Ubi Soft's upcoming Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time made quite a splash at this year's E3, thanks to its impressive visuals and polished gameplay. The game is being developed by a team at Ubi Soft's Montreal studio, and it certainly shows off the team's strengths in animation and lighting. We recently talked to creative director Patrice Desilets about the prince's latest evolution and how the team approached the update of the classic franchise.
GameSpot: How did you approach working with the Prince of Persia license?
Patrice Desilets: It is always challenging to revamp a legendary cult title like Prince of Persia. In this case, it was important for us to remain loyal to the license while re-creating certain aspects to appeal to contemporary gamers. Therefore, we needed to maintain a high quality and momentum of action through the intensity of the fight sequences, the fluidity of the movements, and the incredible nature of the prince's acrobatic moves. At the same time, we took liberties with the high-level game mechanics, rules, and controls in order to reestablish the Prince of Persia series as the leader of the action adventure category. We did not want to make the mistake of simply delivering familiar gameplay. Using superior technology and plenty of creativity, we created a completely new Prince of Persia experience while still remaining true to the spirit of the original.
GS: Did you check out the previous games in the franchise? If so, which ones?
PD: We took the first two Prince of Persia games as an example, and tried to extract from those two pieces of art their most impressive qualities. We studied what made the prince a legend, and immediately set to work creating a fresh, new hero for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Personally, I preferred to detach myself a bit from the previous games in order to not spoil my imagination. Moreover, on the team, we have fans who know the two previous games like the backs of their hands--mainly our lead level designer. We were able to use them like the "guard dogs" of the license. Believe me, they would bite if we went too far!
GS: What did you think of the previous games' interpretations of the prince? What worked and what didn't?
PD: Prince of Persia is truly one of the all-time classic series, so it is difficult for me to judge what is good and what is not without ruffling some feathers among fans of the franchise. But let me say that the strength of the first two games was found in the general quality of animations, as well as the impeccable level design. In 1989, the quality of the suggested adventure was rather unique. On the other hand, the difficulty was very high (like the majority of the games of this period) and the control was a little rough (action, stop, action, stop, action, and so on, in the Tomb Raider style--which, by the way, has a lot of similarities to Prince of Persia). That was something that could have perhaps harmed the fluidity of the unit. But still, the level design was done in a manner that let the player forget these small defects.
GS: Where do you think the prince's appeal lies?
PD: It is a combination of elements that makes the prince a strong character. It is a precise mixture between the storyline, the gameplay, the animation, and the visual design. We have a character with extraordinary abilities, but he does not become an untouchable superhero or distant to the player. I believe that the true appeal of the character comes from the fact that he is human. Indeed, though he possesses physical abilities that are much greater than those of an average human, he remains, despite everything, very close to us--similar to a professional athlete with whom we can easily identify. This helps strengthen the overall experience of the game.
GS: Where did you come up with your vision for the new prince?
PD: We used the image of a professional athlete in our design, both for the gameplay and for the visuals. We asked ourselves a simple question: What would Michael Jordan do if he found himself in an apocalyptic situation and needed to use his physical abilities to escape? We studied with much precision what elements this athlete would use to escape, and from there we built actions parallel to that idea. We kept this same essence for the combat moves, but this time we looked at martial-arts films for reference in order to create the most fluid movements. Regarding the look of the character, it was important to reflect the adventure in his appearance, which changes according to his experiences. Thus in the game, the prince changes looks. It is our homage to Die Hard.
GS: Can you give us an explanation of the prince's powers and how they're used in the game?
PD: The prince is an athlete who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances, so it is necessary for him to possess extraordinary capacities. The prince can use his environment in a number of ways: running on the walls, jumping from pole to pole, swinging from rope to rope, and climbing columns, just to name a few. He can--and must--avoid traps and fight beasts. Given the complexity of the environment, it was important to provide the player with a control scheme for the prince that was easy to use, in order to place the challenge not on the control pad, but indeed on the screen. To allow for a complete experience, we gave the prince a magic dagger that allows him to play with time. A huge fantasy for any human--and we will leave it at that for now!
GS: How much input did Jordan Mechner have in creating the prince's new look?
PD: Jordan is the scriptwriter of the game. From the start, he helped provide guidelines to make sure that the character of the prince unifies the story and the gameplay. But the prince is a truly collaborative creation. Several people worked on him, and believe me, several versions were drawn and modeled before everyone was happy with the result.
GS: What do you think are the key elements that the prince needed to have in order to stay true to the franchise?
PD: There are several key elements: speed of action, fluidity of movement, quality of environment, intensity in the fight system and the level design, and a compelling 1,001 Nights atmosphere. In addition to those, it was very important that the spikes return!
GS: Did you try to include homages to the earlier games?
PD: It was not our first objective, but there are definitely touches from the previous games. I will not say more than that, as I do not want to spoil the experience of discovery.
GS: Thanks for your time, Patrice.