The new Prince of Persia title, The Lost Crown is coming out today, and God am I excited! But I had a really strange thought as I was going through all the promo material and thinking of how it is different from the predecessors in the series.
Was I excited because of the trailer or because I am a fan of the franchise?
Sometimes as fans, we can be forgiving (like with genre changes of God of War) and sometimes… not so much (cough… The Last of Us… cough). It all stems from that dreaded word… expectations. Expectations can make or break franchises.
The Nature Of A Fan And The Impact Of Their Expectations
Growing up in the Middle East, I was a history and mythology buff who loved action-adventure games and platformers, especially with the fun narrative style and slight irreverence of the material. So, is it a surprise I loved The Sands of Time and became a Prince of Persia fan?
But I never finished the sequels until years later because they got a bit too dark. It took the excellent and criminally underrated reboot of 2008 for me to retry the series. I can now admit that it was because my expectations for the games had been set by the lighter tone of The Sands of Time. The 2008 reboot had that tone, but it also had some cool gameplay elements that had me reevaluate my expectations. It even got me to go back and play the original 2 games.
It was later as a game design student that I looked beyond that basic liking to see the innovations in design and storytelling within each of the games. It was only then that I could finally see past my base expectations. But it is also where I realized how those expectations can be helpful or damaging for the developer.
When Expectations Are A Boon
Player or fan expectations are incredibly helpful design guidelines. They give developers a base structure or a checklist of needed elements for the game – elements that they know the players will love immediately.
For instance, both the Tomb Raider and God of War franchises have seen massive changes in genre and gameplay in the last decade. Tomb Raider was a 3D puzzle platformer and God of War was a hack-and-slash game. They both successfully changed to include more RPG elements and a larger open-world game structure. But they also held on to their basic roots (driven largely by the characters). For all franchises, the base structure can give the designers a really firm foundation on which to try and innovate.
With The Sands of Time trilogy, this was incredibly instrumental to keep the tone for the franchise on track. Ubisoft was able to use the foundational platforming and puzzle elements from the 1989 game to create the new mechanics that modernized the series.
The prince’s parkour and time manipulation mechanics have since become the new gameplay foundation of the franchise. The designers were able to experiment and create this because they knew that the core platforming gameplay and story tone was something the fans already loved.
With each subsequent sequel, they were able to build on this and add layers that enriched the games. With The Warrior Within, they built it out in the narrative to create a villain like the Dahaka. With the 2008 reboot, they were able to create a supporting character like Elika who helped change up the way you navigated the world and combat.
When Expectations Become A Burden
But the fan-loved foundation can also create some immovable blocks for the designers. Failure to get enough right can throw the gamer off, and hell hath no fury like a fan angered!
As a species, we do not like change. But for a designer, it can be frustrating to keep elements in place especially when an innovative idea or the vision requires you to break from it. And it can be worse when you misunderstand the fan’s expectations altogether.
If you are lucky, the chances you take as a designer can still pay off, like with The Last of Us 2. Players had expectations for the story, essentially to see more of the characters they had gotten used to in the first game, something Naughty Dog subverted. But enough stuck with it to see Druckmann’s vision through, to see what he was trying to say even if they didn’t like the decisions made. In this process, they could thus appreciate the game for the changes.
And sometimes those expectations can be a death knell. No matter what changes were made in the Prince of Persia franchise, it has always been executed at an undeniable level of quality. Ubisoft Pune tried to peddle a lower quality version and failed miserably. That version The Sands of Time remake was just disappointing, and even at the announcement, it did not seem to match the original. Especially at such a basic level of expectation… quality.
It should also be said that while I loved the 2008 reboot, there are fans who did not like it. There were just too many differences, from the art style to the unnamed Prince not being a prince. But mostly in this game, the companion character, Elika, replaced the sands of time. But it worked for me since my clear line in the sand was the tone of the game.
My expectations have since changed, now informed by way too much information about game design.
Should Fans Disconnect From Our Expectations?
I believe we should always expect excellence and hold studios to that. Of course, that will also require us to be understanding of needed changes, like allowing studios to delay releases or increase prices. Especially since we expect our games to become bigger and brighter, to take advantage of the changes in technology.
It is this expectation of excellence that brings us games like Baldur’s Gate 3, Final Fantasy 16 and Horizon Zero Dawn. So, when it comes to some things… yes… we should hold onto our expectations.
But we should also be willing to see what the designers have to say, especially with franchises that are now seeing completely new waves of technology and potential. If we hold fast to narrow ideas of what the sequel should look like, the designers will never be able to give us innovative gameplay or narrative experiences.
It should also be okay to tell a studio that in their quest for innovation, the game strayed too far from the core element that made the franchise amazing for us.
My Expectations Of The Lost Crown
The last few years, with the announcement and failure of The Sands of Time Remake, have played with my feelings. So, the announcement of The Lost Crown took me by surprise and excited me. Not just because this was a franchise I loved, but because the trailer felt right. The tone, the narrative, the mythology and even the gameplay… it felt right.
With all of the reviews coming out and the buzz building talking about how the game stays true to its roots, those expectations are just building higher. Especially since Jordan Mechner even signed off on it. It leads me to believe that in this instance, my base fan expectations will not be left wanting.
This is perhaps the greatest power of expectations. Nothing beats the rush of those expectations being met.
I expect Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown to blow my mind. In just a few days, I will know.