At the time of its release, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was a revelation in gameplay. The game is considered by many to be the archetype to 3D platformers which integrate movement, gameplay, architecture and level design. Prince of Persia was among the first to offer players such a high level freedom of movement in and around the around the world, seamlessly designing levels around their architecture. In this post, I wish to examine the ways in which the game achieved this and how Prince of Persia built the basis for future games. I wish to look at how architecture can be integrated into gameplay and the ways in which we can use this to further our narrative.

Playing the demo, I found the controls, camera and the untaught mechanics excruciating. The controls were very difficult to learn and the camera triggered my motion sickness. However, for what it was at the time I imagine Prince of Persia’s gameplay was a revolution in movement fluidity and seamless integration of gameplay and level design.  If we approach our analysis of Prince of Persia from the point of integrating architecture into level design, it could be considered seamless for the time that the game was made in. Once one figures out how to move about the level it is becomes intuitive and fun. The Sands of Time uses the game’s architecture to build upon its level design, allowing players to run on walls, vault over obstacles and enemies, grab, move about ledges and so much more. The game allowed players to experience a 3D game in new ways they had always wanted to because the developers had begun looking for ways to remove players limitation of the engine and its movement. There is still the question of which came first? Was the level built and movement through it tested or the other way around? My instincts tell me is that movement and gameplay came first and then the level design. I say this because in my experience levels were, at times, difficult to navigate – it is easy to get lost or disoriented. Also, by showing the player their goal as soon as they enter the level is not indicative of good level design, with one hoping that the end of the level or goal of the level is intuitive, with the flow of the level naturally guiding the player’s movements in the desired direction. Even in his post mortem, Yannis Mallat agreed that there was a ‘lack of strong technical level design’ (2015). With that said, The Sands of Time was the first game to even try and integrate this level of fluid movement around 3D space, it is understandable that they would make mistakes.
If we compare The Sands of Time to its spiritual-successor Assassin’s Creed, one could argue that Assassin’s Creed expanded upon The Sands of Time’s movement and use of architecture and level design. As explored by Evans-Thirlwell’s article, Assassin’s Creed came short on the integration of seamless narrative incorporated into the level (2016). The Sands of Time’s narrative is connected with gameplay through exposition and story telling, while Assasin’s Creed’s story feels disconnected from the gameplay or at the very least not as well integrated. The Assassin’s Creed franchise opted for open world story telling rather than linear gameplay, which is just as valid a design choice, but makes the narrative feel disconnected. Assassin’s Creed feels like a story added to interesting gameplay, while Prince of Persia feels like a game which started as a story. Perhaps one of the things Assassin’s Creed did more effectively was integrating the design of the level into pre-existing architecture, with Assassin’s Creed 2 drawing its environments heavily from the architecture and layout or Renaissance Italy. The worlds and environments feel as though the level design was already existent in the architecture they have derived from.

 

Regardless of where one might stand on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, it is easy to see how the movement, level design and controls have been used to inform other gameplay. While, perhaps, the Assassin’s Creed series was the first to adopt such level design and player movement integration, the foundation set by Prince of Persia can be seen across a broad range of games and genres. It could be argued that Prince of Persia set the standard for the integration of architecture into level design and for considering player movement throughout the level. The Sand’s of Time forced developers to think more deeply about using the world around us to build levels and to consider better ways of integrating player movement within three dimensional space.

 


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