Okay, so I omitted an interview with Introversion Software from the Eurogamer Expo podcast because it was much longer than I was expecting – a good half hour – and it was such a great interview I wanted to give it a separate post.

Chris Delay and Mark Morris wanted to talk to me about Prison Architect but I wanted to talk about babies and Darwinia. We came to an understanding.

Download the podcast MP3 (70MB) or play it right here in your browser:


  • Reactions to Prison Architect
  • Picking up a normal job to support game development can create security that is poisonous to a risk-taking mentality – but is there also risk in success?
  • The duality of Subversion and Prison Architect
  • On the art style of Prison Architect
  • Rezzed: PC indies get respect
  • “Introversion arrogance back on top form.”
  • Is the mysterious project Chronometer dead? Channel 4 as a public funding body.
  • “Ideas are so fragile in their earlier stages.”
  • Indies are typically bad at work/life balance – what happens when you have a baby?
  • If you could have your time again, would you make a true Darwinia sequel instead of Multiwinia?
  • The biggest laugh: “I got us into a bad position… but Chris made it worse.”
  • “Mark, you save the company today and I save the company tomorrow.”


Here is Introversion’s Rezzed talk where they discuss how Prison Architect emerged from Subversion.

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9 thoughts on “Ideas Are So Fragile: Introversion Software

  1. I am really, really interested to see what Introversion does with this game. It seems in some ways like a return to the goals of Defcon, the idea of talking about big frightening topics with systems.

  2. I felt like I needed more time with Prison Architect than I was willing to give it at the expo (I was all about the quantity and not the quality, boo hiss). They do seem genuinely interested in exploiting the serious, ethical side of the game – which I originally assumed was add-on than core design.

    Still, I’m not convinced that the thought-provoking aspects can survive repeat plays. Often these things turn into “systems to be farmed” in the eyes of experienced players. We shall see!

  3. Fantastic, a great interview with fascinating perspectives. Thanks HM, and I’m sorry it took me so long to finish it!

    I love a good strategy sim. Dungeon Keeper 2 was one of my favorite games, and I find Dwarf Fortress brilliant but unplayable. For me it’s not the graphics, it’s the controls. That game calls out for the perfect, crystalline interface, and then I might play nothing else.

    So Prison Architect sounds like a lot of fun. I’m not participating in the Alpha – I think I want to play this one when it’s fully done and ready, rather than absorbing it slowly. This kind of management and organization really resonates with me for some reason. I love carving out geometric areas for efficiency. Even Evil Genius held me for a while. If they’d had the good parts and put them into a good game, it’d have been brilliant.

    Like you, I’m less sure about the contemplative aspects. I mean, I really like what Introversion is doing with them, but after the second time around, it’s more a matter of manipulation than emotive response.

    For me, this kind of game is the only kind where I don’t “feel.” Normally I’m very emotional about games and their stories and messages, but in a management sim i become Efficiency Steerpike. I love perfectly 6-Sigma’d processes and clockwork activities and high tax rates and well-oiled machines. Which is very out of character for me, but man, my cities, dungeons, tower grids, and underground villain lairs run like fucking crystal lattices licked by God himself.

    Not really, I kind of suck. But I can aspire.

  4. Thanks for sticking with it Steerpike! I think the inevitability of becoming an evil Stalinist tyrant, seeing the Matrix and not the people, is a Hard Problem to solve. Even something as emotionally potent as Cart Life can be mercilessly destroyed if you play it multiple times. (I played Laura once, Andrus twice. No more.)

  5. Very interesting interview. The final few minutes I found especially enlightening, since I’ve been following Introversion since Darwinia and have seen them go through this cycle of “Let’s make a new game!” “No, let’s port an old game!”. It does seem like Chris is just not the right person to do boring ports of old stuff, so if they’ve figured out a way to outsource that profitably then that’s all for the good.

    I’m not sure about how to solve the farming of systems problem. Even in games which project an illusion of narrative (ie. a FPS) rather than a plethora of systems (ie. Prison Architect or other sims), I do still find that I skip over or ignore things that were incredibly important first time round, like dialogue or secrets. One way to get round this might be to use procedural generation to present the player with a new world each time: I’ve played several games of Minecraft and had fun each time because the landscape is a canvas and it’s different each time. The Prison Architect equivalent might be generating unusual goals or strictures for each level, like building only one shower or working with reduced income one day a week. But those kinds of rules seem totally arbitrary and disconnected from the emotional elements of the game, so I’m not sure how you could weave that into the ethical part.

    Another solution is just to make 100 things, and only show 20 of them per playthrough. If there are, say, 20 levels in Prison Architect, and each one focuses on, say, one prisoner’s story, you could make five possible prisoners for each level. Perhaps the “electric chair” level could feature a brutal sociopath, or a greedy employee who bungled stealing from his employer and killed him, or several other characters. Each playthrough would then be different, up until you got to playthrough 4 or 5. But the downside is obvious: making more stuff means more development time.

  6. Thanks James, I think the final chunk of the interview is absolutely fascinating the way Mark and Chris are effectively restaging a fight that they have been through. I did not expect to tie them down for a good half hour. Then again, maybe they didn’t expect me to tie them down for a good half hour =)

    I’m not sure about those solutions for the farming thing. Even procedural generation leads to tactics that are deployed in recognisable situations (see Chess) and drip-feeding specialised content is still a finite measure that will eventually run out. I mean, we’ve approached the problem here as one of keeping the player on their toes and preventing them from falling into a farming mentality; I don’t know if that’s the right way to solve that problem. (“One play only” completely fixes it, but I don’t think that’s an appropriate solution!)

  7. Re. the farming thing: I totally agree. Frankly I have no idea how to fix the problem; my suggestions were sort of thrown out there in the hope that they might spark an idea for somebody else, but as they stand they’re pretty shoddy.

    One potential solution might be incorporating the system into the game’s themes so completely that even farming the system has some kind of significance. I guess you could say this is what might happen with Prison Architect: after all, there’s no reason why a real life prison architect couldn’t just farm his inmates. In fact, I presume that prisons must do this, since they have to efficiently house large numbers of people in a small space. I guess the question becomes, at what point are you just housing people efficiently, and when does that become exploitation, ie. housing people inhumanely so that the system as a whole works better? Some kind of detection system is necessary to prevent (or at least flag up) such an exploitation. In Prison Architect it might be a message that pops up saying “Your prisoners are being mistreated!”; in PA or the real world, it might be a report from the prison inspectors declaring that your prison is in breach of the prisoners’ human rights.

    Granted, that might not stop players who have played so much they see only the systems and not the people, but perhaps by that point there’s just nothing you can do. Like somebody who reads a novel for the vocabulary. At least with PA and real life you can have sanctions on a failing prison: “improve your treatment of prisoners or we’ll cut your funding/shut you down”.

  8. This is from “Players Not Included” on Kaboom:

    At the higher levels of difficulty the madman is dropping the bombs so quickly that the player must always be moving, and perfectly match the semi-random pattern in which the bombs are falling. This means steering the ‘bucket’ from one side of the screen to the other, making micro adjustments, small pauses and reserves in direction, to meet each bomb as it reaches the level of the bucket, never waiting in anticipation of its arrival. It was immediately clear to me that there was story that wasn’t told in Mike’s paper, and that no matter how Kaboom might be skinned its intended meaning would be obliterated by this kind of play. In the face of Jesse’s play it could never matter what the game was about, it was a game of reflexes, concentration, and memorization. These were not the meaning categories that the ‘text’ of the game could possibly fall into, they were the psycho-kinetic realities of that game as an event. Once Jesse put down the controller, after having earned about $80 dollars for our charity, the game ceased to exist, leaving only hardware and software instruments for another player to pick up and begin the game again.

    When I read this, I wonder whether the natural end-state for a dedicated player (for a game which is all about skills) is the establishment of flow in which meaning takes a back seat to pure engagement. When you walk away, perhaps you can think about what you have done. But maybe not at the time you were doing it. These are sort of the lines you are thinking along. But unless it has mechanical consequences – which destroys any sense of altruism, because you’re doing it for the reward – I wonder if players will care. What moral lesson is this, I wonder?

    Cart Life made me believe but if I play that game twenty times, I’ll likely stop caring and see only ludology.

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