It’s not exactly news, but something caught my eye the other week via Robin Sloan’s Twitter feed, so I thought I’d put up a quick post about it here.

[Image: From Prison Tycoon 4: SuperMax. Image via IGN].

The description of Prison Tycoon 4: SuperMax, a ValuSoft game released in 2008, urges players to experiment in the architectural framing and administrative implementation of prison life.
“Build a profitable privately run prison from the ground up,” it says. “Every wall, every fence, every decision is yours. Start small and forge your reputation as a first rate warden. Grow your facility to SuperMax capabilities, housing the most dangerous and diabolical criminals on earth – all for the bottom line.”
Putting moral limits on our imaginations temporarily aside, perhaps we could even conceive of Prison Tycoon 5: Guantánamo Bay, or Prison Tycoon 6: Austrian Basement Edition. Prison Tycoon 7: Gulag.
Prison Tycoon 8: Escape from Abu Ghraib.
Or scrap the cheap political commentary and go for sci-fi: Inflatable Prisons in Space! The final level is a siege of the earth’s surface via space elevator, convicts raining down upon the planet like dark angels. The plot is loosely modeled on Paradise Lost.
Setting up the next game: Prison Planet.
Or famous prisons from literature – including Brian Aldiss’s rotating prison of Helliconia.
The Library of Babel reimagined as a SuperMax prison in the mountains of western Canada.
Prisons carved from glaciers undergoing catastrophic earthquakes as global climate change causes melt-off. You have to escape before the ice sheet collapses, teaming up with the very guards who once held you captive.
Prison Tycoon 10: Global Meltdown.

[Images: From Prison Tycoon 4: SuperMax. All images via IGN. If Mies van der Rohe had designed a prison, what might it have looked like?].

Of course, ValuSoft kicked all of this off back in 2005 with the original Prison Tycoon: “In Prison Tycoon,” we read, “you construct and maintain a private prison, hire the staff, and control the prisoners – all while trying to earn big money.”
But why not open the series to goals beyond “big money” and a swollen “bottom line,” and aim for sheer architectural complexity?
Or locational advantages, like the offshore oil rig -slash- ultramax prison in John Woo’s surprisingly great film Face/Off.
You construct an Alpine labyrinth that has no guards at all; the architecture itself is so bewildering that no one has ever escaped. Umberto Eco’s final novel is set there; or perhaps one of his characters dreams it.
Gormenghast: The Prison.

[Images: From Prison Tycoon 4: SuperMax. Images via IGN].

However, lest you now be tempted to purchase Prison Tycoon 4, I’d first suggest reading this review.
For instance:

Since it’s pretty much impossible to tell the difference between a guard and a prisoner in the yard, you’ll have to open up the submenu. From there you click on the guard tab, select a specific guard, look at the minimap to check the whereabouts of the guard, close the submenu, investigate the most recent known whereabouts of the guard, locate and right mouse click the guy (you can’t create a drag box to select anything in this game), move him into the action, right mouse click on a troubled prisoner, and select the beat-him-up icon. By the time you try to initiate all of this, a prisoner might have already died. If this all sounds convoluted it is. The whole game is like this, and it really hurts to not have a proper tutorial.

Sounds like fun.

9 thoughts on “SuperMax”

  1. I want to say this was a fun post, but perhaps disturbing would be a better word. One of the interesting things about the SimCity franchise was the riots that would occasionally move across urban space. I wonder if quelling uprisings over unsatisfactory living conditions is part of the gameplay.

    I guess I’m not offended, just curious – after seeing Raid Gaza a few weeks ago I suppose nothing will phase me.

  2. Or perhaps one should isolate prisoners on desert islands and let them figure things out themselves. Just like the British shipped prisoners to Australia back in the day, perhaps isolating prisoners will force them to cooperate and create a civilized society of their own without having to control them with guards and such. Of course, if the prisoners fail to adjust to their new environment, they’ll fail to survive, so their really actually given a rather fair chance of beginning all over, building life up from the bottom to the top.

    By the way, I’m writing a new blog also about architecture, and I’d be great if someone would like to drop by 🙂 So far, I have only few articles, but despite being a rather busy person, I attempt to write as much as I can in my spare time. So please check it out! And bookmarking it would be great as well!

  3. Sounds interesting. If not carefully designed could prisoners revolt against the guards? Perhaps the architecture could give guards the advantage but still get prisoners to “survive”. (beyond cells, of course)

  4. Hilarious how ‘they’ just keep pumping out these half-arsed tycoon games. There are so many that I have never heard of, each one worse than the last. That said this one actually looks slightly better than the average, I would play it for the 5 minutes of LOLs.

  5. Aren’t our cities already diffused prisons anyway? Surveillance technologies, Privately-owned public space, etc.–this prison game only makes things explicit. Another game, The Mirror’s Edge, recasts the player as a prisoner, but in an urban future (present?) of ubiquitous control. One uses the leftover spaces of the city (roofs, alleys, etc.) to maneuver ones way through the game. Are there leftover spaces in a prison?

  6. Prison Tycoon 12: Carceri non-photorealistically rendered in glorious black and white. Or the Panopticon edition made more tricky due to the fixed pivot point of view and fisheye lens.

  7. We should actually have “Reality Prison” where tv viewers of the 24 hour channel can vote who gets freedom and who doesn’t. All moderated by somebody like Giuliani.

  8. How’s this for a cross-over hit? Prison Tycoon: The Dirty Dozen!
    Instead of running a private prison for profit, you run a military prison to produce an army which then has to be run through missions.

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