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Rogue Prince of Persia interview: Evil Empire take on the Prince's legacy

Rogue Prince of Persia interview: Evil Empire take on the Prince's legacy

Chatting all things Rogue Prince of Persia with Jolan Reynaud

The Prince of Persia franchise is very active this year, with the absolutely stellar MetroidVania, Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown from earlier this year; and The Rogue Prince of Persia coming very soon. The upcoming title comes from Evil Empire, the studio that worked hand-in-hand with Motion Twin on the roguelike Dead Cells since 2019.

The Rogue Prince of Persia is set to take the franchise in a new direction and the 30 minutes I got with the game last month left me impressed. I was blown away by Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. It felt like the franchise was back on top, and this left me wanting to know a lot more about this new roguelike direction.

I got to sit down with producer Evil Empire’s Jolan Reynaud and discuss the new art direction, how it feels to work on a legacy franchise, and why Early Access is important to the game’s development.

We started by talking about the bold new art direction for The Rogue Prince of Persia, which seems to be pulled straight from an early 2000’s Saturday morning cartoon, I wondered where the Persian influences came from and how they met this dynamic style.

Rogue PoP
Rogue PoP

“We wanted the game to look fresh and unique. Our art direction was inspired by Persian miniatures and Franco-Belgian comics like Moebius.” said Reynaud. He continued on the fluidity of the Prince’s animation, “We aimed for a hand-drawn look, with vivid flat colors and a "cut-out" feeling like you're actually playing into a Persian miniature. We are also aiming for fluidity.”

This attitude carried over to the music, as well. There’s always a groove and beat behind the Prince’s movement and it wonderfully captures both the sense of place, as well as history and tradition.

“We're working with Daniel Asadi, who is known for making Persian Trap Music and is a real virtuoso with tons of ancient Persian instruments. He also contacted people for the Huns musical themes and inspirations, like the throat singing, to make sure that everything was true to the influence he was picking from.”

The idea of taking the Prince of Persia franchise to the roguelike genre seems like a match made in heaven. It’s a surprise that this hasn’t happened before, which is exactly what I said to Reynad. I wanted to know more about the early discussions on the game and how this came to be.

“Well, it was back a few years at a GDC where some of us met people from Ubisoft and one person dropped something like "How fun would it be to cross Dead Cells and PoP?!" We were working on Dead Cells for a couple of years at that time and after a few hours discussing what it would look like, the idea behind The Rogue Prince of Persia was born. As many have noticed, the franchise already has some pillars that suit perfectly into the genre. It was the perfect alignment of timing, appetite, and competencies that made this partnership sound like a great idea for both Evil Empire and Ubisoft, who trusted us with the IP.”

Rogue PoP
Rogue PoP

Given the success, both critically and in the fandom, of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown I wondered if this caused any worries after that successful comeback for the franchise. How would Evil Empire follow it?

“Not really. The Lost Crown and The Rogue Prince of Persia are two different games. In TLC you play as Sargon, a fierce Persian Soldier, around a mythology-focused story. In ‘Rogue’ we play as the Prince embarks on an introspective journey to become a better man and atone for the mistakes he made, precipitating the invasion of the capital.”

“In gameplay too our approaches are both different and true to the IP. For example, in The Rogue Prince of Persia, we really focused on this iconic Wall Run move, putting him in the center of our traversal kit and giving this freedom of movement that the Prince has. It's a very versatile move that can either be used to navigate the environment, engage a combat, or escape a difficult situation.”

In my preview I expressed a lot of love for the roguelike genre and the recent tenets of it, like Hades and, of course, Dead Cells. I wanted to know more about the inspirations behind the gameplay decisions, as well as how the roguelike elements would play out in the final game.

“We got inspired by a lot of other games for sure, starting with the Prine of Persia Sands of Time trilogy and focusing on the pillars of the franchise and how to blend them into the genre.”

Reynaud spoke at length about what he believed the pillars of the franchise are, and how Evil Empire brought them to life in their game. Keeping things recognisable, while also making them their own. Starting with the acrobatic combat;

“The Prince is an agile man and we wanted to blend as much as possible the traversal and combat mechanics together. Encouraging players to use their environment in order to get through the challenges they face in the game. This is why the back wall run is so important but also the kick. For example, in the Gardens it can become overwhelming pretty quickly as it's a late biome, and there is more danger, but at any time you can use your traversal skills to reach a beam or a platform.”

Rogue PoP
Rogue PoP

“Getting the high ground on your enemies gives you time to analyze the situation and sort things out to take down your targets with the least damage possible. Personally, I'm always looking for an easy target first, one without a shield that I can kick into the others to break shields and stun them, giving me all the space and safety I need to smash them with the Tabar's special attack.”

The next pillar of the original games is the environment. Ubisoft always went the extra mile to make the Prince’s world feel fleshed out and lived in. It borders fantasy and realism, so Evil Empire wanted to make sure the game had this unique personality.

“Prince of Persia games always have a lot of different and beautiful environments, The Rogue Prince of Persia is no exception. The Early Access [version of the game] will be released with 6 very different environments that will all challenge players on different traversal and platforming skills. My favorite biome so far is the Garden. I love the ambiance there. You're so close to the Palace, that you can feel that you're close to your goal, and it's a bit more challenging.”

Exploration comes next as Evil Empire wants to nail that feeling of discovery as you move between biomes and progress through this journey. The team wanted a simple way to track the clues and story events.

“While exploring these biomes you will find pieces of information, clues, here and there, allowing you to understand the story and events progressively. We've developed a Mind Map mechanic allowing you to store all this useful information in one place and see how they connect to help you progress through the different acts of the story.”

Rogue PoP
Rogue PoP

One of the most obvious things about The Rogue Prince of Persia is the Early Access release for Steam. It was unexpected given that Evil Empire is partnered with Ubisoft, a developer and publisher with a long history. I wanted to know why Early Access was chosen for the release of the game.

“Even if we are working with Ubisoft, Evil Empire is still an indie studio. The team working on the game is pretty small, with less than 20 people. Early Access is something we experienced on Dead Cells and we wanted to do it again. For us, it's the perfect way to reach the best potential of the game. Playtesting is the most important exercise in the development of a game and the Early Access is kind of a natural continuity.”

To follow on from there, we brought the interview to a close by discussing whether Evil Empire has already worked on a detailed roadmap for The Rogue Prince of Persia, and how that will factor into Early Access.

“We already have a roadmap. Content we would like to add, and are working on. But we will be listening to the players' feedback and adapt our priority wherever it feels needed. For example, the progression mechanics like the Medallions system is one we want to iterate on with the community.”

The Rogue Prince of Persia will be released into Steam Early Access 14 May 2024.

Featured Image Credit: Evil Empire, Ubisoft

Topics: Interview, Prince Of Persia, Ubisoft, Indie Games