Prison Architect left Early Access back in October of last year, but that hasn't stopped Introversion Software from continuing to deliver monthly content updates to the game. And recently, a rather significant new feature has been discovered that was never in the patch notes; a hidden button that renders out your prison and all of its denizens in 3D, allowing you to zoom in and get a rather unique look at what's always been a flat, top-down game.
I reached out to Introversion's lead designer Chris Delay to see what he could tell me about this seemingly new addition to the game, and it turns out it's been in there longer than anyone realized. "We are astonished it took this long for the secret to be found!" Delay said. "3D Mode has been present in the public version of [Prison Architect] since v1.0, so that’s October 2015—almost six months. We actually believed it would be discovered in days initially."
But evidently, it took much longer than days. Delay mentioned that the first public post he saw about it was from Steam user Rico on the game's Steam forum late last week. But the post went largely unnoticed, and the feature remained rather hidden, until TheLogical Lowdown posted a video of the feature (embedded above) a couple days later, which then picked up steam on the /r/Games subreddit.
However, a big question remained; what was the 3D mode for? Delay told me they started working on it during the Alpha as an experimental visualization. "It was basically a massive engine hack that gave a fascinating alternative view on your prison—literally looking at it from a new angle. We never managed to bring it up to a decent quality sufficient to actually say 'This is now an official feature.'" Despite not being happy with how 3D mode was turning out, Introversion decided to secretly put it into the 1.0 release of Prison Architect for players to stumble upon. "We did think it was very cool, hence hiding it as an easter egg for people to discover. Why let such an awesome, albeit completely unfinished feature, go to waste?"
When we had Delay and Introversion producer Mark Morris on The PC Gamer Show last September, they both expressed their excitement for VR and mentioned that they were already playing around with it, so I thought maybe this 3D mode had roots in making Prison Architect more appealing (or at all usable) in VR—but Delay said that wasn't the case. "Yes we do have a Vive kit and yes we are totally in love with it and VR in general. I don’t think the 3D in our secret mode quite stacks up to the quality required for VR, but it would definitely be cool to look down on a wargaming table that had a Prison built on it, all animated and alive." Whether or not that was their intention, it'd be great to see a modder make this new mode work in VR eventually.
Delay also made it clear that 3D mode was nothing to be alarmed by for those who prefer how Prison Architect looks now, saying "we don’t see it replacing the main game view. That said, we will probably do some improvements to 3D mode now that it’s been discovered." Five months is a long time to wait to update a new feature but, like Delay, I'm pretty amazed it's gone by unnoticed for this long in the first place.