Ask anyone here at Eurogamer what their favourite games were of the last two years, and Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time will almost certainly figure near the top of the list.
Ask them about their feelings on Prince Of Persia: Warrior Within, though, and those warm expressions of undiluted joy turn to a painful grimace. Few game series have ever changed direction so markedly [or so "marketingly" perhaps -Tom] and no sooner had Ubisoft restored the PoP brand to prominence, it was cut adrift by the majority of critics, aghast at what had happened. No one would claim Warrior Within was a disaster, and it certainly sold plenty more than Sands Of Time, but there's always been this lingering suspicion that a lot of people bought it on the back of how wonderful The Sands Of Time was said to be, even though they didn't actually buy that. It's a confusing world.
But now there's time to make amends, as our recent one-to-one with producer Yanis Mallat will hopefully demonstrate as he discusses how the concluding part of the Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time trilogy is shaping up. Due for release in its traditional end of year slot (most likely late October, we predict), it puts to bed the story of the Prince and his adventures that kicked off so memorably back in late 2003, and hopes to combine what was good about both games into one irresistible whole.
As all the talk this week moves onto the next gen, there's no question the current machines will still have plenty to offer; and the third in Ubisoft's reinterpretation of the Prince Of Persia series will be near the top of the list of the games we'll be focusing on as the nights draw in at the end of 2005.
With a playable demo of the game here at E3, we'll be looking to get a quick hands-on when we've finished drooling at all the shiny next gen offerings, so check back when the dust has settled for our early thoughts on one of Ubisoft's biggest games of this year. Meanwhile, see what affable Frenchman Yanis Mallat had to say about the Prince's forthcoming adventures just prior to the show...
Eurogamer: You're using 'Kindred Blade' as the working title for the next Prince Of Persia. But what is the Kindred Blade - it that what you've got to find in the game?
Yanis Mallat: Kindred means they share something, they're from the same family, sharing your spirit. It's to do with the Dark Prince and Light Prince. You might ask who is the dark prince...?
Eurogamer: Yes, what is the significance of the Dark Prince?
Yanis Mallat: The Dark Prince is what the Prince would have become if there were no Sands of Time initially. So now is the time to conclude the Prince Of Persia trilogy. Now it's time for them to meet and have this gigantic final battle.
Eurogamer: So do you switch between the light and dark versions of the Prince throughout the game? Will this be another game to have a light and dark world?
Yanis Mallat: Yes, we have a game system that allows players to switch from one character to the other. Maybe you've seen me going through the fire at one point, and this is how I switch from Light Prince to Dark Prince. What we want is the two guys having a different sense of the way they move and act, but you're not switching between a light and dark world, no.
Eurogamer: How big is the game this time around?
Yanis Mallat: We thought that at about eight hours The Sands Of Time was too probably short, but Warrior Within was about right. Warrior Within took on average 17 hours to finish, so we're going for the same length again.
Eurogamer: Are you maintaining the same narrative direction?
Yanis Mallat: There was a nice storytelling tool in The Sands Of Time. We lost something on Warrior Within on that side, but we've adapted it to this context in the third game. You can probably guess, there are two characters, they are kindred, so you can have an extra layer in the storytelling technique, it's going to be cool.
Eurogamer: Visually, have you managed to push the PS2 to the absolute maximum?
Yanis Mallat: At the end of Sands Of Time we had been told by Sony that we had topped the capabilities of the machine. I think we did a little better with Warrior Within. I think we have always been an R&D team with the engine, and as soon as we are able to display new techniques we put them in, so yes, I think we have made progress again. There are a few things that this short demo doesn't showcase, like the art direction, the sound direction, the music direction. What you see here is pretty much like Warrior Within. We've been listening to our consumers, players, and we know that Warrior Within really polarised people.
Eurogamer: How did you feel about Warrior Within, looking back?
Yanis Mallat: It was very surprising that it was polarising opinion, but not always in a bad way, you know. A lot of people hate the music, a lot of people hated the dark look but a lot of people liked it too. You cannot please everyone. But what you can do is listen to the feedback. This is the last of these and we want to make something big, we want to please everyone, and I've been right in the middle of it!
Also, the third game fits with the story; it fits with the ending. Babylon is the perfect setting for this and we don't want Babylon to look like a dark place because it's not.
Eurogamer: Where is this section of the demo set in relation to the full game, is it right at the beginning?
Yanis Mallat: No, it's pretty much two thirds in, although it's not really...there are some pieces here and there that we've taken to showcase it. It's not a big piece that you can take from the game.
Eurogamer: So where does it start off this time?
Yanis Mallat: The Prince on his boat with Carolina, so it picks up from the end of Warrior Within, and they've come to the city [of Babylon] and then something happens where they get separated. At this stage I can't mention them, but some famous characters from the series will also be back...
Eurogamer: You say it's the end of the trilogy, so that obviously wraps that story up. But that's not gong to be it for Prince Of Persia is it?
Yanis Mallat: What I can say is it's the end of the Prince Of Persia Sands Of Time Trilogy...
Eurogamer: So draw your own conclusions...?
Yanis Mallat: Yes, well. Some things are happening. That's it... [laughs]
Eurogamer: It's one hell of an achievement to turn out three games in three years...
Yanis Mallat: It depends how you manage your production teams.
Eurogamer: Was the third PoP developed by the same team as before, or have you moved the teams around like Splinter Cell?
Yanis Mallat: We do both because we can't always keep the same people. First they get tired, two they want to do something else, and three they have to propagate their lives to other teams. So, we have to keep a certain amount of the core team in Montreal. We made the first part of the conception of the production in our studio in Morocco in Casablanca. We did the graphics research there and wanted it to be authentic in terms of the way it looked. I once went over there to the desert and into the streets and took a lot of reference pictures, but after that we took them all back to Montreal.
What did we think?
Yanis took us through a brief five minute playable section of PoP 3, although no one was actually allowed to wrestle the joypad out of his hands. So far the game looks incredibly promising. With the essence of Sands Of Time's look and feel making it a far more instantly appealing prospect this time around, it's hopeful that the refined combat system will make it the definitive PoP of the three. But we'll wait and see on that score before we get caught up in the hype, eh?
As ever, the degree of acrobatic grace is a sight to behold on its own, the engine is simply incredible, while some of the new abilities shown off will no doubt have fans in all of a lather in the run up to release. With screens, trailers and more interviews likely to, er, PoP up over the next week or so, we should have a much better idea soon, but the signs are promising from the glimpse we've had so far. Here's hoping...
Prince Of Persia 3 will be released in quarter four of 2005 on PS2, Xbox, PC and GameCube. Check back soon for our first impressions of the first playable version on show at this week's E3.