prince of persia

a review of Prince Of Persia
a videogame developed by ubisoft montreal
and published by ubisoft
for Microsoft Windows, the macintosh operating system x, the microsoft xbox 360 and the sony playstation 3 computer entertainment system
text by action button dot net

2 stars

Bottom line: Prince Of Persia is “probably a pretty good game”

Legend has it that the super-producer hive-mind at Ubisoft Montreal first got the idea for this new, shiny, rebooted Prince of Persia game for Xbox 360 and/or PlayStation 3 during one of their daily tea parties, during which all members of the game development team stand in a circle in a gymnasium simultaneously reading a particular selection of literature aloud. The book that day was Leo “Frankie” Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and the inspiring quote was the very last line: “Death is finished; there will be no more of death.”

Nope! We just made that up! Really had you going for a minute there, didn’t we?

Now that the fun part is out of the way, it’s time to talk business: the new Prince of Persia is the death of death. On top of this, it’s a decent action-adventure-themed interactive computer program with delicious art design and a couple of quite frankly ridiculous shortcomings. Despite its somehow doing nearly everything wrong, we got to the end of Prince of Persia in three tea-sipping sittings, miraculously hating ourselves less than when we started (the measurement is scientific: we got a computer programmer whiz to modify our blood-sugar-measuring finger-pricker), so it clearly must be one of the best games of 2008.

We’re not throwing those words around lightly: Prince of Persia is a case of a million thoughts counting, and since we’re literally standing on the precipice of turning thirty god damned years old in a few months, we feel qualified (and a little sanctimoniously vindicated) to say that, as an “adult” in the eyes of the law, thoughts counting is more than enough to qualify something as great stuff. Like, when we were a kid, if our mom would have bought us thirty pairs of tube socks and thirty pairs of boxers for Christmas, we would have taken it as a slap in the face. We wanted Secret of Mana! Now, we can buy Secret of Mana on the Virtual Console for like eight dollars in the middle of the night; when our girlfriend brings over a large bag of brand-new tube socks and boxers she found on the side of the road, we’re like, dude, that means no laundry for a month. Prince of Persia is that kind of gesture. If it had sold more copies than it probably sold (again: checking Wikipedia is for the weak), like, if the entire internet had been screaming about its greatness and Kotaku had been lit aflame with news stories about Prince of Persia passing the million mark, the two million mark, the three million mark, and the three million and one mark (that’s a Kotaku Joke), then the thought would either count more, or less, depending on your perspective. Like, if the game had set the entire world on fire, there’s a higher probability that the entire production staff at Ubisoft, being that they all no doubt wear suits even on the toilet, would have attributed the game’s success to everything it did wrong rather than everything it did right. Like, the New York Times would report that five million kids the world over simultaneously stuff their pants on Christmas morning after pressing the Start Button on Prince of Persia, and the suits would go, “It must have been because the bosses had life meters! Fire every motherhecker who had nothing to do with the boss’s life meters!”

What’s even more hilarious than the stinging joke in the preceding sentence is the look on your face when you think we’re joking. We’re not! The corporate assholes in charge of video-game “production” really are that stupid, and it’s increasingly less and less funny with every passing day.

Anyway, Prince of Persia is, more than just a videogame, the result of a large group of (figuratively) very fat people spending several metric tons of money-brick. Someone — some man with a name — had grand visions for a game that would sit somewhere between “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Mummy Returns” in terms of entertainment value, with art direction to rival actual surrealist paintings. The Game Design Document must have been alight with parenthetical declarations of love for Every Great Game of the past decade. We know this because one of the producer guys was confident enough in his admiration of games past, present, and future to talk up his team’s game’s inspirations at length in an interview on some website or another (again, openly refusing to Google search for precise details is the new fact-checking): the new Prince of Persia would have an artistic conscience on par with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, with puzzles on par with Zelda and a fighting engine to rival Soul Calibur. His list of inspirations curiously seemed to lack Prince of Persia, though maybe that was a given.

The game that ensued is pretty decent. You play the part of a wise-cracking guy who is actually not a Prince in a fictional land that is probably not Persia. A dark and murderous shadow has fallen over the land. Your mission, should you choose to keep the game console turned on, is to trudge back and forth between a hub world and many depressing, dark, soulless, unpopulated outlying lands, in which you will run, jump, wall-jump, climb, hang, swing, and shimmy your way to a vaguely defined landmark, at which point you will fight a boss who looks a lot like the boss you fought fifteen minutes ago. One of those X-ray machines at the security checkpoint in the airport would take about ten minutes, even at the hands of a skilled technician, to tell you what’s different design-wise about any two bosses in this game. Beat the boss, and you then get to “play” a “mini-game” in which you hammer the triangle button at as slow or fast a pace as you wish in the name of a girl “restoring” the life to the “pure land”. Maybe they’re not called “pure land”; maybe it’s something else. It’s been a while since we finished the game and threw it away (technically, we loaned it to a certain friend, which is pretty much the same thing as throwing it away, because if it ever comes back it will no doubt be wet with coffee grinds and smell like old milk).

You might notice that, in the last relevant sentence, we mention a girl. Yes, this game has a girl. A girl follows you everywhere you go. If you fall off a ledge, she saves you with her psychic telekinetic magic ability. A lot of people who don’t realize they can use their noses to inhale took a staunch offensive position to this last detail. They cried, in unison, “A game without death is like Chee-tohs without orange fingers”. heck those people! They wouldn’t know their assholes from a hole in the wall, and worse, they wouldn’t know a hole in the wall from a hole in the ground.

This is no joke: it is weird that we “die” in videogames. It is very weird. It’s not right. It works in “Looney Tunes”. It works for Wile E. Coyote getting an Acme anvil dumped on his head and dropping his knife and fork. Similarly, it works in Burnout, though for entirely different reasons. Wile E. Coyote, like a car careening off a highway and into a rock wall in Burnout, requires only enough emotional investment on the part of the experiencer to laugh at him when he meets a grisly fate. Characters in games — if said games are going to be taken seriously as “entertainment” — are more precious than cartoon coyotes. We need to want the character not to die, and the game needs to convincingly tell us we messed up without, you know, actually showing the character get ripped limb-from-limb or cut in half by a buzz-saw. Maybe Prince of Persia doesn’t do a 100% perfect good job of communicating with us — the “you got rescued” animation starts to get old maybe ten “deaths” in. Still, the thought counts for something huge.

How could we perfect this thing in the future? Taking a cue from Braid: Maybe we could explain that the girl has the power to turn back time; that way, every time you die, the in-game camera pulls back to show the girl raising her hand; time freezes, and then pulls into reverse. Maybe that’d work nicely — this way we could see the Prince, say, be impaled by spikes for an instant, satisfying the blood-thirsty jerks in the audience, even. Really, though, we’re already satisfied by the way it is in this game — just give the princess a couple more emasculating things to say, or make the Prince a little funnier when he thanks her, or whatever, and you can deepen the “emotional connection” between the player and the game.

We honestly can’t sympathize with the people who don’t like the “no death” mechanic in Prince of Persia. They are not intelligent people. They really are just bloodthirsty jerks. This is the only explanation that exists, because the “no death” mechanic in this game is effectively the same thing as death in any FPS. When you “die”, the game warps you back to a moment before the beginning of the last challenge. Particularly long jumping segments actually succeed in feeling taxing despite the hero’s inability to “die”. There’s at least as much pressure on the player to “perform” as there is in a game like, say, Gears of War 2. What we need to be analyzing here, however, is what it actually means to “perform” in Prince of Persia.

In short, “performance” in Prince of Persia is not as involved as it would be in a game like Gears of War 2. This is neither good nor bad, neither here nor there. It is what it is. We played through the first three play cycles (find dungeon –> enter dungeon –> get to landmark (run, jump, climb, swing, shimmy) –> fight boss (slash, stab) –> seek out “light seeds” in the purified land (free running, jumping, climbing, swinging, shimmying) –> head back to hub, seek next dungeon (or cash in “light seeds” to buy new ability)) and were capable of forming a rock-solid opinion of the game as a whole (“There it is”); that opinion did not change even with further play.

The key to understanding the game design on display in Prince of Persia lies in a brief analysis of the segments of play that occur after you kill a boss. Up until the boss fight, you’d been trudging through a dark, depressing, decadent ruin with ghostly black stuff all over the walls. Purify the place, and it’s like God fired the art designer and hired a new one: the place is now shiny, blue-skied, lush, with calmer ambient background music. “Light seeds” — the game’s sole Meaningless Collectible Item — then appear all over. If you’re willing to invest a little time before moving on to the next corrupted wasteland, you can retrace your steps — or trace new steps around previously unreachable parts of the level — by running, jumping, climbing, swinging, and shimmying through the environment at your own pace. Despite the now-peaceful atmosphere, you can still fall to your pseudo-death — 90% of the in-game dangers are, indeed, still elevation-related — meaning that the element of “risk” and “reward” still (loosely) wraps the whole experience. Sometimes falling feels more like a case of the level designers not wanting you to go a certain way than a case of you not being skilled enough on the button-pressing, which is a little frustrating, though when you step back and realize what this says about the game design, it’s easy to forgive. Well, maybe “forgive” is too strong a word.

You see, Prince of Persia isn’t actually an action game. It isn’t even a platform game. It’s an adventure / role-playing game. Whoa! Did we just blow your minds? Hopefully, or this next paragraph is going to be pretty boring!

Take a moment to consider that Prince of Persia has more in common with point-and-click adventures than with Halo. The game’s plot is seldom more than a vehicle for illuminating the finer aspects of a developing relationship between two characters in the context of a tenuously pointed quest. The short-term goals suit the long-term goal. Every time you slip and almost die, the girl (character #2) is going to say something emasculating to the boy (character #1), further “developing” their “relationship”. Even repetitive “death”, in this game, is “part of the story”. The primary elegance on display in Prince of Persia‘s game design is visible when you “purify” a region and are free to climb around collecting light seeds: rather than block-pushing, torch-lighting, mustache-constructing “puzzles” a la Zelda or Gabriel Knight, the only challenge is “How do I get up there?”

“How do I get up there?” is much more elegant a question to make the player ask, aloud, in his boxers, at three in the morning on Sunday, than “What the hell am I supposed to do?” “Who the hell am I supposed to talk to?” “When am I going to be able to open this door?” “Where the hell am I supposed to go?” or “Why the Christ do I have to go there?”

“How” is the best question for game design to impose on a player. The player should know the What, the When, the Where, the Who, and the Why at all times. Prince of Persia keeps the player abreast of its every development at all times. Thanks to the convenient device of the Light Seeds — lovely, white, pulsating MacGuffin Bubbles — we know the “What”, and are tenuously aware of the “Why” and the “Who”, leaving only half of the “How”. (The half of the “How” that we already know is “By jumping, climbing, swinging, etc”; the half we don’t know involves Where and Why to jump, climb, or swing on.)

All this would be absolutely fantastic if the nature of the running and jumping and climbing was a little bit more reined-in. As-is, Prince of Persia plays like a bigass Quick-Time Event with some analog stick support. When swinging on an inexplicable brass ring fixed to a ceiling, all you need to do is press The Action Button to activate the swinging sequence, and the Prince does the rest himself. The game was probably constructed this way as the result of a well-researched conclusion that “the general public” represents a larger population sample than “hardcore gamers”. Ultimately, though, we’d like to remind the Game Development Community that many members of the “general public” played Super Mario Bros. and even Super Mario 64 prior to becoming “hardcore gamers”, and those games were packed to the chimney-tops with little feather-like delicate nuances. What we mean to say is that maybe giving us a little bit more control over the game would lead to a deeper, more rewarding experience. Remember the way you felt when your friend told you you could jump on top of the castle in Super Mario 64 without getting all 120 stars, and you called him a liar, put a gun to his head, and said you’d pull the trigger if he didn’t PROVE IT within the next five minutes? Remember the mixture of awe and disappointment when he actually proved you could get to the top of the castle? Let’s see some of that, multiplied against maybe 100. That would make for some HELL OF Xbox achievements (alternate equal opportunity word pairing: PlayStation Trophies) for the kids to scour.

What Prince of Persia does, eventually, is present us with a Super Mario 64 where you never go inside the castle. This is hardly a bad thing, because, at its best, the game doesn’t not let you enter the castle so much as it freezes you eternally in that mindset where running and jumping outside the castle was so much more fun than, say, staring at a wall that it was all you could conceive yourself ever needing to do for the rest of your life. If only there were more nuance, more “emotional pull” to either the environments or the controls, we’d be onto something huge. If the controls were just a bit closer to Super Mario 64, we could ideally have a game as good and as raw as the super-hard “special” stages in Super Mario Sunshine. That’d be pretty hot! And if the stages themselves had a bit more personality — you know, if they were actual locations with recognizable landmarks instead of shattered-by-evil ruins consisting of ledges and chains and pits of undulating black ink seemingly arranged by a genocidal computer program with no sense of humor (then again, those seem to be popular) — then we’d be onto something else. It’s a tiny bit puzzling that the makers of this game went so far to established a visual language of Hooks and Brass Rings and color-coordinated ledges that correspond to button presses, only to attach them to obtuse, opaque, bizarre conglomerations of incomprehensible concrete. Were they afraid that if the Structure Being Climbed at any given moment Actually Looked Like Something then the Casual Gamers in the audience would be so busy admiring the scenery that they’d forget what button they were supposed to press when confronted with a big round ring thing?

There’s a chance — it occurs to us just now — that this game was a proof of concept for boring things like its developers’ “asset pipeline” — in other words, that they were just trying to make a game that had a few of their big ideas of it, with the emphasis being placed majorly on crafting a product that didn’t look or feel too amazingly different from what the players expected of it. The problem is that players — sometimes called “critics” or “reviewers” — are generally not very intelligent, and most often confuse symptoms for the disease. Remember the incident where posted a video review of Grand Theft Auto IV in which the player character beats a prostitute to death. Many conservatives squealed on cue; Rockstar’s official stance was that clubbing hookers — or anyone, really — is Something You Can Do in the game, though it is never something the game precisely tells you to do. Players often confuse Things You Can Do in a game with “Features” of said game. Imagine many gamers’ surprise when Prince of Persia arrived, called itself a “sandbox” adventure, and then presented a stubby little list of “Things You Can Do”.

There’s a chance that Prince of Persia just wanted to put the most minimalist suggestion possible on the table. At its best, it is a minimalist Grand Theft Auto; it is a Cubist’s Zelda. It is a Japanese RPG where you don’t fight any random battles, where the movement of the player character — the friction of his feet and the ground — is the constant conflict. It’s a Mostly Nonviolent Game, where evil is seldom more than a suggestion or an explanation for the wallpaper; the very idea of this intrigues us to no end. The open-ended lazy jaunts through the “purified” areas recall hours spent jumping up and out of the water needlessly in stage one of Ecco the Dolphin, or dueling the castle guards in the village in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The crew at Ubi has managed to make a full-length electronic entertainment experience out of the boyish games-within-games we played when we were weaker. However, in order to truly make this work, the game world needs to offer us a couple more rocks to nudge, at least one more NPC to jump on top of from a considerable height, and at least one building that looks like, say, a clock tower, or something.

At present, all the game has to keep us absorbed is a personable main character, a mysterious-enough female lead, and a couple of minutes’ worth of “interesting” dialogue. For example, when Prince and Princess fall down a Sloping Piece of Concrete and land at the feet of an Obviously Evil Towering Humanoid Being, the Prince quips: “I think we just found another way to get killed.” Chances are good that the writers didn’t know Jack White’s theme song for the new James Bond film “Quantum of Solace” was going to be titled “Another Way to Die” at the time they wrote this line, so we can say without (too much) hesitation that it’s “kind of clever”. More “clever” than “not clever at all”, at least.

Once you’ve penetrated the game a fair deal, there isn’t too much to keep you involved if, say, you’ve ever played something like Landstalker (while we’re on the subject of adventure-RPGs with stiff platforming challenges starring a wise-cracking wanderer and his female companion). It’s very rinse-repeat-y stuff, ultimately. It’s samey. And the fighting sucks.

The producer dude said Soul Calibur was an inspiration, and the Kotaku commenters had a field day: “Keep Soul Calibur out of Prince of Persia!” they cried. We say, why not put Soul Calibur into Prince of Persia? Soul Calibur‘s fighting engine is more than good enough to enslave a dozen frat boys per hour in the Great United States of America; you could do far worse. We’ve said before that the combat in a game should, if nothing else, always work on a 1:1 level, so why the hell not try to fashion your single-player action-adventure game’s combat after a fighting game? We’ve also said, in numerous places, that a game’s combat system should be structured so that the main player character’s move set should conceivably be just deep enough that the mere act of thinking about what it would be like to face a human opponent in control of a carbon-copy of the main character should be at the very least more fun than actually playing Tekken. Prince of Persia doesn’t pass this test. The combat is ropey. If Soul Calibur is a sketch pad, Prince of Persia is a coloring book. We like the way the girl saves you when you are about to die, thought we kind of wish every fight was thought through and designed from the ground up so that it would not be intensely frustrating if the boss’s “health” regenerated every time you “died”. As-is, the battles are all set on this little tenuously floating platforms, and any conflict can be completed by pushing the enemy off to his death; most bosses rely on ultra-stripped-down 3D Zelda-like gimmicks — in one battle, your opponent is invincible, so you need to parry him back into a cage and then flip a switch to trap him. Either of these things feel like doing something, though the everpresence of screen-spanning eyesore life meters points a big fat finger at the possibility that the game designers might not have known what they were doing. If the only way to kill the boss is to push him into a cage, if your attacks do no damage, why do we need to see a life meter? To use the RPG analogue, this is Prince of Persia‘s equivalent of striking the Invincible Boss with a physical attack and seeing a “0” pop up as the damage number. (A “0”, not a “1” — a “1” implies we are doing something wrong, for we do not know his total HP; a “0” implies were are doing nothing at all.) However, consider this: Prince of Persia is not that kind of RPG. By making the act of moving through the dungeon deep enough, it has nearly eliminated the need for random battles as punctuation for tedium. In doing this, it only opens up a parking space for “interesting, meaningful battles”. If the Prince’s most common cause of near-death is “falling”, given that every stage is set amidst teetering rocky platforms and precarious ledges, why not run with the “ring out” concept? Why not make it so that the only way to beat any enemy is to push him off the ledge? Give the Prince a specific knock-back attack; make it so slow that the player knows he can only succeed with it if the enemy gives him an opening. Make said “opening” characteristic and visible — maybe the enemy falls to his knees, panting. Seriously, if you’re doing away with Death, do away with Life Meters, too. Movies don’t have life meters, for God’s sake.

Furthermore, it may or may not be the game designers’ responsibility to, at this point, think of a reason why we are fighting these enemies. They’re not agile. They don’t seem capable of jumping. We jump onto their little platform and they jump out of the ink-hole and attack us, and we have to fight them if we want to go on. Why can’t we just keep going, and leave them on their little platform all alone? “Purification” eliminates all of the “Corruption” in an area, and we don’t get any “experience points” from killing the enemies, nor do we get any money, because there’s no shop in Prince of Persia, much less a town to house a shop.

There’s just the temple, where we cash in our “Light Seeds” to buy abilities. Abilities are always activated by pressing the Triangle button (Y button on Xbox 360) at a special Ability Seal on the walls of the stages. The abilities are, scientifically speaking, lame as heck. Every “ability” in the game is nearly impossible to explain in words without causing a Rabbi somewhere to have a boredom-related heart attack. They’re all just fancy ways to jump, with the girl emanating green or blue or red light and chanting fake Farsi while twirling in an imperceptibly different type of corkscrew. It’s quite insultingly obvious that the “abilities” are just keys to open locks. We can imagine it written on the whiteboard: “No keys! No locks! Keys and locks are trite!” A Castlevania game gives you the ability to double jump just seconds before it presents you with a wall that cannot be passed with a normal jump. Then it lets you use the double jump over and over again, to your heart’s content, even (especially) when not necessary. You will never single jump again. Prince of Persia must think it “gets” something about Castlevania that Castlevania doesn’t get, and maybe it does, because you can only use these lock-key abilities when they are needed. Though ultimately, if the goal of the game is to purify all of the “corrupted” lands and then return to the temple in the hub — if we are going to have to come back to the hub — what the hell does it matter what order we purify the lands in? In short, it’s blatantly obvious that the game designers wanted to incorporate “abilities” because they wanted the player to need to revisit the temple in the Hub World in between jaunts in the Danger Zone for the dumbfounding reason that forcing the player to revisit the hub makes the game feel more “complex” or “sophisticated”. We’re not arguing with this — it really does make the game feel more sophisticated. It’s just so transparent and phony. Did you guys play The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass? For all the stuff we give Zelda games around here, that one had a pretty brilliant concept of revisiting. Prince of Persia‘s is limp as hell.

Maybe, if there was a story we really cared about, and there were people in the hub who told us what we should be doing, and if the things we should be doing involved buildings or structures of discernible shapes or purposes, or maybe if the “hub” was a “town” that had an “item shop” which was the only place we could buy things like “arrows” for our “bow”, the game would work seamlessly. In other words, the hub needs to be Always Necessary, or it needs to not be there at all. In its current state, the logistics of this game are screwy. This is a game where, when you pause it and a menu pops up, the headline above the menu literally says the words “PAUSE MENU”. This is a game where, the first time you open the map, a tutorial window pops up; the title line of the first window says “TUTORIAL”, and the text of the first window is “Welcome To The Map Tutorial”. Maybe this just means that the guys who wrote the tutorial windows weren’t the guys who drafted the game design.



We’re being hard on this game because we realize it would have been one of our favorite games of all-time with just a bit more (ultimately very, very, very soul-crushingly tedious) work. It’s evident right now that just as much time was spent on the “production” aspect as was spent on the lavish art design. We read on Kotaku about how the PR guys and the production guys had a big pow-wow about how to get the game out to a wider audience, how they decided a reboot was in order, how they cooked up the Great Idea that the main character should be a hip wisecracker like the guy in that Uncharted game, because, we don’t know, some people kind of liked that guy. Then they went ahead and just hired the exact same voice actor. Like, these people are kind of dense, and we say this with objectivity. Hey, more work for Uncharted guy, so more power to him, though seriously. We’re pretty sure that with its gorgeous visuals — the art design alone qualifies Prince of Persia for the title of one of the best games of 2008 — would have sold the game as effectively as any PR up-puffing. It’s widely known that reviewers of games typically only ever mention things that the PR guys were cool enough to mention to them in between complimentary Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies, whether said things be lies or half-truths or three-quarter-truths, or what — this is how every review on the internet ended up proclaiming that Street Fighter IV is a “fighting game that embraces casual gamers”, when, once you drop one piranha into the pool, that couldn’t be further from the truth. What we’re saying is that any game can get a good review if you have enough Milano cookies to influence the right guy to say the right thing. All it takes is one review to convince every other reviewer that they either think the same thing or they’re not right, and then you end up with a big enough Metacritic score to appease your publisher. What we’re saying is, really, you can put whatever you want into the damn game. We have played your game, Prince of Persia team, and we know exactly what you like, and we know exactly what you want to make. We’re not going to attempt to spell it out to you for fear of pedantry (hint for the readers: implement sequences where the player is being chased). We’re just going to say: go ahead and heckin’ do it, man. You have Action Button Dot Net’s blessing — and that’s worth a lot more than we’re willing to reveal (winking smiley face). If you want to make a game that’s like Out of This World come home to find Halo sleeping on its bearskin rug, you can probably think of a lot sharper bullet points for the back of the box than “Earn New Abilities to Access New Areas”. Keep it raw and real, the way you, um, kept about seventy-five percent of this game raw and real. We know you’re capable of going on all the way. We hereby put you on academic probation, give your game two stars, and proclaim it one of the best games of 2008. Please don’t let us down with the sequel.

Maybe you should just hire Eric “Out of this World” Chahi as a designer or (at least) consultant for the sequel. You know, that’d be a great idea. Man, we should get paid for these ideas.

In closing: the final line of the “TIPS” section of the manual is “Have Fun!” That just about says everything, good and bad.

Action Button Dot Net


(perhaps tangentially) related games:
portal (game of the year 2007)
gears of war 2 (game of the year 2008, second place)
out of this world (the best game of all-time)
bioshock (an example of a game that needs to learn)
call of duty to the fourth power: modern warface (an example of a game that nearly gets everything)
Dissidia: Final Fantasy (another game in which the stages are invariably meaningless incomprehensible structures fragmented by an evil god) 


28 Responses to prince of persia

  1. Oooh, nice. A game with potential. Always great to see. Although, since I’m a whore for great art direction I was gonna play this anyway. Seriously, look at it. It’s like a French comic come alive. I haven’t the willpower to resist.

    Incidentally, WTF man?!? How many months is this now? I thought something happened to you or something! I was, like, *worried* and stuff.

  2. Prince of Persia in particular, but Ubisoft Montreal “productions” in general, could use a much steadier directorial hand. It’s like playing games made by the artists convent, if all the artists were clean-shaven and enjoyed an American Action Flickstravaganza.

    Prince of Persia has quite enough good ideas but doesn’t know where to put them and ends up adding random garbage where it doesn’t belong. Who thought it’d be okay to have an American Jackass main character and sitcom-repartee in their storybook game? Probably the same ones who spent enough money to make sure the dialogue is reasonably competent. A director (hereafter known as The One With Balls) would hear that, spit out his coal-black coffee onto the nearest intern, demand the head of dialogue be impaled on his memorial Warrior Within PR Swag Sword and put outside his office as a warning before lunch, then roll up his sleeves and make it work for his fantasy dreamland.

    Maybe the Man With Balls could tie more tightly the idea that your central reward is not new powers or more manly muscles but revealing beautiful landscapes. I can imagine that came from Okami– only they wimped by not explicitly setting that in the sky as What You Are Doing. Instead you are given a trail of breadcrumbs so tight that you keep your face to the ground, not looking up at the sky where anyone with eyes should look. That what the sun is for, man! Look around you!

    The game inspires in me such a mixture of happiness and rage that it turns into an emotional tepid porridge.

    Prince of Persia: Eh.

  3. PoP is the introduction of the Social Democratic State into videogaming. Bear with me. 1. The non-death sequences are the gaming equivalent of a welfare state, in which a potentially devasting loss is ironed out. You can’t fail, and you will fulfill your civic duty whether you will or no, whether you are capable or no. 2. The game emphasises its Mechanic over actual gameplay. It is like representative democracy, but instead of voting once every 3-4yrs you press a button every 3-4 seconds. The game does the rest on your behalf. 3 and finally, the player is guided through the game by a computer figure that is both the means and ends, the educator and motivation, the problem and the prize. This new trend, also in RE5 and many other ‘squad’ type games, turns ‘single player’ into ‘computer guided gaming’, and represents the encroachment of the total state into computer gaming.

  4. I agree with almost completely with the whole review except the fact that it was given a higher score than the 1 it deserves because you (sounds like tim) think it can be better. I get the whole yeah let’s encourage the poor oppressed developers thing cuz I’ve got the creds to, and for sure the sequel will be incrementally better. But I can’t help but feel like the game was reined in and toned down in order to make the inevitable sequel and the sequel after that (has to be a trilogy now that they’ve “re-imagined” the world!) look like a major step up. And if this was done to the first one, what’s stopping them from toning down the next game?

    Like come on, you can’t ignore the fact that the game deliberately chose not end in the last 5 seconds, and that an ending is now available for DLC. YAY.

    My god you cannot convince me that the ending was ingenious. That it was like “clever/touching/emotional” or “like Shadow of the Colossus!” The fact that it seems like almost everyone on the internets loved the ending is just another little thing that reminds me that the world is going hell at a fantastic clip.

    I especially enjoyed the “Achievement Unlocked: The game is over but the story’s just begun!” you get 1 second before the credits.

  5. Ubisoft is one hell of a weird developer. They’re responsible for some of my favorite games ever (Rainbow Six 3, Uru, Sands of Time), some terrible abortions (R6 Vegas, Warrior Within) and weird tepid baggage-weighted could-have-dones (like this new PoP). As the man Astromech says, I feel like the difference between these games is not talent or even ideas, but directorial vision: what Tim would call common sense. What he does call common sense, actually.

    Ubi, please: let someone grab the reins here. You could be making the best games on the market. Don’t let pinstripes stand in your way.

  6. I liked the minimalism of this game. I thought I would hate the no-death thing, but I didn’t – it works. I liked the setting and the characterisations. But there are three things I hated about it.

    First, although the prince is in some ways more acrobatic than he used to be, you have less control over him. That’s partly because he performs the same motions whether you press the button half a second before you get to the platform or pole he’s headed for, or half a second after. It’s so loose, you feel more like you’re issuing him verbal instructions than controlling his body. ‘Another World’ didn’t have the world’s tightest controls, and neither did the original 2D Prince of Persia, but for the most part in those games, when you would do something to the joystick, your guy would do something. This basic lesson has been learnt by every platform game since Super Mario Brothers… until now.

    Second, there is usually only one way to get to that higher platform in this game – something that wasn’t true of Sands and Warrior Within (which – apart from the music and combat, was really good). The exact way you go is spelled out for you by the floating light, but even if you refuse to use it, those stupid coloured plates make it totally obvious what that one path is. There’s no reward for exploring and looking for secrets, partly because there AREN’T ANY, and partly because the levels are loaded with invisible walls which punish you for errant wandering. It’s a game that looks like it’s a free-roaming world, but it’s not just linear, it’s on rails.

    Finally, the plate system makes for level design which is utterly lazy. They don’t design levels which merge form and puzzle-function. They design levels entirely for their looks, and use the coloured flying plates as a way to get you from one mini-puzzle to another. That’s how they put this game out in a year… nobody had to come up with any interesting spatial puzzles, which is what a good PoP game should be all about. It’s like, jump, jump, step, jump WHOOOOOOAAA we’re FLYYYYING IN THE AAAAIR.

    So, yeah. I think this game is justly maligned, but maligned for all the wrong reasons. I wish that big studios would put out more games with a single, minimal idea which is thoroughly explored. I’m happy to let go of the death thing, provided that there is still some frustration. But platformers need a sense of freedom of exploration, responsive controls and well-architected spatial puzzles. This game is a total failure on those counts.

  7. Can I also just say, that Mirror’s Edge (PC version, with a mouse) gets these things totally right? A fantastic game. GOTY for me.

  8. “Second, there is usually only one way to get to that higher platform in this game – something that wasn’t true of Sands and Warrior Within”

    What are you talking about? Every enviromental puzzle in the 6th gen POP trilogy was linear.

    “Finally, the plate system makes for level design which is utterly lazy. They don’t design levels which merge form and puzzle-function. They design levels entirely for their looks, and use the coloured flying plates as a way to get you from one mini-puzzle to another. That’s how they put this game out in a year… nobody had to come up with any interesting spatial puzzles, which is what a good PoP game should be all about. It’s like, jump, jump, step, jump WHOOOOOOAAA we’re FLYYYYING IN THE AAAAIR. ”

    The only difference between the enviromental puzzles in the last- gen POP games and this one is that there is less jumping around in the same room in this one. And that’s not really much. And those plates make the levels as fun as the levels in Super Mario Galaxy.

  9. i respect and endorse this two star rating

    this game does feel like a 11 hour quick time event! let me do some jumpin’ on my own! going into the level with all of floating platforms and balloons was depressing as heeeeelll because i knew i would have to follow a straight path, probably guided with magical power plates. and then i did. so i didn’t get to jump around on giant balloons and just watched them instead. on curved, flying, buoyant objects, i was running in straight lines

    what a waste of environment

    what a waste of atmosphere

    plus, who decided to put the mysterious princess in old navy capris?

    other than that, the rest of the game is good enough to play through. that ending is great! symbolism is rife in games, but it is rarely thematic in nature and the ending pretty much sings that song loud enough for anybody to hear.

    the problem is that as it is, prince of persia is disposable. you can throw that stuff away after you are done. that’s not a bad thing. in the age of overwrought and underthought gamebloat like bioshock, prince of persia is light and crispy enough to be worth feeling out. but you can tell that the people who made it wanted a bit more. oh well, better luck next time!

  10. Dozer: I didn’t think the magic minigame flying was fun in Galaxy, either.

  11. Then I guess I’m alone with my love for SMG on this site.

    Oh well, this is ABDN after all. What was I expecting?…

  12. I liked SMG well enough, but I viewed the flying as basically being a replacement for a loading bar (or for Resident Evil’s door-opening animation). I felt like SMG could get away with having each planetoid separate like that, because they were all thematically distinct. There was real variety. But that’s not true in Prince of Persia – you’re magically flying between identical rooms.

    Sunshine was the best in the series though.

  13. Dozer, you’re not alone. Now, don’t get me wrong… SMG was packed to the brim with bullstuff, especially that bunny-star thing that ABDN reviles so much (though I didn’t consider the broad implications at the time, I did find it incredibly insipid the first time I played it), but people seem to forget that many parts of SMG are bullstuff-less platforming fun. Any time your objective is “here is a level; get to the end,” the game shines. Yes, it is too easy, and yes there are too many parts where you have Things To Do, but the level design in the actual platformer parts is nearly perfect. If the entire game had been linear planetoid challenges of that caliber (but tougher), it might have been the best game in the series.

  14. *Disclaimer in order to fulfill a duty of care: This will most likely result in huge-ass multi posts. I’ll be very surprised if not. End of disclaimer.

    I should say this at some point and it might as well be this one. I considered saying it during the (new) Braid review though now that I’ve read this one it presents an even better opportunity. I love Tim’s articles (reviews, LPN posts, etc.); they are uplifting, mind-blowing and inspiring. And even though I’m not in the habit of having fun I am again and again surprised by Tim’s creativity and I do laugh an awful lot when I read — say for example this review — so I suppose it’s fair to say that they are great fun for me. And when I say that I love them I must clarify that I am not a man who thinks that we should all use the verb “love” less often and only in conjunction with gravely important, eternal relationships of divine making; we all know that romanticism is bullstuff so let’s not confine that nice feeling word to describing something bullstuffty. I love Tim’s reviews and when I say that I’m being more honest and genuine than I’ve ever been when I said “I love you” to a girl. In retrospect.

    That seems to be what I came up with for an introduction right now. Off to a vaguely homo-erotic start. Rectifying this right now with mention of blatantly homophobic music genre.

    Because the middle part is this: I listen to rap occasionally and Kanye West impressed me with the thought that “If you admire somebody you should go ahead and tell them, people never get the flowers while they can still smell them”. And indeed, pretty much all of my idols are long dead and gone and I have no way of showing them my appreciation. Even worse than that, I know that some of them haven’t been much appreciated by any of their contemporaries. Now I am not a man that suffers from insomnia by any stretch of the word yet that’s the sort of real-life cruelty that I find my thoughts revolving around, keeping me awake late at night, on some nights. As Tim might or might not know by a glance at his inbox, I don’t normally jump out of bed in these situations to glue my tired mole eyes to a monitor and write huge appreciation letters. I pretty much just hope that someone else does that anyways RIGHT THAT INSTANT and thus the balance is upkept, justice is done, all is good and all is good without me having to have moved a single digit of a single finger on a single hand, touching a single key on my (singular) keyboard to make it happen. Now, no one has ever called me a cynic in all the 24 years of my life even though I have always surrounded myself with people smart enough to know the meaning of that word well enough and while I take that as empirical evidence gathered from a large enough group to be representative that I’m not a cynic, I yet have doubts as to the accuracy of my pleasantly positive imagination. So yes, right now I’m going to openly accuse the world of not being a nice enough place for good things to always happen to good men in timely fashion. Let me be cynical enough to accuse the world of NOT being a German precision cuckoo clock that shoots out a mechanical cuckoo singing friendly major thirds every time a man looks desperately for his pocket watch and can’t seem to find it in ANY of his coat-, trouser- OR vest pockets, before I go to rectify this situation (with the timepiece of my own).

    (An aside, while on the subject of time: Happy 30st birthday, Tim. (You may keep that sentence unread until the appropriate day has come.)

    Even though I am not a man that pays much attention to coincidences it MAY be that the first time I ever read anything written by Tim was when he was approximately as old as I am now. I THINK that might have been the time when he was homeless in Japan, with oily hair and an itching scalp. In another strange turn of coincidental events I have just washed my hair because my scalp was killing me — rather, my scratching of my scalp was killing me because it started to hurt more than soothe. The itching came in a flash and not because of improper hygiene. As a scientific man I don’t speak much about mysteries yet this itch was something of a mystery. I connect it with the fact that I have consumed large amounts of Red Bull over the last few days while at the same time not sleeping for either one night or two, memory and perception of time being spotty at this point, and certainly my nerves and synapses and all the good things in my body would like to get some rest to balance themselves out during sleep; get a chance to — like a giant pendulum — finally overstep the peak of their momentum and go down after going up for a jolly long time; to swing deeply and grandly to the other side for a change and for refreshment. As a funny aside and to provide another vague coincidental connection I’ll mention that I was up and running for the last days in part because I worked on a transcript for a company that has something to do with Brandon Sheffield, who has something to do with Insert Credit, which has something to do with Tim Rogers, who might have something to do with my scalp itch and definitely has to do with my writing about it.

    My scalp no longer itching has to do with cool water and olive shampoo.

    I consider Tim Rogers to be a genius and with genius being a label that I’d like to see applied to myself one day I also consider him an abstract role model. I say abstract because I mean that I can do without some of the particulars. I can do without both, scalp itch and excessive hair care products. I can do without a Korean semi adult-model girlfriend because I prefer Hungarian and Brazilian adult models anyway and I can do without being homeless for years in the Society Of The Future — Japan, — because being homeless for a night in the Society Of The Antique — Greece, — was enough to get a million points across.

    Speaking of millions. Not only do I consider Tim a source of inspiration and my own personal entertainer whose funny pages I click for jokes and laughs several times a month, no, he is also my favorite horror movie monster whose dramatic life I follow with a sweaty fist clenched absent-mindedly in a bowl of cold microwave popcorn. That popcorn flew all over the place when I learned that Tim Rogers had become — after years of poverty — richer than a motherhecker; I pumped my fist so hard that I wondered and pondered if I’ll ever feel that strongly for myself on, or after, the day that I’ll finally manage to drag financial liberation into my life by the hair and keep it there. I don’t think I’ll feel as strongly. I suppose I will lie on my bed and listen to Jay-Z’s Black Album — maybe twice — with an untouched glass of pineapple juice balancing on my stomach and feel slightly guilty for everything and nothing in particular. It’s just great to see people that I consider better than myself succeed. And Tim’s among the best I know of; he’s a genius.

    I’m looking forward to many more great successes of his in the future.

    That sounds like I’m close to the end of this. Better make it mean something now.

    I’m looking forward to the Tim Rogers videogames; even though I’m not a man that’s currently indulging in videogame pleasure (read: haven’t owned a game console for the last couple of years) I’d play those. And I’m also looking forward to the Tim Rogers Middle Ages (his middle ages), when he finally gets around to publishing novels — hopefully. (Yeah, well, and letting people know about them. Who knows what he has published in secret.) Then the days of printing out videogame reviews and gluing them into gutted paperback covers of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle will be over and I’ll have something to refer people to when they ask me about my favorite authors. Because lord knows the surefire way to never again be asked for book recommendations is to tell people to go to websites instead. Websites are not literature canon even when they display word combinations of equal brilliance as some of the best books out there. Books are literature and websites are somewhere between local rightist newspapers and World Cup edition toilet paper imprinted with quotes of things football players said in post-game interviews when their lactate levels were high enough to hinder intelligent thought.

    So uhm. I don’t know if I’m the only one feeling this way or what. I don’t know if other people see the same things I’m seeing in Tim’s writing. I can say with certainty though that every article and review and essay of his I’ve read has transcended the importance of the thing it was written about. In my perception. For me, you know. When he writes about the evil doings of certain (at times) Japanese (videogame-)business men (some could be women in all actuality) then that creates a desire inside of me to do better than them — to right the wrongs of others; that’s, I mean, some huge something. Right there. And it’s not only that; there’s also the drive to — because of the excellence of his writing — top Tim himself. That’s definitely there. I certainly always reflect back on myself when I’m reading something, though most of the time I either go, “this is almost worthless to me” or “yeah, I can already do that and do it better too”. To me Tim’s excellence is as apparent and as clear to my mind as, say, size differences to my eyes. I read something Tim has written and it’s like looking at a skyscraper. It amazes me. I get an immediate sense of sophistication and history; the things that had to happen to make it happen — the causality of it.

    What I really want to get across and make understood is that, when I’m reading something on here, at ABDN, it’s not a review of a game to me. It’s not about something that’s out there that I’m being informed about — a “product”, a videogame, the experience the reviewer has had with it, the thought processes, the ideas, the evils or the virtues and common sense that led to the creation of a game; it’s always about something being created inside of me. That’s because good writing shapes you as a person. It helps produce connections between synapses that have never been connected before. It re-wires your thoughts, makes you revise your behavior, gives you new perspectives, shows you and makes you realize the workings of systems that you’ve never even been aware of existed. Systems of human behavior, most importantly. Every sentence that you can derive meaning from is source code to the mind.

    Somewhere in a comment around here Tim said that the more praise he(/they, ABDN) get the less likely he is to quit writing. I know that feeling.

    I’m not a man that’s in the habit of giving praise though. I’m merely stating that I have a real world need for something that very few people can provide, and that’s the level of brilliance and genius that Tim possesses. My reason for not playing most of the videogames out there is similar to my reason for not eating junk food; my reason for reading everything that Tim writes about videogames is similar to my reason for eating a real world representation of the lower levels of the newest food pyramid every day. (Willett and Stampfer food pyramid, for those of you who want to look it up. I make it at least 500g of vegetables and 300g of fruits a day, more if I can; just saying because the amount’s often times not mentioned in the pyramid.)

    And while I can pretty easily satisfy my stomach and thus all the systems feeding off of it with the food I’m getting, feeding the mind is harder. I think it could use some more to really thrive. I mean, I don’t wanna be unreasonable — I don’t go to one farmer and ask him to produce ALL the different kinds of food I need. I’ll just buy whatever he’s got to sell whenever he’s got it. (Tim Rogers: Organic Farming Of Ideas And Assorted Brilliance)

    So yeah, Tim, I don’t really know what else to offer you to keep you productive and feeling good about what you do. I mean, I don’t see you asking for money anywhere (which is good) and I can’t code, so that’s out. So I’m praising you.

    So yeah, Tim, I don’t really know what else to offer you to keep you productive and feeling good about what you do. I mean, I don’t see you asking for money anywhere (which is good) and I can’t code, so that’s out. So I’m praising you. And re-envisioning your concepts and way of writing, most certainly! So please, in everybody’s interest, keep from dying for as long as you can — just don’t — and keep on writing and sharing your thoughts, music, etc. with the rest of us, also, for as long as you can and as much as you can. There’s real demand out there and it’s not going to be satisfied any time soon.



  15. Shiiiit it fit into one; awesome! That was 2,294 words and it just… deepthroated them.

  16. Jesus Christ, Stefan!
    That one comment you wrote made me lose more braincells than the entire rest of this site combined. Congratulations man, con-hecking-gratulations!

    Spiffyness: I dont think SMG could have been made a linear game. Just look at the level designs. Many of the missions make you traverse entirely different places in the galaxies. If the game had been linear, many of the setpieces in those galaxies would have gone unused.

    But what exactly do you mean by “Things To Do”? And why are they bad?

  17. Dozer: sorry, I didn’t properly explain myself. I use the term “linear” loosely… really, I shouldn’t have said it at all. SMG is already very linear; each level has a specific goal to achieve, etc. But I meant to draw a comparison between SMG and, say… Mario 64. In that game, the level is wide-open (usually) and one must simply go about various “tasks.” This is wildly different from the 2-d Mario games, where the goal is simply “get to the end of the level.” Even Mario World, with its branching paths and whatnot, has “linear” levels in the sense that almost all sidescrolling 2-d games have linear levels. Psychologically, Mario 64 shares hardly anything in common with those old games. Pitfalls are the primary enemy instead of a succession of deviously-placed Bullet Bills or Koopas. Though the game was tough, it was very playground-esque.

    At its best, SMG became the first true 3-d embodiment of the first three Mario games. Instead of exploration and collecting things, the game simply gave the player a predetermined path and said “get to the end.” Kinda like Crash Bandicoot, in a way. But sometimes you get stuck on a planet and told that “the bunnies are looking for star pieces.” Or you have to throw fireballs at torches or collect purple coins or swim around or race a friggin’ penguin, etc. When I say “things to do,” I mean these random tasks that games often throw at you that seem so much like busywork. Puzzles, collectathons, minigames… stuff like that.

    I’m not saying the whole “tasks” thing is bad game design. Heck, that was the whole basis of Mario 64. The difference is that Mario 64 gave you very little direction and was often quite difficult, whereas SMG’s “tasks” are spoon-fed to the player and are too easy to be “playing” at all. There’s no challenge or thought or discovery at all. So, with those elements (discovery, thinking) lost on the game, SMG’s best moments became the pure obstacle courses. If the whole game had just been “get to the end”-style objectives, and more difficult, it could’ve been a 3-d equivalent of SMB3.

    Dangit… re-reading over the above I realize that it’s not very clear, but my linguistic faculties seem to be failing me. Hopefully you’ll understand me.

  18. Sorry, one more thing. The reason that the obstacle courses remain entertaining is that instead of stimulating thought or discovery, they require good old-fashioned reflexes and skill. None of these types of challenges (exploration, puzzles, or reflex tests) are the “best,” but SMG simply fails in two of them.

  19. Stefan: Wow, that was a wonderful comment. Now I feel bad because I feel exactly the same way about Tim and other similarly admirable fellows, yet I’ve never taken the time out of my day to selflessly encourage (understatement) any of them. You sum up my feelings perfectly… well, about Tim, that is (I can’t recall my last scalp itch). I hope that when I’m older (I’m only seventeen) and have had your quantity of what they like to call “life experience,” I can write with the personality and insight that you’ve displayed (still talking to you, Stefan, not Tim). More importantly, I hope when I’m your age there will still be such wonderful people to be praised at all.

    I guess I might as well add one thing, since you got me all mushy inside:

    Tim, like Stefan you also inspire me to surpass you in artistic integrity and objective skill. But while Stefan wishes to equal you as a writer, I actually hope to pursue a career in the videogame industry (a decision that I finally solidified, over other promising alternatives, after finishing Mother 3 last Fall, as a matter of fact). I’m not exaggerating one bit when I say that my number-one goal of my future career is to make videogames that you. Or, if you’re making games of your own by then (here’s hoping!), to surpass you. Or collaborate. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?

    Anyway, that’s my ha-penny. Now I feel the urge to go write a letter to a Mr. Reese Roper…

  20. Spiffyness: The reason SMG couldn’t pull off the same kind of exploration that Super Mario 64 did is becaust of the technological jump since then.

    Look at Mario 64. It’s a three dimensional world, still, everything is blocky, animation is at times choppy, and, like Ario said is the Metroid Prime review, as a world, that of Mario 64 is hollow. But it’s 1996, and it’s the first free- roaming 3D game ever made. And given that Mario 64 was made for a 64 bit system, plus again, considering the time when it was released, nobody had a problem with it. After all, technological limitations only let you do so much with a game, and given it’s constrains, Super Mario 64 ultimately became as good as it possibly could.

    The levels look like they were specifically designed to accomodat Mario’s adventure, and no real place would look even remotely like them? Well, the poligon count of the terrain is small, most textures are blurry or very simple, and things like coins and flames are made out of sprites (or at least something very similar to my eyes), so the levels would look weird if they weren’t video- gamey. I seem to have came acroos the same problem as you, Spiffiness, so I am really hoping that I’m getting my point across here.

    Then came Mario Sunshine, your favorite. Sunshine was released for the Gamecube. That system was a heck of a lot more advanced than the Nintendo 64. It could render much better looking enviroments, conversely, it HAD to render much better looking enviroments. Nintendo probably thought that they should try designing levels for Sunshine that would look suitable for inhibition for certain types of beings. As it turns out, many people (including myself) didn’t like that.

    The levels in Super Mario 64 were designed for two things: exploration, and the players accomodation. That’s why, all the while you could explore the terrain nearly any way you wanted to, you still had a great time jumping around it, even if from a rational standpoint, the levels didn’t make any sence. But levels like those, with Gamecube level graphics, would throw any game straight into the uncanny valley. That’s why the levels of Super Mario Sunshine were designed for two things: exploration, and looking like a place where it would make sence to live. I don’t need to tell you how that worked out. Sure, Sunshine’s levels had way more context than those of Mario 64, but as a price, even though you could freely explore them, just like in Mario 64, the exploration in Sunshine just wasn’t all that fun. Ask a bunch of people who have playd Sunshine about the’re favorite levels in that game, and I guarantee you that an overwhelming majority will answer with the levels where you are FLUDDless, jumping over revolving, floating cubes in outer space. The best levels in Super Mario Sunshine ultimately turned out to be the ones with the least context. But there weren’t many of those, and they were all frustrating (but not as much as the final level of that game, which was just fail).

    (The same is true by the way for Ocarina of Time. You just HAD to give players a large, open overworld to run around in, and yes it’s empty and you barely have anything to do in it, but it perfectly fits the games look. If the game world of OoT had been reduced to only the pieces of it in which you could do something, many people (including (I’m sure about this) Ario) would have just bitched about the game world being too small. Nowadays, people bitch about that game’s shortcomings in the waker of later generation Zelda titles.
    People should really take a look at the specs of the Nintendo 64 sometimes…)

    (Also by the way, it is in my absolutely NOT humble opinion that merely by the merit of it’s dungeons, Ocarina of Time is the best Zelda game ever. Feel free to wish me off this site.)

    Now then, back to Super Mario Galaxy. As it turned out, the majority didn’t like the level design in Super Mario Sunshine because it accomodated itself to look credible as a world, and NOT the player out to have fun discovering it, however un-credible it could be, for all the player knew at the beggining. That’s why the two things the levels of Super Mario Galaxy were designed for are: accomodating the player and looking sensible enough to have some sort of cohesion in themselves. Nintendo ditched exploration and made each mission in the levels linear in order to make going through the levels more fun. Levels as lifeless and senceless as in Super Mario 64 would have really stood out with the way Super Mario Galaxy looks, so the designers had no choice but to guide the player along a set path. This also allowed them to mix the missions up sometimes, by making you go trough them without getting hit, or in a limited time frame, or against a rival. And these mix- ups are FUN. Also, since the missions were noe linear, different missions could take the playwer through different places in the levels. If Super Mario Galaxy had been a rope (don’t get me wrong, I too though of just how awsome that would have been), I feel that many of the set pieces imagined for the game would have gone unused. Also, it’s possible it would have been a short game.

    Again, I really hope that you can understand what I’m trying to tell you, what with the limited toolset of language and all:)

  21. Dozer I find you’re operating on a few dubious assumptions.

    1. That “better graphics” (in the vague technical and artistic sense that we use the word) demand “realistic” locations – that painting surrealistic or patently videogamey places with those graphics would be jarring.

    2. That realistic places aren’t fun to explore.

    3. That places built for exploration prevent the inclusion of linear “setpiece” goals.

    I don’t think any of those are true.

  22. “1. That “better graphics” (in the vague technical and artistic sense that we use the word) demand “realistic” locations – that painting surrealistic or patently videogamey places with those graphics would be jarring.”

    Surrealism nothwithstanding, the better your graphics are, the more detail you have to add to your game world, else, it looks terribly lifeless.
    Unless you want to make a lifeless world, but that’s a whole other story.

    “2. That realistic places aren’t fun to explore.”

    Well, Sunshine’s levels were boring as hell, so even if they are fun to explore, off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single game that managed this. Feel free to enlighten me though.

    “3. That places built for exploration prevent the inclusion of linear “setpiece” goals.”

    I originally wanted to argue with this, but now I’m curious.
    How do you imagine a world designed to be explored with linear goals?

  23. 1. “Detail” is different from realism.

    Moreover, it doesn’t seem to me that in every case even more detail is required. Take those difficult bonus Sunshine levels, which you already cited. You could Crysis mip-map those things to the moon and back and I don’t think they’d ever be any less charming.

    Moreover, even if you were right, it doesn’t absolve the game designer, as there is no metaphysical directive to use better graphics. If a game would be better with a certain kind of level design, and (for the sake of argument), certain kinds of level design work better with certain kinds of graphics, nothing’s (nothing artistic) keeping the designer from using those kinds of graphics – even if they aren’t “the best”.

    2. The primary counterexample is, um, real life, which is full of real places that are fun to explore.

    3. Take Shadow of the Colossus. It’s incredibly realistically detailed and a wonder to explore, but the “game” part of the game is about as linear as you can possibly get. Or consider GTA4. Exploration-worthy worlds can contain many crisscrossing linear goal-paths.

  24. 1. re: Sunshines space levels: That’s because they are so video gamey.
    But people who want “context” in their Mario games won’t like them either way.

    re: Art: There is no real reason for the ART designer to use up to date graphics for the game. From the perspective of the game designer and trhe consumer however, there is.

    The majority of people primarily want to be amazed by video games, and the simplest way to do that is eye candy. This is true for both 3D and 2D games. There is a reason we have more detailed character animation in 2D games than the original Pitfall.

    As for the game designer’s viewpoint, if, for instance, Gears of War hade been made for the XBOX 360 with original Playstation level graphics, than not only would it be a running joke in gaming, but it would possibly be unplayable.

    Indeed, you don’t need to use Unreal Engine 3 for games that defy traditional video game concepts (just look at Echochrome), but if you are going to center your game around play mechanics that commonly pup- up in the minds of everyday people (wether they play games or don’t) when they hear the words “video game”, you have no choice BUT to work hard on those particle effects.

    2. When I ride the bus around Budapest, I don’t exactly feel particularly thrilled when I come into a neighborhood I haven’t seen before. I just go “oh, this exists too”. The only places on Earth that are fun to explore are places reserved for extreme- sport enthusiasts and places of history long gone, where relics of older times lay almost untuched and you can gaze at the way things were long before you were born.

    In video games however, levels are nothing but places to have fun with the game mechanics, and contain no sorts of history whatsoever. So realistic settings designed purely for exploration are pretty much hecked. I can’t have fun exploring a world in which I can have a pretty good guess at what awaits me around the corner.

    3. Shadow of the Colossus has more of an impressionist world than a realistic one. A huge waste land with no other forms of life in the whole of it than Wanda, his horse and the colossi. Besides, exploring even a world like that can become uninteresting when there’s literally nothing to do than kill colossi and I can’t find the next damn one foe two whole hours.

    As for GTA IV, you explore Liberty City to discover more missions and mini games, not the city itself. In itself, the way a city in a GTA game is designed doesn’t really matter all that much.

  25. what do you mean by “impressionist world”?

    i think the potential for satisfying exploration is present all over the earth. you seem to be operating on the assumption that nothing is worthwhile to move through and witness that doesn’t possess some element of “antiquity” or anachronistic uselessness. i think that is a limiting viewpoint, tenuously tied to the notion that grandiosity or length of time gone by re: surroundings is inherent in exploration. i remember having a wonderful time going through the “domesticated, normal” woods adjacent to my house while living in maine. and i know i still could if i went back to that same location today. also, riding a bus is a passive form of travel. when i think of exploration, i think of guiding myself according to my wants — not being shuttled along.

    and there are plenty of video game “levels” with historical traces. their internal exclusivity should not matter. actually, that’s what makes them even more engaging.

  26. Well I couldn’t say surreal because it’s too realistic for that, but it’s far from having flora and fauna.

    That’s a nice example for just wandering around, bit I’m simply not amused by nature merely because it’s nature. You could put me in the middle of a rain forest and I’d be bored as hell. I guess we are different kinds of people.

    Sure, an homage to real history and all that stuff, but most of those places are linear, and designed as more of an obstacle course/playfield then a place to explore.

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