Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands – The Observatory
- Company: Ubisoft
- Role: Level Designer
- Period: October 2009 – March 2010
- Tools: 3DSMax / Anvil Engine (In house Engine)
- Platforms: X360 / PS3 / PC
Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands was released to coincide with the 2010 Hollywood movie Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time starring Jake Gyllenhaal. The game itself is not directly related to the story of the movie, but is revisiting the story from the earlier Sands of Time video game trilogy. The game’s story is set in the 7 year interval between The Sands of Time and Warrior Within.
In Level 11, the Prince comes across his brother Malik’s observatory. The Prince must use the giant mechanism to form a path to the next section of the castle. By stopping and starting the mechanism and using the levers placed around the room, the Prince can create a path to the next section of the room. I was the sole Level Designer on this level from conception to release, working closely with the Level Artist and Animation team to bring the huge Astrolabe mechanism to life.
Level Design and Scripting
This was an incredibly challenging level to design. The Princes’ movement is governed by very strict metrics and when designing the central mechanism I had to make sure that the path I was designing worked at each stage of the puzzle. Every change I made had a knock on effect to the rest of the level. The mechanism itself had to show some resemblance to an astrolabe and all the “planets” needed to look spherical, yet still become flat platforms the player could traverse on. Keeping the whole thing readable to the player was a constant challenge.
The puzzle involves turning levers either clockwise or anticlockwise which turns part of the mechanism in the same way. There are also switches which can start or stop the mechanism turning. The prince must use these to create a path via the mechanism to the top of the room.
- On the first level as a simple introduction to the puzzle the mechanism is stopped and there is a single lever which must be turned until the “sun planet” lines up with the platform on the outer room.
- The second level is slightly more complicated. There are 2 levers, 1 which controls the position of the “sun” and the “moon” and the other which controls just the “moon”. The player must use these levers in combination so the “sun” and the “moon” line up and create a path to the “earth” platform at the centre of the mechanism.
- On the final level of the puzzle there are 2 more levers which control even more of the “planets”, they must be used in combination so they all line up. Once this is done the planets start to move again and the player must make their way across it while it is moving.
I prototyped the mechanism in 3DS Max, animating the moving parts to how how they all interacted with each other and how the player would navigate through it. Only then did I start building and scripting the level in the engine.
By comparison the other parts of the level, like the entrance and the boss fight at the end were much more straightforward to design.
“Navigating this clockwork cosmos is one of the few memorable puzzle set-pieces in the game.” – Eurogamer
“Loved: First-Class Level Design” – Kotaku
“Some of the environments you’ll explore look ludicrously complicated, but complexity never drags down the gameplay” (accompanied by picture of The Observatory) – GamePro (Website no longer available)
“..the massive Astrolabe is one hell of a platform puzzle” – Games Radar
“Everything in this game is BIG, nothing has been made small, there are several huge obstacles which may take about 10 minutes to get through. The one that sticks out in my mind is a huge room filled with a massive mechanical ‘telescope’ which shifts and turn as you pull levers and climb to the top of the colossal structure. All of this is topped off when you have completed a tricky puzzle, and you are rewarded with a spectacular chain of moving objects creating new passage ways, stairways and other things you couldn’t even imagine.” – Which Way Gaming (Website no longer available)
“The puzzles are back and in great style as you really have to think of the right way to pull levers and study the rooms to know the best way to go. Mixing it with your time powers can also be a fun challenge. The observatory level is a landmark for plat forming as the Prince has to use his skills to reach a series of levers around the huge chamber to set off the massive apparatus in the center. Once you do, you then need split-second timing to jump from platform to platform as it spins around before it breaks apart beneath you.” – 411 Mania
“Our hero quickly moves through his brother’s labyrinth of a kingdom to visit locations including its rooftop gardens, royal chamber, treasure room, aqueducts and magnificent observatory.” – Washington Times