based on our previous “success” with several gaming sites, I don’t know if that’s such a big loss. The thing I’m most afraid is the reaction from my game dev friends, I hope we can still be friends even if we have different opinions on the issue. I would also like to emphasize, that everything I say here is just my opinion – the rest of the Prisonscape team probably
doesn’t share my opinion on Gamergate.
Like some of you already know, I am pro-Gamergate. I have been following the debate since day one, and slowly it has grown into the huge movement that is covered by the biggest news outlets out there, including NY Times, BBC and CBC. As biased and one-sided these stories were, it is a sign that this debate won’t be going away anytime soon. Mainstream and “normal folk” will be interested for a short while, but as soon as we have another scandal exposed, their attention is elsewhere. But gamers will still be there, and they will remember all this for a long time. Like TB wrote on Twitter,
“When the dust settles, remember who it was that fed their own readership to the wolves.”
There are few reasons why I am supporting this movement:
1) Censorship – When this whole thing started, there was a huge wave censorship on Reddit. For example, r/gaming had a thread with over 25000 deleted
comments, Mundane Matt’s video was hit with DMCA and even 4chan started censoring everything GG related. Naturally, any commenting or conversation is
censored in several sites that are critized by GG movement, including Kotaku, The Verge and Polygon.
This Mundane Matt video was struck with DMCA
2) Lack of dialogue – So far it seems that there has been only few parties that are trying to resolve the issue through dialogue. The Escapist has written
about Gamergate covering both point of views and Huffington Post Live had two live segments and that’s about it. What are the reasons for this? I’m pretty
sure there are levelheaded people on both sides ready to discuss.
3) Blaming it all on misogyny – This seems to be a very common narrative (god I hate this word) amongst anti-GG’ers. They claim that all Gamergate supporters
are women-haters. I’m sorry, but WHAT THE FUCK? I don’t know ANYONE who hates women. That’s like, half of the population in the world. Disliking some women
is not misogyny, and neither is critizicing them based on their actions. The threat against Sarkeesian and USU was unfortunate, but I’m pretty sure that it
had nothing to do with Gamergate – there a lot of crazies out there who want all the attention they can get. GG’ers even helped to identify one of the people
who sent threats to Sarkeesian. She should be irrelevant to the whole debate, since she has very little to do with journalistic integrity issue at hand.
Easy – just support GamerGate
4) Namecalling – Please don’t call us basement-dwellers, don’t make snarky comments about our personal hygiene and don’t critize our sense of fashion. Here’s
a short quote from the infamous Leigh article:
“‘Game culture’ as we know it is kind of embarrassing — it’s not even culture. It’s buying things, spackling over memes and in-jokes repeatedly, and it’s getting mad on the internet.
It’s young men queuing with plush mushroom hats and backpacks and jutting promo poster rolls. Queuing passionately for hours, at events around the world, to see the things that marketers want them to see. To find out whether they should buy things or not. They don’t know how to dress or behave.”
Hey guys, it’s like high school again!
How on earth is this even relevant to the issue (yes, I read the whole article)?
5) Blacklisting – This is just speculation, but I’ll change my mind on this as soon as Kingdom Come: Deliverance is covered by any of the involved parties.
The good old times
I’m not very smart man, and I don’t have a way with words. That’s why I don’t have solution or even suggestions on how to solve this. That’s why I really suggest you read some of these articles that talk about Gamergate from a neutral point of view:
Man, this clickbaiting is really easy! So, is there racism and homo/transphobia in Prisonscape? Yes, it’s a game about life in prison. Now, with that out of the way, let’s talk about progression, experience points and leveling. I’ve been doing a lot of game testing on the current build of Prisonscape, and to be honest it feels kind of … boring. For the longest time I thought this was just bad writing and uninteresting characters, but a while back I was reading Jesse Schell’s wonderful “The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses” and particularly about achievement and progression in games. Then I realized it – Prisonscape has no sense of progression.
We recently started a pen and paper RPG sessions via IRC after a long, long pause. It brought back a lot of memories and also made me remember what made the gaming sessions so special (in addition to gathering with your friends and having fun): sense of achievement and progression. It was a great feeling once you finally achieved enough experience for a new level and could browse through all those books to see how your character changes. New powers! More hitpoints! New skills!
I tried to avoid doing the traditional experience/leveling system for Prisonscape before just for being original, but then it hit me: all these great games before use the same system over and over again because it’s a pretty good system. Even when the player is stuck with the main story, they can do some side quests and get the sense of progression and achievement.
What I don’t like with most experience-based systems is that they are mostly revolving around fighting. Fight monsters, get exp, find more monsters to fight, get more exp, repeat this until you are tough enough to fight bigger monsters. Especially JRPG games are guilty of this and in my opinion it reduces the actual roleplaying element of the game to a minimum. Planescape: Torment had a nice system where most of the experience came actually from completing quests, but even this can be taken to another level – in Prisonscape you get experience from interacting, socializing, getting information, etc. Every time you learn something new about the place or it’s inhabitants, you gain experience. Hear a juicy gossip? Get exp. Get someone to train you in a new skill? Exp. Make a successful skill throw? More exp. Not in big numbers, but doing enough will eventually amount you a level. Of course the main source of experience is completing jobs for other inmates/guards and fights will also give you fair amount of points. So, in short you get exp from:
* Completing jobs
* Gaining new information
So, what can you do with experience? Gaining enough experience grants you a level, and every time you gain a level, you can divide points to the main stats (Strength, Agility & Intelligence). Leveling up also increases your skill levels. See the image below for more detailed explanation.
Skills from top to bottom: Pickpocketing, Fighting, Literacy and Haggling. If the player gained a level, his Fighting skill would go up to the next skill level.
Update: I totally forgot to mention that skills are developed independently from levels. Skill level goes up every time the skill is used or trained, BUT raising the actual skill level (for example, Fighting 1 -> Fighting 2) requires a new level and is automatic IF the skill level gauge is full (like the Fighting in picture below).
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of writing for Prisonscape. A LOT. I made a decision to write at least 50 lines every day, regardless of my other tasks and duties. I’ll admit, it hasn’t happened every day, but I still have a lot of dialogue and NPC backgrounds written that just needs to be put into the game. I did all this on my 7 inch tablet and a virtual keyboard during my vacation and the whole process was separated from the actual game development. This was very refreshing experience since I didn’t even have Internet connection to check any facts or grammar, so I just put all my thoughts and ideas in the document.
This is very different from how I usually work – I do a lot of fact checking from Wikipedia and other sources, check the dictionary for “right” words and sometimes search how people use certain phrases in sentences. But I have a very busy mind, and after all the checking I often find myself doing something completely different, for example browsing Reddit or reading some forums. It took some willpower, but after a while I decided to disconnect myself from the Internet altogether and just concentrate on the writing and doing the proofreading and fact checking only after I have that wall of text for the game.
Next thing I have to learn is to scrap some of that BAD dialogue I have written. It is so difficult to throw away something you have already done, it just feels like a waste of time…
As some of you may already know, we were given a hosted forum on RPG Codex. It’s pretty much the best site for anything related to cRPGs. The forum is at this point pretty quiet, but hopefully it will take off once we start writing more frequent updates about the game and get to the alpha phase. One of the most interesting things there at the moment is Garland’s (who’s an ex-con) Q&A about prison life, I recommend you check it out if you are interested in prison life.
One of the most frequent question we get over on Codex is the amount of branching and C&C (choices and consequences) in the game. Prisonscape will have some branching (you can select if you want to join the Aryan Brotherhood or try to stay neutral and do jobs for different factions and NPCs), but the main story will be quite linear. Variance for the game comes from jobs and smaller storylines not related to the main story. Jobs can often be completed in different ways and they often have consequences that can only be seen at later stages of the game (thus preventing the classic save-load method). The reason for the lack of story branching and different endings is simply the lack of resources – the game has only one writer and scripting this would simply be too much work.
So the Prisonscape Kickstarter didn’t succeed. It was a good run, and we had plenty of coverage from the press and at least people now know about Prisonscape. What comes to reasons for the campaign failing, I really can’t pinpoint any single thing, but here are some of my guesses:
We didn’t have a demo or enough gameplay in the KS video. Some of the bigger sites were asking for a build. It’s not given that they’d write about your game, but with stable and polished we would’ve had better chance in getting those big articles
Not enough press coverage on the big sites. Not many big sites wrote about us, and so we didn’t get enough traffic on the campaign page.
The beginning was too slow. The campaign really needed those big numbers to look like a successful campaign. This could be me speculating, but I checked some successful campaigns and they all had a very strong start.
PR mails were sent too late. This could partially explain the slow start. We sent the promo mails AFTER we launched, because we wanted to provide the KS link in the
e-mails. We got plenty of articles but they were probably too late and people were already speculating that this will another failed Kickstarter.
Our goal was too high. This has been said many times, but I still feel that our goal was reasonable when you take a look at the budgeting.
I’m really happy that we have a big number of backers and if you exclude friends and family, all of this money came from organic sources. I know that some people grow their total pledge amount with some of their own money, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but we decided against it and it was fantastic to see that over 1000 people were ready to fund our game.
So what happens now? Well, we keep on making the game, of course! There’s no reason to quit altogether after one adversity – we just have to learn from out mistakes and do things better next time. We have already started by launching a pre-order on Paypal.
Our next goal is to make a great demo for the Prisonscape beta team, the press and for the Youtubers which hopefully brings more attention towards the game. We also want to build a good community which gives us feedback and new ideas about the game, and we’re hoping that YOU would be part of it by pre-ordering the game.
The Prisonscape forum has been opened, and if you’re interested in prison life, I would highly suggest checking out this thread:
Prisonscape consists of four different areas: County jail, a prison unit called ‘Miranda’ and two other, MYSTERIOUS areas (I’m sure that some of you figure out why they’re kept secret at this point). In this blog post I will make a short introduction on County jail, the first area that is very close to getting finished.
It’s the place criminals go to wait for their sentencing, and because most inmates spend only little time in there, it doesn’t have many luxuries and it isn’t very well-kept. There’s no cafeteria since the lunches (containing food-like products) are served in paper bags, everything is dirty and the most of the time the TVs are broken.
The thing that makes this place so interesting (and also scary) is that in county jail the inmates crimes can be anything from DIU to first degree murder, and since most criminals aren’t the most honest fellows, it is sometimes difficult to determine if these people are friendly or just trying to manipulate you to do their bidding. Many inmates have little jobs for you to do around the jail, and this is the best way to get recognized inside. The other way is to fight, but starting fights with random inmates will get you on the shit list for both the guards and the inmates, so pick your fights carefully!
These jobs vary from really easy and trivial like this:
To more complex and time-consuming like this:
Since the player character is white, your only choice for gang activity is the Aryan Brotherhood, but if you decide to stay neutral, there are lots of inmates who are giving you small jobs that will raise your reputation amongst the general population who aren’t interested in the gang banging. You can even do some snitching for the guards, but be careful that you don’t get caught, since the old saying ‘snitches get stitches’ applies also to this place.
Of course there will be some new features added to the game that will also be applied to County jail, and dialogue for the inmates and guards will be expanded and iterated during the future development, but at it’s current state, CJ is a nice little playable area which shows the basic features of Prisonscape nicely. We have already started working on the next area, Miranda, which will be much larger area with lots of NPC’s to interact (and fight) with.
Below are some action and motion images from this week’s submissions. Okay, for next week, the theme is deities and divinity. As a reference, use Old Norse gods, angels, Lucifer, Zeus, Kronos, Jesus… whatever rocks your boat. Make it dramatic, pompous, beautiful! I upped the color limit, so use all your skills and free time on this and make it look gorgeous. Just don’t bite off more than you can chew. And don’t draw Muhammad! For inspiration:
Here are some additional rules for the coming week:
Size limit for this submission is 256 x 256 pixels
This submission is limited to 64 colors
Upload the image Imgur if possible. If not, use Twitter image uploader
You can of course submit multiple drawings if you want
When Wednesday comes (any timezone), tweet your creation with the hashtag #pixelshit (or if you need SFW hashtag, use #pixelWeek)
I will resize the images to a large size when I put them up. If you want to use the original size, please let me know