One of my goals this year is to play more games and extract some tips on good game design along the way. This is my fifteenth review in this series called “50 games”.

We’re in October and I’m only at my 15th game review, so I’m clearly running a bit (a lot!) behind with this project. However I intend to finish it, even if it might take a bit (a lot!) longer than I imagined.

Anyway. Dos Game Club’s game for July was Prince of Persia, and I finally got around to finishing it and writing down some thoughts on its design.

Clearly the animation is beautiful and the mood is great, and the game introduces different gameplay elements all the way to the end. I quite like how the different levels focus on different things - some are big and exploratory and others are shorter but with more challenges like tricky jumps or lots of enemies.

My favourite thing about Prince of Persia is the exploration element. However, I always thought that the addition of a ticking clock for the whole game reduces this enjoyment as it means you can put yourself in an unwinnable position if you explore a bit too much. I’ll yield that the timer does add purpose and tension to the game, but for me it changes the overall experience for the worse.

But the game is great. The controls are tight, fighting is skill-based (and it really does become a skill after some time), and the levels are well designed. I actually started playing a version where the first level had been tampered with, and I just couldn’t stop thinking how crap the level design was! However the real thing is quite the opposite.

The game’s first level is perfect: it introduces a new mechanic or element in each screen, shows you an “unpassable challenge” and then gives you the tool to defeat that challenge. The fact that people have found ways to beat the level without that tool only adds to the awesomeness.

However, some of the later gameplay elements are not as awesome - there are two things right at the end where you have to trick your shadow and then find a hidden bridge that are both cool tricks on their own, but they come after a massive platforming level with plenty of opportunities to die. Great ideas but you don’t want to force the player to replay all of that just to have another chance at figuring out how to trick the shadow. Atleast you are allowed a save before the end-fight.

On the other hand, it is super satisfying once you do figure out the solutions!

So what lessons can I take from this game from a gamedev and game design point of view?

  • Even with a few colours, the game still looks great due to the awesome animations and clean graphics
  • The controls are spot on as well, even if they take a little bit of getting used to. When you die you know what you did wrong
  • The music is extremely minimalistic but still effective in setting the mood
  • Small cutscenes greatly help in telling the story and increasing tension
  • Introducing gameplay elements throughout the game helps keep it fresh - but don’t make the player replay a bunch of things while they are figuring the gameplay elements out
  • The exploration vs timer is a game design element that I can’t really say is good or bad - it has its pros and cons. But it does force players to explore and then do an optimised clearing of each level rather than just play and explore and progress naturally. I would prefer the latter but maybe then the threat of the princess’ destiny wouldn’t feel the same!