Prince of Persia’s time-bending approach to puzzle-solving is making its way to a virtual-reality escape room near you. Prince of Persia: The Dagger of Time, opening worldwide this spring, gives teams of up to four players the chance to work together to solve puzzles and use the titular artifact’s powers to stop, rewind, or fast-forward time.
Developed by Ubisoft Düsseldorf – which also created two Assassin’s Creed VR escape rooms, Beyond Medusa’s Gate and Escape the Lost Pyramid – and based on The Sands of Time trilogy, Prince of Persia: The Dagger of Time challenges players to explore, (virtually) climb, and use magical powers to solve puzzles with room-scale VR in a dedicated physical space. At the behest of Kaileena, Empress of Time, players will need to escape from the Fortress of Time and prevent an army of Sand Monsters from being unleashed. To find out more about how the experience took shape, we spoke with Cyril Voiron, executive producer for Ubisoft Escape Games.
How was Prince of Persia chosen as the setting for a VR escape room?
Cyril Voiron: After doing two experiences based on settings from the recent Assassin’s Creed games, we wanted to explore a different brand. It had to build on the mechanics and knowledge we developed during the first two games and we wanted an IP that would generate a strong interest in general as a standalone experience.
Our VR escape rooms are meant to be larger-than-life adventures; something you can’t do in the real world, something you can totally immerse yourself into once you put on the VR headset. Prince of Persia ticked all the boxes. The Sands of Time series seemed to be the perfect fit, because it not only offers a fantasy setting, but the original games also come with many elements that fit perfectly into VR, such as puzzles and, of course, using powers such as time control.
What did you feel were most important elements of the original games to recapture? Were there concepts that needed to be updated or re-invented?
CV: First, just like for Assassin’s Creed, we want to make sure that if you are a fan, you feel that we have treated the IP with respect. Second, time control is the key element in our VR escape room, much like in the Prince of Persia games. So we built the experience around this function, seeing where it might fit and how players can use the time manipulation to solve puzzles cooperatively. Something different is that we don’t have any fights against enemies. Our VR escape rooms are meant for gamers and non-gamers alike; therefore, we concentrate on puzzle elements and co-op gameplay.
Prior to this, Ubisoft Düsseldorf created two Assassin’s Creed VR escape rooms; did creating one for Prince of Persia feel different?
CV: We decided to push the level of quality and complexity of our experiences to another level in Prince of Persia: The Dagger of Time. We added many features, like being able to play not only with two or four players, but now with three players. To do so, we are not mirroring the in-game environment like we did in Escape the Lost Pyramid, and this makes the riddles and the level design way more complex. We also decided to incorporate an NPC! The fact that Prince of Persia is more fantasy-oriented helped in some situations, but time control in a multiplayer game is complex to execute.
Prince of Persia is known for vertical exploration and trap-filled environments; were you able to incorporate any of those elements into the escape room?
CV: We did! But they are not the core of the gameplay experience; time control is. But we have re-imagined them for comfortable VR functionality. Climbing works extremely well in VR, and if you have a sense for heights, you can feel it in the game. We also incorporated vertical exploration with the different towers of the Fortress of Time that you have to explore, always going up, until you reach the Hourglass Chamber. As for the traps, you might want to watch your step!
How does time manipulation work within the game? Does the escape room have moving elements that can be reset, stopped, or accelerated?
CV: Only the player who holds the Dagger of Time in their hands can control time, and they can stop, rewind, or move time forward. When they do so, we added some visual and audio cues so the other players also realize that time is being manipulated. It is quite impressive the first time that you can freeze the world around you!
How do you handle this ability with multiple active players?
CV: This is tricky! Luckily, all the players receive a Medallion of Time, so they are not affected by the power of the dagger. So they have to take advantage that time is being manipulated to resolve some puzzles at the right moment.
What other magical abilities will players be able to wield in the escape room? Will they work similarly to time manipulation?
CV: The other powers work differently. For the sake of not spoiling the experience, we will not go into detail, but we can say that there is also a very cool sword with magic powers to find in the Fortress of Time.
Does the animated NPC, Kaileena, play a role or have a presence during gameplay?
CV: Yes, players will meet Kaileena through the course of the game, and also interact with her. She mainly functions as the key narrative character who will guide the players through the Fortress of Time.
How does playing with two players differ from three or four? Do the room or puzzle layouts differ according to the number of players?
CV: The overall layout will not change, and therefore the experience will be very similar, but the puzzles are solved in a slightly different way. One example: When playing with more than two players, it might be that two or more players will need to activate a different switch at the same time.
Aside from hitting switches and collaborating on puzzle solutions, what’s an example of something that might require players to work in tandem?
CV: There are many ways and nearly every puzzle requires teamwork. The best example is time control. While one player manipulates time, it may open a path for the other players. Or it could be that a player gets trapped and can only escape if another players comes to their aid. You cannot succeed on your own in our escape games! You have to talk and collaborate with your team.
Players can teleport within the game while also taking advantage of room-scale movement; how does that work? Are there any issues if their position in the virtual room is different from the real one?
CV: We do not map the real room with the virtual room, so it does not matter. We just have two ways of movement: natural walking in room scale, but also teleporting by holding one button and pointing into a certain direction. However, players will not be able to teleport to just any point; if there is an element blocking the way, let’s say an abyss, they will need to find other ways. The teleport function was needed, because our rooms can be quite large in terms of scale.
Are there accommodations in The Dagger of Time for players with limited mobility? Is it wheelchair-accessible?
CV: Our customers are often non-gamers with no VR experience, so they need to be able to understand how to play in just five minutes. We have developed a one-button control system to make it easy for everyone, and we give to our operators the ability to unlock some usability features. We always test our rooms with wheelchair users, so yes, this is a wheelchair-accessible experience.