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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Platform(s): Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Movie, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox
Genre: Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: Nov. 6, 2003 (US), Nov. 21, 2003 (EU)

About Rainier

PC gamer, WorthPlaying EIC, globe-trotting couch potato, patriot, '80s headbanger, movie watcher, music lover, foodie and man in black -- squirrel!

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'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time' - Development Team Interview

by Rainier on Sept. 18, 2003 @ 4:12 a.m. PDT

Players take on the role of the Prince in the exotic, mysterious world of ancient Persia. Using groundbreaking animations and innovative time-control powers to recapture the Sands of Time, the player's role is to restore peace to the land.

Patrice Desilets - Creative Director

Q: Describe the main features of the game.

PD : It's the exterior of the Palace, with a nice view over the Tower of Dawn (tallest tower in all of Persia...). There is a bridge where the Prince fights SandMen; this was once used to lead the inhabitants from the Tower of Dawn to the Sultan's zoo. Now, because of the Sands Of Time, it's a mere shadow of its previous self... but that is not enough to stop the Prince.
Then there's the Zoo's warehouse, where the Prince and Farah will encounter their toughest enemies to date.

The Prince and Farah have just experienced a pretty tough emotional situation, and it's the first time they will work together as a team. Also, the Prince will have to show his acrobatic abilities in many ways, from running on walls to reach impossible edges to swinging on a series of bars. At some point, problems arise and the Prince will need to do a little bit of thinking to get through the tough spots...but if they work together, there should be no problem.

Q : Why has it been thought & built like this?

PD : It's like that because we wanted to play outside, and give vertigo. We decided to put the level design on the exterior walls, allowing the Prince to be acrobatic with big jumps, and swing on pole action. Then we wanted to go up inside a tower with a fast rhythm gameplay. Again the bars had been put in good use, with a nice series of swings while the Prince climbs up. We added the camera angle to give a real sense of height. By the end we thought it would be nice to a add a different beat, Farah helping you out...

Q : Can you describe Prince Of Times' atmosphere?

PD :

It's night, it's apocalyptic...
It's an Arabian night...
It's also quite beautiful.

Raphael Lacoste, the Artistic Director, wanted it to be bigger than real life, but yet not totally fictitious. It's plausible, yet the palace rises deep into the clouds. It's a fine mix of fantastic and realistic architecture, light and atmosphere. In this level, for the exterior part at least, it is one of the finest and complete views of our Persian Palace, so it gives the player a better sense of the world he is playing in.

Q : Can you describe what the player will encounter, feel and learn?

PD : At this point in the game, the Player will encounter a new part of the learning curve. At first, we had to introduce the player to Farah's 'jump' ability, so we started the level with two short jumps. Then we followed up with a fight so the player learned very early on how to fight with another AI. To complete this experience, we needed a nice open area to make sure the players would get the best view with both characters. At this point, we wanted to emphasize the relationship between the two characters, so we separated them, and ask the player to go around and find a way to open a door. Finally, we needed to put the player in a room where all of the Prince's abilities will need to be used: action, fight, thinking, coop-play...

Q : How will it be different from other game universes?

PD :We tried really hard to create a plausible Arabian Night universe, where architecture marvels is next to magical rooms and really beautiful landscape. We wanted our universe to be as real as possible, as if the Arabian night would have existed, but we didn't aim for photo-realistic. Also, we tried to "break" the Aladdin cliché of bright colours and overcharged textures. It's just plain ugly according to Raphael Lacoste, the Art Director, and I tend to follow him on this one.

What were your primary goals in selecting and designing the environments?
First, they had to fit the story. Then, they had to be fun to play in, with a nice architecture element that the visual would work around, like a landmark, a tower, etc..

We also used a lot of documentation on Arabian art and architecture and tried to push these references to something more fancy, unreal, we exaggerated the proportions of the towers and the rooms to make a more immersive and spooky universe. We were also inspired by the 7 wonders of the world: the size and the originality of these environments gave us some nice ideas to design the palace of Azaad - for example, the suspended gardens of Babylon inspired us for the Zoo of the sultan of Azaad.

What (if any) fundamental artistic features from the original Prince Of Persia games did you strive to include in Prince of Persia The Sands of Time?
One place, one setting, one palace, just like in the first one. Also, each room had to have one clear goal, or landmark just like each room were one screen in the previous one.

Q : There's an enormous range of environments in the game – what inspired your design?

PD :So many books! Orientalist painters, mainly French from the XIX century, Islamic architecture (old and modern), Ancient Persia art (for some part of the palace), picture of real places like the Taj Mahal to name one, etc. It's a real mix of a lot of different inspirations. It's though to point only one. We made so many tests before knowing what was perfect for the Prince... but like Edison said: "It wasn't 1000 errors, but only a 1000 solutions that didn't work..."

Q : Tell us a bit about the process of conceptualizing the Prince Of Persia world: how did you decide on a coherent visual style for the art team?

PD : It's all about having a clear vision of what will fit best. Knowing the mood the player will be in at this particular moment, and then try to come up with the right touch. So to come up with that clear vision, we did a "blue print session", some level designers, art director, modellers and myself, where we designed the entire palace in a pre-conception level design manner. Then to really make the thing coherent, we sat down together, lead level designer, art director and me, and played a lot, and give the team our comments on each part of the palace. We'll continue doing so until the game ships this fall.

Q : Did your initial concepts persist through the evolutions of the game, or did they change significantly? How close is the final product to your preliminary sketches?

PD : The process we used helped us a lot in that department. The conception artist, Khaï Ngyen, great artist by the way, did super shots of different locations in the palace. Then Raphael made 3D models of those locations to give modellers some insight on how it would have to look in the game. And then because of game constraint (frame rate, collisions, AI, etc.) we needed to make sure each location designs would follow certain rules to make each level great!

Q : Are there any new "exclusive" artistic features available in the game?

PD : The game... In fact, we're using pretty basic stuff, like light map, glow, soft bodies, etc., but the attention to detail using those techniques is nothing less than amazing. Our artists are really talented and they're not afraid of sharing information and tidbits with each other, which helps a lot. Being a senior team helps us also; basically we know what we're doing, so to speak.

Q : In terms of both the graphics and the special effects used to create these amazing worlds, what were any areas of particular focus as you worked to build a completely immersive atmosphere?

PD : The light coming through the wrought iron windows and falling into rays on the floor enhances the vertical dimension of rooms (verticality being one of the pillars of level design in the game, allowing the Prince to perform cool acrobatic moves on walls, columns etc). The light coming from the torches give the finishing touch to settings, providing a mysterious atmosphere. Attention to details is noticeable in the 3D decoration engraved in the walls, as well as in the structure of the grids in the background.

Yannis Mallat, Producer ; Pierre-Sebastien Pouliot, Lead Animator ; David Giraud, Lead Character Artist ; Jonathan Pilon, Audio Designer

Q: The Prince is quite familiar to gamers, as the main hero of the series that carries his name. Is there any link between your Prince and the one featured in previous games of the series?

A : The new Prince of Persia has a very different look from the previous games. For this game we needed a strong hero who would project the Prince's key attributes: agility, courage and determination. To achieve this, we gave our character designers complete freedom to break from previous visual conceptions of the Prince, and start over from scratch. They did a fantastic job and gave us exactly what we hoped for.

Q: And what is the personality of this new Prince?

A : He starts out as a young Prince seeking adventure and glory. He is eager to embark on a journey which will demand all his courage and determination, and soon gets more than he bargained for, as his adventure transforms into a sheer struggle for survival. He realizes that not just his own life is at stake, but also the fate of everyone he loves and his entire world.

It was important for the Prince to evolve and change as a character throughout the game. As the stakes rise and the odds against him increase, he gets more and more beaten up, and also more determined. This gradual transformation is reflected in the character's appearance, as he becomes a tougher, stripped-down kind of action hero.

Players will get to control a very agile and acrobatic character. He has feline movements that are quick, light and spectacular. The Prince was designed so that his skills in combat, from swordplay to martial arts, are unmatched, since the best instructors of Persia have trained him all his life. Of course, in the beginning, he has a certain innocence, even over-confidence, since he has not yet tested his abilities in a life-or-death situation.

In Prince of Persia The Sands of Time, the Prince's ideals and illusions will be challenged by the hard choices he must make. In the course of the story he matures, and learns what is really important.

Q: How would you describe his evolution to meet current gaming standards?

A : On the one hand, the Prince of Persia is a classic videogame character, whose acrobatic movements are instantly recognizable to millions of people around the world. We could just show a shadow of the Prince and you would know right away that it's him, just by seeing him move, jump or fight.

But, today's videogame standards are extremely high. It is harder than ever to create a truly special hero that the gaming public will embrace. For Prince of Persia The Sands of Time, we faced a double challenge: To recapture the spirit of the original character, while reinventing him as a distinctive hero for a new generation of gamers.

The new Prince is much more fully developed than the character in the earlier games. He has a unique look that reflects his specific personality and totally fits with the exotic Persian settings of the game. He is an extremely expressive hero whose essence is communicated through in-game action, facial expressions and dialogue, all while advancing the story. Also, players will really get to see the physical and psychological evolution of the Prince.

Q: Did Jordan Mechner provide input on The Prince?

A : One of Jordan's main objectives during this project has been to unite the story and game-play aspects of the game. As the Prince is the main character, it was of course especially important to get his feedback on our approach. We agreed on the key attributes of the character and the artistic direction.

We felt it was essential for Prince of Persia The Sands of Time to capture the exhilaration of movement that was such a key element of the first game's appeal. The animated character needed to feel acrobatic and graceful, as opposed to mechanical, and the controls had to be simple and intuitively satisfying. Jordan's input was of great value for this process.

The Prince's personality is expressed not just in his physical movements, but also through his dialogue and interactions with other characters. Jordan's role as screenwriter helped to ensure that all these aspects are woven together to clearly delineate the Prince's character development over the course of the game.

Q: The Prince is quite an original hero for an action game: what makes him so different from other action games heroes?

A : I believe that from the approach given to the Prince during his creation to what he can now achieve in the game is what sets him apart from other video game heroes. He is a character that players can relate to in terms of personnality.

Also, by controlling the Prince, players will instead need to execute acrobatic and athletic move to succeed in this game. Fights are an important part of this game and players will get to do amazing move with the Prince during those fights or across the levels of the palace.

The Prince will actually look more beaten up as the game advances... to better describe his evolution during his dangerous adventure.

Q: When controlling The Prince, what do you think gamers will identify with?

A : Mainly, a realistic man with tremendous and credible acrobatic skills. That makes him a more accessible character because his courage and determination are what drives him to succeed. He's trying to do the right thing in a bad situation that he brought upon himself and others.

Q: We notice your hero doesn't have a proper name: just a lack of imagination? ;o)

A : Actually the Prince didn't have a name in the previous opus of the series... It also corresponds to the kind of tradition of the "1001 Nights Tales" where all characters have a name, except for the Prince who is always referred to as "the King's son".
So basically, we felt it would be more appropriate and straightforward to have him just be called by his title, instead of giving him a name just for the sake of it... Plus, it gives him a bit of mystery and it's different: whereas other games need a name for their main character, Prince of Persia doesn't. It's all in the title! J

Q: Animations have always been a key element of the Prince of Persia games, can you describe some of the moves the Prince can perform?

A : Expect the Prince's moves to be very acrobatic, gravity-defying, since he is one of the most agile video game heroes.
Of course, his move set ranges from simple moves to very acrobatic and advanced moves:

- He'll be able to do the basic moves such as walk, run and jump, climb/slide down ladders, columns or ropes, walk on ledges, swing on ropes and poles, etc. But it his also in the way he makes those moves that the animations are truly amazing.

- But that is far from it all: the Prince will also be able to run horizontally or vertically on walls, walk on beams or make rebounds on walls when jumping to reach higher levels. During fights, expect the Prince to jump over his enemies, do back flip attacks, roll around enemies to avoid being hit, make agile counter moves when blocking attacks, or do martial art moves when fighting more than one enemy at a time.

One other memorable thing is that many animations or moves will be done depending on the distance and situation the Prince is in. Meaning that executing an attack on an enemy will be much different if the Prince is close to him or if he is further away. This will give more appeals to the fights scenes because animations will be different depending on the choices the player makes.

Q: How many animations will the prince have?

A : The Prince will have more than 700 animations alone... That is more than any other video game characters seen to this day. This will cover all of his fighting and acrobatic moves of course.

Q: What other attributes does he have?

A : More can be said about his attributes... For example, fights will need a combination of his sword with the dagger of time. So this will give more attack strategies to the player when facing enemies and will lead to more special moves and opportunities to use the Sands of Time.

Solving various enigmas will also require the Prince to push or pull objects, do specific acrobatic moves, or combinations of them. The range of actions you can do with your character will ultimately be quite impressive.

Q: Is there anything he can do that no other action games heroes can't?

A : The greatest thing, besides the many animations of the Prince, is the fact that he can control time by using his dagger. Just to give you a quick overview of his powers upon Time: he will be able to rewind time in order to avoid perilous situations (which will happen quite often!), he will also have the power to go ultra fast during combats and then have a serious advantage over his enemies, he will also be able to go into slow motion during a specific period of time, and finally, he will have the possibility to locally freeze an enemy and slice him in pieces.

Q: What have been your inspirations to design this new Prince?

A : The other Prince of Persia games were of course a good point to start from. It was important for us to know what has been done for the Prince in the past games and how we could make him a more actual hero for today's standards. It helps us setting a portrait of attributes we wanted him to have (agility, determination, courage) and how we could convey those attributes not only in looks, but also in animations. We also gained inspiration by looking at different personalities, and the images that was created around them. Of course, we always had the 1001 Night Tales as a great source of inspiration to create a hero that would fit in this strong and unique setting.

Q: How did you come to the final design: did you test the character appearance? What kind of improvements did the gamers require and will they be implemented?

A : We of course did some research to create The Prince character. We wanted to use a very proactive approach in his creation and use as much feedback as possible from gamers and people outside the team. So Focus Groups (tests on consumers) were done based on the conception of the Prince at several stages of its development. Modifications were made based on comments received to better reach the attributes set for the Prince. For example, elements that were treated ranged from the Prince's armour and colouring, to his facial expressions and stature.

Q: Are his clothes & equipment inspired from real Persian outfit? What changes/improvements did you bring to fit with an intuitive control & modern look?

A : The style of the main character will definitely show that Persian look. His costume, boots, pants all were inspired by the style of that period. You'll be able to feel this by looking at him. His armour, for example, is made of soft leather as opposed to medieval armours found in Europe, which look more metallic. So, the players will see, to a certain degree, some historical elements in the Prince's outfit

Q: How many polygons did you use to design The Prince? Can you give us a few examples of the level of detail brought to your character?

A : The Prince has 1500 polygons. He has pretty standard textures but many of the details will be seen through the physic engine of the game. For example, his hair, pants, even his scratched shirt will be affected by movement, wind, etc. His dagger will also move from side to side to give that elements of realism... like you are truly part of this environment. This kind of feedback based on movement and such is really coming along!

Q: What about facial animations? These are quite important to make a lifelike character: what kind of emotions will The Prince be able to convey to the gamers?

A : Facial animation is an important and subtle feature. Of course it plays an important part in cinematic. Along with the recorded performance of voice actor, it conveys a lot of the narrative. What are the character emotions, what are their motives... The rigs we've created will allow us to carry that to it's full potential since the narrative aspect of the game is really strong. Not that it wouldn't be fun without it, but it wouldn't be as immersive. And this is the challenge. If done properly the story will flow without even noticing it. If done bad... Nothing worse than bad facial animations or bad lip-synch. You keep focusing on it to the point that you don't notice anything else, even if the game is brilliant. Building on previous experiences (Splinter Cell, Raven Shield), we are perfecting our techniques so it will do justice to the story. In the in-game part, main characters will also have facial animations. This is to give feedback to the player. Are they fine? what are their relations to one another's? are they in trouble? etc....

Q: Regarding The Prince voiceover, who did you choose to record the Prince's voice?

A : For the Prince character as well as all the main characters we went through a casting process with a description of their abilities, psychology, background story and physical attributes. Our choice felt on Yuri Lowenthal for the Prince and Joanna Wasick for Farah. All the main characters have been recorded between L.A. Vox studio and the Ubi Montreal sound studio and were done under Pro-tools which make it easier for editing and files exchange between the different studios.

Q: Is there a reason why the Prince is the only playable character in the game?

A : Like the previous titles of the series, the Prince has always been the main focus of the game. It is through him that players live the adventures. So it is important to keep this aspect of the game. You are the Prince, not any other characters. Everything, from the story, to the gameplay and level design are so close together, that players would lose such an experience in playing someone else.

However, the game will offer players something different this time around: Co-operative gameplay. Indeed, the Prince will meet through his adventure a mysterious Indian princess. Although the players will not be able to control her, they sometimes will need to work with her in order to achieve their respective objectives. Adding such a character actually offers very interesting situations for the players.

Q: In the scenario, there's a love affair between The Prince and Farah, a mysterious Indian princess... how does it end?

A : The relationship between Farah and the Prince his an important part of the scenario... However, she remains very mysterious to the Prince's eyes and so players will need to go further in the game to know exactly what will be the nature of their relationship J.

Q: Finally: will The Prince be back?

Well, the Prince of Persia franchise has been around for quite some time... It is a game that means a lot to gamers. So when the project was given to our studio in Montreal, our goal was specific: we needed to put this game back to where it belongs, at the top! And we truly believe this game has the necessary features and elements that gamers and nostalgic fans of the series will embrace. So in fact, this might just be a new beginning for the series.

Patrice Desilets - Creative Director, Lead Engineer Claude Langlais, and Animation Art Director Alex Drouin

Q: What's new about Prince of Persia the Sands of Time? Give us a quick walkthrough of the features you kept from POP1 & 2 and of the ones that have been added compared to POP 1 & 2.

A : Since the first two games were made in 2D, it was obvious a lot a things need to change. From the previous games we kept three main qualities in POP SOT.

The first aspect to acquire change was the quality of animations. We worked really hard to ensure an AAA quality to all of the Prince's animations, this time they are all handmade. It gave us more control over length, timing and transitions, as we worked on the control. The Prince has over 700 animations, including 260 only dedicated to fight.

The Second aspect is the overall quality in Level Design. It is really important for us that the player has fun with our level, just as he did back then. We drastically changed the experience of POP 1 & 2 since we eliminated the concept of levels entirely with our dynamic loading. The player will feel like he's playing in one unique huge level.

Finally, the third aspect we kept from other POP games is the quality of the story.

Q: Why these particular improvements? What motivated the development of this new stuff?

A : Those particular improvements were a given if we wanted to expand and be in touch with current video game developments and reach the audience. From the basics, we needed to take a step further and look deep into other innovations we could bring to the forefront.

Out comes the main feature, the Power of Rewind; so cool, as long as you have enough SOT, this let's you go back in time when you need it. Luckily, this came pretty early in the development cycle. The motivation was pretty obvious for us: having a main character that can do so much would mean you could try so many different things. This ability will allow the player to keep going in the game...

Yet another step forward, our second big feature, the dynamic loading. Again, one thing that was really important for the team was the notion of "suspension of disbelief". Each time there's a cut in a game, it happens. We wanted to keep it to a minimum; so loading screens were also cut. It wasn't easy to do, but the final experience shows us it was important to do this. Once you enter the Palace, you'll never leave it... until you die or accomplish your task...

Q: Did you receive improvements / features propositions by gamers? Did you take their feedback into account? (If yes - give example)

A : We listened to what they had to say about POP3D... so we knew we had to take another path. And we did... As for this game, we listened to what we wanted to put in it, our gut feeling and our intuitions. Then we listened to gamers while conducting an extensive research process called 'playtests'. A process by which gamers come in to play the game in secret. This allows us to evaluate as many aspects we want from the look of the character to the music in the game. We wanted to make sure we introduced the main features well so they can be enjoyed and marvelled at d:)

It's been two years since you began work on the PS2 version - a long time, for sure. So what was the biggest leap you had to make beyond memory?

We implemented dynamic loading in the game to provide a seamless immersion experience for the player in an engine that was not built for it. We also spent some time in creating dynamic environments with which the player can interact (if you can see it, you can play with it) e.g. plants, trees, bridges, drapes, flags, poles, etc...

Q: In your opinion, what makes the Prince of Persia such a videogame legend?

A : 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.

The biggest challenge was to create a character that could make all of these incredible, impossible, and superhuman moves look believable. To succeed, we tested, tested, and tested – until we were happy!

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: Did you integrate these elements into Prince of Persia The Sands of Time?

A : 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?

A : 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.

Can you tell us a bit more about the interaction with the environment in Prince of Persia The Sands of Time?

A : 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 engine are you using?

A : We're using an evolution of the JADE engine, which was originally built by Ubi Soft's BEYOND GOOD & EVIL team – it wowed everyone at 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.

Tell me about its capabilities and how you take advantage of it.

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 modify the engine to adapt it to the development of Prince of Persia The Sands of Time?

A : We changed 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 offer unparalleled animations to the gamers who enjoyed this feature in previous Prince of Persia games, 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?

A : 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 PlayStation 2 first?

A : 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?

A : 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.

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?

A : 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?

A : 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?

A : 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!

Q : Why should the average gamer care about the new or improved features?

A : Because they are just so good! They give you the ultimate human fantasy: control over time!

Jordan Mechner - Writer/Creative Consultant

Q : Please introduce us to Farah : where does she come from, what is her story, who is she ?

Farah is the beautiful young daughter of an Indian Maharajah whose palace is attacked and conquered by the Prince's father. She is captured by the Persian army and brought to Azad as a gift for the Sultan, along with the Hourglass looted from her father's palace. She knows that opening the Hourglass will unleash a terrible cataclysm, and tries to warn the Prince. But he ignores her and opens it anyway. The Sands of Time spread through the palace, transforming everybody they touch into sand creatures. Farah, the Prince and the Vizir are the only survivors. Her goal is to get the dagger away from the Prince so that she can undo his terrible mistake by returning the Sands of Time to the Hourglass. She has every reason to hate the Prince for having destroyed her world. But she needs him.

Q : What are the main features of her personality ?

JM : Like any good princess, Farah is proud and aloof, accustomed to privilege and a little bit spoiled. Her true character is revealed in the face of adversity. First her kingdom and entire family are destroyed and she is captured as a slave girl; after that it gets much worse. In this dire situation, she proves herself to be a courageous and determined fighter. For a long time, she struggles against her attraction toward the Prince. In the course of many hours spent together fighting enemies and overcoming obstacles, she falls in love with him and he with her. But they are both too proud to admit it.

Q : What were your inspirations to design her, then ? (physically, animations, personality...)

JM : Farah is lithe and agile, like a gazelle. When it's a question of survival, she is able to pick up a bow and shoot arrows with the best of them. Historically, in medieval Persia and India, archery was one of the few sports in which women were trained to excel and such ability was prized at court. But we never forget that she is a young Princess, with a privileged background. At one point in the game, when she picks up the Prince's sword, we see that it's much too heavy for her to use one-handed, which is realistic. Farah is slender, graceful and feminine, not an Amazon woman. Her costume and appearance reflect that she is an Indian princess and comes from a different world than the Prince. Farah's palace is in a lush, wet jungle where it is usually raining; the Prince comes from a harsh, dry land with scorching deserts.

Q : What motivated your choice to make her a non-playable character, at a time where most action-adventure games feature 2 playable characters ?

JM : Our goal was to make the Prince of Persia the best-animated, most acrobatic and insanely controllable single-player action-adventure game hero ever. We didn't want to compromise this goal by dividing our animation and AI resources between two playable characters.

JM : What did you want Farah's personality to convey to gamers and how did you do that ?

JM : We wanted a strong female character who would be the Prince's equal, both as an action-adventure comrade and as a love interest. Although they are very different, they are emotionally compatible and we feel they belong together. Farah is not an object to be rescued, but an active person with goals that do not necessarily match the Prince's.

Q : What kind of actions can she perform, that will help the Prince progress in the story ?

JM : Farah can't perform the kind of gravity-defying stunts the Prince can. But she has one ability he doesn't, which becomes very useful: Her slender physique allows her to slip through cracks that are too small for the Prince to fit through.

Q : Will the 2 of them be inseparable ? Do you go through all levels with her ?

JM : Farah and the Prince are separated many times in the game, sometimes because their different abilities force them to take separate paths, sometimes for other reasons. For about half the game, the Prince is playing alone and needs to find his way back to Farah. This alternation will make players really feel the loneliness of the palace destroyed by Sands of Time, and miss Farah's companionship.

Q : What kind of relationship do the both of them have in the game ?

JM : Throughout the in-game action, Farah and the Prince develop a semi-bickering relationship where neither one wants to let the other have the last word. The in-game dialogues reflect Farah's proud nature, as well as her courage and a slightly mischievous sense of humour that, under happier circumstances, would probably be one of her defining qualities. Underneath it all, there is a sadness and poignancy to Farah's situation. Because of the Prince, she has lost everything-yet in spite of this, she is starting to have strong feelings for him. In the end she may have to make a terrible choice, maybe the ultimate sacrifice. But right up to the end, we cannot be sure what her choice will be.

Q : Can she die or be killed? Why / Why not?

JM : Farah's medallion protects her from being transformed into a sand creature, just as the Vizier's staff and the Prince's dagger protect them. But, she is physically vulnerable to being attacked by the creatures. It is essential for the Prince to protect her from harm. If she dies, it's game over.

Q : You didn't write a classic "rescue the princess" storyline, what were your thoughts behind that? Why did you want the player to experience?

JM : In the 13 years since POP1 (and 18 years since Karateka!), rescuing the princess has been used so often as a game goal, that it has become a cliché. Whatever freshness or emotional power it had at that time is gone. In 2003, for a videogame to stir players' emotions, you need a real story.

 


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