Ben Mattes is the producer for the recently released Prince of Persia (PoP) game. In a post-mortem interview, he explains a few things about it and its place in the video game universe; development limitations, risk and innovation, difficulty -- it's all good stuff.
So, the first is the development model for video games isn't perfect. Basically, they couldn't put everything they wanted into the game, but what developer does?
"Of course, in retrospect, there are things I would change," he says. "Anyone who says otherwise about their game is lying to himself or herself. No one ever gets to put everything into a game they want and this is, of course, true of PoP. There are features we wanted to develop, parts of the story we wanted to tell that didn't make it into the final product for a variety of reasons."
I'd assume the main reason is economics -- get rid of those and you're set!
One of the main complaints about the game is it's been too easy. Not something you hear too often, though it seems to be more of a trend this past year or so. Matte says this is one of the things they would've changed, that is, "to have devoted more time to creating alternate systems/difficulty modes for the hardcore set." It seems like a silly thing to pass by really, but it's not so black and white as one might think:
"I honestly cannot count how much time we spent talking about this subject. Making an accessible game that would still please the hardcore gamer was one of our main goals on this game. Sometimes I think we succeeded, sometimes I'm less sure...
Our gamble was that the experience of the game would be undeniable to the hardcore. We knew they would find it 'easy' but counted on them getting caught up in the scenery, the story, the poetry of movement -- the 'magic' of it all -- and draw their sense of accomplishment and joy from that rather then the more typical fail-die-frustration-fail-die-frustration-succeed-joy loop."
Later he relates they "could not come up with a way to modify all aspects of the game (combat, acrobatics, trap difficulty) in a graceful and interesting way."
Matte goes on to talk about completion rates. He explains basically because of the aforementioned loop, he rarely completes a game; when he gets stuck in a part that is more frustrating than entertaining, he puts it down, saying he'll come back to it but rarely does. As such, they went with a different approach to this game. "For the hardcore players out there who didn't yet pick up PoP for fear it wouldn't challenge them sufficiently," Matte advises, "Please consider the pleasure you'll get from an engaging experience that can actually be finished."
Don't know about you guys, but I relate to this entirely. It's not so much about difficulty though as it is just figuring out what to do next. In nearly every game it seems there's a point where you're wandering about for a good half hour or so trying to do whatever it is you're supposed to do. Especially with all the other games you have to play and all the other things you could be doing, it's easy at this point to put the thing aside indefinitely.
Regarding design, he says their direction with PoP was such that they kept "a few core fundamentals" but re-imagined everything else, "discarding some very well entrenched ideas not only about the brand but also about videogames in general." He knows they weren't alone, as games like Mirror's Edge and Dead Space did the same. His concern, now, is gamers seem to not be responding well, despite what seems to be a large demand for this sort of thing:
"For years we've all been reading complaints about sequels and companies churning out carbon copies of proven formulas without focusing on innovation or taking risks. Fans, developers and critics alike seemed ravenous for new ideas -- new IPs; major innovations -- advances in this art-tertainment (I'm trying to coin a new term here ;)) form we all love.
What surprises me is how little these high level risks seem to be noticed and appreciated as attempts to shake up the industry and push things forward. Perhaps I'm an idealist, but I think perhaps I was expecting a few more virtual pats-on-the-back for our attempts to do something new. Whether this means we didn't totally succeed in our risk taking or whether our industry in fact has a stronger appetite for the familiar then it wants to admit remains to be seen. Honestly I hope it is the former."
Ubisoft have also taken the chance with the game and decided to withold any DRM from the PC version, to see how that goes. Looks like they've really put all the cards on the table this time, and bravo to 'em.
DLC is due for the game at some point -- a new area, new enemies, a new power, new fight moves and the like. Rest assured it's not contrived; you have Matte's word this is something that comes from what they've learned based on their own development and from fan feedback and reviews.