Prince of Persia
Jordan created and programmed the original Prince of Persia on an Apple II computer in 1989. A decade later, he partnered with Ubisoft to reinvent his classic for a new generation of gamers with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Its success launched a global franchise that now includes video games, graphic novels, toys, LEGO, and a blockbuster Disney feature film.
For readers who’ve gamely clicked their way through all seven years of my “Making of Prince of Persia” journals online — and those who haven’t — I’m happy to announce that the complete saga is now available as a PDF and Amazon Kindle ebook.
The book isn’t free — we’ve priced it at US$7.99 — but at 300-plus pages, I hope it’s good value. We’re publishing it without any copy protection or DRM, so pirates shouldn’t have much of a challenge. Book sales will help defray the costs of this project and of maintaining the website.
The ebook contains the original Old Journals, plus never-before-published entries leading up to the beginning of The Last Express. You can download a free sample PDF of the first 40 pages, or the full ebook, here.
Thanks to Danica Novgorodoff for designing the book (Danica is the multitalented author of the excellent graphic novel Refresh, Refresh, and designer of many First Second books, including Solomon’s Thieves), and to David Anaxagoras, Ryan Nelson, and Aaron Simonoff for their hard work putting it together. It’s safe to say it turned out to be a lot more work than any of us expected.
How Prince of Persia got made — and almost didn’t
In the ebook, you’ll read what I wrote in my journal on the day I videotaped my kid brother running and jumping to model the prince’s moves; the day I gave up on the project; and the day I decided to finish it after all.
In the seven years from May 1985 to January 1993, Prince of Persia went from a few scribbles on yellow-lined paper to a published, best-selling video game franchise, and I changed from a callow kid into (I thought) a seasoned software entrepreneur. If you’ve read the journals, you know that it was a bumpy ride, and that the game’s eventual success was anything but a foregone conclusion.
Whether you’re a game designer or in another creative field, whether you had an Apple II in the 1980s or weren’t born yet, I hope you’ll find inspiration (or something else of use to you) in this story of how one game got made.
Check out the ebook here.
This ebook is an experiment in many ways. I have no idea how many people will be interested, or how well the non-DRM “honor system” will work. Either way, I’ll post once the dust has settled, and let you know how it went.
If you’ve enjoyed the Old Journals on the site, but don’t feel the urge to own the ebook, you can still support this project by helping us spread the word. Readers like you who take the time to post or tweet about the Old Journals ebook, review it on Amazon, or just tell a friend, will make a big difference in the experiment.
In today’s guest post, Yuri Lowenthal (who voiced the Prince in 2003′s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) talks about the special challenges of voice acting, as opposed to acting on camera.
When Yuri, Joanna Wasick and I came together in a sound studio for the first day of voice recording on POP:SOT, we didn’t have animations, animatics, or even concept art yet. While the POP team was bringing the world and characters of the game to life on screen, two actors first needed to make them real in their imaginations. The Prince and Farah began as voices in darkness.
I cherish voice recording as a special, thrilling, and terrifying moment in game production. Having experienced it from a writer-director’s point of view, I asked Yuri for an actor’s perspective on the process.
Yuri Lowenthal is an actor who lives and works in Los Angeles. You may have heard/seen him in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Afro Samurai, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Ben 10. He is married to actress Tara Platt and easily stalked at @YuriLowenthal. And if you’re nice he’ll tell you the exciting story about the time he met Jake Gyllenhaal.
People often ask me: “What’s harder? Voice acting or real acting?” I’ve heard it so many times that I hardly get offended anymore. Almost hardly. I mean, I get it; the person speaking is really trying to say: “What kind of acting is more difficult, the kind where we just end up hearing your voice, or the kind where we end up seeing your face?”
Well, let’s break it down:
For on-camera acting, I generally get the script in advance, time to talk with the director about the character and what his or her vision is for the project, maybe do a little research, put on a costume, work with some props, walk around the set, rehearse with other actors, and take time to break down the script so that I can bring you, the viewer, the best performance I am capable of.
For voice acting, I generally show up the morning of the recording, am handed a script, and after about 5 minutes (if I’m lucky) of discussion with the director (or sometimes writer) about the project, we get down to business so that I can bring you, the viewer/listener/gamer, the best performance I am capable of. Will my performance be judged less harshly because I didn’t have the niceties that an on-camera or theatrical situation can afford? Absolutely not. Continue Reading
I finally read Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s great memoir this week — prompted by the tsunami of media commentary on the resignation of Steve Jobs (you know, the other guy). It got me thinking about what an incredible impact stuff made or sold by those two Steves has had on my life over the past three decades.
I was a sophomore in high school when I bought my first Apple II. It cost $1200 at the Computerland of Fairfield, Connecticut — my life savings, including all my loot from years of drawing caricatures at community fairs, plus a loan from my kid sister.
I remember opening the box, lifting the computer out of those custom-molded foam packing pieces. The tactile thrill of owning an Apple began before I’d even plugged the thing in. I knew it was going to change my life.
I hooked it up to an old TV and a cassette recorder, and I was up and running.
Weekends and after school (and sometimes instead of school), I progressed from typing in BASIC game program listings from the red book that had come with the Apple (Breakout was the best), to inventing my own games — first in BASIC, then in 6502 machine code, using the built-in mini-assembler. I pored through the red book, trying to understand its secrets.
As soon as I could afford it, I increased the Apple’s 16K of RAM by adding another row of chips, and then another. Each enhancement unlocked new capabilities: hi-res graphics, then two-page hi-res. Newer, more sophisticated games like Apple Invader (a pixel-perfect copy of the coin-op Space Invaders, programmed by the mysterious M. Hata) pushed the machine’s limits beyond what I’d imagined possible. I realized the games I’d programmed so far hadn’t scratched the surface of what it could do.
I brought my Apple to college. Tricked out with a dot-matrix printer, 5 1/4″ floppy disk drive, lower-case adapter chip, and new word-processing software that could hold up to four pages in memory, it replaced a portable Smith-Corona typewriter as my go-to device for writing papers. I was the only kid in my dorm who had such an awesome system. I used it to earn extra cash typing other people’s papers for a buck a page.
Between classes (and instead of them), I used it to make a game called Karateka.
The Karateka royalties bought me a brand-new 512K Macintosh computer, through a special student-discount arrangement Apple had with Yale.
Macs started popping up all around campus that year. It was still unusual for a student to actually own one — the only other guy I knew who had one was David Pogue, down the hall — but anyone could use the ones in the computer rooms, and a lot of people did.
The Mac had a tiny, but amazingly high-resolution screen, with a mouse-driven graphical interface that gave it a totally different vibe from other computers. It was a device that even non-techies felt comfortable using. And it could hold 100 pages of text in memory. The Mac changed playing games and typing papers on computers from a fringe activity into part of mainstream college life.
I loved my Mac. It was a shiny new toy — good to write papers on, fun to show off to friends — but I didn’t consider it a machine for serious programming. I wasn’t enough of an engineer to pop the hood and figure out how it worked and what all the chips did, the way I’d done with the Apple II. It was too sophisticated.
Besides, the installed user base of Macs in 1985 was miniscule compared to the Apple II. As a game programmer, it didn’t make business sense for me to switch.
So my new Mac took its place alongside my main working system — which I’d by then upgraded to a newer Apple IIe with 64K of RAM, two disk drives, color monitor and joystick. That was the computer I used to program Prince of Persia.
I hadn’t anticipated that, due to my combination of obsessive perfectionism and occasionally dilatory work habits, Prince of Persia would take me four years to finish. By the time I was done, the Apple II was obsolete.
Ironically, it was the Mac version that saved my new game from oblivion. While the Apple market was dying, the rise of desktop publishing had created a new market of Mac owners hungry for games to play on their high-resolution color screens. They embraced Prince of Persia and made it a hit.
Today, like almost everyone I know, my daily life is inextricably bound up with Apple products. I’m typing this in a café on a MacBook Air, with an iPad and iPhone in my shoulder bag, and more Macs and iProducts on view at the tables around me than I can count.
Devices that in ten years will seem as quaint as my 1978 Apple II does now.
But oh, man, it was a thing of beauty.
For those of you who missed GDC — or, inexplicably, went to GDC but missed my talk about the making of Prince of Persia on the Apple II in 1985 — that talk has now been posted online along with the other “Classic Game Post-Mortem” talks in the GDC Vault.
I loved the “Classic Game Post-Mortems,” a series of one-hour talks in which game designers spoke about the making of their early games: Eric Chahi on Another World (aka Out of This World), Peter Molyneux on Populous, John Romero and Tom Hall on Doom, Mark Cerny on Marble Madness, Toru Iwatani on Pac-Man were fascinating, inspiring, and touching to hear. (I gave a talk about making Prince of Persia, and really appreciated the generous response.)
But what really grabbed me was the energy and excitement surrounding indie games, especially on new platforms like mobile phones, iOS, Facebook, XBLA and PSN. More than in any previous year, I was reminded of the Apple II zeitgeist of the early eighties. It feels like we’ve come full circle, as an industry, to that time when a tiny team with few resources but talent, creativity and elbow grease has the potential to produce the next hugely influential mega-hit.
And I’m pretty sure I just met some of them in San Francisco.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be speaking at Game Developers Conference 2011 in San Francisco, about the making of Prince of Persia (the original, 1989 side-scroller) as part of their “Classic Game Postmortems” series.
I’m especially excited to hear from the other speakers — an awesome lineup including, among others, Eric Chahi, Will Wright, Ron Gilbert, Peter Molyneux, John Romero, and Toru “Pac-Man” Iwatani — about how their games, which sucked up so many hours of my youth, came to be.
(A non-game-industry friend asked me, in some confusion: “Why call it a post-mortem?” These are retrospectives of games that shipped, not ones that got killed. But even though we game designers and programmers are supposed to be a logical bunch, I don’t think the term “post-partum” is going to catch on any time soon.)
See you at GDC!