Defending the Sands of Time

After I spoke at GDC in Shanghai yesterday morning, Gamasutra posted a summary of my keynote. Their report was very good and accurate, but I want to clarify a comment that set off alarms with some Sands of Time game fans:

Film and games, though they have similarities, have important differences as well, says Mechner. “There’s no button on the controller for sit down with someone and have a nice conversation… The game story was just an excuse for getting the player to get from point A to point B and kill everybody he meets.” It is not, in his words, “this epic, romantic action movie that [the film version of] Prince of Persia was setting out to be.”

This sounds like I’m saying the Sands of Time game story is somehow less ambitious or less fully realized than the film story. That definitely wasn’t my intention.

Just because a game story is designed to support and enhance a particular game play mechanic (which, in the case of Sands of Time, does indeed consist largely of getting from point A to point B in various challenging, acrobatic ways, while killing sand monsters along the way) does not mean that it can’t be every bit as sophisticated and nuanced in terms of dialog, character development, emotional and thematic resonance, literary qualities, etc., as a movie story. Indeed, the Sands of Time video game achieves some narrative effects that are beyond the scope of film, or at least beyond the scope of a 110-minute action-adventure movie: for example, the counterpoint, sometimes emotional, sometimes ironic, between the voice-over narration, the onscreen banter between the Prince and Farah, and the Prince’s actions under the player’s control.

The 2003 Sands of Time game doesn’t need me to defend it, but I hope this post helps clear up any misunderstanding.

Posted on Oct 13, 2009 in Blog, Film, Games, Prince of Persia | 5 comments

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  1. 10-13-2009

    It’s funny how vehemently the video game community rallied around its genre before by talking about how the experience of gameplay is paramount to a good story, and when someone says something that supports such a theory (as per your comments), it gets interpreted as insulting to the medium.

  2. 10-13-2009

    Don’t worry, I’ve been there. But I think it’s only natural to accidentally reduce the quality of video games when comparing them to film. After all, when we first think of games, well… we DON’T immediately think about plot. Now, of course, “The Last Express” was an exception, since you and Tomi Pierce literally constructed 75% of the game with dialogue. “Prince of Persia” is obviously at a disadvantage in that regard, since the action sequences (and the body count) are much higher. Yet it most certainly has a wonderful story- not to mention characters who are both likable and who even make sense!

    Still, video games are at a slow and steady pace in being accepted as a serious artistic medium. This may explain Roger Ebert’s refusal to accept video games as art; he assumes that because it’s the audience manipulating the form instead of the artist, it defeats its own purpose, Jake LaMotta-steak style. However, you could have made the same argument that film ruins the imagery in literature that ought to be left up to the imagination of the reader.

  3. 10-14-2009

    if people don’t appreciate prince of persia, that’s their thing.
    sands of time was the inspiration for my career choice, it’s a very inspirational game, not just ’cause of the unique gameplay, but the dialogue, storyline, and love elements all tie in perfectly. it’s harmony in the form of a video game really. i’m sure many people are ready to back up prince of persia at any moment, including myself.

    i often spend a couple minutes at a time wondering what a true sequel to sands of time would’ve been like (since warrior within wasn’t really your intention of the sequel)
    Jordan, please, make a sequel to sands of time, the way YOU wanted it, i would love that.

  4. 10-22-2009

    Though videogames have steadily become more cinematic over the years their intrinsic purpose is still to allow for player interaction, and to effectively do this they often need to employ different narrative techniques.

    I don’t think this cheapens them in any way, they’re just serving a different purpose. Some games work better with fleshed out stories, and some don’t.

    The Sands of Time was beautifully constructed, and I always thought it stood strongly as a standalone title.

  5. 12-1-2009

    Hi, I am a great fan of you and played both 3d and 2d versions of the game… but I was disappointed with the names you put in the 3D version of the game. Persia is different and India is different, “Maharajah” describes “Great King” in Hindi/Sanskrit. But in Persia he will be called as Badshah or Sehenshah. So this disappointed me.

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