Update: The Making of Prince of Persia journals are now available as an ebook. You can buy it here.
For the past year, I’ve been posting daily entries from the old journals I kept while I was programming Prince of Persia on the Apple II, 20 years ago.
This “blog from the past” covers roughly seven and a half years from May 1985 to January 1993 — from Prince of Persia’s conception through the development of its sequel, Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame.
In a coincidence I couldn’t have planned, this month marks both the 20th anniversary of the original game’s release, and the release of the first trailer for Disney’s Prince of Persia movie. Time is an ocean in a storm.
If you’re curious to know how the Prince’s journey began, back in those halcyon days when computers looked like this, it’s all in the Old Journals. Some highlights include: the day my kid brother modeled the prince’s moves; the day Prince of Persia got its title; and the first rotoscoped animation test.
You can read the whole story from the beginning starting here.
I’ve met Eric Chahi (creator of Another World) twice: in Paris in 1992, and a couple of years later in San Francisco, where the Smoking Car team and I were toiling away on The Last Express, while Eric and his Amazing Studios were deep in the throes of finishing Heart of Darkness — both passion projects that had gone over schedule and budget, an ocean apart, exacting a psychic and financial toll for which the experiences of making Prince of Persia and Another World had only partly prepared us.
I remember looking at Eric’s tired face and thinking: He looks the way I feel.
Recently, Mark Siegel, my editor at First Second Books, asked me if by chance I had Eric’s contact info. I hadn’t spoken to Eric in a dozen years (though the original Another World poster he signed for me is hanging in my office), so I asked my friend Eric Viennot.
Update: An English translation (non-Babelfish) has been posted on Gamasutra.
After I spoke at GDC in Shanghai yesterday morning, Gamasutra posted a summary of my keynote. Their report was very good and accurate, but I want to clarify a comment that set off alarms with some Sands of Time game fans:
Film and games, though they have similarities, have important differences as well, says Mechner. “There’s no button on the controller for sit down with someone and have a nice conversation… The game story was just an excuse for getting the player to get from point A to point B and kill everybody he meets.” It is not, in his words, “this epic, romantic action movie that [the film version of] Prince of Persia was setting out to be.”
This sounds like I’m saying the Sands of Time game story is somehow less ambitious or less fully realized than the film story. That definitely wasn’t my intention.
Just because a game story is designed to support and enhance a particular game play mechanic (which, in the case of Sands of Time, does indeed consist largely of getting from point A to point B in various challenging, acrobatic ways, while killing sand monsters along the way) does not mean that it can’t be every bit as sophisticated and nuanced in terms of dialog, character development, emotional and thematic resonance, literary qualities, etc., as a movie story. Indeed, the Sands of Time video game achieves some narrative effects that are beyond the scope of film, or at least beyond the scope of a 110-minute action-adventure movie: for example, the counterpoint, sometimes emotional, sometimes ironic, between the voice-over narration, the onscreen banter between the Prince and Farah, and the Prince’s actions under the player’s control.
The 2003 Sands of Time game doesn’t need me to defend it, but I hope this post helps clear up any misunderstanding.
In my GDC China keynote about Prince of Persia’s 20-year journey from game to film, I showed a 2-minute trailer I made six years ago to pitch the movie to Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney execs. I’m posting it here for those who are interested.
Why did I cut a new trailer, instead of using one of the existing game trailers Ubisoft had already produced to market the Sands of Time game? Because the game marketing trailers were very specific about certain story points that weren’t in the movie (freeze, fast-forward, sand monsters, visions). Co-producer John August and I didn’t want to confuse the execs by showing them a different story from the one we were pitching.
It took me a week to cut on Final Cut Express, in late 2003. Assembling a trailer from existing PS2 game footage was an editing challenge, because key scenes, locations and characters from the movie didn’t exist. So rather than attempt to explicitly tell the story of the movie in the trailer, I set out to convey the kind of movie it would be. (Don’t worry, there are no spoilers — the trailer reveals nothing about the plot of the movie beyond what’s in the game.)
The sound mix is rough — I didn’t have the proper elements or the time to do a professional-quality mix — but it served its purpose of selling the pitch. Hope you enjoy it.
I’ll be giving a keynote at the Game Developers Conference in Shanghai. The date is October 12, I think. If you happen to be in Shanghai and are interested in attending, the official GDC website has details. Looking forward to it!