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Prince of Persia 3D

Growing up (and even today!) one of my very favorite books to read was The Arabian Nights. The basic story of Scheherazade keeping herself alive by telling stories for 1001 nights kept me absolutely spellbound. No piece of literature from anywhere else in the world can match the suspense, treachery, palace intrigue, and seductive qualities of these tales. While today what most people are exposed to from this great work are distorted watered-down versions like Disney's movie Aladdin, there is still an aura of mystery and fascination surrounding this timeless epic.

Prince of Persia: The Original Adventure, was originally released in the late 1980s. Designed and programmed by Jordan Mechner, it was a truly groundbreaking game in terms of integrating detailed character development, absorbing storyline, riveting adventure, and smooth animated action sequences (Jordan filmed his brother running and jumping to help with the realism of the movement in the game). In the game your romance with the Sultan's daughter is interrupted by the evil Grand Vizier Jaffar, who throws you in jail while telling the Princess that she must marry him or die.

Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame, emerged in the early 1990s and continued the high standards set by its predecessor. In this sequel the villain Jaffar took your identity and the Princess and cast you out on the street as a beggar. While the number of levels increased from 12 to 15, both games in the series were characterized by running, jumping, climbing, and sword fighting, with mazes, traps, and puzzles galore along the way. These early action-adventure games helped to define the genre long before the emergence of recent successes such as the Tomb Raider series.

Prince of Persia 3D's story fits nicely with the tradition begun by its predecessors. When King Assan, the Sultan's jealous younger brother, finds out that the Princess has gone off and married the Prince, he is outraged because she was supposed to marry his deformed son Rugnor. After the Prince and Princess fall into a trap Assan has set for them, the Prince receives a beating followed by dungeon confinement and almost certain death. Meanwhile, Rugnor carries the Princess far away to his stronghold high in the mountains. The Prince must then find a way to escape from prison and succeed in a perilous quest to rescue the Princess from her captors.

The pace of computer technology basically was the primary reason Prince of Persia fans had to wait so long for the emergence of Prince of Persia 3D. There had been discussions for some time among those who participated in designing the original Prince of Persia games about taking the story into a 3D world, but, as the game's producer Andrew Pedersen notes, "For a long time the technology was pretty limiting and we didn't feel that we could make the kind of product that would be a worthy sequel." With the recent increases in the speed of personal computers and the crucial spread of 3D hardware video acceleration, he decided a team could finally "do a real kick ass game with big levels and real-looking characters while maintaining a high frame rate." Many other series have simply not had the patience to wait for hardware and software sufficient for their vision of the next installment.

Prince of Persia 3D attempts to maintain the elements that made the early Prince of Persia games so great and take the gameplay into a 3D world. To ensure continuity, Jordan Mechner co-authored the story and is serving as a consultant throughout. Andrew Pedersen explains that after spending "a great deal of time looking at the previous versions trying to get to the core elements that made them such great games, we came away with four core values: fluid animation, devious traps, personality of the Prince, and combination of action and adventure." Prince of Persia 3D thus consciously attempts to advance the successful tradition of the game while maintaining its essential flavor of the original.

This new incarnation utilizes the latest technology to create a fully three-dimensional experience in which you feel very much as if you were really in the palaces engaging in the action yourself. You see everything from a third-person point of view, which is infinitely better for a game like this than a first-person perspective because it gives you a much wider view of your truly sumptuous surroundings. Admirably resisting the lemming-like tendency to include multiplayer support in every game, Andrew Pedersen reports that at this point the plan is for the initial release of Prince of Persia 3D not to include a multiplayer mode so as not "to compromise the single player experience" in the highly story-driven game.

In the development of this game, there was a conscious attempt to avoid the pitfalls of many recent action/adventure games. Pedersen mentions that he has two gripes that annoy him about many of these games: the characters' interaction with the environment, in which "3rd person POV games have pretty bad clipping and collision problems which can be jarring and take you out of the experience"; and the camera logic, where "If the camera is fixed the movement of the character appears rigid" and "If you have real complex camera logic (meaning lots of camera position choices) then the camera is jumping all over the place and the game becomes virtually unplayable." As a means of correcting the clipping and collision deficiencies, Pedersen states that, "We are trying to make the Prince move and interact with the world in a believable way and we have gone to great pains to avoid having limbs stick through walls or characters pass through each other." In remedying the camera problems, he slyly remarks that, "We have some tricks up our sleeves regarding the camera, but I don't want to tip my hand just yet; but suffice it to say it's going to be cool."

This new version of this classic game is a true action/adventure hybrid, with Pedersen estimating that adventure constitutes 70% to 75% of the gameplay and action 25% to 30%. Unlike the earlier games in the series, Prince of Persia 3D has hand-to-hand combat that includes not only frenzied swordplay but also archery, with the bow-and-arrow being a more strategic than tactical weapon. Many recent games have faltered a bit when trying to combine compelling adventure with rousing hand-to-hand combat (for example, Redjack: Revenge of the Brethren), but Prince of Persia 3D shows every sign of knowing how to do this integration perfectly.

The designers paid great creative attention to the weapons at the Prince's disposal for addressing dilemmas faced in the game. For example, you can use the bow and arrow to trigger an otherwise unreachable switch, pick off a guard before you are noticed, or even shoot an object to create a diversion; and some arrows have magical properties, such as the Arrow of Discord, which causes a stricken enemy to start fighting with the next closest enemy. Magical potions, which give the Prince power-ups as well as improved health, can cause him to change forms, like that of a bird. The traditional sword comes in three forms -- scimitar (broadsword), staff (longer range but slower) and double blades (short range, but great for counter striking) -- with all of the other close-range combat weapons derived from these three types. It is immediately apparent that you will need to think carefully about what you use for what purpose rather than just hack away at any obstacle in your path.

In the effort to make Prince of Persia 3D a truly breakthrough experience, the developers did not restrict themselves to incorporating the latest software technologies. They actually hired a weapons consultant to help them know how to animate the use of period weaponry present in the game. This choice seemed especially important because the game places a premium on real sword fighting techniques involving timing and precision, with different fighting styles dependent on the choice of weapon. The consultant helped them to choreograph the combat scenes properly using live participants so that the moves could then be translated to the computer screen. I think the team here deserves special applause for this unusual move; how many games have you seen that use authentic ancient weapons but have characters on the screen wield them in fights in a totally ridiculous way?

 

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