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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)

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

by Rainier on March 25, 2003 @ 11:03 a.m. PST

A rogue prince reluctantly joins forces with a mysterious princess and together, they race against dark forces to safeguard an ancient dagger capable of releasing the Sands of Time, which can reverse time and allow its possessor to rule the world.

Q : What is the relationship between Ubi Soft & Jordan Mechner? How do you work together?

JM : Ubi Soft approached me in 2001 with the intention of reviving the Prince of Persia brand and bringing it to next-generation consoles. Producer Yannis Mallat invited me to their Montreal studio to see the initial animation tests the team had made and to hear their ideas. When I met the team, I realized that this was more than just a business proposition to them. They were out to make a masterpiece. Yves Guillemot and Serge Hascoet, in Paris, made it clear to me that they believed in this team and in the potential of the license, and that Ubi Soft was prepared to make a major commitment to make the best possible game. We then engineered an agreement that gave Ubi Soft the exclusive worldwide license to develop and publish Prince of Persia video games.

Ubi Soft brought me in as a creative consultant to work with the team to make this game the greatest possible artistic and commercial success. They have placed a lot of trust in me by inviting me to come in from the outside and participate in this project. My main objective in working with Yannis Mallat and creative director Patrice Desilets is to maintain and enhance the unity of story, character and game design. At times I work directly with other members of the team, including level designer David Chateauneuf, art director Raphael Lacoste, AI programmer Richard Dumas, and game designers Marc-Andre de Blois and Lionel Rico, to give input on specific areas. Overall, I try to stay aware of all aspects of the project, and focus my input on the areas where it will be most valuable.

Q : What expertise do you bring into the project?

JM : As a game designer my speciality is telling a story in a cinematic way within the game itself, and not just in cinematic cutscenes. My experience as a filmmaker and screenwriter, as well as my previous games Karateka, Prince of Persia, and The Last Express, taught me a lot which I was able to bring to the team on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. I worked closely with producer Yannis Mallat and creative director Patrice Desilets to develop a story that would support and drive the great game play elements the team envisioned.

Directing the voice actors’ performances in the dialog recording was a bonus. I did this first on Last Express, which was a dialog-driven game with over 60 roles. I like to do this job myself when possible, because I feel it’s a natural extension of writing the screenplay and designing dialog opportunities in the game. Actors tend to see video games as a day gig, maybe one step above a TV commercial. To give performances that are as nuanced and emotionally powerful as they are capable of achieving in their film and stage work, they need encouragement from a director who is passionate about the story and characters, and can communicate that belief and passion to them.

The cutscenes in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time posed a special challenge for Ubi Soft’s cinematics group, because they are action-packed, often very short, and tightly interwoven with the game play. Because I knew the story so well, I was able to direct the voice actors before the visuals had been created, and give cinematics director Ron Martin and sound designer Simon Pressey final performances to work with at an earlier stage than would otherwise have been possible.

Q : Can you explain how the story was written?

JM : The team had already designed the central game play feature, and were seeking a storyline that would bring this great idea to life. Producer Yannis Mallat, creative director Patrice Desilets and I sat down together and hammered out a strong, simple story, which I expanded into a screenplay. That was about a year ago. The story has undergone a continuous process of revision, mostly in the direction of tightening, making it cleaner and stronger, bringing out the emotions of the characters, and of course, reflecting the ongoing changes in game design and level design. I’m extremely proud that the screenplay is so tightly welded to the game play. The story drives the game, and the game play drives the story.

Q : What is the philosophy behind the development of the game: what do you want to bring to the gamers who will buy “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”?

JM : Since about 1985 I consider myself a casual, even occasional gamer, so my goal is always to create one of the 1-2 games a year that will excite me and draw me in enough to finish it. For me, the world and storyline are essential. As a player I want to be captivated by an overall artistic experience, not just a commercial product. I want to feel that the game creators have something to express, and that by playing through to the end I will discover their personal vision. I look for elegance, attention to detail, unity of story and game design as key values, and if I don’t find them I tend to lose interest quickly. I hope that all gamers, casual or hardcore, will see and appreciate these qualities in Prince of Persia - The Sands of Time.

Another quality that I think was important to the success of POP 1 is the sheer exhilaration of movement. The feeling that you are one with the animated character on the screen, that you are not just going through mechanical motions to complete the level, but that you’re flying—a feeling of joy in your own acrobatic grace. This is much harder to achieve today in 3D for a number of reasons, and it is one of the key values that I hope will excite people when they see Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Q : When getting started on the project, did you and the Ubi Soft team have the same conception of this new game?

JM : My biggest concern was that if there was to be a new Prince of Persia game, it had to be something special and not just mapping the Prince character and universe onto a kind of game that had been done already. The first time I visited Ubi Soft’s Montreal studio in 2001, engineer Claude Langlais and character animator Alex Drouin had made an animation test showing the kind of acrobatic game play they envisioned for the Prince. I was blown away by what they had done. It gave me the same little shiver of excitement that I had had 15 years earlier when I first got the Prince up and running on my Apple II. Back then, just running, jumping and climbing was a big deal. Since then, so many games have built and improved upon the basic POP game play, that in order to recapture the same feeling of excitement and magic, the team knew they would have to take it to another level. It was great that they did this test at such an early stage, because it gave everyone confidence that this was going to be unlike any other game out there.

At my first meetings with the team, we shared a lot of ideas, what we hoped for and what we didn’t want. I felt that their ideas were exactly what Prince of Persia needed, and I came away feeling very excited about the potential of what this team wanted to do.

Q : How do you see the future of the Prince of Persia series?

JM : I think Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time will be a hard act to follow. This has been one of those rare experiences where a great team and a great idea come together and create something that is more than the sum of its parts. It is a young team, loaded with talent and enthusiasm, and I feel sure we will be hearing more from them in the future! It is impossible to predict how the marketplace will embrace any title, but whatever happens with this one, I know the people involved have put their heart and soul into it, and will look back fondly on the experience.

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