Combat in the new Prince of Persia is also designed to stay true to the series' origins. "We wanted to hark back to the original Jordan Mechner Prince of Persia," says Mattes, "where you get hit and a third of your life is gone; you get hit a second time and you might get pushed against a trap that kills you and your dead. There's a sense of urgency that comes with that type of combat - every fight really feels like a boss fight, even if it's just a generic enemy."
This direction also serves as a mark of respect to the combat-heavy blockbusters of the genre. Mattes takes us back to 2004 and Warrior Within. "For about 30 seconds or so we were good, and then God of War came along. God Of War, Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry 4 - they all have mastered that combat system of a lone hero against tens of simultaneous enemies.
"And we thought, let them have it - that's not the type of fight we want to do anyway. What we want to create is a fight where you really feel the sense of danger - you don't feel like 'I am a god' slicing a path through 10,000 enemies."
Mattes cites the epic encounters of Namco's Soul Calibur as an influence here. And one side-effect of this focus on one-on-one combat is that it allows Ubisoft to go to town on the presentation. "Our inspiration was Final Fantasy Advent Children: really in your face camera angles during combat," says Mattes. "And it allows for some very interesting collaborative opportunities between the Prince and Elika, because the player is not having to micro-manage. There's the bad guy, mess him up."
Ah, yes, Elika. Your AI companion is Ubisoft Montreal's Big Idea - and one, whether Mattes likes it or not, the marketing team is guaranteed to emblazon on the back of the box as a major feature. Revealed with a fanfare at UbiDays back in May, Elika is nothing less than a make-or-break feature. "I'm basically betting my job on this," Mattes acknowledges.
Partner AI is certainly not a new concept in the genre, but as far as Ubisoft is concerned, "we don't think it's ever been done well; including Sands of Time". Every other videogame example, to Mattes, has proved a hindrance to the player in some way.
"You're a superhero and you're babysitting this nag, who's getting lost, running into things, crying 'help me!' - it's so annoying," he complains. "We've created a support character who you will never be frustrated with. She's not going to piss you off, she never gets lost, she never falls behind, she never takes initiative that you don't want her to, she's only ever there to support you and make you cooler. Always there, always available, always ready."
That's a hell of a set of claims. Ambitious, perhaps [steady - Ed]. So how does it bear up under scrutiny? Well, despite being down for a Christmas 2008 release, Ubisoft is not letting us anywhere near it just yet: the E3 build is strictly hands-off. Instead, Mattes walks us through a demo section prepared specifically for the LA showcase.
Before anything actually happens, we admire the distinctive visual style. You may have read about this already; Ubisoft calls it "illustrative" - "Let's not just draw inspiration from the illustrations; let's make the game look like the illustrations."
It's yet another side of the game where Mattes is keen to draw a line between his title and Assassin's Creed, labelling the latter as belonging to the current "hyper-realism and super detail" trend that he feels would be inappropriate for a fantasy adventure like POP.
Mattes is surprisingly defensive about the artistic direction, particular in relation to it being described by some as cel-shaded. "We don't feel cel-shading is the right term for it, as we don't feel that does it justice," he insists. "The level of detail is every bit as high if not higher than a game like Assassin's Creed." Yet another comparison. "Our characters are the same number of polygons; our world actually has more granular detail in terms of how crafted every object is."
Anyway, he needn't worry: it looks lovely. The Prince and Elika begin the demo in a vast canyon, and straight away we see how she interacts with our hero. Whether leaping, climbing or running, she sticks close by, seamlessly catching the Prince by the arm in mid-air and hurling him forwards when a long jump is required, or swinging past him on a ledge climb when he changes direction. These animations look great, but more importantly are designed to meet the team's aspiration that Elika won't "piss you off".
Each area in the game is infected with something called The Corruption and it's your job to drive it out, literally healing the world as you go. The Corruption manifests itself as a black goo that's deadly to the Prince, and provides the substance of the game's monsters.