Interview: Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands' Michael McIntyre

Positioned as a new sequel to fan favorite Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Ubisoft Montreal's Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is a clear return to tradition. It diverges from 2008's cel-shaded scurrier in more ways than one: platforming is more difficult; the time rewind is back; and the adventure is entirely linear. Though the game showed promise at PAX East 2010, we couldn't help but ask Level Design Director Michael McIntyre what this familiar entry means for fans and the franchise.

Joystiq: Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands -- how is that being positioned to fans of 2008's game? Is it an apology?

Michael McIntyre: Oh, not at all. Actually, this project was started before that game even released, so we had no idea how that game was going to be received. We knew that the PoP 2008 was a daring take on the Prince of Persia franchise. but we knew that there would be people that definitely liked it and we just weren't certain what fans of Sands of Time would take it, even though we knew it was quite different from Sands of Time. So, there was already an early plan to do a Sands of Time-type game, not at the same time but it was already in progress.

You're going back to a more familiar style of play.


But how are you addressing the problem with combat? Two Thrones took a stealth-oriented approach...

That's right.

And the 2008 game introduced duels. That's always been the weakest component of the games -- people just want to get on with the platforming. What are you doing to address that specific complaint?

The philosophy for the fights in this game are about being sort of high action and having a lot of rhythm and momentum to them. And as part of that, we have fights with huge numbers of enemies -- up to 50 enemies at once. So we have these hoards that you get to wade through with all your various acrobatic, sword and magic abilities.

You're switching to the Anvil engine, I believe.

That's correct, yeah.

That's associated with Assassin's Creed which is very good at giving you open, non-linear environments and seems to be in contrast with Prince of Persia, which is very linear. What are you gaining from using that engine as opposed to the one used before?

There are a lot of things that the Anvil engine is powerful at, and it's true that one of those things is the Assassin's Creed style of more open world structure. We have a more linear structure, like a more narrative structure I guess you could say, but we are also able to have very long vistas because of the Anvil engine. And we're also able to have things like 50 enemy AI who can circle around the Prince and try to attack him and all that stuff. So, it's given us a number of benefits that go beyond just that open world sort of structure.

Is there any influence from the movie at all being incorporated into the game? Is there any sort of synchronicity?

No, there's no synchronicity at all. They're making a movie based on the games that we've already finished, and we're making a game that is set in that same universe. So, there's a connection that you're playing the same Prince, but there's no synchronicity.

Okay. And you've got the original voice actor (Yuri Lowenthal) coming back.

That's correct.

But one of the key differences between this and Sands of Time is that you no longer have a partner with you. And that's also a change from the 2008 game. Why change that? Why go solo again?

It's one of those, I think, obviously with the Prince, he's always had that kind of idea of the partner, somebody he helps, but it was just something that we wanted to try differently this time, because it's the tone of the story. In the Sands of Time story, Farah, of course, was interwoven into the whole thing. But this seven-year gap that he goes on, he's trying to get away from that, he goes off on his own in a manner of speaking. And I think it just really resonated with us that he really should just be on his own, even on a gameplay level. And it's something that we agreed on quite early and has stuck all the way to the end.

How about multiple endings? I know that was one of the challenges of the second game -- you had the canon ending, which was the harder one to get ...

Yeah. [laughs]

And the other one, which didn't really match up with the beginning of the third game.

Yeah, this one here, everyone will see the same ending.

What is Ubisoft's stance on the 2008 game at the moment? A lot of people are wondering if that will continue some time in the future.

I don't know what exactly Ubisoft ... like, I think they're still getting a feel for that. I think they may even wait to see what the reception is like for The Forgotten Sands, but we're really proud of what we did with it, and we understand that it was a game that was very polarizing, that there were some people that didn't like it because it didn't feel like Prince of Persia to them. But then, there were other people that loved it because they had never quite seen a game like that before. And I know that Ubisoft is definitely behind the idea of continuing to innovate, and trying to stretch the boundaries of what defines a lot of our brands, but I don't know precisely what they're going to do with that game.

Do you think it's fair to expect this game to be far less polarizing?

I think so, I think it'll be far less. There may still be some things that people are a little torn about. For instance, like you said, the Prince has no partner. There may be some people for whom that was very important and maybe there'll be that issue. But I think it'll be far less so.

Do you feel like you need to regain or regather the Prince of Persia brand? Right now, when I tell you, "I like Prince of Persia," what game do I mean?

[laughs] Yeah. I think for us, Prince of Persia is kind of a vibe, as much as any specific game. Because, I mean, Prince of Persia of course goes back to Jordan Mechner's game in the '80s, right? They all have a lot of things in common, like the acrobatics, the idea of fluid animation, there is some combat, there are some puzzles and there's just this world that's very convincing. All those things, we always, always try to put in there, no matter which philosophy we're taking with the game. So, for this one here, for The Forgotten Sands, it's squarely aimed at people who are fans of that Sands of Time take on Prince of Persia, and we've gone back to visit that universe because it's a very rich one and one that we can still explore.

If Forgotten Sands is really successful, I imagine you would try to make another in the same series?

Yeah, I have no idea, I have no idea. That would be great, maybe the fans will cry for it and we'd listen to that, but right now we have no idea. Right now, we're waiting to see how people like this one.

How is development split between this and the Wii version? They seem quite different.

They are quite different, actually, the game that we have made for the 360, for the PS3 and PC was done at the Ubisoft Montreal studio, and the Wii version was done at the Ubisoft Quebec studio. So, there are actually two different teams that made their own games completely.

Any plans for DLC, akin to the Epilogue for the last game?

Yeah, we did do the Epilogue for the last one. I don't know what the plans are for this one.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.