Tale of Two Princes

by Steve Bowler on January 1, 2009 · 2 comments

in general

Awhile ago, after that 2nd Prince of Persia game on the Xbox came out, I heard that the PoP team was going to be split into two teams, and they would be working on separate projects.  The first fruit of this Ubi team bisection we saw was Assassin’s Creed.  The second offering (from the 2nd team) just hit the market this past month, and it is the newest installment in the Prince of Persia franchise.

What’s interesting to me about these two titles isn’t what makes them so similar (Arabian Parkours), but rather what keeps them unique from each other.  Often, when designing a game from the blue sky “pitch” standpoint, we are often asked “what makes this game different from all of the other games out there in this genre?”  Ubi gave themselves a bit of an interesting challenge here, and I think they delivered somewhat amicably on the problem.

On the one hand, we had Assassin’s Creed.  Through a lot of tech and animation effort, we were given this wonderful rooftop exploration vehicle.  True, I didn’t like it when it’s animation driven, or the fact that it’s too easy to run around the world, but what they delivered on was an abundance of fun exploration.  Nevermind the fact that you’re not much of an assassin, this was the more “serious” of the “PoP Gameplay” cousins.

On the other hand, we were recently delivered Prince of Persia.  Again, through a lot of animation (and probably level design) effort, we get something more “true” to the PoP Gameplay model.  Rediculously vertical level design seemingly built for a race of upright howler monkeys who no longer require floors and have rings installed in their ceilings “just in case” the actual floors do in fact give way in later generations.  I remember when it was announced, I wondered, “how are they going to set themselves apart from Assassin’s Creed?”  It turns out they made the inverse gameplay environment interaction model.

If Creed is all sandbox exploration and no user required button/world interaction, PoP is linear level design and is entirely built around user driven world interacts.  In Creed we can go around something, over it, under it, or completely avoid it altogether on the ground.  In PoP, we are forced to head down one (okay two if you go the long way) hallway, and navigate it the way it was designed to (by that race of Howler Monkey People).

Graphed, they look a little like this:


I love graphs.  Especially the non-scientific kind.

Which one’s better?  Hard to say.  I think the point here is that neither one’s better than the other.  Although sales figures will eventually say how the consumers voted here, and with Creed having some rediculous lead (what is it now, 6 Million units?), I don’t know if the new PoP will ever catch up.

That said, Prince of Persia is the first game I finished in 2008, and I felt driven to finish it.  It may have been the fact that the rental was due back by 12/31, but come 9pm of 12/30 I parkoured towards the ending so fast I eventually got a Speed Demon achievement.  I was shocked at how much I enjoyed PoP.  I expected to hate it, what with it being so linear, but I found that even though I’d done every single interaction 100 times before, there was something so very satisfying about being in control of every interaction.  I quite playing Creed at about the halfway point once I realized that there wasn’t really any new content to be had.  The same crowd missions were available, and the “boss” assassinations were less assassinations and more just elaborate guard fights.

Thinking about this further, I’ve found that I’ve given up on just about every open ended game out there that I played last year.  GTA IV.  Fallout3.  Creed.  There comes a point in time where I just don’t want to move about their open endedness anymore, and I wonder if maybe the focused intensity of a linear level design is what kept me coming back for more.  There really are only “breathers” to be had in PoP; there are no long stretches with relatively nothing to do.  The only long walks are the ones between the temple and the fertile grounds themselves.  It demands your attention, constantly, and rewards your attention with some pretty sweet action and a metric fuck-ton of beautiful artwork.

I’ve lamented the ease of world navigation in Creed before, and wished there could be more world interaction to it.  I know we’re not going to get it, but what I wish we could have, with all of my heart, is for Ubi to re-combine these two teams again, and give us Prince of Creed.  Assassin’s Prince.  Whatever.  Just give me open world exploration with multiple parkouring/climbing/exploration puzzles that involve more user interaction than just pushing a joystick in the direction we want to move in.  I’d seriously love to see something in the middle ground here.  PoP’s interactions with Creed’s real-world exploration.

Doubt I’ll ever get to see it, but a boy can dream, can’t he?


ETA:  Oh great, I go looking for verification that the teams split and find an article where the PoP Producer pretty much lays out how they tried to stay out of each other’s IP.  :P

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