Interview

Chris Easton on Prince of Persia

The visuals, Elika, structure, plot et al

Ubisoft's new-look Prince of Persia will be delivered into gamers hands tomorrow, the French publisher introducing a new 'illustrative' art style, and a sexy side-kick for the Prince: Elika. The Sands of Time may be gone, but Elika will be there instead to save you during those mis-timed leaps, as well as providing the key to the game's Persian mythology-inspired plot. We sat down with community developer Chris Easton to learn a little more on this stylish platformer.

Why the new direction with the art style, Chris, and why now?

Okay, well, The Sands of Time trilogy finished with The Two Thrones, obviously that was the end of that trilogy... we couldn't continue that story because it is finished. So, we wanted to create a new Prince of Persia game, and when you create a new title in such a franchise you need something to differentiate it from previous games.

That's one of the things with this new game, we've taken everything and sort of tweaked it a little, imagine a row of knobs... we're just sort of tweaking everything a bit higher. So we need to differentiate ourselves, plus we'd always had this concept art... these drawings and paintings which were used as references. The Prince of Persia world has a unique heritage; it calls for what we call visual poetry to be true to that heritage. So, when we have these artworks, when we're making photo-realistic worlds, we always try to come back to them more.

So... we're trying to bring these pieces of art to life through this visual poetry; through the illustrative art style. The analogy I always give is that if you imagine someone's drawn a painting and the camera zooms in more and more until bang! It comes to life. That's why we have the art style, we have living-breathing paintings that look great and stay true to the mythological world, this magical world.

Have you had any feedback from the community; the fans surrounding the series?

Oh yes. I was at E3 demoing this, at ComiCon demoing it, at Games Convention demoing it... every single person has said "Jesus Christ this is so beautiful!" The feedback's been fantastic, I showed the game to Jordan Mechner at ComiCon, he saw the game, he thought it was beautiful and he's the creator of the Prince of Persia which is a fantastic seal of approval.

All the journalists that have seen it have loved it... you know, the public at Games Convention were like "wow, that's amazing".

I heard a rumour that the new Prince of Persia movie might have been pushed back to allow its creators time to improve the visual side of the flick as a result of this game. Is that true?

Well, this Prince of Persia game is entirely separate from the movie. We've got nothing to do with the movie... if that is the reason then that's a compliment, but I don't know the real reason for their delay, so...

And with regard to the flow of the gameplay.... do you feel this title is a lot more fluid than past iterations?

I think yes... yes it is. The previous Prince of Persia set the rhythm for the platforming... wall to pillar to pole; the flow through levels. That's one of the key pillars of the series. So, in this game you're achieving that movement, moving smoothly through huge levels - a really cool flow of movement. There's a rhythm definitely, it's like bang, bang, bang... like parkour. Like Assassin's Creed... you nail that rhythm of movement. The Prince has a strong acrobatic sense, like the wall runs, but there's definitely a nice flow.

The last title in the series wasn't as well received critically. Is there an effort with this game to go back to something more 'pure'?

Well, I actually thought The Two Thrones was well received... that title was in the middle in terms of gameplay...

But there was obviously a desire to change things. The designers wanted to mix things up a bit?

Right, exactly, yes we wanted to create something new because if you keep doing to the same thing for too long... you know, people get bored, you have to do something interesting. Another analogy I like to use is the dials one. You know, tweaking them up just a little more each time to create something better. In The Sands of Time trilogy, you used the same mechanics for three games, you learn from your mistakes. You take the feedback, the lessons, and try to create something new. Create cool gameplay situations that make for something new.

There are in-game cut-scenes. Will the story be told in other ways, too?

Yes, it does come through in other ways. As you play through the game the Prince and Elika work with each other and talk. As you move through the world they talk, and you're actions effect what will happen. I'm trying to think of examples without giving you spoilers! But, like, for example the world is a mesh - so your decisions and actions have a direct impact on how the story unfolds. The plot is set but how you unlock it is open to you. There are in-game cut-scenes that tell parts of the story and show the Prince and Elika talking. You can have them explain stuff in more detail and this adds to the story.

Elika is of course a very attractive young lady. Is she a part of the Prince's future, now?

Well, she's certainly a big part of this game. She's one of the most important things in this game. I mean, the game isn't so much about the Prince as it is about Elika, it's about her story as you progress through. You play the Prince as you work with Elika to remove the corruption from the world. So, she's a vital part of the game. Without her you cannot remove the corruption, she's essential, they have to work together as a pair... and if they don't work together the world will be corrupted.

So what's the best use of Elika in the game - from a combat or movement perspective?

Well, the best use is getting rid of the corruption!

What's the coolest feature?

Well, in combat when you use the gauntlet you can attack repeatedly and use Elika to play keepy-uppy with bad guys. That's really fun.

Is the game more focussed on one-to-one combat, would you say? Is there a beat 'em up element to it compared to past games?

Definitely, when you play a one-on-one battle like in Tekken or Soul Calibur it's all about epic battles. When you fight hordes of generic enemies you're just mashing 'X', there's not interaction, you're hitting three baddies at once, etc. In the concept we're using this is more of a dual between two foes, you can have interactions that are quick - blocking fast attacks. Every fight is a huge one-on-one, or two-on-one, its a real tussle - you need to work out how to beat each enemy. It's more of a challenge.

Have you completed the game?

I actually haven't, but I just don't have time to play the game, I'm so lazy! I only get to play it when I'm demoing it which sucks!

Any idea how long the full singleplayer game is?

I would say its around 15 hours... but if you want to collect everything it will take much much longer.

Do you have any DLC plans for the game?

There aren't any right now... but if its one of those things where people want it, then we will definitely look at it, but if they don't then that's cool.

When we were speaking earlier you mentioned co-op was considered but then cut out. Can you speak about this a little more?

Well, we looked at co-op because when you look at a pair like that (Elika and the Prince), the most obvious thing is co-op. But Elika is all about the flow of platforming, and to achieve that when Elika is being controlled by another player destroys the timing. It's very hard. You'd need to have linked brains, twins or something. It becomes frustrating and doesn't work very well. You can't achieve the rhythm because of the nature of co-op. It sucks but its true, unfortunately.

Do you think the Sands of Time will be missed at all?

Oh, I'm sure they'll be missed. I'm a fan... I'd love to see more Sands of Time games, but that trilogy is finished so we're not looking to do any more Sands games... I'm sure people will miss the gameplay mechanic, but the story is over... but we've so many new things that we think people won't miss it too much. We have things that equal and better the Sands of Time.

Elika?

Yes. She saves you when you'd normally die.

Do you think avoiding repetition; the grind, is very important for modern games?

That's very frustrating... it's not in there. The game isn't super easy, you get taken back to your last stable situation, so you won't have to go back 20 minutes... we want to avoid that, and keep you immersed and enjoying the world.

How does the structure of Prince of Persia differ from past games?

Well, the previous games were very linear. Now... another analogy! Imagine UK cities like London, Birmingham, Manchester, etc. When you want to go between cities you can go direct, or you can go via another city en route. Prince of Persia is like this. You can take detours on the way to other places. There is an open element to the world. This impacts the difficulty of the game as well. Everything is interlinked in a mesh. You can choose your path, healing the world through this approach. The game does start and end in the same place.

Do you think your changes will attract new fans to the series?

I think so, yes, a lot of people look at GTA IV - an open-world game - we have an element of that. We think people will appreciate the new structural approach, that's for sure.

No multiplayer?

None. At all. Prince of Persia is a singleplayer game and there's just no room for it... what could you do?

Thanks for your time, Chris!

Thank you!