Producer Ben Mattes discusses the Prince's new companion, Elika, and the secret to creating great female leads.
It's at San Francisco's Ana Mandara restaurant that Prince of Persia producer Ben Mattes and I stumble upon the secret to creating a universally appealing female lead in video games. In the latest installment of the timeless, Arabian action series, the Prince is joined by a magical princess named Elika, who shares a common strand with other leading greats such as Alyx Vance of Half-Life 2 and Jade of Ubisoft's own Beyond Good & Evil.
The ambiguous tan.
"She's international" laughs Mattes, rolling his wrists for emphasis. "Elika was designed so that, regardless of your culture or nationality or whatever, everybody on the planet will look at her and say, 'She's pretty.'"
The look of Elika, unsurprisingly, was focused upon heavily during the development of Prince of Persia due to the male dominated nature of action titles, but was also intended as a tip of the hat to female gamers and those who wouldn't typically be interested in these types of games. The role of Elika is an extremely valuable one as she accompanies the Prince throughout the entirety of the game and she isn't content with settling as the Cortana-esque, omnipresent tutorial. As a powerful sorceress who aids the Prince in combat, acrobatics and general death prevention, keeping her from stealing the spotlight proved to be a delicate balancing act for Mattes and his team.
"There's this fine line where she has to be strong yet sexy; autonomous but have a certain amount of dependency on the Prince so that the player still feels like a hero," explains Mattes. "It was also really important to us that she not be treated like a sex symbol or a romantic interest. She has her own ideals and her own goals."
After journeying through the first major region in the new Prince of Persia, it's difficult to imagine life without her. Having experienced the previous trilogy, Elika's inclusion to the series is very much appreciated as she provides the Prince with a handful of new maneuvers including the ability to leap farther, run straight up walls and of course, powerful attacks. The presence of Elika also helps to reintroduce the light hearted side of the Prince as the two combine their efforts, leading to Elika catching a piggy-back ride off the hero as he climbs walls.
To which the Prince buckles and cries, "You're a lot heavier than you look."
While Elika isn't playable character in the console versions of Prince of Persia (much to the chagrin of those always on the hunt for more co-op gaming), she is, however, playable on the mobile version, developed by GameLoft. Available on a vast majority of US carriers, the mobile edition of Prince of Persia is quite enjoyable in its own right, featuring the same sword slashing action and smooth, platform mechanics as big brother console. On the mobile edition, Elika plays less of a role during regular gameplay, but comes under player command when its time to solve puzzles, giving her at least a small taste of the spotlight she deserves.
Compared to previous Prince of Persia titles, the hype for this latest adventure is decidedly low key, as Ubisoft and Mattes seem content with letting the game speak for itself. Should the sales match the level of quality being shown in previews, it looks to be another smash hit for the French publisher. Which of course, begs the question: is this the start of another trilogy? Mattes chuckles at the suggestion.
"We sure hope so."