Sunday, November 18, 2012

Prince of Persia The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia The Sands of Time


The game was released in November 2003 and earned largely positive feedback from both Critics and Players. It was the second attempt of Jordan Mechner to reboot his prince of Persia franchise after the fail of prince of Persia 3D in 1999.
Most of this background information is readily available on Wikipedia so I´ll jump right into the analysis.


The game is a third person action adventure set in a very artistically stylized Oriental medieval castle (I would not call it Persian-styled because just like Disney’s Aladdin the architecture is more or less a beautiful overload of the most distinct aspects of middle eastern designs and architecture without directly pointing at any actual cultures).
While the sound effects are pretty straight forward with gloomy winds, creature shouts, undefined mystical synthesizer sound loops and shittons of other fantasy game sfxs filling the air in-between each section of the game, it certainly leaves room to let the visuals sink in while playing.
The music relies on numerous Middle Eastern acoustic instruments with a touch of 80s rock music glued together with rather cheesy sounding synth sounds as well as very ´in your face´ sounding oriental vocals.

Background Information

The Music was composed by Stuart Chatwood, the former Bassist of the Canadian rock band “The Tea Party”. For most part their previous albums contained mainly harder rock (pretty okay stuff as far as rock goes so if you´re into that check the doods out). In Particular one album, “The Edges of Twilight”, needs to be mentioned here because it featured a pretty neat variety of middle eastern and very unusual musical instruments. Go ahead, check it out:

The reason I mention this is because the sound of this album feels a lot like the music in Prince of Persia the Sands of Time. In fact all the band members were involved with the game (as mentioned in the ending credits). According to an Interview with Stuart Chatwood, one of the main ideas behind the soundtrack was to bring Middle Eastern music closer to European audiences by not only playing a few chords on the native instruments but also by combining musical styles with the emphasis on Persian and Indian acoustics with a bit of rock. What stuck most in the players mind, however, would probably be the vocals. They took over the biggest chunk of the frequencies in this soundtrack and were performed for the most part by Maryem Tollar with  “Time only knows” from the ending credits being performed by Cindy Gomez.

Musical Instruments that were featured in the game (in no particular order):
Riqq: Tiny high-pitched tambourines that are played in a rather fast pace.
Tarabuka/Dumbek: A typical oriental hand drum.
Dejimbe: A different type of handdrum from Africa that is essencially played like a tarabuka.
Tabla: Its shape resembles bongos, but it has a rather typical Indian sound.
Harmonium (samples): The bastard child of an accordion and a pipe organ.
Saz/Bağlama: A very common string instrument which can be heard basisally in nearly every eastern country.
Oud: A Lute which is as common as the Saz.
Sarod (Calcutta standard): A String instrument most common in northern India.
Ney: A typical Persian wind instrument. I am sure you have heared this in countless movies.
Esraj (samples): If the violin has a relation to a mandolin, then the esraj has a similar relation to the sitar.
Santoor: The oriental variant of a hammered dulcimer.
Sitar (samples): I don’t think that the sitar needs an introduction, as commonly known as it is.

Implementation of the Music

To analyze the implementation properly I will  describe the situations where the music can be heard.

Cinematic Cutscenes:
These are the pre-rendered videos where games attempt to deliver parts of the story in the style of movies. While ingame themes always have to convey only one emotion through a particular situation, in cinematic cutscenes the mood is subject to constant change.
Chatwood attempted to give the music a far bigger sound scale with the usage of orchestral samples and division of the music into segments that change to some extend the rhythm of the music, but for the most part just the sound samples. This makes the music sound very chaotic and ´rushed´ (in a good  and fitting way).

Ingame Cutscenes:
The ingame cutscenes are composed a lot like the cinematic ones, with the major difference being they are not intended to sound as epic. As such they are less aggressively movie-like and sound more like the battle themes.

Battle Themes:
The battle themes are where the game really shines. Regardless of the style of the music, its actual implementation is both complex (both for the composer and the programmer) and functional.
Each battle theme is cut into 3 to 5 second long pieces (depending on the song). Each piece begins with a drum hit and ends shortly before the next one. This way after every piece a fitting ending stinger can be played.
Because of this no matter how long a battle might take, after finishing it the song ends as if the music was composed perfectly for that particular battle.

Menu / Boss battles
The boss battles and the two menu themes share some similarities in their implementation; the tracks just fade in and out when necessary.
The only notable difference is that the menu tracks have a beginning stinger before the actual loopable part sets to continue infinitely.

(for everyone wondering what the second menu theme is, it can be found in the options menu as the music volume testing track.)

Official releases:

The Soundtrack has been released 3 times.


The First was a japanese release which is by far the most comprehensive:

01           Welcome to Persia                                               1:02
02           Introducing the Prince                                         1:39
03           Call to Arms                                                        0:35
04           Prelude Fight                                                       1:35
05           A Dagger is Found                                              0:36
06           A Princess is Stolen                                            1:08
07           Behold the Sands of Time                                   2:45
08           Start Running                                                      0:29
09           Discover the Royal Chambers                            1:57
10           Dreamtime                                                          0:41
11           A Question of Trust                                            0:53
12           Father is that You?                                              0:31
13           Attack of the Sand Griffins                                1:16 - Incomplete; fades out too early.
14           Don't Enter the Light                                          2:02
15           Enter the Royal Palace                                       1:26
16           A Long Way Up                                                 1:05
17           A Vision                                                             0:08 - Fades out suddenly… Seriously, guys?
18           The Royal Baths                                                1:45
19           A Bad Dream                                                     0:58
20           Chaos in the Zoo                                                1:44
21           Lost in the Crypts                                               1:47
22           Farah Enlightens the Prince                               2:30 -  never featured ingame.
23           A Brief Oasis                                                     0:59 - Features an Esraj.
24           Awake                                                                0:36
25           Trouble in the Barracks                                     1:47
26           The Library                                                        1:42
27           The Prince Hesitates...                                       1:08
28           The Tower of Dawn                                           1:34
29           Farah Perishes                                                    1:10
30           At What Cost                                                     0:23
31           Reverse the Sands of Time                                3:04
32           The Battle Begins                                              0:17
33           The Vizier Must Die                                          0:59 - Half of the song is missing!
34           Finish the Vizier                                                0:44
35           Farewell Princess                                               3:09
36           TIME ONLY KNOWS                                      3:47

Total length 49:51

The second release was the Trilogy release:

01           The Sands Of Time                                          1:34
02           Welcome To Persia                                          2:38
03           A Princess Is Captured                                    1:02
04           The Sands Are Released                                  1:01
05           Trouble In The Barracks                                  1:00
06           Farah                                                                1:57
07           The Library                                                      2:26
08           Time Only Knows                                            3:26
09           Warrior Within - 01                                          3:23
10           Warrior Within - 02                                          2:09
11           Warrior Within - 03                                          0:27
12           Warrior in Despair                                            2:09
13           Warrior and the Dahaka                                    1:12
14           The Dahaka's Demise                                       1:48
15           Kaileena Free From Fate                                  2:44
16           The Two Thrones-Ch-01                                  4:27

17           The Two Thrones-Ch-02                                  4:22
18           The Two Thrones-Ch-03                                  3:53
19           The Two Thrones-Ch-04                                   5:15

Total length 46:53

And, finally, the third release on iTunes:

 01          Welcome to Persia                                         1:02
02           Introducing the Prince                                   1:39
03           Prelude Fight                                                 1:35
04           Behold the Sands of Time                             2:45
05           Discover the Royal Chambers                       1:57
06           Attack of the Sand Griffons                           1:16
07           Don't Enter the Light                                     2:02
08           Enter the Royal Palace                                   1:27
09           The Royal Baths                                             1:45
10           Chaos in the Zoo                                            1:44
11           Lost in the Crypts                                           1:47
12           Farah Enlightens the Prince                           2:30
13           Trouble in the Barracks                                  1:47
14           The Library                                                     1:42
15           The Tower of Dawn                                        1:34
16           Reverse the Sands of Time                             3:04
17           The Vizier Must Die                                       0:59
18           Time Only Knows                                          2:00
19           Battle the Dahaka                                           2:22
20           Conflict of the Griffins                                   2:25
21           Escape the Dahaka                                          2:13
22           An Unsafe Sanctuary                                      2:06
23           Attack at Sea                                                    2:06
24           Clash in the Catacombs                                   2:08
25           Conflict at the Entrance                                   2:02
26           Confrontation in the Mechanical Tower          2:18
27           Military Aggression                                         2:08
28           Rooftop Engagement                                       2:05
29           Struggle in the Library                                     2:22
30           The Mystic Caves                                            2:16
31           Tower Encounter                                              2:05
32           Babylon Exploration                                        2:08
33           Ancient Palace                                                  2:09
34           Time Marches                                                   2:07
35           I Still Love You                                                5:31
36           Epic Battle of the Chariots                               2:05
37           The Beauty of the City                                     2:19
38           Nostalgic Sand Prince                                      2:07
39           Garden Explorations                                        2:08
40           Alone in the Courtyard                                    2:08
41           A Beseiged City                                               2:11
42           A Babylonian Prince                                        2:11
43           Alone in the Garden                                         2:14
44           In Pursuit of Farah                                           2:08
45           The Wandering Sand Prince                             2:11
46           The Mental Realm                                           1:47
47           The Mighty Prince                                           2:14
48           The Palace Battle                                             1:37
49           The Prince Retaliates                                       1:33
50           Beneath Babylon                                              2:09

Total length 104:08

Personal Opinions :

At least for me Chatwoods concept of bringing middle eastern music closer to European audiences worked. Ever since I had the honor of listening to this soundtrack I got hooked to the musical acoustics of the Middle East. But does this mean that it is a good soundtrack or even good music?
It is not easy for me to form a proper, objective opinion without involving my personal connection to this soundtrack. I do think it is very well performed music, and that it underlines the game perfectly. At this point kudos to the people who made the implementation of the battle music (I've only heard something similiar in Dungeon Keeper 2 before). It also features material to sound foreign while retaining very western fundamentals which keeps the music listenable for someone who has never listened to Persian, Indian, Arabic, Israeli or Greek music. Before anyone starts to nerd rant I do know that traditional oriental music sounds a lot different than how the western people tend to imagine it sounds like – but therein lies the beauty of it all: the game is not featuring any concrete cultures (even if its title says “Prince of Persia”, it merely creates a setting for the promos).
As far as the music goes (stand-alone) I would say you have to be a diehard fan to truly enjoy it because it consist of quite short different styled tracks that tends to make it sound rushed (36 tracks in 49 minutes).
As for myself, well, I obviously love it. I bought the japanese release and listen to it every once in a while.
And, of course, the game is great too ;)

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