The teaser trailer for the new Prince of Persia game was one of the highlights of this year's UbiDays press conference. It introduced us to his new sidekick, Elika, and revealed a little more of the game's unique visual style. Unfortunately it was all we got to see of the game in action, as nothing else was shown during the event.
However, Eurogamer did get the chance to sit down with producer Ben Mattes. Read on to find out more about Elika, the balance of combat versus exploration why Mattes believes controversial decisions will pay off.
Eurogamer: Can you just clarify the name of this game?
Ben Mattes: Prince of Persia. That's it.
Eurogamer: Why have decided not to stick a subtitle in there?
Ben Mattes: It's surprising how difficult the decision regarding the title was. We considered many options. Ultimately we decided we're really starting fresh, starting over. We're trying to rejuvenate the franchise, to take ownership of the genre and establish ourselves as the number one action adventure game. We also want to differentiate ourselves from the Sands of Time trilogy and the Disney movie, because we're not connected with them.
It seemed like saying the game title was Prince of Persia was a bold statement, and that's what we're about with this game. We're doing things people think are controversial, but when it sinks in it's that much better. The title, I feel, is part of that.
Eurogamer: How concerned are you that fans of the previous games will react negatively to those decisions?
Ben Mattes: Yes, there's a risk. We're sort of betting our jobs on the fact this is still going to feel like a Prince of Persia game. Maybe not directly - we wouldn't get fired if people didn't passionately love every decision we make.
But we're taking risks we think are going to pay off, and we're very respectful and truthful to the brand DNA. What made the previous Prince of Persia trilogy special? Was it the fact there were Sands of Time powers? I don't think so. Was it the fact you played a particular prince? I also don't think so.
Eurogamer: So what was it?
Ben Mattes: You controlled a young, powerful, acrobatic hero who saved the world in collaboration with a beautiful girl. There was a balanced mix of combat, acrobatics, and puzzles, with a great story and great characters. That's the brand DNA, that's what Prince of Persia is.
So as long as when you're doing acrobatics it has amazing flow, and when you're fighting enemies it looks super-cool, and there's a great story about the hero and the world and the supporting character... As long as we're truthful to all of that, I think we can paint the walls whatever colour we want.
To people who aren't convinced by that, I would say this game is more true to the magic of Sands of Time than either Warrior Within or The Two Thrones. And I was the producer on Two Thrones. It was my intention to bring the trilogy back in the direction of Sands of Time, which was just spectacular. For this game, we're doing that even more.
So yes, it's bold. Yes, it's risky. But I'm pretty confident that when people see all of these claims in action they're going to say, 'Okay, I get it, and he's right.'
Eurogamer: So the balance of gameplay has shifted further away from combat?
Ben Mattes: Yes, it has. It has shifted towards acrobatics and exploration. There's certainly more exploration than any previous Prince of Persia game, because it's not linear. You're looking for different paths, and you can travel through the world how you want, in the order you want.
But you have to drive all the corruption out of this world systematically, so there will be a lot of platforming back and forth in areas you've already been through once. So you might travel through a level to complete an objective, then come back through the same level. We have all these gameplay mechanisms in place to make sure that level feels different, that it's not exactly the same acrobatic or visual experience, that it has evolved and feels new.
Because you revisit certain areas multiple times, the balance certainly favours acrobatics and exploration over combat. Fans who don't want a lot of combat, and only want to fight the boss when they have to - they can make the ratio 80 to 20 or something like that. A lot of time can be spent doing acrobatics and exploration, if that's what you want.
Eurogamer: You mentioned controversial decisions earlier, and one those is likely to be the introduction of the Prince's new sidekick, Elika. For many action adventure fans part of the thrill is the sense of isolation, of going solo. Adding a sidekick doesn't always work out - take Kurtis in Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, for example...
Ben Mattes: Ben Mattes: Did you play Shadow of the Colossus? Did you consider yourself to be isolated in that game? We look at Shadow of the Colossus and ICO as inspirations for the Prince and Elika. You are in this big, scary, oppressive world and the two of you alone have to solve that challenge.
We firmly believe that with the way we're designing Elika's gameplay and the way we're treating her as a character, she's going to make the things you love about the Prince better. His acrobatic abilities - better. His puzzle-solving - better. She brings out the best in him, because her role is to support him and just make him cooler.
In terms of the isolation element, maybe a little of that, you might feel, is lost, because they are going to be talking as they navigate through this world. But in terms of the feeling of it being you against the world, the significance of the challenge that's before you, it's there. It's there in spades.
Eurogamer: Can you give us some examples of how Elika will help you out? How will she help you perform acrobatic moves - will she throw you over a ledge or give you a leg-up, that sort of thing?
Ben Mattes: Ben Mattes: Yeah, basically exactly like that. Say you're running, you jump from a wall and you need help. You summon Elika with the 'Help Me Elika' button. The AI makes sure she's close enough behind you all the time so if you need her in order to do an acrobatic move, in she pops. By collaborating, the two of you can reach destinations you might not have been able to reach on your own.
In combat - if you're fighting an enemy, Elika's just on the periphery, kind of dancing around and ready when you need her. If the enemy has thrown up a magical shield to block your sword attack, you'll need to break that shield. Press the Y button and Elika will jump into the middle of the frey and perform a magical attack. She's not way in the background casting lightning bolts - she's literally jumping and flipping and attacking with you.
If you keep pressing Y, she'll keep doing magical attacks. If you switch back to X, the sword button, she's back on the periphery. She's there if you need her, but she'll stay out of the way if you don't want her there. That encapsulates our Elika philosophy.
Eurogamer: Atari's Phil Harrison was recently quoted as saying he reckons Alone in the Dark will be one of the last big budget, single-player adventure games, that gamers want more online functionality and downloadable content now. Do you agree?
Ben Mattes: I read that, and I don't totally agree. I know where he's coming from - I certainly see a lot of the industry moving in the direction of more community, more multiplayer, that sort of stuff.
But in my opinion, there are things you can do in a carefully crafted single-player game - experiences you can create, emotions you can elicit and magnitudes of engaging the player - that you're not going to reproduce in the uncontrolled environment of multiplayer.
For some time yet, there's going to be a market of people who say, 'You know what, pander to me. Suck me into your world and just make me believe. I don't want to be distracted by griefers and high scores, and dealing with the stuff not everybody loves about multiplayer games.' I do think there is still a significant market there.
Eurogamer: You've said Prince of Persia is out this "holiday", which suggests it's six months away or so. That's not very long in development terms, and UbiDays is your company's big event of the year, so why aren't you showing the game off here?
Ben Mattes: It sounds like a cheesy answer, but because we want to do it this way. It's part of the PR and marketing plan we created back in January. We wanted to start with screenshots so the hardcore can see the artistic direction, then have the teaser trailer - here's the Prince, here's Elika, they fight together, it's cool, that's it.
Then everyone will get to see the game in action in what will hopefully be a real wow, impactful moment at E3.
Prince of Persia is coming to PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and DS at the end of this year.