Prince of Persia Interview with Ben Mattes
Prince of Persia is not only a re-invigoration of storied franchise, but also the last heavy hitter of 2008. Last week, Ubisoft held a special event for the media to get some hands-on time with the title. While I wasn't busy playing the game, I snagged a comprehensive one-on-one interview with Ben Mattes, the producer of Prince of Persia.
PSU: Press releases have mentioned that the Prince of Persia team experienced a vast improvement in working with the game's engine this time around in comparison to working on Assassin's Creed. In what manner was the development of your newest title easier, and how will it affect the players?
Ben Mattes: Simply put, the technology, all technology matures. So, Assassin’s had to develop the game at the same time as developing the engine. You can imagine a gameplay programmer wanting to introduce a feature into Assassin’s, but the technology isn’t developed to that point yet. In Prince of Persia, the engine was more mature, so we had less of those constraints, less of those bottlenecks and delays where we wanted to develop an idea and we couldn’t. This was the biggest advantage we had over Assassin’s Creed with PoP. The natural evolution of this technology had matured and we were able to achieve those things.
PSU: Was there anything in Prince of Persia that the developers weren’t able to achieve because of that technological maturation?
Mattes: No, there wasn’t. I don’t consider Prince of Persia to be what we call a tech demo-like game. Something like Creed was more like a tech demo. Prince of Persia doesn’t have any of that. On Prince of Persia we have a lot of pretty impressive tech features. We have a vast dynamic world with no loading screens which is a pretty significant technical accomplishment. What we wanted to do was create a sophisticated, entertainment package. It’s much more than a sum of its parts. When you’re done playing it, you’re not going to put your finger on one part of the game, it’s all going to be on a equal platform to create an overall cool package.
PSU: Ubisoft claims that Elika is as big of an innovation as the time-control powers from the Sands of Time. Can you elaborate on this a bit further, and perhaps clarify what makes Elika so innovative?
Mattes: The first big innovation about Elika is that she’s an AI controlled character that you’re not going to hate. I think that is a big enough deal as it is. If you look at other titles with AI supporting characters, generally speaking, they suck. They get lost, they fall behind, they go too far ahead, they get stuck on geometry, they shoot the wrong guy, I mean, they are a bane to co-op AI controlled games. Developing really good AI for a support character is very difficult to do. The experience of Elika, in order to be appreciated as a character, she couldn’t do any of those things. So we had to set that goal and say, “You know what? Elika can never get lost, can never fall behind, never do any of that stupid stuff that’s going to make the gamer angry with her.” This is part of what makes her such a key innovation. What she brings to the game in terms of helping in combat, help in acrobatics, the dialog, the narrative, the pleasing eye candy, etc, is never marred by the resentment of having her around. There is no point in the game where the player will suffer because of Elika’s existence.
Think of a shooter like Gears of War 2. The Lancer is $#%@%$ awesome. Think of how you’d describe the Lancer to a friend. Most likely you’ll say, “I $#@$#@ love the Lancer.” The key word there is “love.” I love the Lancer. Why do you love the Lancer? It makes you feel powerful, it never breaks down, it has a great ammo click and the chainsaw never falls off. So when we started developing Prince of Persia, that’s one of the things we thought of. If we want a character like Elika, ... (continued on next page)