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Prince of Persia

Ubisoft's Ben Mattes on its controversial Prince

Ubisoft has made some controversial changes for its new Prince of Persia; a new art-style, the axing of the Sands of Time and a total rethink of the way combat works.

Admittedly, we were a little unsure about the makeover too. So we sat down with producer Ben Mattes at UbiDays last week, who explained to us why he's made all the right decisions...

Where does the new Prince fit into the PoP saga? What's the plot for this one?

Mattes: When the game starts you're not a prince, you're just an adventurer. You're a guy who's used to going from quest to quest, getting a bunch of money and then wasting it all on women and drink.

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In our story the adventurer is coming back from a quest in the desert when a huge sandstorm blows in, sending him into the middle of this huge oasis. There are trees and buildings that just weren't there before, and our hero has no idea what's going on.

Suddenly, in runs Elika who's being pursued by these guards and they take off into the centre of the oasis where they come across this gigantic tree, which we call the Tree of Life. Imprisoned inside the Tree of Life is Ahriman, the ancient god of evil and corruption - basically Satan.

Elika is one of the last guardians of the Tree. For hundreds of generations her people have lived within this oasis with no contact with the outside world. So of course as soon as the Prince and Elika get there, certain things happen that causes the tree to come tumbling down and out breaks Ahriman.

He immediately corrupts the world killing everything, and if Elika and the Prince don't push him back inside the tree eventually the whole world will become corrupt.

That's the backdrop for the game, and basically what the player is presented with five minutes after they start playing.

You've ditched the series' traditional, linear design for an open world. How does it work?

Mattes: Basically the oasis map is divided into different regions. If you take a bird's eye view of a map of Europe, the countries are like the analogy of our regions. Within those countries are major cities; London, Paris, Prague etc and those cities are connected, imagine, with only highways - the only way to go from Berlin to Paris is to drive along the road, and that's the only way you can connect those cities.

So from a bird's eye view, if you were looking at this map it would basically look like a network - a structure of interconnected nodes. And that's exactly how our world works; you get to heal 'Europe' - or our game - in any order that you want. You can start in Paris and work your way East, or start in Berlin and work your way west.

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You can chose the way that you want to heal the world, and there are gameplay and story ramifications for the order that you heal it. If you focus on France, you're going to learn stuff about France first and that's going to impact how the rest of the game unfolds.

But once you've made up you're mind to go somewhere, like from Paris to Berlin and you're on that 'highway', you're in that kind of typical, structured, much more linear level design. That's not to say that you can't turn around and go back, but we needed to make sure that the level design was done in such a way that it encouraged and guaranteed that rhythmic, choreographed, acrobatic Prince of Persia flow that's so critical to these games.

And how did the new art-style come about?

Mattes: We think it's a bold step for the franchise. It's not the CGI stuff you saw in the trailer, it's much better represented in screenshots. Basically we call it Illustrative, because it's not realistic but it's not cell-shaded. We consider it to be somewhere in the middle.

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