Onwards, to alpha!

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:



 

Oh, how things change!

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.

The Working Man – getting (and keeping) a job in Prisonscape

Thanks to the information Thom gave us on prison jobs, I decided to expand the job system in Prisonscape and during this process
it became a very important element in the game.

First of all, I REALLY recommend reading Thom’s post over on RPGCodex.

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.

Racism and Progression in Prisonscape

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:

* Fighting
* Socializing
* 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).

So, what do you think?

Fighting and consequences

We have been working hard on Prisonscape and all the basic features are coming along nicely – it is so much fun to actually PLAY the game! One of the features that we have been giving a lot of thought lately is the combat system. As we wrote in an earlier post, we decided to do complete overhaul on the first combat system because it was simply boring. We expanded the traditional 1 versus 1 combat system with menus into a grid-based combat and added a special skill system that we call “the book of dirty tricks”. You can read more about that from here.


In addition, we decided to add consequences to the fights. First of all, every fight ends your current turn since all violence puts the prison into a lockdown. After every fight there’s also a chance that the guards will catch you after the fight. This will immediately give you some hole time of course confiscation of any possible drugs, weapons or other contraband you are carrying.

Sometimes you are not caught red-handed but are still a suspect number one and go to an interrogation into the guard’s office. Your interrogation dialogue options are determined by your Intelligence score and your skills. Also, your past as an aggressive inmate will make the guards more suspicious and throw you in the hole more easily. The last, and the best option, is when you get away from the fight without any trouble. This is the only scenario where you actually get loot (if there is any) from your opponents.

The outcome of every battle is determined by the current alert level. Every time there’s a fight, drug bust or other event that the guards consider dangerous, the alert level goes up. This level also gradually goes down until another alarming event happens. It is still undecided if this level is visible to the player.
We have had a lot of questions if the game has anything besides prison life. This cutscene we recently finished gives a small hint of what’s coming:

Gossip is the devil’s radio – or building a dialogue system for Prisonscape

Inmates in Prisonscape (and in real life prisons, too, I’d reckon) love gossip. The stories that these people tell about each other can also make them a target of hate and violence or raise them to a great reputation amongst other inmates. Because most of the NPC’s in the game have unique pasts, crimes and stories, we decided to build an extensive dialogue and gossip system which can be used by the player to get information about the NPC’s and their past.

The system itself is very simple – each inmate has some stories to share and they’ll be happy to do it if the player is in good relations with them or the faction they’re part of. Some NPC’s will of course lie to you, as some prisoners tend to. The player can also spread rumours about some inmates, making them lose reputation within their own factions (this might come in handy if the player wants to fight that inmate but doesn’t want the faction to get mad at him). Gossiping is affected by the player’s Intelligence stat.

The player also needs to pay attention to what he’s saying to certain inmates. These choices often cannot be reversed and they might result in some dramatic changes in the player’s social relations with other inmates and guards. This also applies to fighting – aggression towards the wrong guys at the wrong time will lower your reputation and put you in the infirmary and probably in the hole, too.

This means that it takes only one turn to screw up your game completely by making stupid choices. Nintendo Hard!

Street Fighting Man aka the fighting mechanics reprised

Okay, apparently we’re not done with the fighting concept. We found this thread on RPG Codex, one thing lead to another and we started discussing combat in Prisonscape. The guys from the forum had some great ideas how to spice up fighting in the game, and in this post I’ll go through some things we thought of adding. These are just ideas, and it’s not 100% certain that these will ever be implemented.

Grid and multiple combatants

Current battle system in Prisonscape is a tad boring. It’s basically 1 vs 1 combat where guys hit each other taking turns. There’s no movement or much of any other dynamics either. Weapons and drugs bring some interesting aspects to it, but we still thought of spicing it up with grid and adding multiple combatants, including henchmen. Henchmen can be acquired by getting influence with factions or straight up paying someone to protect you. The control over these henchmen is based on your intelligence – higher the statistic, more commands (attack certain enemy, stay defensive, etc.) you can give them. If your influence is low, they act on their own and might even flee the fight.

Grids would be randomized and removed from the actual game environment. Different grids have different benefits/hindrances. For example, fight against 3 opponents you can use the narrow spaces so that all of your enemies can’t surround you and attack you at the same time.

Example grids

Fights will start in different positions, based on your and the enemy’s stats. For example, high agility and intelligence characters have the ability to surprise the enemy, and sometimes you might even start surrounded by your enemies. Because the grid system would also have facing direction, there is always a possibility for powerful back attacks (not a rape pun, by the way).

Book of dirty tricks

This idea came from the user Lhynn from RPG Codex, this is what he wrote us:

“You could even add a bit of random luck and depth to the mix by making move options in the form of a card deck, were attacks will come up and be usable depending on the situation, being stronger means more powerful attacks, being faster means more complex attacks and being smarter means a bigger hand.”

“Each player skips his or her next shanking phase. During your turn, discard one trick to shank your enemy twice.”

So we came up with this idea of “book of dirty tricks”, which would be randomized in the beginning of every battle. These random powers/events help you in the battlefield and they can range from attack bonuses to very powerful special attacks. The tricks you have and the size of your “deck” will be determined by your statistics, and higher stats give you more powerful tricks to use.

Stamina

Stamina determines how much you can accomplish in a fight. Once you get more tired, you’ll get disadvantages. It’s a strategic choice to do either fast, heavy attacks that eat up your stamina real quick and hope that your enemy goes down before you run out of stamina, or do low energy attacks and try to wear your enemy slowly down. Stamina is based on agility.

How do you feel about these additions?

And how do you feel about real-time combat? Could it work in this kind of game?

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for fresh updates!

KO! aka the second part of fighting mechanics in Prisonscape

In the last part we started going through some of the fighting mechanics in Prisonscape. This time we’ll talk about weapons, items and drugs and how they can be used in fights.

Sitting in your cell for 23 hours a day and only working with limited resources, it is a well-known fact that inmates have an endless capacity for invention. Every little item can
become an ingredient for a deadly weapon, and there is a constant cat and mouse game between inmates and guards in finding this illegal contraband. These weapons can give you the needed edge in important fights in the game. There are three different type of weapons in Prisonscape: piercing, slashing and bludgeoning weapons and their durability and effectiveness is based on your crafting skill, agility and intelligence. Once you get better at making weapons, they’ll become sharper, more durable and easier to hide.

Of course there is always a risk in carrying a weapon. Shakedowns are constant and if the guards find you carrying one, to the hole you go. Sometimes it might even affect your reputation, as shivving enemies without weapons might make you an aggressive lunatic in the eyes of other inmates, which causes them to attack you with more often wielding deadly weapons.

To make weapons you’ll have to find the materials inside the prison. This can be anything from a sharpened bed spring, razor blade melt into a toothbrush to metal bar unscrewed from the wall. Telephone books can become a handy body armour and once you get a hold of some chemicals you can even make explosives! The process of creating these items borrows heavily from old classic adventure games where you have to find and combine items from your surroundings. If you don’t feel like looking for these items and trying to come up with the right item combinations, you can always buy some weapons from your gang mates with a high price.

Other items you can use in fights are drugs. Just like makeshift weapons replace the swords and axes of traditional JRPG genre, drugs replace potions, ethers and phoenix down’s (well, not really the last one) of these games. For example, taking amphetamine increases your motor performance and energy (affects your hit-% and HP), but if taken in large doses may cause aggressiveness (-defense) and even heart failure (-strength permanently and a trip to the infirmary). Taking fentanyl makes almost all of the pain go away (+HP, +sanity), but also makes the player confused and drowsy (-hit, -defense).

Using drugs can also cause addiction. Every time you take another dose your chance of getting hooked increases. The more you take, the harder the withdrawal. In withdrawal, all of your statistics and skills are drastically lowered and training becomes impossible. If the guards test you for drugs (random event) they might send you to the hole and after that to the NA meetings which take away your training time altogether.

Ready, Fight! Fighting mechanics in Prisonscape, part 1

In the last post I talked about statistics, skills and jobs in Prisonscape. In this post, I will go through some of the fighting mechanics of Prisonscape. Since this post became longer than I thought, I will divide it into two parts: in the first one, we’ll go through regular and intelligence based attacks and combo hits. In the next part we’ll go through weapons and drugs and how they can be used in fights.

It is very difficult to avoid fighting in prison, mostly because they are filled with violent criminals. This is the case in Prisonscape also – sometimes you just have to fight. Sometimes you’ll do it for reputation, sometimes to gain leverage over other inmate(s) and sometimes just for the kick of it. Starting fights is fairly straightforward; usually simply insulting your fellow inmates is enough to start a rumble. You can even do it with the guards (but you really, really shouldn’t)! But all fights come at a price – sometimes you get beat up badly and have to go to the infirmary. Sometimes you get caught by the guards and are sent to the hole. If the player is very aggressive, he’ll start getting negative reputation with other inmates for being a bully, so you should pick your fights very carefully.

Fighting is based on the stats and skills of the player. Agility determines your hit accuracy with attacks such as kicks and punches, and strength is the statistic that is used when you try to overpower your enemy by simply being stronger. Fighting is the core skill which can be trained on your own, with a trainer or by just fighting. In the beginning you only have few basic attacks, but as your skill goes up you get more powerful attacks which also have other effects on your enemies. Each different attack type has a speed which determines how long you have to wait until you can attack again. For example, punches are fairly fast attack methods but pushing or tripping the enemy takes a longer time.

In addition to physical attacks, we have added attacks based on intelligence. With these attacks you can taunt your enemies, threat them or mock them or observe their fighting style and try to find a weak spot to attack to. Your enemies usually have a weakness for certain kind of attacks, and with your intelligence and observation skills you can find out more. For taunting attacks, you will use an intimidation skill that can also be trained alone, with a trainer or by just practicing these taunts in a fight. For observation you’ll also use the regular fighting skill.
Once you get better at fighting, you will get combo attacks. These multiattacks will give you an opportunity to damage your opponent severely by doing for example many punching attacks in a row (punch-punch-punch-uppercut). To make a succesful combo attack, the player must pass simple QTE combo meters a’la Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga. We know that the general commentary on QTE’s is negative, but in Prisoscape it’s mostly just good timing and we will not make them tedious or too difficult. Also, the difficulty of combo attacks goes down once you’ll fighting skills go up.

How the game works – closer look at game mechanics, part 1

I’ve written before about the game mechanics in Prisonscape, but since there has been a pile of updates and tweaks on the system, I thought it would be good idea to do a new summary about them. Here are some of the basic features and their descriptions:

Statistics

In the game there are three main statistics: strength, agility and intelligence. Every task you do is somehow related to these statistics. For example, if you try to punch your enemy in a fight, you will use strength or agility as the base of the attack (this depends on the type of attack). In addition, you skill level is usually added to this “skill throw”.

Almost finished character screen.

Let us have an example:

Let’s say you have strength of 50, agility of 40 and intelligence of 40. You want to intimidate another inmate to give you some smokes. This task has a difficulty rating of 50. For this, you’ll use the average of your intelligence and strength ((50+40)/2), 45 and add any possible skill bonuses for the throw. Each skill throw get added “dice roll” of number between 1-10 to add some randomness to the game. Since the player has no intimidation skill, he gets no bonus for the throw. To make a successful skill throw, the player needs to “throw” at least 5 on the random dice roll (45 + 5 = 50). This same mechanic will be used in every task of the game, but in addition there can be some random variables (stunned or enraged in a fight, badly hurt when trying to pick pockets, etc.) that affect the final score.

There are several ways to increase your base statistics. Training by yourself is the least effective way, but you’ll get better results if you practice with a partner. Statistics also go up once they are used (skill throws, fights…).

Skills

Skills will give you bonuses on your throws. In addition, they give you random bonuses when your skill level is high enough, and with fighting skill you get new attacks once you advance. With crafting skill, you learn how to make better and more durable weapons as your skill level goes up. There are also several ways to increase your skill level or learn new skills. Some skills you can train from the books, but for some you need a trainer. Skill levels also go up when they are used.

Jobs

Jobs are the quests of Prisonscape. Doing jobs for other inmates and/or guards will get you rewards such as smokes, dope, weapons and money or increase your reputation with factions. Doing jobs for rivalling factions will of course affect the opposing faction in a negative way (Black Guerrilla Family members won’t like when you deal drugs for the Aryan Brotherhood).

 

(Still empty) job journal.

Jobs can be acquired from inmates, guards or straight from the environment.

In the next part of this game mechanics post I will go through the fighting mechanics, how reputation works and how inventory and items work in the game.

How do people feel about mixing pixel graphics and more detailed graphics? We’ve gone our way and decided to try more detailed graphics in the UI, even though the game itself works on pixels. Do you think this is a good or bad idea? And why?