Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Parting Gift for Shifty Steve, Made to Measure

Odin willing, Shifty Steve Harper will be toast by tomorrow's end. It will probably take some time and a lot of therapy to straighten out his clutchy fingers that have held Canada in a death grip for the past decade but, even for Steve, we must live in hope.

It's Shifty's emotional transition that will be the toughest nut to crack. What does the ultimate control freak do without something to ultimately control? What to do, what to do? What can we offer to keep his mind engaged, something that appeals to his basest instincts?

Voila! How about this new video game that's right up Steve's alley or at least his back passage? Allow me to introduce you to Prison Architect.

It's the latest thing from game developers Mark Morris and Chris Delay of Introversion.

By 2010, the team was in a slump, and Delay took off on a vacation to San Francisco. During a tour of Alcatraz with his wife, the idea hit him: Why not design a game around a prison? Not an action-packed first-person shooter, but one where you play the CEO of a private prison company, tasked with designing, building, and managing your own lockup? Delay didn't know much about prisons, but the more he researched—interviewing guards and former inmates—the more he realized they were ripe for the most complex of Sim City-style games.

Introversion, now with a staff of nine, spent the next five years designing Prison Architect. They released a beta version in 2012 and attracted more than 1 million players. It was their biggest hit, and they released the full version this month.

Like most simulations, the game has no real end point. The purpose is to delve ever deeper into a system you create, to wrestle with your own beliefs and morality in a fictional world whose mechanics bear a striking resemblance to real-life prisons.

Prison Architect is not an easy game. Newcomers go through a "campaign mode" tutorial where they are thrown into a succession of five prisons and tasked with fixing various problems. The learning curve is steep—I probably spent 20 hours working through it—but subplots about mob assassinations, an execution, and a prison CEO burning documents during a riot create tensions to string you along.

The real game, however, is a blank slate. You are given a piece of land, $30,000, eight construction workers, and 24 hours (24 minutes in game time) before your first eight prisoners arrive. You can adjust how many you take in each day, but as with real private prisons, inmates equal revenue. And even if profit isn't your motive, you need money to operate.

It's once you master the basics that things get interesting—do you want to build a Scandanavian-style model of reform or a totalitarian hellhole? Do you want to take a stab at remedying the challenges of the US prison system, figuring out how to manage maximum-security prisoners without solitary confinement?

I'd guess that the 'totalitarian hellhole' option would have a certain allure for Shifty Steve.  He could put the Ford boys in charge of the rehabilitative services and contraband. He might even set up one wing for Liberals, one wing for New Democrats and a very special wing for those goddamned Progressive Conservatives.

1 comment:

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