With the press of a button

January 4, 2009

popI had originally planed to write a piece about Ubisoft’s franchise-rebirth entry in the Prince of Persia series early last month, but a number of circumstances were laid against me at the time. Michael Abbott has taken it upon himself to blog dutifully about the series and has set up a cross-blog symposium on the title. So I decidedly placed my hat into the ring and will provide a short entry on my impressions on a specific element in the new Prince of Persia regardless. But perhaps element is not the correct term. Rather, it is the description of an approach towards streamlining interactivity, narrative, and response that is rarely seen in modern videogames.

Elephant in the room: Prince of Persia is a stupidly easy game. And it is not because of the no-death mechanic, which I do fault as an excuse to allow poor platforming. No, Prince of Persia is easy because of the simplicity of its interface. Regular readers know I abhor and am obsessed with the Quicktime Event. The relationship between input and interface in the new Prince of Persia resides somewhere in between what a player would expect from the majority of platform games and the mechanics of the Quicktime Event. Jumping, grabbing, and fighting rely more on timing than actual button input; but the mechanics are so simple it approaches the realm of auto-platforming—the god damned game near plays itself.

Repeatedly press 'X' to flex the Prince's pecs.

Repeatedly press 'X' to flex the Prince's pecs.

But while more regulatory or even casual players may view this as a fault, the laymen gamer could give a rat’s ass. When Shigero Miyamoto introduce WiiMusic to the enthusiast press he emphasized that it was less a game and more of an inspirational toy. When you play WiiMusic it is not meant to simulate the actual instrument but rather to inspire gamers to actually take an interest in music or even pick up a real instrument. Prince of Persia is streamlined and simplified to such an extent, it can be considered an inspirational game. Its purpose is to get non-gamers to take an interest in more technical and complex videogames that we, as veteran gamers, are more familiar with.

Prince of Persia is a gorgeous looking game and watching someone play it is an invigorating experience. This isn’t what makes it unique because any game that takes advantage of the graphical aptitude of this generation is visual assaulting to the casual viewer. However, once someone attempts to pick up said game, the interface quickly becomes too daunting to actually control for the unfamiliar player. The simplified approach of Prince of Persia allows the kind of freedom and comfort for casual players to not worry about consequence or complexity. It is an inspirational game for ‘noobs’ to pick up and play. Hopefully, the ease of use and graphical razzle-dazzle will help these new players to gain a further interest in videogames. It’s basically the same design philosophy of the Wii, just a little more advanced.

Looking at the entire game, this philosophy is apparent throughout. There is no difficulty progression; levels open up at a monotonous pace; and, of course, there is relatively zero negative consequence towards taking damage or dying. Prince of Persia is the most basic design of a game with oodles of eye candy for the gamer to see while playing and still allow the onlookers to enjoy the spectacle. It is an exceptionally linear game that streamlines its narrative, mechanics, and interface—definitely not everyone’s cup of tea.*

*Not my cup of tea either.



  1. I wonder if it’s really just about the audience that has been targeted. That sounds too simple, or maybe I’m just overthinking it. For a corporate boardroom, “Sell it to the Wii crowd” might be a winner. If that’s the case, though, then it seems like the ease of play would have been part of the marketing campaign in some way. Perhaps there was a different artistic aim altogether.

  2. I do have a slight bias against the game, no doubt. I did not mean my post to infer that Ubisoft designed the game as a marketing ploy. But I think simplification of the design in itself is an artistic mean and perhaps Prince of Persia is more meta than I lead on by binding its mechanics in-line with its character archetypes, simple story, and ease of use into a very fun little package.

  3. My complaints more land on the story end of things, because I find the game plenty challanging. True there is no death in the game, but I find that boon to the game. The game is as challanging as you wish to make it. I decided to go for the special trophies and in doing so it makes the game that much more difficult. Many of the light seeds are in confusing and mindbendingly difficult to get and the kill the enemy before it spaws 10 times is easier that it sounds. The simplified controls are actually where some of the difficulty lies. I find my skills as an avid gamer get me pressing button when I shouldn’t adding to the difficulty and if I get too complacent I make a mistake and end up flying into oblivion.

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