11 June 2024

10 Min Read

First Details on the Remake of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

The remake of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time made a brief appearance during Ubisoft Forward, with a CG teaser trailer showing a reignited candle and a launch year of 2026. Behind the scenes, the game has entered full production at Ubisoft Montreal (with the support of co-dev studios in Toronto, Bucharest, Paris, and Pune), with the goal to stay true to the original while bringing modernity to the combat, storytelling, and more. To find out more, we spoke with Creative Director Bio Jade Adam Granger and Game Director Michael McIntyre.

When we last talked about Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the project was still in the conception phase. What has happened in the year since we last spoke?

Michael McIntyre: We finished our pre-production phase; we are now in full production, which means that we have built a small version of the game that allowed us to validate many of our ambitions with the remake.

Bio Jade Adam Granger: I joined the project, to start with! [laughs] It was last summer. The game has a lot of importance to me; it's a game from my teenage years. I remember renting it at the video store and playing the heck out of it, so it is a building block of gaming for me.

We built a passionate team here in Montreal, and it's fantastic to now have the support of other Ubisoft teams from around the world.

How would you describe your overall approach to remaking Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time?

BJAG: Remaking a classic is very daring and exciting to me. What I wanted to bring is the idea of "sanctify, respect, modernize, and add." So those four pillars are what we use to define everything in the game. If we take an enemy, for example: Do we want to sanctify it, keep it as-is because it's so iconic? Do we want to respect it, just fix it a little bit? Modernize it, which is a bit more change - or is it something completely new? Everything that was in the original goes through that lens, as well as some things that we want to improve - for example, accessibility options are something that we're adding.

We have things that are staying as-is, like the wall run, which is so iconic that we will try to match it as much as we can. The dagger as well. There are core elements of the original recipe that we respect and sanctify: time powers, the tone of the game, and the gravity-defying gameplay. But we modernize stuff like the level design, for example, and really enhance the scale of the world. We also vary challenge a bit more.

MM: I think combat is a good example. The original combat, for a lot of players today, would feel quite dated. Combat in games like Prince of Persia has advanced a lot in the 21 years since that game, and certain recent games, like Dark Souls and God of War, have really elevated even more casual players' competency in combat. It is an area where modernity really needed to be injected.

But there are certain things that are iconic about the Prince of Persia fighting style, like the vault strike, where you vault over an enemy and hit them, or rolling onto the ground and stabbing a prone enemy in order to drain sand from them with the dagger. There are moments that need to be preserved visually and pacing-wise, and also just the feeling of combat as an acrobatic hero who is gracefully staying one step ahead of the horde that outnumbers him.

Given that the game is launching in 2026, this seems like a very involved production for a remake. What's the reason for the lengthy development cycle?

BJAG: The landscape of remakes has evolved a lot since the first inception of the remake of Sands of Time. There have been some big players that clearly redefined the bar. We made some big changes to the 3Cs (Character, Camera, Controls), and had to build prototypes to make sure that our new controls still feel good with the old gameplay, and sometimes we need to change them.

"We're embracing that augmented scale, that increased sense of connectivity of the castle, of feeling more oriented because you can see faraway landmarks." - Michael McIntyre

It's a little bit faster in terms of conception, but production-wise, there's no difference between creating a remake or an original game. It takes time and craftsmanship and people, which is why we have reinforcements from other studios to help us here.

When players discover (or rediscover) Azad, what do you want that experience to be like for them?

BJAG: I want people to be amazed! Wonder is super-important to me. Because it's a tale told by the Prince, and Azad is a fictitious place. We have multiplied the scale and the wonder of that place. It is larger than life, at the edge of fantasy; not fully fantasy, but enhanced rather than realistic.  We call it "the poetic odyssey." Poetry is in the visuals and the tone, with the music and sound. If we can really make sure that people feel transported into that world, I think we've won.

MM: Due to technical limitations, the original game - though it did an amazing job of creating a sense of place and that sense of being in a storybook castle - was limited in terms of what you could see and how connected the spaces were. As a good example, one of the things that players are experiencing now in our game is a sense of vertigo, because of the scope of the castle, because of how high the heights can seem. In the original game, it would have to be a very cloudy mist that sort of was the floor down below, and it hindered that dizzying sense of height - which we're able to achieve now with modern engines and such. We're embracing that augmented scale, that increased sense of connectivity of the castle, of feeling more oriented because you can see faraway landmarks.

How are you approaching the Prince and Farah? Do those characters or their relationship need to be modernized?

MM: Yes and no. We're not going to tell a different story; it is still the same story that we know from the original, because it was really a beautiful story. It was nice to have a love story being told in a game that way, and so we want to honor that, but there are a lot of nuances to how we can deliver a story that we think will really enrich the players' experience.

The characters should feel familiar to people who play the game, and that's a goal for us - but it should feel a little bit like a layer is being peeled back and you can see more, that you get to know more about them. If you go back and play the original, you'll find certain things that might surprise you from your memory. Like, they actually didn't talk that much! They didn't have many lines. Not that we want them talking all the time, but what that means is we were actually filling in a lot of gaps [with imagination], and they don't necessarily reveal a lot of things.

Probably the biggest development that we've done is to make Farah more present. We're able to add more interactions between her and the Prince, so you can get more from their relationship. They will simply spend more time beside each other.

BJAG: One of the things that's very dear to me is modernizing Farah. While she was a great character in the original, I think she lacked agency and depth as a person. So we really make her a true companion; she has reasons to be there, she's a true ally, but also a full-fledged person with a background, wants, needs, desires, and tastes. We really want to revamp her as a great character, even if she's not playable.

To us, the affection between both has to feel earned, and it needs to be realistic or relatable that she falls in love with the Prince and vice versa. That being said, we're keeping the plot as-is; we are not adding tons of additional scenes. What we add for Farah is often optional, to give her more depth without overextending the narrative.

"That beautiful setting and the night sky and a candle speaks to the poetic storybook vibe of Sands of Time." - Michael McIntyre

Let's talk about the teaser trailer. How did you settle on that imagery, and what do you hope people take away from it?

BJAG: With the reigniting candle, we wanted to convey the rewind, the Sands of Time; the time powers are back, they're important, they're iconic. That's the first thing. Secondly, we wanted to acknowledge that the passion for this game - both from us, and the players - is reigniting like that flame, and we want that candle to continue to burn for years to come.  

MM: We also wanted to focus on emotion more than information, because that is where we started. The game is like the One Thousand and One Nights legends; there's something about that that is beautiful and cozy. That beautiful setting and the night sky and a candle speaks to the poetic storybook vibe of Sands of Time that people remember.

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown took a number of steps to ensure authenticity in its representation of Persian art, music, and mythology. Are you doing something similar for The Sands of Time?

BJAG: Of course! We have Persian cultural advisers and a dedicated specialist to help us on the team. We share a similar enthusiasm for Persian myths, legends and culture. Being a remake, it's super interesting to see the many inspirations behind the original and to enhance them further.

"We want that candle to continue to burn for years to come." - Bio Jade Adam Granger

Collaborating with experts and advisers helps us to bring forward Persian heritage, stories, and heroes in a way that is exciting, and that elevates our game's content. This comes through in the visual and sound immersion, the statues, ambiance, and the way that characters speak, while respecting the art direction of the original and our enhanced-realism approach.

Is there any significance to dropping "Remake" from the title?

MM: Our game is a love letter to the original. We are literally remaking that game from the ground up with modern techniques and know-how, with the benefit of the latest version of Anvil engine, so it feels like we don't need to say that the game is what it is. Our proposition stands on its own and is meant not only for those who love the original, but for anyone who wants to discover the enchantment of Sands of Time. And there's something of the poetic feel of the game in its original title that we want to keep.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is planned for launch in 2026. Check out our roundup of Prince of Persia announcements from Ubisoft Forward.

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