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.
Of all the things there are to draw in the world, for me the most fascinating, compelling, and damnably difficult is sketching people I know.
It’s way more pressure than clandestinely sketching complete strangers in a café or an airport. When you draw someone you know, you’ve got nowhere to hide.
This little scribble (lower left) of 2nd AD Rich Goodwin standing between takes on the POP set in Ouarzazate was one of the few times I felt I got a recognizable likeness, even though you can’t see his face. (Whereas the one of John Seale looks nothing like him.)
Many thanks to the readers who’ve been following and commenting on my old journals. Originally, I’d planned to end the feature here — in October 1989, with the release of Apple II Prince of Persia, four years in the making.
Now that we’ve reached that milestone, though, I realize that no self-respecting storyteller would end at such a critical moment, with my worst fears about the game’s commercial prospects soon to be horribly confirmed. So I’ll let my 20-years-younger self keep on blogging from the past a while longer.
Meanwhile, here are answers to some nostalgia-oriented readers’ questions — this one from Ugur Mengilli:
In which programming language was PoP written?
From Nabil Nawaz:
What language did you program Karateka in? How long did it take to code the game?
I coded both Karateka and POP in 6502 assembly language. Looks like this:
CLRMEM LDA #$00 ;Set up zero value TAY ;Initialize index pointer CLRM1 STA (TOPNT),Y ;Clear memory location INY ;Advance index pointer DEX ;Decrement counter BNE CLRM1 ;Not zero, continue checking RTS ;Return
Karateka took me about two years and POP four. Both were significantly slowed down by other things I was attempting at the same time (like finishing college, and writing my first screenplay), as the old journals show.
From Sam Assenberg:
I am Sam and I still play the original Prince of Persia almost every day. I’m a big fan of you and Prince of Persia!
Soon, Prince of Persia exists 20 year and we, my uncle and I, are planning a Prince of Persia anniversary! He played it during a few years after it had been released and I started to play when I was about seven years old, almost nine years ago. We love it very much.
We’ve searched all over the web for the exact release date of PoP (we need that for the anniversary), but we couldn’t find it. And that’s our question for you: when has PoP been released exactly?
I had to check the old journals myself to find the answer. The first Apple II version was published in the U.S. on October 3, 1989. So, still six months away. Thanks, Sam and your uncle, for reminding me!
If you’d like to read the old journals from the beginning, they start here.
This was day 30 of the Prince of Persia movie shoot. A spectacular setup with about 350 extras, horses, camels and goats lined up on a ridge. That afternoon a sandstorm rose up suddenly, prompting the decision to wrap early.
A huge exodus of cars, trucks, animals and extras ensued. I had the bright idea of walking the five minutes back to base camp along with the extras, instead of getting a ride, so I could take pictures of the exodus. This was how I found out that (a) a five-minute walk in a full-on sandstorm takes a lot longer than five minutes, and (b) it only takes about thirty seconds for a camera to get so full of sand that its moving parts won’t move any more.
When I got to the air-conditioned sanctuary of Mike Stenson’s trailer, he remarked: “You’re a different color than when I saw you last.”
Then it rained.
Here are some sketches I made on the Prince of Persia set in Morocco.
India is the assistant script supervisor. The straw hat on the director’s chair is Mike Newell’s.
Though the Prince of Persia has managed to survive for 20 years as a videogame hero without any character ever mentioning his name, this wasn’t a realistic option when it came to writing the movie. He needed a name.
I found it in this passage from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (the Persian Book of Kings):
[The Simorgh] went to the youth and said, “O brave young man, until today I have brought you up as if I were your nurse, and I have taught you speech and the ways of virtue. Now it is time for you to return to your own birthplace. Your father has come searching for you. I have named you Dastan (The Trickster) and from now on you will be known by this name.”
Despite what the Simorgh says, the new name doesn’t stick; everyone goes back to calling him by his real name, Zal. But Dastan seemed like the perfect name for my prince (especially since Zal wasn’t using it). So I borrowed it.
The Trickster has been a popular heroic archetype for thousands of years (Joseph Campbell called him the “Hero with a Thousand Faces”). From his first incarnation as an Apple II sprite, the prince has run, jumped and scrambled firmly in the footsteps of other well-known Tricksters like Robin Hood, Zorro, Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and (of course) the Man with No Name.
As it turns out, the word dastan has shadings I wasn’t aware of — shadings that make it an even more appropriate name for the prince than I realized.
First, several people (including Jake Gyllenhaal the first day we met) have pointed out to me that Dastan is also a Persian word meaning “story.” And so it is, although the vowel is pronounced differently. According to wikipedia, a Dastan is a type of Central Asian oral history “centered on one individual who protects his tribe or his people from an outside invader/enemy.” Hey, just like every video game.
Then, I came across this fascinating article by Dick Davis (the translator of the English edition of the Shahnameh I quoted above). He’s discussing the qualities of the Trickster Hero as they pertain to Rostam, Persia’s greatest epic hero (think Hercules, Siegfried, etc), who is way more famous than Zal or Dastan. It’s a great example of the kind of nuances that get lost in translation:
There is also the curious nature of his name to be taken into account. He is often referred to as “Rostam-e Dastan,” which can have two different meanings. One, “Rostam the son of Dastan,” is the meaning the poem foregrounds, and his father, Zal, is seen as having somewhere along the line acquired a second name, Dastan. But the phrase can also mean “Rostam who possesses the quality of dastan”, and the word “dastan” means “trickery.” This, I believe, was the original meaning of the phrase “Rostam-e Dastan” (probably long before the Shahnameh was written, while the stories of Rostam still had a solely oral existence), i.e. “Rostam the trickster”, the equivalent of Homer’s “Odysseus of many wiles”, and only later did the word dastan come to be identified as the name of his father (after all, his father already had a name, Zal).
The prince in Sands of Time (the video game) at one point wishes aloud that he had the strength of Rostam so that he could smash through a certain wall. I figured a seventh-century Persian prince would have grown up hearing those tales and would use them as a point of reference.
Now he’s got a name of his own.