No no no, that is not what happened. The concept of a complete story told in flashback has been used repeatedly in cinema and books, definitely less so in games. But there are a lot of ways to inform a story, so even the fallacious ones is likely to be considered. What about if the story takes a sudden turn and the primary character dies? Well, he would don’t have any other selection than to interrupt the flashback, break the fourth wall by talking on to us and wind the story back before that premature demise.
That was one among the fascinating narrative devices which fueled the return of the Prince of Persia series in 2003’s Sands of Time. I’m here to look back at what made that return so special and still warrants a fresh playthrough, some 20 years later.
First, allow us to pause and return to the late 80s. What made the unique 1989 Prince of Persia special? Was it the gripping narrative? Or perhaps a faithful recreation of a palace in ancient Persia? No, those definitely wouldn’t be the suitable decisions. Relatively, they might be the high rhythm motion gameplay, the incredibly smooth movement of the prince, together with the exquisite graphics. Well, for the time.
Still, allow us to not forget Sands of Time was not the prince’s first foray into 3D space. In 1999 Red Orb brought us Prince of Persia 3D: while mostly forgotten today, it was well received by critics as a puzzle-heavy alternative to Tomb Raider. But the general public didn’t seem to understand the slow rhythm and clunky combat mechanics. In 2001, after acquiring the license to the franchise (12 years after the unique’s debut), Ubisoft wondered: how can we make people care about Prince of Persia again?
Sands of Time built upon the unique’s strengths, while also working on latest features that may make sense for the audience of 2003. It was not going to be an easy cosmetic upgrade or jumping on the bandwagon of one other successful motion series. Sure, Sands of Time does feature beautiful graphics, together with smooth movement for our primary character. But, after 36 months of labor, a very powerful twist on the franchise’s tried-and-true gameplay got here to be time rewinding mechanics. To think it got here from a project which didn’t even have an art director after almost 12 months into development!
While the primary couple of minutes appear to be a plain 3D motion title, when the Prince cracks the hourglass and at last masters the time rewinding mechanic, it changes step into a distinct motion platforming vibe altogether. Now, you possibly can return before meeting an premature demise or, simply, to repeat a jump or come out of a fight with barely more health. The sport doesn’t limit your possibilities; the rewind might be utilized in any situation (so long as there may be enough sand, after all).
The rewinding of time was not only an ingenious gameplay mechanic, but additionally a central narrative motif. With a story built upon a flashback, and the concept of going back in time to warn the Princess of the Vizir’s betrayal, a wiser Prince would look back on the actions of his somewhat younger and more reckless self. The story was entirely in service of the motion, because the gameplay was never paused to let the characters talk.
Original Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner, who served as a author on the project, recalled how the unique plot was rather more complex, featuring nine different characters with opposing political factions and objectives. These ideas would eventually be dropped in favor of a less complicated and stronger story, which was kept as grounded as possible and in a single single location. Dropping the long narrative cutscenes, to essentially bolster the concept Sands of Time was an motion title at the beginning, was the directive that Mechner saw to implement first – after scrapping the unique story.
Amongst the various creative narrative ideas, the Prince himself ended up being the one liable for activating the traps within the palace. Principally, you simply make the entire game harder for yourself as you play, since you blindly follow a guard’s advice. The princess, Farah, was also a second player character for chunk of the motion. Not an easy damsel in distress, she is a real sidekick who helped by solving traps and fighting guards. The banter between the 2 would serve to display their respective narrative arcs and their slow-building romance – a way that may be employed by many more Ubisoft games in the longer term.
Together with solid combat mechanics, a contemporary and exquisitely written narrative, and sweet platforming mechanics, there was an incredible soundtrack by Stuart Chatwood. Personally, I used to be at all times mesmerized by the closing track – “Time only Knows” – which might not have felt misplaced in an epic romance drama. An aching love song which bookended the sour and aching note of longing the sport concluded on that, perhaps, anticipated the dark turn for the prince which might come later.
20 years later, Sands of Time remains to be an incredible lesson in bringing relevance back an early 90s platforming title. As a substitute of a straight remake – or a reboot which modified all the things – the team decided to bring back what made Mechner’s games legendary, elevating their concepts, while still keeping them difficult for the player, each in narrative and gameplay terms. Despite the mentioned development problems, Sands of Time ended up being an unexpected success for Ubisoft and would signal the start of a trilogy, while also inspiring the Assassin’s Creed framework of narrative and gameplay.
One would think that such an excellent concept and gameplay mechanics would easily translate into a transparent direction for a successful series of 3D motion platforming games, but… no no no, that’s not what happened. The primary sequel, Warrior Inside, downtuned its guitars, switched out the Arabic tunes for Godsmack, and took a sudden turn into weird out-of-place nu-metal vibes. The prince was now an anti-hero, on the run from his “dark self”. Gameplay-wise, it wasn’t terrible, however it appeared to function as a showcase of questionable design decisions. Not to say the writing which appeared to cater more to angsty teens slightly than the mature audience of the previous title.
The unique trilogy was accomplished with 2005’s The Two Thrones, which dialed back the anger to a point, feeling like an half-assed apology: a design ret-con which ended up as a bridge between the 2 games. In 2008, the series got here back with a self-titled retread, with less emphasis on motion and fierce combat and more on a form of poetic flow of platforming and motion. Because the original trilogy’ story was accomplished, Ubisoft opted for yet one more reboot, but this time the inspiration was clearly Ico, slightly than platforming games from the MS-DOS era. While it was appreciated by critics, the general public didn’t embrace this latest poetic Prince in any respect, and the planned (second) trilogy never got off the bottom.
The unique Sands of Time was developed by a small 10 people team, which later grew to 65. It was the product of talented designers, left alone to work on something they loved while also receiving essential design and writing help from the unique creator of the franchise. The result? A novel product of its time, a gathering of talents which unfortunately didn’t repeat for any of the following games that may follow.
Given all this, it is probably not surprising that, versus 2003, the Ubisoft of today (or well, that of 2020) opted to bring the series back with a straight remake of the unique Sands of Time. Probably the one decision which made sense from a business standpoint: why risk investing on an idea which could spectacularly fail, when you possibly can just bank on the tried and true value of nostalgia?
If anything, modern-day Ubisoft, ever for the reason that announcement, appeared to struggle in understanding what sort of message they wanted to present to the audience. Was Sands ‘20 going to be a simple remake or a wholly latest experience, while still being faithful to the unique? The reply was probably all the above. Three years after that first announcement, the fate of the remake hangs within the balance or, perhaps we must always say, frozen in time.
In what direction could a up to date Prince of Persia title head towards to capture back its audience? Perhaps going back to the successful blueprint of Sands of Time can be a powerful idea to start out with. For instance, Ubisoft could have easily imagined a metroidvania, with the Prince exploring faraway lands with rocking Arabic tunes within the background, an engrossing story enriched by tasty 2D graphics and – why not – time controlling mechanics. Could which have been the suitable injection of life for a franchise which, today, feels all but buried within the sand? Well, because the prince would say… “Wait, what did I just say? That did not occur. Let me back up a bit.”