Dev Blog 3/30

The last several weeks have been huge for the studio. Things here have been so furious that there was little time left to even publish full devblogs (most of the information over the last few weeks has been pushed in the form of steam announcements). We’ve launched the game, we’ve shown the game at South By Southwest, we’ve received huge amounts of feedback from the community, and we have re-evaluated a number of fundamental design decisions. This blog will be one of the longer ones, and will likely contain several slight spoilers, so strap in and get ready.

The first huge milestone that we should talk about is the fact that we released the game. Much of our release is simply due to the fact that we, as developers, did not want to ask for people to buy the game based entirely off of future content. We are fully aware that the game is not perfect, but it is getting constantly better. Long early access periods are something that we feel are detrimental to the gaming community. We are both developers and gamers, and we decided against something that we felt would be bad for the consumer, even if it may have been beneficial for us. At the time of this posting, the game is in a playable and enjoyable state, so we released it, and committed ourselves to supporting the game in full launch as thoroughly as we have been in in early access. As we continue to update the game we hope that it will appeal to more people and also entice people who have completed the game to play it again. 

After our recent trip to South by Southwest, we found ourselves in a much more favorable position than we imagined. For us, SxSW was an incredible opportunity to get exposure for the game (which it was) and an incredible opportunity to connect with other developers, (which it also was) but we did not fully expect the sheer value or volume of the play data that we received. At the expo we had so many people play the game that we found obscure bugs that would not have presented themselves in a standard QA session.
(one bug happened after explicitly loading the game from the main menu more than twenty times without ever closing it). We also got to watch the generative monster requests work on players with completely different habits than we had remotely expected. So now, more than ever, we're swimming in data about how people interact with our game, and that has given birth to content updates that will make the game far more approachable than it has been at any point so far.

The issues that we are fixing are mainly focused on gameplay, redundancy, raising the skill-cap, and increasing player agency. Much of this will be fixed via specific changes to sneaking and expanded survival mechanics. We are also adding a health system to the game. Previously, we had strayed away from this for several reasons, but with the path the game has taken, a lot of player learning is done by testing certain actions to see the result. For many of these actions, the punishment of absolute death is too severe, so we are going to ease that learning curve slightly. We’ve also finally begun to properly dig into the way that prisoners path. Managing the pathing for eighty prisoners in a confined space is no small task and we simply did not have the time to invest in that before SxSW. Now that we have a bit of time, the next patch to the game will feature a heavy reduction in twitching from the prisoners. We are also adding additional purpose to cigarettes in small ways, and in one big interaction with the guards and sneaking.

Speaking of sneaking: people like that a lot. Like, a ton. We are going to add in more stealth-centered gameplay, which means more changes to the guards, who are overdue for a consistency update anyway. In addition to a more interactive guard AI, we are redesigning a lot of the level that was previously off-limits or unsuited for sneaking in order to provide more opportunities for varied approaches. Since we are doing an overhaul of an entire area of the camp, we are also going to redo a lot of the environmental art in the game. The stealth additions, level art, and new architecture will make up a majority of the next gameplay addition.

We’re also looking to revisit the monsters in the game. The system for choreographing the monsters is in a state that provides a lot of good gameplay. As such, we are now looking to refine the individual monsters to better account for some fringe cases and to make for more distinct gameplay that more interestingly and convincingly reflects the personalities. Some of these small changes will ship very soon, but the larger ones (a complete overhaul of Jorogumo, for instance) are a little further off.

The music in the game has come out wonderfully and, after a number of requests, our composer and producer is looking to publish the soundtrack on several different streaming and purchasing services in the near future. In other news for the sound in the game, some of the voice acting in game is getting redone as we attain the resources needed to do so. Voice acting is extremely difficult, and finding local voice actors that we can record is consistently difficult for a studio of our size. We are targeting voices to replace based on both the line quantity and quality of the current voice, so that should also be coming incrementally.

The final content changes that we are looking to ship are simply more effects designed to enhance the feeling of losing your mind without explicitly changing gameplay. The ones already in the game have been received wonderfully, and add a lot of color to the experience. Those will be coming in one huge batch in the near future. 

Finally, a smaller and more personal note: Working on Prisoner so far has been both a wonderful and stressful experience. We began development of this game last year with the goal of making it to South by Southwest. Now that we have done that, we are all extraordinarily proud of the work we put in, and are ready for a breath of fresh air. We now have the ability to take the appropriate amount of time to manage small things, polish the edges of the game, and add content based on what will most meaningfully add to the game. We do not plan to squander this opportunity. While the state of the game right now may have some issues, the recent weeks have not only taught us how to fix them, but also shown more clearly the full potential of Prisoner. We are excited to continue development of this game, and we hope to foster a community that loves the game as much as we do.

The coming weeks and months will be huge for Prisoner, so stay tuned for more updates, and please continue reaching out to us and letting us know what you think. We love to hear your feedback, and we will continue to do everything we can to make our game better.

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