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.