It's always like an assassin to stab you in the back. When Assassin's Creed rose to prominence at Ubisoft, it did so by pushing down its predecessor, the Prince of Persia series. The publisher saw the chance to aim for something bigger with a property it wholly owned, and the Prince paid the price. Since then, fans who have wanted the linear, trap-based experience of Prince of Persia have gone hungry.
Today during the Ubisoft Forward presentation, Ubisoft finally revealed the long rumored remake of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. (Technically, it was leaked by Ubisoft itself a few hours prior, but who's counting?) This is Ubisoft's first remake; surprisingly, the studio usually trends toward re-releases and remasters. It's not a sequel sadly, but being able to replay the original 17 years later with a new coat of paint is a good consolation prize.
The remake is being handled by Ubisoft Pune and Ubisoft Mumbai, two India-based studios that have previously co-developed other Ubisoft titles like Just Dance. It's the studios' chance to step out of the shadow of the larger studios and tackle full development on a title. And given that the beginning of Sands of Time takes place in India, it's also a chance for Ubisoft Pune and Mumbai to reflect their own culture within a game.
To bring Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time to life, Ubisoft rebuilt the game from the ground up in Assassin's Creed's Anvil engine. It re-recorded the dialogue with voice actor Yuri Lowenthal returning to reprise his role as the Prince, and used motion capture to add more realism to the hero's movements. The role of Farah, Princess of India and the Prince's companion on this adventure, has been recast with actress Supinder Wraich.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, the Epic Games Store, and UPlay on January 21, 2021 for $39.99. The title will also be playable on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X via backward compatibility, so don't expect any next-gen upgrades. The original Prince of Persia game will also be unlockable—so if you're enthusiastic about pure, low-resolution frustration and rotoscoping of Jordan Mechner's classic, have at it.
Ahead of the reveal, we spoke to Ubisoft Mumbai game director Pierre-Sylvain Gires and Ubisoft Pune senior producer Annu Koul about bringing a classic title back to life.
USG: How does it feel to tackle Ubisoft's first remake?
Pierre-Sylvain Gires: It's an honor to be able to work on the first remake. Even more when we are talking about the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, because this game has a special place near our hearts. I think we all grew up with that game and personally, when I played that game I'm like, 'Okay, how does this magic work?' It gave me the desire to work in the gaming industry. You cannot imagine how proud we are to be able to put our hands on this iconic and must-play game.
Annu Koul: Also in Ubisoft in India, employees who are working on this game, they have the good experience of ten years working in the gaming industry, which means they also grew up playing this game. It's very close to their heart. They have grew up playing this game, they wanted to work on this game. When we heard that 'Okay, Prince of Persia, it's going to be there on the console' and we are the one who are going to work on this, it was the biggest honor. You can see the way people are excited when they hear, 'This game is coming out'. Our excitement was double or triple that when we heard we are the ones who are going to work on this game.
What was the process of the team deciding to remake PoP?
PSG: Well, we wanted it. We heard the players asking for the Prince to be back and I think [Sands of Time] was actually the best candidate to be the first remake. We gained the trust of Ubisoft HQ and the editorial team. I think our motivation, our passion, and the fact that we've been building competency on studio co-dev, we proved that we were strong enough to develop a triple-A production.
I just started my adventure here six years ago, and to see their passion... especially since the beginning of the game is taking place in India itself, for [the studio] it was an opportunity of a lifetime to be able to bring a bit of their culture into the game. The materials, the color, the architecture; it was thrilling to see the energy from the early concept to the polish phase that we are doing right now. It's just astonishing.
Was there any thought to expanding on the previous game with new levels or challenges?
PSG: It was on our mind when we actually looked at the game. When we got in touch during the pre-production with Jordan Mechner, we wanted to bring more things to the game. After discussing it together, we [decided to] not change the story. If it was just adding a level for the sake of adding a level, we didn't want to take any risk in breaking the beautiful narration and the build-up of the relationship between then [Princess of India, Farah] and the Prince.
What difficulties did the team have with the remake process? Were there any lost assets?
AK: Well, there was a long journey. We had to create a remake, we had to make it from scratch, and we have to keep the story the same. I will give you a simple example: in every game which we are releasing, I was getting a comment, 'When is Prince of Persia coming back?' We have to give a game where it's true to the players who have already played it, and at the same time we have to make a game which will also be very truthful for the new users. This was something which we always keep in our mind and always juggle between the balance.
When creating the remake, we have to think about the mo-cap, the cinematic feeling, because nowadays the games which we make are a bit different. You have to be very realistic in terms of materials, in terms of every single detail. Even for the music, we wanted to have the original music of the game. We went to Montreal—we actually tried to find the tapes where the music was stored 17 years back. We found them in boxes. It was a very long process and a very good journey.
PSG: Yeah, I think one of the challenging parts is the fact that we are using Assassin's Creed Origin's engine, which is AnvilNext. It was very important to not base things on Assassin's Creed only, because the Prince is the origin of Bayek, but Bayek is very different. The ways he fights are not accurate for the Prince. So it's about taking one engine and actually trusting yourself and trusting the team to actually break that engine to make it really accurate for Prince of Persia. The responsiveness of the gameplay is very different. So, I think the most challenging part was to actually provide the Prince of Persia feeling, not another Assassin's Creed.
AK: AC is more open-world and our game is more story-based. The Prince is very agile, he is very dynamic and you have to keep that. To keep that purity for the Prince was something which always challenged us.
PSG: The lighting, we created a full lighting system that actually fit the One Thousand and One Nights feeling. That was amazing work for the programming team here in India. And the feature for the rewind was something which was not easy, because the engine was not made for this. It is one of the main mechanics of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time—rewinding time, stopping time, freezing the time, and slowing down time.
So did you actually motion capture all the Prince's parkour for the remake?
PSG: The motion capture session in Montreal was incredible. Really incredible. We did do the motion capture for the cinematics with Yuri Lowenthal and a lot of very talented actors, but definitely the stand-out parts were about having to capture a wall run and vault over. The very acrobatic moves were a bit scary at first, but it's amazing what we can do with a talented crew.
Of course, everything had to be reworked by our animators who actually make it as smooth as possible and actually work on different variations. Motion capture is an amazing technology, but we'll always need the golden hands of our animators to make it relevant and credible for the player.
What goes in the classic filter you mentioned in the presentation?
PSG: The filters are there to actually provide a different experience and different feeling for the player. I think it will be difficult to describe with words. I think the visual will talk for itself. We'll be pleased to give you a preview of those filters in further communication very soon.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.