Periscope Depth

step into your wake with your blood on my shirt

Many years ago, Bobby and I were playing Axis and Allies on one warm afternoon. We started joking about Germany’s terrible chances. Inspired by the board game in front of us, I commented, “Wouldn’t it be terrible if some Germany game company made a ‘Concentration Camp Management’ game while the Reich was in power? Like Puerto Rico or one of those other city-builders, only you have to manage an extermination camp?”

Bobby shook his head, chuckling. “You’d have to make sure your railroad depot wasn’t too far from the gas showers or you’d lose turnaround time.”

We both agreed that that would be uniformly twisted.

Flash forward about five years. Browsing through one of the transient dollar stores in the Arsenal Mall, I found the following gem in the Discount Software section: Prison Tycoon 3: Lockdown. If the title didn’t make it clear, I’ll spell it out: the cheery folks who gave you Roller Coaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon developed a game where you run your own prison.

Actually: they developed three of them.

What makes Prison Tycoon 3: Lockdown such a comically monstrous game? If I had to make a list:

  • “Begin with a low security prison and build it up to a SuperMax.” I don’t know if I’d consider a SuperMax prison an “upgrade” from a minimum-security facility. They serve two entirely different functions – one to house non-violent offenders, the other to provide rigorous supervision and restriction. This is like buying a flight simulator for your computer that boasts “start out with a prop plane and build it up to a C-47.”
  • “Hire trust-worthy prison guards and arm them with weapons, riot shields and guard dogs to maintain peace and control, but keep your eye on your budget.” Per the advertisements, budget is the only restraint on how brutal you can be with your prison population. Not your innate concern for civil liberties. Not the inherent dignity of the human. No, the only thing that’ll stop you from giving every guard on the block an autofire shotgun with rubber shells and full Kevlar is a lack of funds. Fortunately, you can augment your budget by building factories onsite – auto shops, print shops, metal shops, etc – so even that limit can be overcome. It’s a circle of some kind … begins with a “v” … I want to say “virtuous,” but I don’t think that’s it …
  • “You determine whether to release your prisoners on parole or keep them locked down tight to protect society.” Rehabilitating prisoners gives you a cash bonus and (I suspect, can’t confirm this) improves your overall prison score. Releasing someone who goes out to commit another crime? No real downside. Don’t worry about rehabilitating too many prisoners, though – you’ll get another busload tomorrow morning!
  • “Manage gangs and prisoner morale to avoid riots.” Like in the other Tycoon games, each individual visitor to your theme park prison facility has his own mood. Happy prisoners work eagerly in your shops. Angry prisoners start fights, which can escalate into riots through a cascading effect (one angry prisoner makes the prisoners around him angry, which makes their neighbors angry, etc). Managing prisoner morale doesn’t take much effort – simply dispatch a prison guard over to an angry prisoner. The guard will beat the prisoner with a nightstick until his mood improves to “passive.” No, I’m serious; that’s how you do it.
  • “Interrogate military prisoners for vital intel. Earn extra bonuses by getting prisoners to provide crucial information.” … so.

Disclaimer: some of my intel came from an FAQ for the first Prison Tycoon game. My prior experience with the Tycoon series indicates that later games in the series don’t deviate significantly from earlier ones – they just add more gameplay options. If anyone who’s actually played this gem of a game wants to correct me, leave a comment.

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