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[In this article, Gamasutra presents excerpts from Jordan Mechner's The Making of Prince of Persia -- a new e-book which compiles his journals from the late 1980s development of the seminal game -- with a newly-conducted interview about his experiences.]
In 1986 Jordan Mechner began work on the game that would define his career, Prince of Persia, on the Apple II. Over the course of three year period of development, Mechner would partner with Broderbund Software, move to California to work on the game, and radically rethink and retool the game.
These extracts of his new e-book, The Making of Prince of Persia, clearly show how the game took shape over the course of its lengthy development process. To compliment these selections, hand-picked for Gamasutra by Mechner himself, Gamasutra is happy to present a brand new interview about his experiences.
Of the book, Mechner tells Gamasutra, "In a way, I feel that that gives a lot truer picture" of the development of Prince of Persia than a newly-written book would.
"If I were to write my memoir of Prince of Persia now, with hindsight, I would put everything in perspective, give everything the appropriate weight. But since these journals are what I actually wrote on that day, at that moment, there’s a lot of ping-ponging back and forth. One day this is going to be the greatest game of all time, and then two days later I don’t know if I should even finish it."
Notably, Mechner speaks and writes about those who helped shape the game, which he developed himself -- but not without assistance. In particular, he credits his friend and collaborator Tomi Pierce with many important insights. You can read more about Pierce on Mechner's blog.
September 18, 1986
Looked at a house in Mill Valley, on a shady road winding through the redwoods. When I rang the doorbell the lady peered around me and said, "Is your mother down there?"
She spent 15 minutes showing me the house, but I don't think I ever quite convinced her I was serious.
September 23, 1986
Spent much of today working on the logistical problem of how to get the footage from a VHS tape into the computer. I finally (tentatively) settled on photographing the frames one by one with a regular 35mm camera, getting prints made, then (after retouching as needed) digitizing the prints with a regular Sony video camera. It sounds like a pain but I think it's the best way.
September 25, 1986
Another solid workday. Today I stayed till around 7 and got [homemade animation and drawing tool] DRAY pretty much finished. I tested it out by digitizing a page out of Muybridge. It'll do what I need it to do. It could use another day of work. Actually, I could keep working on it for a month, if I didn't have so much else to do.
September 26, 1986
[Director of product development] Ed Bernstein called his last P.D. meeting this afternoon. He's leaving to head up Broderbund's fledgling board games division. DOUG HIMSELF [Co-founder Dug Carlston] will be taking over as acting head of P.D. He'll be taking my desk, the better to stay in touch with the people. So I'll be moving into Ed's office. Life is strange.
P.D. is throwing Ed a goodbye party. "Better the devil we know than the deep blue sea," Steve said.
At lunch, Doug said: "You seem to have a very strong entrepreneurial bent." I was surprised, and said something about how I'd probably inherited it from my father.
Coming out here was definitely the right thing to do. In Chappaqua, I was in a rut. Now, I'm in the thick of it. It's great.
September 27, 1986
I have a car.
September 28, 1986
I have an apartment.
September 29, 1986
Today I moved into Ed's office. Obviously, this is a temporary arrangement; eventually some new guy will be hired to run P.D. and I'll get booted to some other part of the building. But while it lasts, it's great.
Besides vast amounts of space, a couple of armchairs for visitors, my own phone, and a door that I can close, the office has the most important thing of all -- equipment. A printer. An amber screen. An Apple IIc. It didn't occur to me until I was actually confronted with two Apple IIs on my desk and I had to figure out what to do with the extra one -- but it's perfect. Now I can run programs without destroying the source code in memory. It's... (gulp)... a development system.
October 14, 1986
David Stenn read my screenplay. He said it has promise but would need at least one more rewrite to be saleable. Perhaps sensing my disappointment, he said: "Look, it's great for a first script -- it really is. I wouldn't show you my first screenplay. You obviously have talent, you should stick with it."
He was more impressed with the reviews of Karateka I'd sent him. "You're in the right business," he said. "What do you want to get into this one for?"
October 15, 1986
Bought a camera at Whole Earth. It was more expensive than I'd anticipated -- $250 with the lens -- but it's a good camera, and I imagine I'll find some use for it even after the game's done.
I shot my first roll of film (David turning around) and had it developed at the local one-hour photo stop. I think this will work. The real problem, obviously, will be going from a sheaf of snapshots to the 280 x 192 Apple screen, and the loss of accuracy entailed therein. It almost makes me want to do it in double hi-res.
October 19, 1986
Shot four more rolls of film: David running and jumping in the Reader's Digest parking lot. One year ago tomorrow. Red and orange leaves... God, I'm homesick.
October 21, 1986
Today I wrote the first lines of code of the game (not counting the hi-res routines). It Begins.
October 23, 1986
Everyone in the office has been playing a lot of Tetris -- a Russian submission for the IBM PC. It's a classic, like Breakout. But I don't think Broderbund is going to publish it. The knaves.
October 25, 1986
Yesterday I implemented the running animation. Next I'll do the jumping... then the stopping... then the "jumping from a stopped position"... oh boy, this is great!
I restrained myself from taking all my work papers home with me yesterday... and I'm restraining myself from going to work today. There must be Balance.
October 31, 1986
Ed was pretty thrilled with the rough running and jumping animation, now under joystick control. So was Tomi. Lauren, Doug, and Gary didn't act all excited, but I think they were secretly impressed.
I love the quality of the just-digitized roughs, but I'm having trouble preserving that fluidity and realism when I clean it up and stylize the figures. This is going to be a problem.
I beat out Ed and Steve for the #1 spot on the Tetris high-score list.
The Mets won the World Series.
November 9, 1986
God, I miss New York.
Fifth Avenue... Christmas shoppers... rich ladies in furs laden with shopping bags and kids... crisp cold autumn air... the smell of burnt pretzels... St. Peter's... the steel drum players wearing woolen gloves with cut-off fingers, breath condensing on the air...
I'm looking out the window at the San Francisco skyline across the bay dotted with white sails. It looks unreal. Like some kind of paradise.
November 10, 1986
Called Kyle Freeman in L.A. (he's at Electronic Arts now) and asked him what he'd charge to license his Apple music subroutine. He spent half the phone call dumping on Broderbund. I realized after I'd hung up that this was the first thing I'd done independent of Broderbund since I got here. Interestingly, it actually strengthened my confidence that Broderbund is the right place for me. It reminded me that I am independent.
November 18, 1986
Digitized the running skidding turn-around that was so amusing on videotape. It looks okay. I'll need to redo the straight running, but I think everything else will work as it stands.
About half the animations are in now. Next step will be getting the character to interact with the environment (climbing a rope ladder, pulling a lever, etc.)
At this juncture I think I'll redirect my attention to the game design.