Ubisoft Producer Ben Mattes recently answered an extensive q/a to support the first details released for Prince of Persia: Prodigy, the first PoP game to appear on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.
In the q/a he discusses the technology behind the game, the backstory, how the Prince’s sidekick Elika will integrate into gameplay, and much more. To compliment the q/a, we’ve added a large gallery of the first screenshots released by Ubisoft which you can view at the conclusion of the q/a.
Could you introduce yourself and explain your role in the project?
I’m Ben Mattes, producer of the next Prince of Persia title.
On which platforms will this new PoP be available?
Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
We are also developing a completely different game which is specifically designed for the DS.
When will the games be released?
Holidays season 2008.
Who is in charge of the development?
Ubisoft Montreal Studio, who has recently released Assassin’s Creed, is developing the next gen versions. Most of the core creative team has worked on the previous PoP trilogy; they know the franchise by heart.
The DS title is in the hands of the Ubisoft Casablanca studio, which is developing a strong expertise on DS titles.
How is it linked with previous PoP? Is having played to PoP the Two Thrones (or the 3 previous episodes) mandatory to fully understand the storyline?
Beginning with Jordan Mechner’s first PoP game back in 1989 to Ubisoft’s PoP Sands of Time trilogy, the Prince of Persia brand is like a collection of fantastic tales, drawing inspiration from the Arabian Nights stories. Possibilities for enticing storylines and characters are endless with such a rich, colorful, shape shifting and magical universe. So there are as many stories of the Prince as there are many versions of the Prince himself – they all co-exist, they all share prodigious abilities and a liking for dauntless adventures and trouble ?
With Ubisoft’s new PoP video game, we are opening a new chapter in the Prince of Persia universe with a new story and a new Prince. Having played the previous episodes isn’t necessary to understand the storyline.
What is the storyline of the game?
Transported to a land of myth and legend, our Hero finds himself caught up in an epic battle between the primal forces of light and darkness: the God of Light, Ormazd versus his brother Ahriman, the God of Darkness,. Our Hero arrives just in time to witness the destruction of the legendary Tree of Life ” an act which threatens to plunge the entire world into eternal darkness.
The Prince will have to stop the rise of the ancient destructive God, Ahriman. This new epic storyline is close to Persian Mythology (Zoroastrianism).
Additional information about the back-story of the game:
Driven by envy and hatred, Ahriman spread Darkness in the world, corrupting the hearts of men and unleashing a dark substance which physically contaminates the land and the skies: the Corruption. When Ormazd finally acted to stop his brother, he chose to destroy Ahriman’s servants, the Corrupted, one by one. When at last only a few of Ahriman’s puppets remained, Ormazd captured them and pulled them into the Tree of Life. With the remaining Corrupted sealed inside the tree, Ahriman found himself tethered to the trap unable to break his connection with his dark servants. Concentrating all his power, Ormazd forced what remained of his brother into the Tree, locking Ahriman inside for all eternity. Ormazd gave care of the Tree of Life to his chosen few, the Ahuras. Now, many years after the war, Ahriman is plotting a way to escape”
Storyline has always been an integral part of all PoP games. With the new PoP video game, we not only have an epic storyline, but we are letting the player choose how the story unfolds within the same story frame.
What have been your inspirations to design this new Prince?
We wanted to explore how our hero will eventually become a Prince through an epic journey. At the start of the game, the future Prince will be an adventurer and a drifter wandering from adventure to adventure with no real ties, always living in the present. To him, the past is gone and he carries no burden from it, the future is to come and will take care of itself. All that matters is now – the thrill of the moment, the next heartbeat, the next corner, jump and sensation.
We drew our inspiration from adventurers like Sinbad in the Arabian Nights, Han Solo from Star Wars and Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings.
Like all epic heroes, what The Prince wears says a lot about who he is and what he has been through. We really wanted to communicate visually the dichotomy that is the life of a wandering adventurer. On one hand, he has elements of luxury in his dress ” the red and blue cloth that he uses as a turban and scarf that would be available only to those with money. However, he is also perfectly comfortable putting function before form, wearing plain leather leggings to help protect his legs rather then dazzle the eye.
We see that the Prince has a new appearance, but what about new abilities? What new tricks/attributes does the Prince have up his sleeve?
Our Prince has a lot of new abilities in both combat and acrobatics. He is taking the agility of the previous Prince to new heights of deadly acrobatic artistry. His range of acrobatic skills is wider than ever, allowing him to defy the laws of gravity with style and velocity.
In addition to his sword, he is wearing a gauntlet that will be used both in acrobatics and in combat. This bounty from the Prince’s earlier adventures will open new dimensions in his acrobatics and combat style. For instance, by using the gauntlet, you will be able to slide down very high walls and cliffs. So be ready to discover some very impressive new moves in the coming months!
Combat has evolved since the last games as our ambition is to add the reactivity and strategy typically found in fighting games into our new combat system. We have studied numerous fight games and learned what worked/what didn’t work, and implemented the most absorbing moments into our gameplay. We want the dramatic attack sequences of the Prince to be complemented by the use of camera, sound and visual effects to create an overall combat sequence whose intensity rivals the most spectacular choreographed fight scenes in cinema. In addition, the enemies you fight will be more cunning then any ever seen in a PoP game before, strategically using the environment to gain the upper hand, forcing the player to use quick thinking and reflexes to succeed.
We have also changed the role of the female character in a PoP game. No longer a secondary character, but instead a strong supporting character with heavy gameplay implications, the new female lead, Elika, will add value to every layer of the game: exploration, combat, acrobatics, puzzle-solving, storyline and overall immersion. She is a powerful companion of the Prince who accompanies him throughout the game – she adds an element of mystery, deepening the epic storyline. Our goal is to revolutionize the supporting character in an action-adventure game.
How are you going to revolutionize the supporting character in an action-adventure game?
The level of innovation we’re bringing to Elika is similar to the innovation we brought with the Sands of Time system in the previous trilogy.
Elika is always a positive for the player. She interacts with the player in combat, acrobatics and puzzle-solving and always in a positive and helpful way. She enables special moves such as cooperative acrobatics, special combo attacks and navigation. Additionally, all of her magical powers come into play when the player requests them. She can never be killed and will never force her will on the player.
In terms of control, she will be controlled by AI but the player will have a specific “Elika” button to trigger specific coop moves, attacks and magic. Our philosophy is to leave as much control to the player as possible without having her bog down the fast-paced rhythm of the game. This way we add a layer of strategy and make sure the player uses Elika when and how he wants.
Besides the gameplay asset that Elika represents, we want to build a strong bond between her and the Prince. Elika behaves as no other NPC has ever behaved in a video game.
Can you give us more details about Elika’s backstory?
Elika is descended from the Ahuras. She has lived in a land cut off from outside contact.
What have been your inspirations to design Elika?
Elika is a practical and intelligent woman. Independent and strong, she doesn’t need to be protected. We drew inspiration from the Elizabeth Swann character in Pirates of the Caribbean or Padmé Amidala in Star Wars.
She is very light. Her element is the air in opposition with the earth, that of the Prince’s. She embodies the fluidity in their duo.
Even if she has magical powers, at first sight Elika is a human being; we didn’t want to reduce her to her magical abilities. On that specific point, we drew our inspiration from Arwen in Lord of the Rings. Her magic is graceful with arabesques in contrast with the Corruption which takes on tribal forms.
Have you developed a special engine for this version?
We have improved and adapted the engine developed internally for Assassin’s Creed. It is a great tool for our artists and engineers and we want to push it even further.
In that respect, we have added a lot of new systems that will help create the seamless fluidity and the overall look & feel we are looking for.
Animations have always been a key element of the Prince of Persia games; can you describe some of the moves the Prince can perform?
Thanks to this new engine, we are able to improve every move of the Prince; we removed some and added others to increase the feeling of agility. That being said, we re-did all our animations from scratch for this new opus. They all are hand-made key frame animations, a fiddly work for our animation team who craft all these new moves and give them the extra touch of fluidity we could never reach with motion capture.
What are the specific technologies you developed for this episode? Are there any particular achievements you’re proud of? On which basis do you consider that this PoP episode will be truly next-gen?
Since it is the first next gen game in the PoP saga, we have developed a lot of new systems and technologies. We have in a way started from scratch using the Assassin’s Creed engine as a basis for our developments. Here are a few areas where we believe PoP will deliver a true next-gen experience:
AI: Artificial Intelligence is where we are focusing most of our next gen effort. This choice will pay off in the quality and depth of the relationships you will experience with our NPC, enemies or allies alike.
Graphics: There is a difference in graphical quality between the previous PoP and the new PoP, obviously due to next-gen technology
Characters: The new Prince will displays 13 times more polygons than the previous Prince, and even more than Altair in Assassin’s Creed. To give you a reference, there will be more polygons in the next-gen Prince’s hair than in the “old” Prince himself. Every detail of the faces, clothes and accessories of the characters will feel next-gen thanks to hi-res textures, specific lighting systems and shaders. We have developed new systems such as skin morph, wrinkle map, indirect lighting and occlusion to beautify our universe and characters in a way which was not possible on old gen.
Environments: The richness and the high quality of the Persian environments have always been a key element of PoP games. Thanks to next-gen technology, we are able to create vast outdoors worlds PoP fans have never dreamed of as most of the game takes place outside in a fantastic mythological Persia.. Whereas in previous PoP games, the player was mostly confined inside palaces or cities.
Each environment will go through different stages – from totally “safe” to almost completely corrupted areas. We have developed an organic corruption which creeps through the world and makes it decay. It is a living substance that will interact with the player and challenge him. It already looks quite impressive so I can promise you this will look amazingly next gen!
Structure: For the first time ever, the Prince will evolve in a non-linear adventure. The players will choose how they unfold the storyline by choosing their path in this open-ended world. This is technically possible thanks to next-gen memory capacities.
The game has a very different art style than previous PoP. Why did you change the art direction?
The new PoP game features a brand-new art style never before seen that is very graphical and illustrative. We are lucky enough to have one of the most talented team of concept artists in the industry. PoP fans have always been very passionate about their work. So this time, we wanted to remain very close to their 2D concept arts, keeping the essence of their artworks in the 3D world.
Next-gen tools help us create a game which has a unique visual identity without sacrificing art to technology, which is often the case in video games. The Prince of Persia universe is so rich and special that it would be a shame to picture it in a photorealistic way. It calls for fantasy and almost poetry to be true to its Arabian Night origins.
What are your ambitions behind one the biggest franchise in the video-game industry?
We have high ambition for this game. Our goal is to re-establish our position as a leading Action Adventure Video game on next-gen.
We strongly believe that we will rejuvenate the PoP brand with strong innovations and a whole new experience that will not only excite our current fans, but will appeal to new fans. We are all excited about the new Prince of Persia; be prepared to see some amazing images in the coming weeks!