Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame was released for PCs in 1993 — three years after the prince’s original Apple II debut, and a full decade before his leap to 21st-century consoles with PoP: The Sands of Time. I’ve posted a lot about my work process on the other PoPs, but almost nothing about this one.
To jog my memory, I dug out of my archives the game design “bible” I created for the PoP2 dev team in 1991. It’s a curious artifact of that era; you can download the PDF (19MB) if you’re interested.
Why I hate bibles, and made one anyway
There was no “bible” for the original PoP. That game evolved over four years in an organic process of improvisation, trial and error. The level design — the balance of action, exploration and combat that gave the game its particular flavor — came together only in the final few months. I had the liberty to do it that way because I was game designer, animator, and programmer, working on my own with no fixed timetable or budget.
Writing a detailed 200-page bible, then handing it to a team and saying “Make this” is the complete opposite way to start a project, and it’s almost always a terrible idea. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. But that’s how PoP2 was made. It worked because of a peculiar combination of reasons:
- I’d already made PoP1. The idea for PoP2 was to basically make PoP 1.5: keep the existing PoP1 code, animation, and gameplay, add souped-up graphics, a few new twists, traps and enemies, and build twelve new levels. Designing the entire game on paper was possible because it was just similar enough to the original that everyone could easily imagine how it would look, sound and feel to play.
- I was 3,000 miles away. The team was in California, and I was living in New York, about to move to Paris. In those pre-internet days, communication was by fax and long-distance phone calls, with game builds and data sent on floppy disks in DHL envelopes. I knew I wouldn’t be on site often enough to permit fast iteration and tight feedback loops. So it made sense to spell everything out ahead of time.
- We had a budget. Broderbund was a conservative studio and PoP2 was the biggest internal game project they’d ever done. They were already nervous about doing such a graphics-intensive project, and wouldn’t have signed off on it without a design document that gave them confidence that the cost estimates were solid.
- The team actually followed the bible. If the on-site team had included a creative director, my bible would have been obsolete by month two. Games evolve so quickly that any design that gets put on paper is usually out of date by the time anyone reads it. This is why making a detailed bible is usually a waste of time. PoP2 was the rare situation where the studio and team were united in wanting to faithfully execute the design I gave them — and I was safely off-site where there was less danger I might get inspired to improve it.
For all these reasons, it made sense to have a bible. It’s interesting to read it now and see how it compares to the final game. There were cuts and trims, for the usual budget/schedule reasons (the blow-by-blow story of the game development is in the second volume of my old journals) — but I’m most struck by how much was kept, and how faithfully it was executed.
The Shadow and the Flame burns again
To the many readers who have posted asking for a version of The Shadow and The Flame to play on mobile devices, I’m happy to report that Ubisoft has just announced a modern “remastered” version for smartphones and tablets.
The mobile Prince of Persia: The Shadow and the Flame will feature updated graphics, sound, and touch controls in the spirit of Prince of Persia Classic, rather than a direct port of the original like 2010’s Prince of Persia Retro. Here’s a link to the trailer. For myself, I’m looking forward to trying to beat the game again, twenty years later.
Questions & Answers (Spoiler Alert!)
Q: Who is that old lady that is shown at the end of the game? I’ve always wanted to know that.
A: Ah, the Old Witch. In the final shot, after the prince and princess have defeated Jaffar and are flying off on a magic horse to live happily ever after, we pull back to reveal they’re being watched in a crystal ball by a sinister old hag. Tattooed on her forehead is a serpent-S symbol. Observant players may recognize that symbol from earlier in the game, as graffiti scrawled on the walls of the ruined city, presumably by the marauding army that sacked it.
That’s the peril of cliffhanger endings: I wrote PoP2 thinking there was going to be a PoP3… but then there wasn’t. (PoP3D doesn’t count.) In that never-written third game, the Old Witch would have been the primary antagonist. She’s the arch-villainess who gave Jaffar his powers, the one behind the slaughter of the prince’s parents and sacking of his home city, and whom he is destined to vanquish one day. The serpent-S is the symbol of the evil god she serves. (Apologies to Tolkien, Wagner, Lucas, etc. It was the nineties.)
Q: And what about that fire sword in the red castle, and that little man who comes when you get locked in a level (I don’t remember which) and opens the gate to allow you to escape?
A: The Temple of Fire was built to house the sacred blue flame, a very ancient magic. The traps and bird-headed priests are there to protect it. The flaming sword that fights by itself is one of those traps, placed there to guard a door.
The tiny man in the bottle is a Djinn. The original idea was that when you opened the bottle, he would grow into a fearsome giant and attack you. As I recall, we had to cut the giant Djinn for budget reasons. If you’ve played the game recently enough to remember what the final implementation was, please remind me — but I think in the end, we may have had him just run away and accidentally step on the switch to open the gate as a bit of comic relief. It’s just the stub of what he was originally planned to be.