Animation Art Director Alex Drouin
Q: In your opinion, what makes the Prince of Persia such a videogame legend?
AD: Prince of Persia achieved a level of realism with animations that blew away other games of that period. Animating over a video sequence helped create a character that moved like a real human being. Combining animations of such high quality with interesting level design made for some extremely memorable games.
Q: Did you integrate these elements into Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time?
AD: We worked to achieve the same ‘believable’ quality with the animation. Yes, the Prince can perform some incredible, superhuman moves, but we wanted those moves to look realistic, like they could actually happen. And it’s not just a few moves – we developed an incredible array of movements that the Prince uses to explore the Palace, avoid traps, and fight enemies.
Q: What games or movies influenced your work?
AD: We were definitely influenced by martial arts moves like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Once Upon a Time in China, and The One (to name just a few). Acrobatic stars like Jet Li and Jackie Chan were a great source of inspiration for the super-agile Prince. Studying martial arts (more than two years, in my case) also helped a great deal with the creation of original fighting moves.
While we played (and played, and played) every major game that came out during our development phase, we avoided taking too much inspiration from them – since we’re doing something new with the Prince of Persia, we wanted to stay very fresh.
Q: Animations have always been a major Prince of Persia strength – what can we expect from the new game?
AD: The new animation system will enable us to add some really amazing elements to the game. For example, physics effect is used to animate secondary action and elements like hair, clothing, and wall hangings. It provides an extra sense of life and movement to the hand-animated characters and an otherwise static environment. Random details that deliver a feeling of realism and sensuality to players will be evident throughout the game.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the interaction with the environment in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time?
AD: Basically, if you can see it, you can play with it. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is all about the interaction between the Prince and the environment – objects, walls, ropes, poles, beams, ledges, curtains. Let’s just say that we’ve created some pretty incredible moves for a number of different situations. In addition, the Prince is affected by his environment; for example, the wind affects his hair, his clothes, and even his behavior.
Q: What major challenges did you encounter in working toward the level of excellence that Prince of Persia fans will expect? How did you address them?
AD: The biggest challenge was to create a character that could make all of these incredible, impossible, superhuman moves look believable. To succeed, we tested, tested, and tested – until we were happy!
Lead Engineer Claude Langlais
Q: What engine are you using?
CL: We’re using an evolution of the JADE engine, which was originally built by Ubi Soft’s Project BG&E team – it wowed everyone during E3 2002. After seeing what JADE could do, we knew it was the right engine to use to achieve what we wanted for the game.
Q: Tell me about its capabilities and how you take advantage of it.
CL: JADE gives us intuitive, easy-to-use content authoring tools. We were able to start with a strong basis in miscellaneous fields and concentrate on integrating a lot of elements very quickly. Basically, it allows us to do short development test cycles for optimal tweaking.
Q: Did you improve the engine to adapt it to the development of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time?
CL: We improved the existing animation system by developing animation blending (and partial asynchronous blending) to make the Prince’s movements smooth and realistic. We also adapted the animation authoring tools to ensure optimal quality, and created new special effects that made possible some of the main features related to the Sands of Time.
Q: What kind of specific features were you able to develop thanks to this engine?
CL: One of the biggest features of the game, which is the core of the design, was developed very early in the project. We needed to make sure we could validate and fully test it in the game. I can’t talk about it yet, but rest assured that this feature will make the game a worthy addition to the Prince of Persia series.
We also developed a number of features to enhance the player’s immersion in the game. For instance, we’ve included transparent dynamic loading, so there’s no more separate loading time in the middle of the action! And we added lightmaps to enhance the visual quality and ambience of the environments.
We wanted to create a dynamic environment in which a player would evolve, so the Prince’s clothes and hair react dynamically to his movements and surroundings, and a wind simulation system affects characters, drapes, bridges, etc.
In terms of AI, characters’ AI can be tuned thanks to the real-time behavior modification and tweaking capability of our content authoring tools – yet another feature that showcases the power of the JADE engine.
Q: The former Prince of Persia games were developed mostly on PC: why did you choose to work on consoles first?
CL: This game will appeal to a lot of different players, so developing for consoles felt like the right choice. We think it will reach players who love the original series, as well as a vast new audience who will encounter the game through next-gen consoles. And with consoles, every unit shipped has the same specifications, so we were able to focus on developing a single configuration as opposed to the range of PC possibilities – so we know that every player will experience the incredible level of immersion that a Prince of Persia game promises.
Q: As part of Ubi Soft’s Montreal studio, do you collaborate with the Splinter Cell team? How?
CL: While the two games don’t use the same engine, we definitely exchange ideas and concepts with the Splinter Cell team. For instance, we developed our environment interaction system based on something done in Splinter Cell, and the drapes in Splinter Cell were based on a constraint system originally developed for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. We all exchange ideas so we can develop new features based on previous successes.
Creative Director Patrice Désilet
Q: Can you tell us about some of the elements that will provide a feeling of total immersion in the game? How about the camera system, for instance.
PD: Three concepts drove camera development: liberty, transparency, and aesthetic. In terms of liberty, the player can completely control the camera with the right joystick, although we do provide some camera path in each room. Transparency results from well-designed locations along each of these pre-determined paths. Aesthetic comes from a pretty cool idea that we call an alternate cam – it’s another camera that a player can access at will that delivers a different look at any given location, with an emphasis on visual quality. And the fighting cam that we developed provides a very Hong-Kong movie feel to the in-game battles.
Q: What other tricks did you use to give the gamer the feeling of being a part of a movie or a book?
PD: To give players the experience of really living this adventure, we worked hard to tell the story in a compelling way – we set it in one place, in one day, which is a classic storytelling mechanism. We also developed a dynamic loading system so that there are no interruptions in the rhythm of the game – it gives a real sense of being right there in the middle of the apocalypse.
We also worked to hide all of the video game assets – they’re still there, but they’re a part of the universe and the story, justified in context. For example, the booby traps (essential for a Prince of Persia game) are part of a large defense system actually activated by the player. Likewise, the reward system originated from a narrative place; game design aspects were dealt with later.
Q: What special effects are you developing to enhance the Persian settings that are emblematic of the Prince of Persia series?
PD: In general, we created a beautiful place to play, with amazing lighting tricks, majestic architecture, and meticulous attention to details. We developed a cloth system that allowed the artists to place draperies in the player’s path, which creates a very sensuous feeling, and a glow system that adds texture and magic to the light. It’s difficult to list everything we added to the game to make it really sing!
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