Look at this piece of concept art for the 2008 release, Prince of Persia. Although it looks like concept art, it is extremely well done technically and the way it’s drawn is meant to not only show you what the character will look like but it’s also meant to give you an idea of his personality and to set a mood and a presence. I quite like it myself and if you would give me a high quality print of this, I would frame it and hang it proudly on my wall in my game room. I actually really like the background of this art and the various shades of brown. In particular, the zigzag-like motion in the bottom left corner. What does that mean? What is that? It’s nothing right? It’s just a fucking squiggly line. Yet it’s the most interesting part of this concept art to me, more than the background and more than the Prince himself.
What I’m getting at here is this is a piece of the game that I find artistic. The game itself is quite a looker too. Especially now that I’ve been playing the game on max settings on my new PC, the game is absolutely beautiful. So seeing how much I like this concept art, I must thing the game itself is art too right? Well…I guess…maybe…kinda…I don’t know…not really.
There’s no denying that Prince of Persia is a beautiful game but I feel that it’s there so the game looks good. It’s so it looks pretty. In this case, it succeeds but it isn’t really art. Coupled with the gameplay, sound design and game mechanics and this is my reasoning as to why I don’t really consider Prince of Persia to be a work of art as a whole, which is strange since at first glance if you were to consider this game to be a work of art, the visuals would be the obvious reason. However, I do think this game has a part of it that is artistic and not just one part but one big part. One of my favorite aspects of this game (and Julian, my fellow PixlBit staffer, mentioned this as well in PixlTalk 54) is the story telling; in particular, the way character development is done. The way you see these characters grow as the game goes on by pressing a button whenever you want is brilliant. Although mechanically simple, this allows for interactive character growth for the first time (to my knowledge) in games. The “Prince” (he doesn’t actually have a name) and Elika will at first talk about the impending apocalypse and the area they’re in but then they’ll start talking about their past and start playing word games and how Elika has never had a boyfriend.
This is one of those stories where the overarching plot isn’t very interesting and the aspects in play in the plot are what the focus is actually on. *SPOILER* The plot in Prince of Persia is simple: Elika dies, father makes a deal with the devil (Ahriman) to bring her back, devil tries to take over the world and you need to stop him, Elika dies again to seal the devil away, Prince releases him again to bring her back because he loves her. *SPOILER* Although it’s a relatively heavy subject matter, it’s a tale we’ve heard time and time again. However, over the course of the game, we get to know “The Prince” and Elika and we grow attached to them while at the same time not being obligated to. We don’t even know everything about them, just enough to feel a connection. Mechanically, it isn’t very interesting. You’re just pressing a button to listen to some pre-recorded dialog that you don’t have control over in terms as to what’s being said but here, it’s really done well and what the two have to say is really interesting.
I enjoy playing the game but I will stop and listen to what “The Prince” and Elika have to say to each other not only because I want to know what they’re saying but because it’s an interesting artistic approach to character development and its a learning experience as to how this can be done. The fact that the plot has elements of Zoroastrianism, a vastly unknown religious belief, is also quite intriguing.
So what do you think? Did you enjoy Prince of Persia 2008? Do you think it’s art or not? Comment below and sound off. Also don’t forget to check out the latest episode of PixlTalk as we discuss further whether or not games are art and why it matters.