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Building Schools with Ryan Sumo

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In 2015, Introversion Software released Prison Simulator, a neat little indie game about building and managing your own prison full of unstable maniacs. You could run a totalitarian institute with metal detectors on every door, spotless kitchens, and a dead-eyed guard for every inmate… or leave a few walls unbuilt just to see what happens.

The ‘simulator’ game market has swelled in recent years, with the down-to-earth Euro Truck Simulator and Farming Simulator leading the charge – but where they aim for realistic depictions of the monotony of farming or truck-driving, some developers place fun at the top of their priority list. These games demand a lot of the player: intricate micromanagement, careful consideration of resources – all to reach the ultimate prize: a game that runs smoothly, like clockwork, without much need for player input. It’s the pride of seeing a completed project, rather than the thrill of beating a final level, that enthrals players. Can you create a prison entirely out of wood? How about having only one guard? For this reason, and for its propensity for chaos, Prison Simulator gained a huge player-base of YouTubers.

The latest game in this tradition is Academia: School Simulator by Squeaky Wheel Games. In terms of vision, it’s Prison Simulator in a new setting – one that is either nostalgic or horrific to most players. Squeaky Wheel’s CEO, Ryan Sumo, describes it best:

Academia: School Simulator is a management game that lets you design, construct, and manage the high school of your dreams! We want to use the game as a means to delight people and let them create their own school, but we’re also going to be digging into the balance between a school’s profitability, prestige, and the quality of education it gives to its students.”

I sensed promise from the moment I started up a game of Academia. You begin with an empty lot and a team of builders: the first order of business is to clear away any trees and carefully plan out how you want your school to look – reminiscent of starting any new game of Dwarf Fortress. And like DF, sooner or later, things are bound to go horribly, horribly wrong. You need at least one classroom, a cafeteria, kitchen, bathrooms for boys and girls, janitors, teachers, and clean hallways. Academia is in Early Access right now, so many features have yet to be implemented. To give an idea of what the game might look like when finished, I asked Ryan to describe his plans for the future.

“These are some of the things we’re thinking of adding to the game:

  • Research tree and/or school specialization
  • Subject scheduling
  • Varsity sports
  • Truancy, delinquency, bullying (currently in progress)
  • School Prestige, and competing with others for the “Best School”
  • Setting School Policies
  • Weather, Random Events, and Disasters
  • Mod support (currently in progress)

“For us, Early Access is a great way to keep steady income coming in while at the same time getting feedback from players about what they’d like us to prioritize in the game.  The cons are that there can be a lot of pressure, especially when players assume that mechanics they want to add in the game are easy to implement.  Communicating regularly with the community is also very time consuming, but overall well worth it!”

When discussing Academia: School Simulator, it’s impossible not to mention Prison Simulator. I was intrigued by Squeaky Wheel’s decision to capitalise on the systems and gameplay style of Prison Simulator, which, in turn, is inspired by Dwarf Fortress. I asked Ryan if he thinks Academia is ‘less hardcore’ than Prison Simulator, and why he chose a school setting in particular.

Academia certainly is less hardcore!  When we were pitching the idea between ourselves, one of the things we said was that not everyone has gone to prison, but most people have gone to school!  While Prison Architect was an amazing game that obviously sold gangbusters, we know there are quite a few people that were interested in it but turned off by the idea of running a prison.  We’re betting that running a school will appeal to a wider market.”

As always, I finished the interview by giving Ryan the chance to advertise Academia: School Simulator to HEAVY readers:

“Honestly, I’m not a fan of the hard sell, so I’d just invite your readers to check out or look for Academia: School Simulator on Steam and check out the reviews and see if it’s your cup of tea!  If you’d like to support us right now, that’s great!  If you wanna sit back and wait for more updates before you drop some cash, that’s cool, too!”

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