Thursday, January 12, 2012

On Introversion and Prison Architect

Having worked in the games industry for quite some time I was always aware of Introversion Software.  I will admit that until they'd contacted me I wasn't exactly playing their games, but I was reading about them intently and cheering on this plucky indie developer in the UK that had somehow managed to make it big before the golden age of indie games.  So it came as a huge surprise when I received this email in my inbox:

Would you be interested in discussing working with Introversion Software on our next game?  We are the indie developers behind Uplink, Darwinia, DEFCON and Multiwinia, and we have a new project currently in development that requires a talented 2d artist such as yourself.  I’ve had a screenshot of Spacechem in my “Visual Style Ideas” folder for a while now, and today I found your portfolio website and had a look.  I really like the visual style you’ve used in SpaceChem and think it would work great for our new project.

At first my eyes widened, then one eyebrow went up as I did some research to make sure I got the names right.  For all I knew someone picked a name very close to "Introversion" to gain some indie cred when speaking to unsuspecting game developers.  Introversion Software.  Chris Delay.  It was real.  I relaxed and allowed my eyes to widen once again.  After a flurry of emails and a couple of skype conversations and quick mockups, it was made official.  I was part of the Prison Architect team.

It's been a great ride so far, and while there's still a lot of work to be done I can see it's shaping up to be quite a game.  The beginning stages were quite interesting, as Introversion were looking to me to provide the visual style for the game.  The image above shows off the peak of one of the design directions I had for the game.  It mixed in architectural blueprints with topographical maps and a dash of graphic design.

Here's one of the topographical maps I downloaded to use as a reference.  You can see that I picked up the font design from here, as well as using different colored buildings to show different uses for a space.  I really liked that the look was unique and striking, and also paid homage to Introversion's spare aesthetic that permeates all their games.

Ultimately Introversion decided against that direction and after a few weeks of finding our footing we ended up with the design we have now.  In some respects we may keep some of the elements of the previous design.  Giving the walls a certain shade of color will still be helpful in the game to delineate areas. We may use the blueprint lines as a graphic for when the player is planning out his buildings.  In the end I guess the guys really wanted to try something that looks totally different from what they've made before.  They had approached me because they liked the work on Spacechem and based on some of the comments I read after Prison Architect's announcement (It looks like Spacechem and Dwarf Fortress had a baby) it turns out that is exactly what they got!


  1. So the Alpha came out this week and I've been having a blast with it. I think your work on it is great and it really has a nice comfortable feeling. SpaceChem really had this too on the screens where you'd place reactors (though you really didn't spend all that much time there)

    It almost sounds like you were pushed away from the old fashioned blueprint Prison Mockup 4. I'd have liked to have seen that style developed further, it would have certainly looked like no other video game.

    Having had a quick look at the game files, it doesn't look like it would be incredibly difficult to reskin. Hopefully we'll see some fans come up with their own take on it too!

  2. Appreciate the kind words Danny. To be honest I was very worried about the fan reception to the artwork, since it's such a departure from the old Introversion style.

    There's always a lot of push and pull when it comes to development. It just comes with the territory. I don't know what Chris and Mark's plans are re: modding, but it would be very interesting to see what people come up with if they open it up to to fans.

  3. The blueprint mockup actually made me think of the old Pokemon Blue and Red art designs as well as other gameboy games from that generation. I myself prefer it to the alpha version of the game as it leaves more to the imagination of the viewer. The current graphics are amusing though and it's really fun to watch the current gameplay.

  4. Thanks oMonkeyGo. Now that I think about it had we gone with that particular design it might have been really difficult for the eyes to read when everything's in action, It may be that it's best for a smaller game, or a game that's limited to a smaller screen. I've worked on iPhone games before, so maybe I can bring that to an iPhone project one of these days.