Prince of Persia: Sands of Time Remake – A Closer Look

In its most recent Ubisoft Forward event on September 10th, Ubisoft showcased an unexpected yet long-awaited return to the Prince of Persia franchise, premiering the reveal trailer for a Prince of Persia: Sands of Time Remake. The original Sands of Time came out in 2003 and has been widely considered a genre-defining experience put out by Ubisoft, which eventually led to the company gaining popularity and continuing with the spiritual successor to the series in the form of Assassins’ Creed.

The reception of the reveal trailer has been met with widespread criticism for the apparent lack of visual fidelity for a game coming out at the time of next-gen console cycles. Looking at the trailer, one can notice a discernible lack of shadows, global illumination, character models with low texture detail and stiff animations among other elements. On further examination though, it appears this trailer was created using alpha footage, as the gameplay showcased in the Ubisoft Forward live stream mentions so.

The team behind the development of this game is the Indian branch of Ubisoft Studios, namely Ubisoft Pune and Ubisoft Mumbai, and it turns out this is their first-ever foray into the AAA market for PCs and consoles. A few media outlets have reached out to the teams over in India to learn more about the development process and why the graphical details appear to be lacklustre.

“You can be sure that the game will be top notch [upon release in] January 2021,” Ubisoft Mumbai and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Remake game director Pierre-Sylvain Gires told Gadgets 360. “You can be sure that the polish will be there.”

“Yes, we are using Assassin’s Creed Origins’ Anvil engine, but that was just a base and we revealed a lot of things around this engine to actually suit Prince of Persia Sands of Time Remake. Not only the tech approach with the rewind features and all those things that needed to be reworked, but like the artistic direction is intended to be different than Assassin’s Creed Origins.

“We wanted the game to have a unique look that served the purpose of the game. The narration and storyline [in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time] is a fantasy. It’s something that is close to the [Middle Eastern folk tale collection] One Thousand and One Nights feeling. So, it is intentional to have a unique look that serves the purpose of the game, with a new lighting approach [and more] saturation of the colours to help the magic and the fantasy of the story to actually pop from the screen.”

It therefore appears to be a “stylistic choice” and interestingly, the image shared by Ubisoft for the article looks significantly improved than a similar section from the trailer, as seen below-

Alpha vs Current Build (Credit: u/epabafree)

It is possible that the trailer, for some reason, was composed of an earlier alpha build, or the team is immediately rectifying the design post the public outcry, but it is good to know that a current build does exist which already looks significantly better than what was shown. With 4 months to go for the release and pre-orders already open(pre-order bonuses included), there is not much time to rework the entire game unless it is delayed. At this point though, it is worth noting that the issues if any, are easily rectifiable considering the engine being used and the gameplay itself looks very good. Stylistic choice or not, the studios over in India have been working on this game for the past 2 years, and have undoubtedly poured their passion into the project. Whether or not the public receives the product positively, depending on how the final release version looks, is yet to be seen. After all, graphics do not make a game and it is possible the rest of the game is able to redeem those shortcomings.

Credit: Ubisoft

A reassuring factor is the involvement of the original creator of Prince of Persia, Jordan Mechner, who was also involved in the 2003 Sands of Time development, but infamously disliked the successor (Warrior Within) for straying too far into the gory, doom and gloom nature it possessed. Over on his official blog, Mechner detailed that he wasn’t actively involved in the making of the game, but the team kept him in the loop and made sure they had his inputs before undertaking the whole process. They wanted to expand upon the original game’s vision by adding anything that might have been compromised due to the technical constraints back in the 2000s.

Last week, I played a recent build. It gave me tingles. I was relieved to discover that my gameplay reflexes and level-map memories of fifteen years ago are still valid, letting me fluidly navigate a newly-rendered game world that’s lush, sensual, and immersive in ways the Montreal team and I could only dream of in 2003.

One of my top wish-list items was to remake the cinematics. The script and voice acting were always solid, but the POP team and I had been disappointed by the FMV production values even in 2003. The introductory sequences especially should evoke an epic, populated, sensual, authentically Persian (and Indian) world, so that we feel the distance traveled between the kingdoms, and the devastation wrought by the sands. The India team embraced this mission.

I gave them notes on what I’d like to see, but I didn’t ask to change a word of dialog. My present-day contribution was to put the team in touch with Yuri Lowenthal, a first-class actor and friend since we met in an L.A. recording studio 18 years ago. Somehow, his voice still sounds like he’s 22. Yuri was thrilled to recreate his signature role on a state-of-the-art performance capture sound stage, and to finally hold in his hands an actual (well, wooden and duct-taped) Dagger of Time.

The remake team aimed to update the experience to meet modern gamers’ expectations, but without bending it so far as to contradict our memories. To my taste, they’ve hit the target. Although rebuilt from the ground up with new assets and engine, the story, gameplay, level design, and dialog are faithful to the original.

Mechner genuinely seems to have enjoyed the remake’s current build and has faith in the remake and the team, and that gives us hope, knowing the original creator is pleased with it. It is highly likely that Ubisoft will be using the sales of this game to test the demand for a Prince of Persia title, after it was shelved due to poor reception to the 2008 and 2010 games, and will be remaking the entire trilogy in the coming years.

Credit: Ubisoft

The people over at the Mako Reactor asked the development team if budget or timeline constraints were a factor, and the Deputy Managing Director, Syed Abbas, had the following to say –

“No it was not a problem of timeline or budget. For us at Ubisoft quality is of the utmost importance and this is something that we have kept in mind from the start. The project has been in development for the last two and a half years. We have had at peak 170 members working on this project and not to mention other investments in infrastructure and set up to make a modern game. No there have not been any cutback in budget or timeline for the game.”

As a brief look on the development studios behind this game, the team over at Ubisoft Pune took care of the more technical aspects, working on the game engine, rendering, camera, controls, combat, missions, and AI and data management. Ubisoft Mumbai handled the creative side of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Remake, which involved the art (design, concept, level, technical and 3D art), animation, mo-cap, game and level design, FX, and UI.

Ubisoft Mumbai (Credit: indiatimes)

Ubisoft Pune was established back in 2008 primarily for quality control, whereas Ubisoft Mumbai was formed in 2018, focused on AAA title production. Regardless, this is their debut AAA title, and in fact, the first remake Ubisoft has ever made in general.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time will be out on the PS4, Xbox One and PC on 21 January 2021, with a Nintendo Switch version scheduled for March 2021. It is available for pre-order and offers pre-order bonuses as shown below.

The main game also comes with a copy of the original 1989 Prince of Persia. Stay tuned for further updates on its development and our eventual review of the game.

Gadgets 360The Mako ReactorJordan Mechner

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