Interview: Bertrand Helias

At this year’s E3, AMN got the opportunity to meet and greet with Bertrand Helias, producer of Prince of Persia 2. Bertrand Helias has been working with the Prince of Persia 2 team since day one and now offers us his perception on just how bad-ass the Prince has become…

AMN: Could you introduce yourself and tell our readers a bit about yourself?

BH: My name is Bertrand Helias and as the producer of Prince of Persia 2 (working title), I’m pleased to give you some hints about the sequel to the most acclaimed title of 2003.

AMN: Were you on the team that did Prince of Persia: Sands of Time?

BH: Yes I was working on Prince of Persia: Sands of Time team. I was the producer of the Game Boy Advance team.

AMN: How long has Prince of Persia 2 been in development?

BH: Prince of Persia 2 has been in development for at least one year. In fact, we started the conception last summer, a few months before the completion of The Sands of Time.

AMN: What is the storyline behind Prince of Persia 2? Is it a direct continuation of the story from Sands of Time?

BH: Yes, there is a big link between the 2 stories. In The Sands of Time, the Prince opened the hourglass and by this action he released the terrifying Powers of Time. He used those Powers, he played with the time, and finally, when he was to die, he managed to come back in time at the origin of the story as if nothing had ever happened. Several years later, he has to face the consequences of these actions. He will have to overcome an insuperable challenge to save his fate.

AMN: Prince of Persia was one of the most beautiful games of the last year. What changes, either technically and/or in artistic direction did you make to the engine?

BH: We are continually improving the engine to push the limit of what can be done and exploit as much as possible the capabilities of the platform we are working on. I do believe that Sands of Time players will be surprised and enthusiastic about the level of details and the number of environmental animations we are adding in PoP2.

Artistically, we have completely re-oriented the tone of the game. To be consistent with the story, we chose to go with darker, mysterious, more fantastic universes. We wanted the player to feel emotions like fear and oppression while playing the game. And by working on the architecture, the colors, the lightning, we have created incredible atmospheres.

PoP2 will certainly provide one of the best graphics currently available.

AMN: Some of the combat shown during the E3 demo was quite impressive. In your own words, how would you say you’ve improved the combat system in Prince of Persia 2?

BH: I wouldn’t talk about ‘improvements’ as we actually redesigned the combat system. Combat is the main focus of this sequel; we wanted a lot of diversity and a real freedom while fighting. Eventually, each player will be able to define his own style – this might make the game a bit tougher than Sands of Time. The fighting sequence will be really unique but very exciting!

Let me explain the overall philosophy of the new fighting system. To design the new combat system, we closely looked at swashbuckling and Hong Kong movies. In these genres, combat is visually impressive, diverse and intense. This is precisely what we wanted to provide the player in PoP2: power and freedom.

In PoP2, the player will be able to use a lot of environmental elements in combat: most background elements will provide you with a variety of new possibilities for stunning and deadly moves. Swing around a pillar and kill your enemy; use ropes, beams, curtains, walls etc. to rebound and give more strength and velocity to every move!

Additionally, the Prince is now able to perform a vast array of combos (which you can use all the time) and special attacks (which are contextual and specific to an enemy or specific to the environment – wall, pillar). Thanks to an opportunity windows system, you will be able to combine all these moves together at any time in combat.

We believe, the result will be as many fighting styles as there are players.

AMN: How much combat will Prince of Persia 2 actually feature? Will there be about the same amount of combat, more or less than in Sands of Time?

BH: It’s a question of balance. The player will be confronted by many different situations that will enhance the game experience. One big change, however, is that combat will be everywhere, even sometimes in places you won’t expect…

AMN: Have the combat controls been altered to change the combat, or will they be relatively similar to the Sands of Time?

BH: Yes, combat controls have been adapted to be truly embedded in the navigation but don’t worry, it won’t be major changes. We want to keep the control as intuitive as possible. In fact now, there are no more differences between combat controls and navigation ones. This allows us to fight enemies at any moment and any place during the game.

AMN: In the Sands of Time, there were only a couple ‘boss’ battles throughout the entire game. In this game, will boss battles play a bigger role in the combat?

BH: In Prince of Persia 2, we wanted to make combat deeper; therefore we designed a large variety of enemies with different skills and behavior for each. Doing so, we actually force the player to develop a new strategy for each enemy. We will also have real bosses and not only a couple. They will be huge and each confrontation with will be a memorable moment…

AMN: We’ve heard about some new powers that the Prince would have, including all of his old ones. The ability to slow down time, and travel through time were two of them; are they’re any more that you can reveal at this time?

BH: Yes there will be more powers than the ones you have mentioned, but it’s actually too soon to reveal the details of them. I can only mention that the powers of time have been designed to be impressive and powerful and as a player, you will want to use them as much as possible otherwise you will have a tough time….

AMN: With time travel, will the Prince be able to do it at any time, or only in certain areas?

BH: Time travel is a major feature for us. Each period has completely different atmospheres and, of course, different gameplay situations: the present will be ruins and desolation when the past will be lush and oppressive. And if you modify something in the past, there will be an impact in the present. This allows very interesting and unique gameplay possibilities. To travel in time, it would be possible only through portals at specific locations.

AMN: Does the Prince any new moves outside of combat?

BH: The Prince will have a set of new moves. The Prince will be more acrobatic and even if most of the new moves are indeed related to the combat system, players will see changes in the attitude of the Prince.

AMN: How will the Prince’s acrobatics play into this game? In other words, can we expect to see as much platforming in this game as we did the Sands of Time? Or will this game be more combat-oriented?

BH: Prince of Persia 2 is an action game. It will be definitively more combat-oriented. The combat will be everywhere, at any time. The Prince will have to use his acrobatics not only to access unreachable places, but mostly in combat to efficiently defeat enemies. However, Prince of Persia is also appreciated because it offers a mix of different gameplay, so the philosophy “you know where you have to go, but you don’t know how to go” will stay.

AMN: How many hours of gameplay can be expected? Is it as long as Sands of Time, longer or shorter?

BH: The replay value is something very important for us, we have to offer our customers enough to make this game a good value. The system we are working on will incite the player to play more and more to see all the options or rewards the game will offer.

AMN: The game will be featured on all three consoles, but will there be any console-exclusive features for the game, such as GBA connectivity or Xbox Live features?

BH: To tell the truth, we are currently focusing on the core game now. We are evaluating console-exclusive features. On Xbox for example, we will have Xbox live features. Such features will be disclose very soon.

AMN: Will the game be developed from the ground-up on all systems, or will it be developed for one dominant system, and then ported to the others?

BH: The game is mainly developed for the PS2 platform and then ported to other platforms with the addition on many platform specific features.

AMN: Will the game support Progressive Scan and Dolby Pro Logic II?

BH: Progressive Scan and Dolby 5.1 will be supported at least on some consoles.

AMN: Last time around you guys enlisted the services of the Canadian band “The Tea Party”; in conjunction with the middle eastern theme, they created some of the best, and most unique, game music of the last year. Do you plan on working with ‘The Tea Party’, or any other groups this time around?

BH: Yes, we are pleased to work one more time with Stuart Chatwood, a member of ‘The Tea Party’ band. He did a great job on the Sands of Time. On PoP2, it will be more intense.

AMN: Last year, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time got rave reviews from critics, but it seemed to sell rather poorly in the United States. For a while, we weren’t even sure we’d get a sequel. Is Ubisoft taking any steps to help ensure this game does not suffer the same fate?

BH: This game did accordingly, or over expectations, depending on who you are talking to… But I think your question is maybe more related about the means we have to build this game. Prince Of Persia has proven to be one of the core brands in Ubisoft’s portfolio, so I can tell you we have access to all resources we need internally such as a big and highly skilled team plus attention from the rest of the company. That’s all we need to make a good game!

AMN: In closing, do you have anything you’d like to say to our readers?

BH: The end result is a game that is certainly more mature and more violent than the Sands of Time. But all this serves a purpose — a brand new, radically different experience that we believe will be tremendously involving.

A huge thanks to Bertrand Helias for taking time to talk to us. There you have, straight from the producers mouth. Prince of Persia 2 looks to be one of the defining action games of this console generation, and we can’t wait to get our grubby paws on it.