November 04, 2004

Prince Of Persia

by psu

Last week I found I was in my local GameStop and happened to browse past Prince Of Persia: The Sands of Time. Since Pete was pretty hard on this game and I tend to believe Pete, I had avoided it until now. But I figured (1) it was cheap and (2) I could return it in a week if I hated it, since it was used.

Prince of Persia is not the type of game I usually get into. This is because it requires two things that I do not possess in abundance:

1. Hand/eye coordination.
2. Timing.

In addition, the game has a third person real time combat thing going on that is also the sort of thing at which I do not excel.

But, the game sucks you in because the main character, the Prince, is one nimble acrobatic badass, and except for some camera issues, the controls make even the most unlikely moves really easy to pull off. It's also damned pretty.

However, none of this is my main point. If you've played the game, you know that fairly early on in the proceedings, there is a long and difficult sequence involving a fight with many zombies and the zombified remains of the Prince's father. Let me summarize. Between savepoint A and savepoint B (ah yes, stupid savepoints), the Prince must

1. Run up a wall and hit a switch to make a pillar appear.
2. Run up the pillar and swing on to a pole.
3. Jump over to that platform over there
4. Wall run over to that other platform.
5. Jump down and crawl around to that ledge.
6. Run into the scary spacey area and drink the magic water.
7. Swing through 3 poles to get over to that other ledge.
8. Evade the knives of doom.
9. Wall run under the saws, hit switch on the floor then wall run back under the saws to get through a door before it shuts.
10. Pull out a lever which opens a door one level above me.
11. Evade the knives of doom.
12. Run up the wall to hit a switch which brings up a pillar so I can jump up to it and climb this shaft.
13. At the top of the shaft, wall run through the hall over another set of saws and slide under the door which is closing.

After all this, the Prince is then treated to a long fight with several zombies. This fight is much harder than the zombie fights that have come before it, and you will die several times before you figure out how to finish it. When the fight is done, you get savepoint B. Then, to get to savepoint C, you run outside, jump into a courtyard, and kill 10 easy zombies. That's it. The game timer shows me that it took me 45min to get from savepoint A to savepoint B. It then took me 5 minutes to get from savepoint B to savepoint C.

Here is my main point: whoever designed this sequence of the game should be taken out in the back yard and tortured until he cries like a little girl.

The interval between the savepoints A and B is ludicrously long, especially since the time to savepoint C is so short. This long interval is combined with a level of difficulty that is much higher than anywhere else in the game. I can't imagine any rationale for this design, especially when the rest of the game is so excellent. Is Ubisoft saying "if you aren't hard core enough to get through this, then you may as well just throw the game away"? Why would they do that?

Game difficulty is admittedly tricky to tune. It seems to me that the ideal game is one that lets you win while making you think you had to work for it. This is something that a game like Madden Football does really well. You can tune the game so you win the Super Bowl every year and your team kicks CPU butt, but it always feels like a challenge while you are doing it.

Prince of Persia also does this very well, except for this one sequence. It leaves me wondering why the game designers, after doing so well everywhere else, would give us this one wart which is so ugly that it make people who want to love the game hate it enough to quit. Which brings up my main question. What are Boss Battles for? Boss battles in every game from Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga to Half Life have this sort of "ha ha, you better be hard core to get past THIS" character. You are coasting along, loving the game, and then you hit this wall.

Why are these walls here? What's the point?

Posted by psu at November 4, 2004 09:38 PM | Bookmark This

That's exactly where I gave up on the game.

It's a shame, too, because I really loved the parts before that and I bet I'd love the rest of the game too.

I think about trying it again every now and then, but then the feeling passes and I go play a game designed by people who don't hate me instead.

I've seen enough people passionately argue against save points in places like this that there just has to be something I'm missing -- they can't all be masochistic fools, can they?

But like you, I have absolutely no idea what it is.

Posted by Nat Lanza at November 4, 2004 10:20 PM

> I've seen enough people passionately argue against
> save points in places like this that there just has
> to be something I'm missing -- they can't all be
> masochistic fools, can they?

Not only that, they voted for Bush-Cheney.

Posted by peterb at November 4, 2004 10:22 PM

I think a lot of people gave up there, which is a shame, because it's clearly an outlier. If there are warts in the pacing for the rest, they were nowhere near as memorable (and loathsome) as this one. (Except, arguably, the endgame, although I submit that while it may be evil, it is at least appropriate.)

Posted by Eric Tilton at November 5, 2004 03:55 PM

I think the gap is mainly due to preserving the narrative flow of the game. IIRC you'd just picked up Farrah at that point and they had that whole scene with her watching you jump into the save point and such. It's not something I'd normally countenance except that PoP was one of the few games that had a narrative worth following and they went to some lengths to integrate the save points with the game world.

Yes this is a response to a ten-month-old blog entry and if you have a problem with that then you can go suck an egg, so there.

Posted by Dan at August 29, 2005 06:44 PM

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