Tuesday, December 16, 2008

POP Difficulty Controvery

So - first off - apologies for only ever blogging about Prince Of Persia these days. I do indeed plan to one day return to more general gaming subjects but - understandably (I hope) - I've still got POP on the mind.

Being a frequent visitor to Game|Life I waited anxiously to see what Chris Kohler et co would have to say about my game. I was a little disappointed that we failed to capture Chris' imagination, but found his arguments against the game well expressed. Those who simply dismiss the game as a casual PopCap wannabe because you 'can't die' have always frustrated me too much to respond to, but Chris' statement of 'because I don't feel the lows, I can't feel the highs' (paraphrased) makes sense to me.

I was very interested today to find a video feature on Game|Life comparing two of 2008's more controversial titles - POP and Mirror's Edge. Chris Kohler takes the side of Mirror's Edge and Chris Baker argues for POP (the embedded video is included below).

One thing CBaker said that really made me smile was (paraphrasing again) that even though he found the game easy, he still felt a sense of disappointment in himself when he needed Elika to save him - effectively that he internalized the sense of failure. He did not need the game to remind him he failed.

This was something we talked about a lot internally when trying to convince ourselves that the Save-Me mechanic would not be universally despised by the hardcore gaming set. Our rational, simply put, is that people who play a lot of videogames are good at them and generally don't fail a given sequence very often. When they do fail, they likely punish themselves for said failure ("oh you lame n00b! This game is so easy, why can't you pass this one stupid level! dj00 suxjirz") and would likely prefer to not have to see a loading screen upon each failure (I don't think anyone can argue that loading screens add to the enjoyment of a game).

The fact of the matter is very few people can win POP without failing (we have an achievement for those who manage to win without having to have Elika save you too often, and our stats are showing us that very few people have gotten this on a first play through). People fail in POP all the time - those who are able to take something from that failure seem to be the ones who enjoy the game the most. Those who can't feel a sense of failure without a dripping blood-red 'game over, you suck' screen - less so.



Blogger Mokuu said...

Elika can literally make you cry of joy. Not just saving you but the chains you can pull off. One of my greatest joy with the game was getting to certain places using alternate methods involving Elika chucking you that extra inch to reach the normally untouchable high ledge the normal prince couldn't reach. The game seriously has this feeling where you can chain your moves one after another to travel front and back within the world using more than one method in certain area and this definitely made the seed collecting a blast cause you ALWAYS have these " OOOOOH" moments where you pull off this awesome move in order to either get a seed or escape certain death, well without elika saving you. And also, the freaking character responds to all these acrobatics, my fav line was " THIS IS CRAZY, THIS IS CRAZY" Damn right, ur running at high speed defying gravity thanks to supernatural powers in order to reach another panel and get shot off into the sky. Now THAT connects you to the character in more than one way. And man, that fighting system, didn't believe it back in the SC-4 years but you guys pulled it off, fluidly, it always gives you a sense of accomplishment similar to purifying the land and the interaction that comes with it, damn i could do it every day.....
Ok so the game gives me this artistic glee and joy. ill give you that and i also got a sleepless night. Yet Ben, who was in charge of that artbook project, they owe me 30$ for the "Collectors edition" book which had....well you know.
Anyhow, whats the next challenge for you? And whats on your mind for future plans?

11:01 PM  
Blogger Saman said...

Hello Mr. Mattes, thank you for this beautiful game. I love prince of persia and I've played all versions of this game.
I live in persia too, I AM A PERSIAN GUY ! (but not a prince one !)
I wanna ask a question from you.its answer is very important for me and maybe can change the way of my life.please help me,OK???thanx
I love programming and also I love (crazy of) game programming.but the problem is I don't know from which place I should start.I don't know which programming language is needed for programming a game like PRINCE OF PERSIA?
you know in our country there is no one that can help me in this subject, so you are my ONLY hope.
please help me.guide me in my way, and just tell me what did you do to be in this place, as the producer of a game like prince of persia and work with a company like UBISOFT.
It's my dream to work in a place like ubisoft.
Ohh I forgot to introduce myself...
My name is Saman Atabaki, 20years old and studying IT at university(my second year)
my email address is : saman.atabaki@hotmail.com
I'm strongly waiting for your answer...
thanx bye

11:31 AM  
Blogger Joey said...

Dude, your game is rad. I love it. It's as good as Okami and the Zelda games.

I see the risks you took in designing the game, and I appreciate them. The game isn't about being challenged to the point of frustration--it's about getting immersed in a colorful world and not being afraid to play your bad ass characters like heroes.

Thanks. I'm not a game journo or anything useful like that, but you've got at least one real gamers thanks.

9:28 PM  
Blogger Eric Q said...

I know someone that loved PoP - About.com. Their Xbox site gave it Game of the Year. See the article here:


12:30 PM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Just wanted to say that for every vocal "this game suxs ballz!!!!" type who complains about it being too easy, there are a lot more who never take the time to register their pleasure or congrats.

I debated about this game, but in the end have bought it for my girlfriend who cannot stand videogames - except for PoP, having played it at her sister's house.
She fell in love with the art, the characters and the fact "it's not like that dark,shooty Fallout you play all the time"

A non-gamer enjoyed your efforts so much she's now an addict.
Which is great for you and your efforts, but it sucks that the last bastion of Me-Time has been taken over by the missus.
"I'm putting the xbox on" says I
"Oooh, Fable 2 and then PoP" says she

Congrats mate, top game and the red-faced angermongs would hate anything you did that isn't exactly to their liking.
Fuck 'em

12:51 PM  
Blogger Ben Mattes said...


Wow thanks. I hadn't seen that.

Being compared to Bioshock is certainly an honor. ;))


12:52 PM  
Blogger Ben Mattes said...


My wife hates playing videogames and rarely likes to watch me play (although she did enjoy Bioshock).

She's five hours into POP and won't let me play Fallout3 or finish Dead Space nor give her any help on POP. Its funny - for three years I looked forward to the day when I would watch her play, and now that she is, its almost impossible for me to keep my mouth shut while she's trying to enjoy the game.


1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I just stumbled on your blog from another site. I'd like to start by saying that I have enjoyed the latest Prince game. As many have said, you guys have absolutely nailed the storybook fantasy look. The art direction, animation, and music are breathtaking. There is absolutely no arguing how visually spectacular the game is. I haven't seen such an incredible fantasy environment since Beyond Good and Evil. I liked the new Prince and the dynamic between him and Elika. As for people complaining that he is a dick, I think he needs to be in order to create romantic tension. Think of Han Solo and Princess Leia.. same thing!

As far as gameplay is concerned, I felt it was a step back from the Two Thrones. Difficulty levels; if a sequel has been planned, PLEASE consider putting them in. There must be some way. One possibility might be to put in a mana meter for Elika, so that whenever she saves you or uses a magic combat move, she uses up some mana. The mana can get recharged over time, or by collecting a light seed, etc. On harder difficulties, she uses more mana, on easier ones, she uses less or none. As it stands right now, having her save you over and over again is a major tension killer. At the back of our minds, I think we all know that we can't ever truly "die", we can just load up a previous save or checkpoint. However, I think we only become truly invested in a game when we know that there is a risk of ultimate failure in the form of death. It adds that extra nudge for us to become more emotionally involved in the game, and thus more determined to continue. The no-dying dynamic also lessens the Prince as a hero. If Elika has such powerful magic powers and needs to babysit him like she does, why doesn't she just fight the corruption without him? It breaks the notion of the player being in control, even in control of whether he lives or dies, and that's no fun.

Monster fights.. what happened to regular monsters and enemies like in the previous games? There need to be some normal fights to break up the big boss encounters. Weapons upgrades.. this was one of the best features of Two Thrones, and I don't know why you guys decided to leave it out on this one. It breaks the monotony of just one sword and offers more combat possibilities. Elika kind of makes up for a second weapon, but it was such a great feature of Two Thrones.. why cut it out?

Anyways, I'm glad you guys are listening to the criticisms instead of ignoring them. As with anything in life, there is always room to grow. Keep up the great work, and happy holidays!

11:31 AM  
Blogger Armando said...


I am trying to stay away from all spoilers for PoP and thus have not read the comments in your PoP Ending post but the following in this post caught me off guard:

"The fact of the matter is very few people can win POP without failing (we have an achievement for those who manage to win without having to have Elika save you too often, and our stats are showing us that very few people have gotten this on a first play through)."

It's not a spoiler, so I'm not mad, but I do hope that you are taking the statistics that you are getting with a grain of salt.

I for one did not look at the achievements before I started playing for fear of ruining the plot. I had read some posts on other sites about the fact you can't die so the first thing I did was try and kill the prince, there goes my achievement.

Also since I can't die I play more wreckless than I normally would. I attempt jumps that I'm sure I don't have a chance of making just to learn the draw distances and play with the game rules.

Testing and playing risky are part of the fun for me, testing especially is past of the learning curve.

Jumping off ledges for light seeds is also part of the fun, but I bet that when Elika saves me it counts against the achievement.

I bet if more people knew about the achievement they would get it on their first play of the game. I'm still early in the game and I am now thinking of starting over, but I am an achievement junkie.

So I guess I have a few questions to help me decide if I should start over.

What counts as a save?
Can I see my current count of saves in this play thru, I looked thru the menus but didn't see it?

If this is a hidden statistic please, please don't ever do another one of these achievements, as an achievement junkie one of the most frustrating things is going after hidden statistic achievements. In some games I'm not even sure if my time was useful in getting that lat achievement I'm after.


7:50 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I will say, I don't understand the controversy over Elika. I'm a gamer, and I'll say that I think I'm not a bad gamer. When I played the Sands of Time trilogy, there were only a handful of moments in which I didn't have access to Sands, and most of those occurred during moments in which it was expected. I don't think I ever actually saw the game over screen until I intentionally killed myself one day to see what happened. Perhaps I'm better then average, but I'm sure I'm not that fantastic.

So when I played the new Prince of Persia game, what stood out to me was... Elika was less forgiving then the Sands of Time. When I "die" in Prince of Persia, Elika flies me back to the closest solid ground... but that can be a good distance back. Particularly in the last area of the game, this can involve 5-10 minutes of solid platforming to get back to where you missed a jump. If this had been Sands, I could have gotten back there at the touch of a button in roughly 3 seconds. Since I always had Sands in the Trilogy, I didn't notice any particular difference between it and the infinite use Elika.

The end result was that "death" in Prince of Persia simply felt like a quicksave instead of a rewind... and the only difference between being saved and dying was the lack of an annoying game over/load screen. Yet for some reason, this game over/load screen seems to be exceptionally important to gamers. It isn't just enough to know that you've failed, you have to be told that you've failed? Perhaps I'm the kind of person who is too hard on myself, but when I fail, I'm more likely to punish myself for it then to need the game to do it for me. (Thankfully, I never got down to Ninja Dog mode on Ninja Gaiden... that would have been a real buzzkill!)

Anyway, to get back to my point, hardcore gamers shouldn't see a difference between Elika and the Sands. You shouldn't be getting a game over screen either way. Instead, the game over screen was mostly there as a "punishment" for those who wasted their Sands... but was that really necessary? All it did was give you a bout of loading and an amusing quote from The Prince. Elika simply streamlines the process. Painful gory death may satisfy some people, but it shouldn't be necessary for a gamer to understand they've failed, and trying to make someone feel bad about their failure may work in some games, but the way Prince of Persia was designed, it would have detracted from the atmosphere.

7:24 AM  

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