The Prince of Persia franchise, created by Jordan Mechner, dates back to 1989. This action adventure digital game has borrowed elements from the narrative and visual presentations of the classic folkloric tales of One Thousand and One Nights, as well as dialogues from the Persian epic The Shahnameh, Book of Kings written by Iranian poet Ferdowsi. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was the result of a successful collaboration between Mechner and Ubisoft after two previous installments of the franchise, which were commercial failures.
The Sands of Time tells the story of a young prince from the kingdom of Persia who attacks an Indian Maharajah’s palace and steals a magical dagger known as the Dagger of Time in an effort to please his father, the king. The prince is then tricked to use his Dagger in order to release a substance called the Sands of Time, which can manipulate time, and this brings about destruction and turns everyone into sand monsters. He subsequently tries to undo his wrong and contain the Sand inside an hourglass.
In this game, the primary interface is the screen. The game can be played using a keyboard and a mouse on a Windows PC or using a controller on a PlayStation console. The player controls the prince from a third-person perspective in a 3D environment where the camera angle shifts to different positions as the character moves to different areas, in order to accommodate the player with the proper viewpoint, as well as help with navigation. In addition, statistics related to the prince’s health, sand supplies and power are integrated in the top left corner of the interface. The character enjoys extraordinary acrobatic skills like climbing up and jumping between pillars and walls, jumping toward and swinging on poles and walking on narrow ledges or beams. But his iconic ability is wall-running. Upon pushing a certain key on the keyboard or a controller, the player can make him run horizontally across a wall with a certain length. Melee attack is the primary mode of attacking the enemies, using the Dagger of Time. Also, occasionally, the prince is joined by a female character, named Farah, who helps him fight off the enemies with her bow. The enemies attack Farah as well, and the player is responsible to protect her. Failing to do so, causes the game to end, and the player has to restart the game from the last checkpoint.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a game about storytelling. The main character of the game, the prince, is telling a story about the past and the player has to explore the prince’s many memories to uncover his recollection which in essence is the story of the game. When you finish the game, you realize the adventure you experienced through the game was being narrated by the prince to Farah, the Maharajah’s daughter (Rhody, 2005).
In Prince of Persia, the creator Jordan Mechner has tried to avoid using cutscenes, which is the traditional way of storytelling in games, and instead has integrated the narrative within the gameplay of the game; as Davidson (2008) writes, the story and the interactive elements of the gameplay are interrelated with each other. An instance of this integration is seen in the checkpoints where the player is constantly being reminded that the prince is narrating a story. Upon reaching a checkpoint, the prince asks, “Shall I continue my story from here the next time we’re interrupted?” When saving the game, he says, “Done, I’ll start the story from here next time.” If the player decides to quit, he asks, “Do you wish me to leave before finishing my story?” Another choice that reinforces the storytelling aspect is the names of the checkpoints such as “The Maharajah’s Treasure Vaults”, “Atop a Bird Cage”, and “The Hall of Learning” which resemble chapter titles in a narrative fiction and invoke the sense of a story in the player. (p.365).
Davidson creates a parallel between a classic literary plot diagram which consists of the five stages of Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Resolution, and the three levels of interactivity which include Involvement “being initially introduced to the game”, Immersion “being engaged with the gameplay and the game world” and Investment, “feeling compelled to finish the game” (p.356). While he argues that comparing the two diagrams illustrates the relationship between the gameplay and the story in The Sands of Time, he believes that this method of analysis does not necessarily work in all genres and types of games.
The most important mechanic in the gameplay, which is also central to the story, is “time” and the player’s (prince’s) ability to reverse it by pushing a button on the Dagger if he has enough sand which can be collected from the enemies. As the player makes progress through the game, they will learn to manipulate time in various ways such as slowing down or freezing time. So the units of story and gameplay are interconnected with each other in that as you progress further into the game, the mechanics and story increase in complexity (p.366)
Another instance of the relation between the story and interactivity of the game has been echoed by Rhody (2005), in the design of the health bar. When the prince’s health is decreased as a result of getting damage from enemies or falling, he can replenish his health by drinking water, which essentially symbolizes life, a choice that is apt in an environment where humans are being destroyed by the Sands of Time and turned into sand zombies (p.4).
Although Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was a mainstream game focusing more on visual effects and cinematics, nevertheless it was one of the early games to incorporate the story within its gameplay so that as Davidson (2008) writes “the rising action of the plot can parallel the rising challenges of the game play” and as a result a game fiction is created that can be played as well as read (p.385).
Davidson, D. (2008). Well Played. Games and Culture, 3(3-4), 356–386. doi: 10.1177/1555412008317307
Rhody, J. (2005). Game Fiction: Playing the Interface in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Asheron’s Call. DiGRA 2005 Conference: Changing Views and - Worlds in Play. University of Maryland
Ubisoft. (2003) Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. [Playstation 2], San Francisco, CA: Ubisoft Entertainment.