Prince of Persia concept video appears—and confirms why series has been dormant

Promotional image for never-made video game.
Enlarge / What could have been.

The classic computer gaming series Prince of Persia has enjoyed a long, healthy life as a fan favorite—both in its ’80s side-scrolling form and its mid-’00s rebirth as a 3D series. But after 2010’s PoP: The Forgotten Sands, the series’ newer handlers at Ubisoft remained mum about why PoP‘s 3D fork stopped getting sequels or “HD” re-releases.

That changed this week with the discovery of a polished concept video titled Prince of Persia: Redemption. This three-minute video of flashy combat and collapsing buildings was published on YouTube all the way back in 2012—and remained undiscovered by fans, along with former Ubisoft developers, until Wednesday.

Former Ubisoft animator Jonathan Cooper took the video’s fresh discovery as an opportunity to confirm its  authenticity. He posted on Twitter that the Redemption video was formally developed in-house at Ubisoft as a “pre-rendered game pitch,” and an eagle-eyed series fan at ResetERA was able to date its development as a one-year effort at Ubisoft Montreal between 2010 and 2011.

Cooper continued on Twitter to answer the obvious question from fans: what happened to this game, let alone Ubisoft’s PoP series entirely? Cooper wrote:

Sadly Ubisoft are generally quicker to cancel Prince of Persia games than others IPs because AFAIK original creator Jordan Mechner still holds license rights so the profit margins are lower. Would love to see a new one though. I’ve always wanted a PoP set in contemporary Iran.

Ars Technica has reached out to Mechner to ask for his take on this canceled Ubisoft game and any others that may have come and gone. We will update this report with any response.

Badly timed Dagger

Today’s tweets hint at another wrinkle in Ubisoft’s decision-making: its Assassin’s Creed series, which uses many of PoP‘s 3D innovations while adding its own concepts and lore. Cooper noted that this Redemption footage “inspired our own pitch for Assassin’s Creed 3.” That game launched in October 2012, roughly eight months after this Redemption video was first uploaded to YouTube.

Ubisoft has maintained its licensing agreement with Mechner since 2010’s Forgotten Sands for the sake of publishing “non-major” games in the series. These include a 2018 “endless runner” game for smartphones and a VR-exclusive “escape room” experience, PoP: The Dagger of Time, which was slated to launch in “Spring 2020” at public VR play centers weeks before COVID-19 outbreaks changed those plans.

If you’re wondering, we’ve yet to see Jake Gyllenhaal respond to today’s news. The award-winning actor took the Prince of Persia series to the big screen in a 2010 film that raked in a hearty global box office haul despite middling reviews. (In the years since, game-film adaptations have enjoyed a much better reputation.)

In some ways, the newly discovered video looks quite ambitious for that era’s Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles, particularly in terms of intense alpha effects like thick clouds of particles and flames. (That’s the beauty of “target game footage”: it can lock to 60 frames per second, crank up high shadow resolutions, and add other beautiful tricks without having to follow through on those things in the actual game!) Yet the footage’s emphasis on “ghost” images of the hero and his foes, along with deforming and collapsing buildings all around, was indeed on par with that console era’s final wave of performance titans, particularly the destructible terrain of games like Split/Second and Motorstorm: Apocalypse. Even so, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed 3, released around the same time, didn’t try to match the technical chops of this ambitious concept video.

It’s unclear whether the Redemption “target game footage” was publicly viewable as far back as 2012 or whether it hid as a “private” or “unlisted” video up until this week’s wider discovery. Before commenters began piling onto the video this week to express shock at its existence, the video included a visible comment from a Ubisoft developer dated 2018, simply exclaiming, “Where did you get that?!”

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Gaming & Culture – Ars Technica

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