Ubi: Hello and welcome to today's Prince of Persia : Sands of Time chat. Thanks for joining us. Our guest this evening is Jordan Mechner, the man behind PoP. Thanks for taking time off the project to be with us, Jordan.
JM: It's a great pleasure.
Ubi: Let's begin, then. The session wil be moderated: only Jordan and I may post.
Ubi: This is how we'll proceed: you may send your questions only to me and I will relay them to Jordan. Please do not send them directly to him, he will only answer to mine. To send me a question double-click on my nick (Thunak) on the right hand column and a new window will open in which we may chat.
Ubi: Question: What were some of the challenges of transitioning the series from 2D to 3D?
JM: The biggest challenge was to achieve the kind of rhythmic game play that you can have in a 2D game, like the run-jump-grab. In a lot of 3D games you have to spend so much time orienting yourself and aiming in exactly the right direction, you lose that feeling of split second timing.
Ubi: How do you feel Prince of Persia pays homage to its early console routes?
JM: Well there are a few secret homages in the game that you will have to play to discover. Some are more obvious.. Like the spikes
Ubi: Are there any appearances of characters of the previous 2 games (it is obvious that we don't count 3d ;)) and if there are any please describe some ?
JM: Actually Sands of Time is a prequel to the first games. The Prince is the only character who appears.
Ubi: What will be all the uses of the sand of time?
JM: There are several powers... The most important is that you can use it to turn back time (Rewind) and avoid dying. There are additional powers which you can gain including the ability to stop time, slow it down, and see visions of the future.
Ubi: Could you provide some details on the many unique controls and movements that you're able to pull off in the game?
JM: You can run along walls, that is pretty cool. Also you can grab onto columns, swing on ropes walk along narrow beams, and swing on bars like an olympic gymnast. What is really cool is to combine movements. For example say you're wall-running to cross a deadly pit then just as you reach the other side, you see spikes spring out of the floor under you. You can press X and instantly push off from the wall with your feet, so you jump out into the air evading the spikes, then save yourself by grabbing a column.
Ubi: Would you ever think about doing a sequel to Karateka?
JM: It's a hard one... Honestly I'm not sure it's time. The original POP was sort of a sequel to Karateka... or at least it developed some of the same ideas a little further. JM: Maybe in 5 years :)
Ubi: Can you reveal us a funny "anecdote" or a secret about the development of the game?
JM: jeez... where to start?? Give me a hint
Ubi: From your experiences testing the game do you think the game will be as legendary as the 2D versions where?
JM: I guess I feel about the same way I did when the first game was finished. I've played it so much, I love it completely and I don't have any perspective on what it would be like for someone else to play... For me, it is a lot of fun to play and I wish I could have the experience of playing it for the first time again!
Ubi: It sounds like you have some pretty interesting game play ideas there. Were there any significant influences on your ideas and choices?
JM: Definitely. There are a lot of big game players on the team and everyone took inspiration and ideas from their favorite games... A big one for me personally was ICO. Also sports games, the guys spend a lot of time playing hockey games on lunch hour and the fast controls of sports games are pretty inspiring compared to most 3D story-action games.
Ubi: Question: Could you give some details about the main characters and story?
JM: We meet a young Prince eager to fight in his first battle. He is part of his father's army as they attack an Indian palace and as a trophy of victory, they take some treasures including a giant hourglass containing the mystical Sands of Time and a dagger which the Prince takes as his own personal prize. This turns out to be a big mistake, as the Prince inadvertently unleashes the Sands of Time on the palace. The Sands are a plague that transform everyone they touch into terrible sand creatures... Only the Prince is spared because of the dagger which gives him special powers of time. Also a mysterious, beautiful girl who was captured as a prisoner of war... she escapes too. And the two of them are forced to join together to survive.
Ubi: What was the origin of the dagger of time?
JM: Actually the story of the sands of time is told in the game in a series of pictograms, on the wall in one of the early levels. You have to study the pictures carefully but they are based in ancient mythology and give some clues. This is not explained in the game or on any web site, it's just something we put in.
Ubi: If the Prince must get a name, which one would it be?
JM: We are waiting for him to tell us :)
Ubi: Why did Mr.Mechner set his games in ancient Persia of all places?
JM: Actually it is medieval Persia, around the 9th century. The original inspiration was the 1001 Nights tales which were collected around the 13th century, and have more ancient origins from many countries including Persia. Also the Shah-Nemeh or Persian Book of Kings which was written by a great Persian poet and likewise has origins in more ancient tales. All these stories are a fantastic inspiration because the world and characters are so rich.
Ubi: Will Sands of Time focus more on platform-esque puzzles as in the first two games (how to proceed through a room or series of rooms, for instance), or more on combat? What percentages would you say either comprises of the full game?
JM: Roughly it is 50/50. The level designers and game designers worked really hard to make sure that the alternation is done in an interesting way... Some stretches of the game feature very intense combat, in others you do not encounter any enemies for a while as you face primarily acrobatic or puzzle challenges. And sometimes you have to deal with both at the same time. The important thing was for the player to feel a sense of variety and that the challenges are always building or changing, not repetitive.
Ubi: I got a review version of POP and it seems, you had some inspiration from the movie matrix. is this true? or did any other games/movies inspired you?
JM: All the Hong Kong action movies, also Korean and Chinese movies .. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. These movies obviously inspired the Matrix as well so there is a lot of cross-pollination going on. Definitely, the fascination of seeing characters do things that are pushed beyond the limits of what you can do in real life.. but done in such a way that it feels part of a believable universe.
Ubi: (sentinel): will there be a second game character which you will see a lot?
JM: Yes, the mysterious female character I mentioned earlier will be the Prince's ally for much of the game. She is pretty good with a bow and arrow so it is nice to have her around.. She can also help the Prince by getting through areas that he could not go alone.. On the other hand sometimes there are places she cannot pass because she doesn't have his insane acrobatic skills, and the player has to find a way to help her get through so they can continue together.
Ubi: Can you reveal us a secret about the development of the game ?
JM: I'm thinking.....
Ubi: How much time has the team spent on the characters physics: running along walls, jumping off walls, swinging on ropes and so on - and what were the goals the team had
JM: The animation and AI of the Prince is something that continued to be developed right up until the end. Alex Drouin (animator) and Richard Dumas (AI programmer) focused a lot of their attention on the Prince all the way through the project. And every other aspect of the game had to be developed with the Prince's animations and abilities in minds. For example, the level design was always done in such a way that it would make a fun playground for the Prince to run on. Adding columns, flagpoles, other structures that in many games are purely decorative, in this game had to be added with a lot of thought in order to create paths for the player to pass through that area.. and build the necessary skills in a reasonable order. So... Tons of time!!
Ubi: What's your favourite game that you didn't make?
JM: Still Asteroids.
Ubi: Remove our curiosity: really our dear prince will change his voice and face expression connected with play phases ? Enlighten us!
JM: The voice expression is connected with the story, so that definitely changes depending on the phase of the game. Physically, the biggest change is that he gets more beaten up and loses his body armor as he progresses, so that in the beginning he is a well-equipped Persian Prince, and by the end he is shirtless, scratched and battered a bit like Bruce Willis in Die Hard... Also, the animations for when he is standing still do change over the course of the game. If you set down the controller for a minute and just watch the Prince, you will see that in the early stages of the game, he seems impatient and eager to fight... By the end of the game, he has become a more mature and weary warrior and this is reflected in the way he stands, as if he is conserving energy or meditating before the next challenge.
Ubi: Will we get access to secret costumes for beating the game, or beating the game under certain conditions? Like a scant bit of cloth for the mysterious princess if we beat the game in three hours or something like that?
JM: that particular idea has not been implemented... You should have suggested it sooner :) But there are other secrets that can be activated during the game. There is a complete version of POP1 that can be unlocked if you find the secret entrance at a certain point. And a few other goodies...
Ubi: Will you be able to carry more then one weapon at one time or do you need to drop your current weapon before you can pick up the other weapon? And will it be a open-ended end or is it one end?
JM: You only have one sword at a time. When you find a new sword, it is always better than the one you had before, so you discard your old one and take the new one. This is handled automatically. We did not want the player to have an inventory... that would be very un-POP. As for the end, there is only one end... But it's a good one!
Ubi: Very little has been heard about the musical composition in the game. Could you give some details on how much work was put into it and what we should expect?
JM: Stuart Chatwood of the group Tea Party composed the music. He did a terrific job, the music has a real drive to it and uses some authentic Persian and middle eastern instruments but also electric guitar, for a really unusual mix that is somehow perfect for this game.
Ubi: Are all the surroundings in the game made up or did you get inspiration by visiting sites such as castles?
JM: The artists drew a lot of source material from books of ancient and medieval sites. There was no official team field trip, but many team members drew inspiration from their own travels. I was personally inspired by visits to the Alhambra in Spain and also to Marrakech even though the game palace is not literally taken from either of these places.
Ubi: What's your favourite game magazine?
[comes back for encore]
Ubi: Would you like to work on some adventure game again, like The Last Express?
JM: I loved Last Express, but there are not enough people who buy straight adventure games to make it possible to spend that much time and budget on such titles very often! But I would consider it if it were a really special project... For now though my biggest interest is in action-adventures.
Ubi: Where are all the guys at Smoking Car anyway?
JM: Most of them are still friends... Some are still in the games industry... Mark Moran is a film producer in LA. Ben Nason is still programming. We keep in touch
Ubi: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
JM: No fair I can't type that fast
Ubi: Why did you want to make games? Which game was your first game?
JM: I wanted to make animated movies first.. But I was only 10 years old so I was very frustrated that my work was not of professional quality.. When I got my first Apple II I was very excited that I could have the chance to make something that people would actually want to play... The first game I submitted to a publisher was an Asteroids rip-off called Deathbounds. It did not get published but the publisher, Doug Carlston of Broderbund, encouraged me to keep trying. My next game was Karateka and that one did get published, fortunately.
Ubi: Who is your favourite game designer?
Ubi: Would you ever make a Hollywood movie, if given the chance?
JM: Funny you should ask, as there has been a lot of interest in Prince of Persia from Hollywood as a possible feature film. But it would need to be a good movie version otherwise it is not worth doing.
Ubi: Could you give some advices to enter in videogame industry?
JM: It is good to make something to show your skills: a portfolio if you are an artist, a game if you are a programmer. Game companies are always looking for people with energy and talent who are nice to work with.
Ubi: How long did you worked on the game with the team of course
JM: The development was about 2 1/2 years. I started out travelling between L.A. and Montreal then got progressively more involved. Ended up moving my family to Montreal to be there full time for the last 4 months of the project.
Ubi: Do you visit POP community forum?
JM: Not regularly but I have visited it.
Ubi: Will there be multi-player?
JM: No multiplayer
Ubi: If you had enough resources and money and all that stuff and you could make the Game of your Dreams... who would this game look like?
JM: That is the question I am worrying about right now :) I think it would be a single-player action adventure of some sort because that is the kind of game I like to play myself. One thing that matters to me a lot for choosing a game to play for fun, is that it has to be beautiful. If I am not drawn into the world, it is hard for me to stay interested just for pure gameplay challenge.. there are so many other alternatives, I really want all my senses to be gratified. So you can see I'm not really a hardcore gamer
Ubi: At the ending of Prince of Persia 2, we see a woman watching prince in crystal ball, can you reveal anything about that?
JM: Any questions specifically about POP: Sands of Time?
Ubi: Did you have an open enough budget to be able to do what you wanted or did you have to cut some things due to time/money restrictions?
JM: Budget and schedule were very tight compared to the ambition of what we wanted to do. I'm happy with the result, I think the whole team is satisfied, but there were also tons of things we had to cut for time. Time, more than money.
Ubi: Is the control scheme for SOT PC version is as intuitive as of consoles? Does it support gamepad?
JM: I've played it with keyboard/mouse, it takes a little getting used to compared to the PS2 but it works.
Ubi: Will controls be definable?
Ubi: How much did your advices affect the general design of the game?
JM: I feel pretty happy that the issues I cared about most I was able to convince the people who needed to be convinced. There are some other ideas I had I am glad I got talked out of.
Ubi: What speed is the game?
JM: 30fps on PS2 version. Xbox version is 60fps
Ubi: How is saving/loading games handled? End of level, checkpoint, instant etc
JM: It all has to do with the sands of time. When you defeat a big gang of enemies, or reach certain points in the game, a pillar of sand is formed (Vortex) and by entering this vortex you are hit with a vision that also gives you the chance to save the game.
Ubi: Will PoP:SoT have Roleplay-Elements inside like that your characters power gets more and that he learns new Fighting Moves?
JM: The Prince gains new abilities in the course of the game but it is handled differently from a RPG. The way it works is that as you fight enemies, you retrieve the Sands of Time that flows in their veins instead of blood, and fill your dagger with it. The more you fill your dagger with sand, the more you build its capacity and this gives the dagger (and therefore the Prince) new abilities. So this sometimes takes the form of new finishing moves that were not available before.
Ubi: At the end, what do you think will make of Sands of Time a big success?
JM: I hope a lot of people will respond to the blend of story, acrobatic action and fighting, and beautiful sensuous world that creates a magic atmosphere. It's simple to start playing and understand the story, the deepness only emerges as you play it.
Ubi: Did you decided by yourself to start the development of this new game or was it an idea of the development team which contacted you afterwards? How did you feel when you realized that this new adventure was coming true?
JM: Ubisoft came to me with the idea to do a new POP game. What convinced me to join the project personally, was the incredible talent and enthusiasm of the Ubisoft Montreal team. After meeting them I did not want to let them have the fun of making this game without me!
Ubi: In list of enemies there are lots of Sand characters? Will Prince fight real humans?
JM: Only in the first prologue level, does the Prince fight human enemies. This is part of a battle sequence in India. Once the Sands of Time are unleashed, all humans except the Prince, the girl and the villain are transformed into sand creatures. Animals too.
JM: One more question then I really gotta go!!
Ubi: I just have to ask... What was the team's favourite snack food?
JM: Penguins. They seem harmless but actually contain a lot of caffeine.
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