Earlier this month we were recently invited to an Xbox Community Network (XCN) event – The Gathering 2008: Live Your Moment, in which we were able to play some fantastic upcoming games coming to your 360 in the weeks and months to come. One title at the event was Prince of Persia on the Xbox 360. Today we are lucky to bring you an XCN Q&A with Chris Easton, Ubisoft Montreal, who gives us an insight into the upcoming action adventure game that is set to release into the next-gen very soon. Enjoy!
The new Prince of Persia is looking spectacular on Xbox 360, with a distinct painterly style and mesmerising acrobatic drama. It’s one of those games that makes you realise that real artistry can exist on consoles. We had the opportunity to chat with Chris Easton of Ubisoft Montreal who gave us the low down… including why the version on show at The Gathering was a special non-spoiler edit.
XCN: How would you summarise the new-look Prince of Persia?
Chris Easton: Visual Poetry!
XCN: Is this the final retail version on show today?
CE: No [laughs]. We’ve almost finished the game in Montreal, but Prince of Persia is all about the epic story, and we don’t want to ruin that for you. So we’ve intentionally locked 75% of the game away in this version. Half of the gameplay you won’t get to know about until you play the final version.
XCN: Do you mean just in terms of the world available to explore, or are you talking about abilities too?
CE: It’s more the world. To unlock more of Elika’s abilities you need to collect Light Seeds. And to unlock all of her abilities you’ll need a lot of Light Seeds! Since we locked most of the world, you can’t collect enough Light Seeds to unlock all her abilities. But the story is integral to the gameplay – if you take away a lot of the gameplay then you take away a lot of the story.
XCN: This is the first Prince of Persia for Xbox 360. Apart from the graphic style being radically different, is the game in any way related to previous Prince of Persia games?
CE: It’s all part of the Prince of Persia universe, but it’s a new prince and a new story. We imagine the Prince of Persia brand to be a collection of stories, very close to the Arabian Nights. One of those stories is Sands of Time. This is a different story – still in the same universe, but a different story. It has what we call pillars. Every brand at Ubisoft has these pillars, and the pillars of Prince of Persia are: combat, acrobatics, puzzles, and of course the prince all wrapped up in this story. If you don’t have these elements it isn’t Prince of Persia.
XCN: Elika is the support character, and we’ve seen her protect the prince from danger in addition to contributing new abilities. Is this a deliberate move to attract newcomers to the series, less experienced players?
CE: I think that’s slightly unfair to hardcore gamers in that sense. We introduced Elika and safety system because when you fall of a cliff you’d normally die but she saves you. We wanted to keep you immersed in the Prince of Persia world. We didn’t want this, “Game over! You suck!” or ‘save, quit, load’ and this sort of thing. This just reminds you that you’re playing a videogame. We wanted to have this system in there which keeps you in the world. It still makes it difficult because when you’re in combat it gives the enemies their health back if you slip of the platform, but it still keeps you immersed in the world. You’re never frustrated with the computer telling you that you suck because you died.
XCN: In terms of structure, you feel quite strictly guided even though this is a big world. Is this all part of the story-telling element?
CE: Yes, one of the pillars is an Epic Story, and you have to through that story because that’s the point of the game. When you play through this Prince of Persia, the start and the end is very strict. Events in the middle you can complete in any order you want. So you have a series of objectives, going through the world healing different areas. You can go through the world any way that you want and the story will unfold depending on how you do it. My experience will be different to yours. So you are nudged along but you have freedom to do what you want when you want.
XCN: How does this affect boss encounters – does the prince use different abilities to defeat the same enemy depending on the order of his encounters?
CE: Not really, the prince has all his abilities. He doesn’t learn any more new ones, Elika does. But her abilities are purely for ‘platforming’ and manipulating the levels. I could play the game and fight the Hunter first, whereas you could play the game and fight the Warrior first. But the prince is the acrobatic master! He doesn’t need any more abilities.
XCN: It seems the balance is more in favour of combat this time, whereas previous games have been more adventure-oriented…
CE: It’s hard to gauge balance with that sort of thing, really. As you progress through a platforming level you’ll encounter enemies, and if you’re really fast they’ll be a smaller generic enemy that can be killed before they have time to spawn. But if you wait it’ll come alive and engage in full combat. Ultimately you have your main enemies which you have to defeat through combat but if you want to just blaze through the earlier stuff you can.
XCN: Do you think that games like Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed have helped pave the way for games like Prince of Persia?
CE: Assassin’s Creed has done a really good job for a lot of things. The animation system was absolutely amazing and I loved the freedom. So I think games in general, because of games like Assassin’s Creed and even stuff like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, have become accessible to more people. Back in the days of NES, games were so unforgiving – try to play a game like that now and it’s a nightmare. I think we’re at the stage now where videogames are accessible and playable by the hardcore but also to ‘normal’ or ‘casual’ players.
XCN: The art direction is so striking. Have there been any well-known artists involved, or is this entirely the work of Ubisoft internally?
CE: One of the people I’m trying to make a name for within Ubisoft is Patrick Lambert, one of our concept artists. The guy is an artistic genius. We wanted his artwork to come to life. When you see artwork like that, you want to see that moving. To have such a work of art and then press a button and it starts moving is amazing.
XCN: Was this always the art direction, or did the project begin with more ‘realistic’ characters and worlds?
CE: Our Art Director who worked on previous Prince of Persias always thought it was a shame that we’d never used the concept artworks more, because they were obviously reference for the 3D modellers. But he just thought ‘why not just bring them to life?’ Why not imagine the camera zooming in on this concept art, and you get closer and closer then BANG it comes to life? It’s like actually being in the story. Jordan Mechner [inventor of the original Prince of Persia] came to our office last week and he absolutely loves this art style. It’s great to have his stamp of approval!
Prince of Persia certainly has our stamp of approval too! Thanks to Chris for his time at The Gathering. We can’t wait to experience the full, unrestricted adventure!
Look out for our own report on The Gathering event on Console Monster very soon. Until then, let us know your views on this Q&A. Did you learn something new about the game? Did this Q&A turn you on or turn you away from the game? Let us know in the comments.