Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Stephen Totilo on POP ending

Earlier this year I was in New York for a Ubisoft press day to show POP to 'Mainstream media' (ie: anything that isn't Gamespot or IGN). On the list was Stephen Totilo of MTV Multiplayer (very much worth a bookmark).

I remember being disappointed when Stephen whisked by my stand, heading straight to Clint Hocking and the incredible, newly-unveiled FC2 map editor. I read MTV Mutliplayer a lot, and along with N'Gai, there weren't many journalists I was more looking forward to a grilling from then Stephen (although if I could have sparked even a minute's interest from Brian Crecente during our preview stage, I would have considered that a coup). When he left that day without spending any time with POP, I basically resigned myself to the fact that POP would not be able to attract Stephen's attention - probably ever.

Last week, I saw a post on Multiplayer about POP. Then a couple of days later, another. Then another. POP has featured several times in the last week or so, and in very positive ways. I'm happy that we finally managed to get Stephen's attention. :)

Nothing, though, could prepare me for his most recent (and last, I think) post about POP and, more specifically, the ending. A quote:
I believe Ubisoft Montreal identified the potency of forcing the player to commit an action that requires minutes of premeditation, internal conflict and pending regret. This moment is a triumph, because it assumes the player will think about the gameplay and will ponder what they are perpetrating.
There were few elements of the game that were as fixed in our mind from day 1 on POP as the ending. It was literally one of the very first things we knew we wanted to do with the game, and stayed 100% fixed in our mind throughout development, despite its rather unorthodox nature. Last week, in fact, I met with JC (the game's creative director) for a coffee and asked him if he was monitoring the boards - he said he was with the single-minded intention of seeing if people 'got' the ending. Stephen most certainly did.

Some people have asked why we didn't give the player a 'real' choice as to how the game should end (other then just turning off the console, that is - something we predicted during development that 5% of the players would do). The easiest and simplest answer to this is because of the 'Warrior Within' issue. On WW, there were two endings. One 'normal' one and a second 'special' ending. When we started work on The Two Thrones, we needed to decide which ending to support as the official ending. It wasn't easy, and a lot of fans were upset at our decision because the ending we started from was not the one they saw - the continuity was lost.

As I've said several times, this POP is designed with the potential of a trilogy in mind (and to be a stand alone experience as well), so it was very important to us that a theoretical POP sequel would not have this same narrative incongruity to deal with.

Finally, on the off chance that Stephen reads this - SoTC was a big inspiration for us, but mostly with the intention of making the boss battles epic and emotional - something they succeeded in masterfully and that we only touched the surface of (in terms of emotional connection on the part of the player). Many of the similarities you pointed out are coincidental, but I certainly don't mind the comparison. We've always been very open about the huge influences that Ico, SoTC and Okami had on us during our development.

Okay, for real this time, Merry Christmas.

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POP, Death, Frustration and Challenge, part 42

During development of POP, JC (the creative director and I) would often wonder aloud why so many journalists who were previewing POP chose to focus on the 'no death' element of our game. We were always very careful to explain our philosophy regarding frustration in games and our desire to eliminate it from POP through, amongst several design choices, the save-me mechanic, but many journalists just translated that into "you can't die" and left it at that.

I remember one day after reading yet another article covering POP with our accessibility philosophy summed up in 3 words, JC sent me a one line email: "Death != Challenge. ARRRGGGH!".

In a nutshell, we believe (and the philosophy is shared by many at Ubisoft) that a game can (and in some instances, should) be fun, rewarding and challenging _without_ being frustrating - the key to a truly accessible game, in our opinion. This is what we tried to create in POP.

Ludwig, an editor over at Joystiq, wrote a very interesting piece yesterday on POP and our save-me system and really hit the nail square on the head. He summed up perfectly three years of discussions within our team in his article and I highly recommend it. I particularly like this line:
If you've ever had to repeat a devious segment numerous times, you'll agree that "another go" brings with it the real punishment for failure: your character's life may be infinitely expendable, but your time is not
And with that I will wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I'll be on the road for the next two weeks without much access to the net so won't be posting.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Best Reading of 'A Night Before Christmas' you'll ever hear

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.


Monday, December 08, 2008

The reviews are in, let the controversy begin

I'm glad most of the big reviews are out of the way and plenty happy with the ~85 we META-ed at.

Now the real interesting part starts - the debates. I've read some very thoughtful arguments for and against the 'accessibility' of the game but thought I would start off tonight with one that particularly grabbed my attention. isn't a site I usually frequent, but their 'analysis' (not a review) of the 'easiness' of Prince Of Persia was very well put - I could hardly have argued the case better myself...but that doesn't mean I won't try. ;)

I'm still enjoying the sun in Florida on vacation but when I'm back in Montreal I expect I'll be drawn to some of the POP discussion and offering my own thoughts on the matter.

If nothing else I love the fact that people seem to be playing the game all the way through to the end.