From Prince of Persia to Templar

Update: Templar is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and bookstores. Follow the Templar Tumblr and Facebook pages for news, reviews, and upcoming events.

The story of how a book, movie, or video game came to be — any project that takes years and the combined effort of many people — is always intertwined with the stories of other projects that didn’t.

In 2001, when I joined a Ubisoft Montreal team hoping to revive an all-but-dead franchise I’d created in the 1980s, Prince of Persia, we had no guarantee that our efforts would see the light of day. We did our best, and the result was a game you may have heard of or played: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Whereas a game I can guarantee you’ve never played is the next-gen Prince of Persia sequel that team went on to develop. It wasn’t abandoned because it wasn’t good enough; rather, it was so good, Ubisoft decided to make it a new franchise in its own right. Assassin’s Creed was born.

PrinceOfPersiaWallpaper1024Meanwhile, I’d written the “Prince of Persia” movie for Disney. My first screenplay would be substantially rewritten by others before cameras rolled — but the experience sparked a great friendship, and my next writing project with co-exec producer John August: an hour-long dramatic TV pilot about down-on-their-luck private military contractors who accept questionable missions in a different conflict-ridden corner of the world every week. We got as far as casting our leads (Luke Mably and LL Cool J) before Fox pulled the plug. You’ll never see that pilot (though you can read it on John’s blog).

All that happened in one year, 2005. One project cancelled, two others went on without me. To anyone outside the film or video game industry, such a litany of “might-have-beens” might sound discouraging. But if you do work in the industry, you know that what I’m describing is actually a normal, productive year. Most creative people spend a significant percentage of their careers working on projects that don’t see the light of day, or morph into something completely different by the time they do.

Which is why it’s such a rare miracle when a work reaches completion in a form that not only fulfills the writer’s dreams, but exceeds them.

Templar-COVFor this to happen requires luck, timing, a talented and creatively aligned team, and a visionary and committed publisher. It happened with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and now, ten years later, I’m delighted to say it’s happened again. This time not with a video game, but my original graphic novel Templar — out today from First Second Books.

The book is a self-contained romantic action-adventure about the fall of the medieval Knights Templar — 480 pages, full-color, hardcover, illustrated by the husband-and-wife team of LeUyen Pham & Alex Puvilland. If you’re a fan of Prince of Persia, graphic novels, or historical fiction, I hope you’ll check it out.

(Templar is available from Amazon and other booksellers; more info on the Templar Tumblr page).

Here’s how it came to be:

From video games to comics

In 2004, I got an email from Mark Siegel, editor-in-chief of Macmillan’s new graphic-novel imprint, First Second, asking if I’d ever considered doing a Prince of Persia graphic novel.

A few minutes into talking, I realized that Mark wasn’t trying to jump on the Ubisoft/Disney bandwagon. Not only was he not aiming at a merchandising tie-in with those bigger-budget efforts, he didn’t know about them. He was remembering the original, side-scrolling Prince of Persia he’d played in the 1990s. This was just one of the things about Mark’s approach that charmed me. I said yes.

I couldn’t write it myself — I was still busy writing the Prince of Persia movie and the Fox pilot, and Assassin’s Creed was still Prince of Persia 2 — but, kibitzing from the sidelines as Mark brought together Iranian poet A.B. Sina and husband-and-wife illustrators LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland to create that Prince of Persia graphic novel, I realized three things:

First, I wanted to write a graphic novel. Comics had been my first love as a kid, along with movies (before video games existed). Cartoon art and storytelling had hugely influenced my work in video games, from Karateka to The Last Express. How could I have let three decades slip by without jumping on an opportunity to work in this art form I cared about so much?

Second, I wanted to write a graphic novel for First Second.

Third, I wanted LeUyen and Alex to illustrate it.

Oddly, throughout the year they worked on the Prince of Persia graphic novel, we’d never met. Whether out of reticence to intrude on each other’s creative domains, or because of the crazy pace of production (that book and their first baby both shared the same, non-negotiable delivery date), all our communication was by email, with Mark as intermediary. But I noticed that every single one of their polite and deferential suggestions made the book unquestionably better. They were brilliant artists, this was their first book-length comic as a team, and their mastery was visibly increasing with each new batch of pages. Whoever wrote their next book would be a lucky writer indeed. I wanted to be that writer.

A strange mystique

I’d had the Knights Templar on my mind for at least a decade. I first learned of their amazing backstory doing research for The Last Express — a World War I-era adventure game about the quest for a legendary, possibly cursed, object that never changes hands without staining them with blood. As anyone who reads books, sees movies, or plays video games with any regularity knows, such objects almost always turn out to be part of a Templar conspiracy.

Once Templars are on your radar, you start seeing them everywhere. They pop up in the third acts of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “Robin Hood” (the 1938 Errol Flynn version), “The Da Vinci Code,” and in the prologue of “The Maltese Falcon.” As Umberto Eco put it in Foucault’s Pendulum: “Everything has something to do with the Templars.”

I became a collector of Templariana. I hatched any number of Templar-conspiracy plotlines — including a screenplay prequel to The Last Express, which I abandoned in 2002 (probably wisely) to focus on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. If its MacGuffin bears an uncanny resemblance to The Da Vinci Code, it’s not because either Dan Brown or I were aware of each other, but most likely because we’d been independently reading the same pseudo-historical nonsense about the Templars. You can read the first 40 pages here.

A little research is a dangerous thing. A lot of research can be fatal. My enthusiasm for my various Templar conspiracy-theory plot lines was killed by realizing that they weren’t, after all, that original. The world didn’t need another third-act revelation where the hero discovers that the secret he’s been chasing/fleeing is part of a centuries-old Templar plot to uphold/destroy/hide/reveal something or other. (Or so I told myself. The subsequent popular success of “National Treasure” and The Da Vinci Code suggested that the world had, in fact, wanted at least a couple more.)

What really gripped my imagination, and stayed in my mind long after I’d put away all that historical and pseudo-historical research, was the actual history of the Templars and what had happened to them. It was weirder, deeper, more disturbing, and more moving than any of the best-selling riffs on it I’d scarfed down (and I’d scarfed a lot of them). It had the unmistakable ring of truth, of stuff you couldn’t invent. I wanted to read that story.

Which meant I had to write it.

Six years in the making

I pitched Templar first to Mark Siegel, in a café around the corner from First Second and Macmillan’s Flatiron Building headquarters.

Second, I pitched it to LeUyen and Alex, in the kitchen of their San Francisco apartment. They’d just spent two years exhausting themselves to produce a 192-page Prince of Persia book, and had just become new parents to boot, so I knew my chances of convincing them to sign on to an even more ambitious, multi-year book project were slim. But I had to try.

p137s squareThat was six years ago. A lot has happened since. LeUyen and Alex now have two children. Assassin’s Creed has become Ubisoft’s flagship franchise, and — in a historical irony that would not have surprised Umberto Eco — involves a conspiracy tracing its origins to those very same medieval Knights Templar.

As for the Persian prince who originally brought us together, he’s executed a remarkable series of running leaps — from the 8-bit Apple II screen where he began, to new generations of video game consoles, graphic novels, LEGO play sets, and the big screen that inspired his creation. I have no doubt that, being the plucky and resourceful character he is, he’ll find his way through the sandstorm and back into the video game world very soon.

For today, I’m immensely proud and excited to offer you Templar — one of the most rewarding creative collaborations it’s been my privilege to be part of. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Comments are open below. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Posted on Jul 9, 2013 in Blog, Comics, Featured, Film, Games, Last Express, Making Games, Prince of Persia, Templar | 12 comments

12 Comments

  1. 7-9-2013

    Fantastic. I find all of the pseudo-historical rubbish about Templars absolutely tiresome, but the real story of what happened to them? Sign me up. And some wonderfully dynamic presentation of East-meets-West swordfights will only add to my enjoyment. Great news!

  2. 7-10-2013

    Now that sounds great!
    Do you know if there will be a French version at some point?

    • 7-10-2013

      Nannig – French edition is in the works. I’ll post when I know more!

      • 7-15-2013

        Brilliant! And thanks for the answer

  3. 7-10-2013

    Jordan, you should Collab with Ubisoft again to make another POP game. The first Three games, Sands of Time, Warrior Within, and The Two thrones were epic. All POP fans around the world are waiting another game. Keep us posted about it :)

  4. 7-11-2013

    Getting a work like this all the way to print is like moving a mountain! Congrats on the publication – I look forward to reading it.

  5. 7-14-2013

    Without wanting to sound like a pleb, I hope there’s a chance of an ebook or even a standalone app.

  6. 7-16-2013

    There have been so many versions of the years—is there one that you would call your favorite? And is there perhaps you wish you could have done different?

    • 8-13-2013

      Terrell- Assuming you’re asking about Prince of Persia, I’ll have to go with Sands of Time (2003) and the original DOS version (1990).

  7. 11-13-2013

    Hi Mr. Mechner,
    I am eager to read. Do you know if it will be a brazilian edition of Templar?

    And, about Prince of Persia, I have one curiosity:
    Of the PoP games that you didn’t get involved, was there any that you liked?

  8. 11-17-2013

    Jordan, do you know Ubisoft is deleting everyone´s comments on their facebook page asking for a new Prince of Persia game? Do we really deserve such treatment?

    Seriously, this is just enough. You have to do something. We keep waiting and Ubisoft don´t let us express ourselves, asking for the game we like. That isn´t fair.

    You should see how they treat the Prince of Persia fans, as we didn´t exist. Please, do something already!

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