Diary of a Prince

We’re spoiled for choice. It’s not our fault, to be fair – the games industry is just huge, and we can hardly go one calendar month without hitting a Mass Effect 2 or a Final Fantasy XIII at the moment. We can afford to be a little picky! It’s easy to dismiss a poor game and all the hard work that goes into it, because we’re consumers detached from the full life-cycle of the product, simply looking for the best value for our hard-earned cash. That said, the untold-effort that goes into even the simpliest of games is frankly mind-boggling when you break it down; thousands of hours spent working on art design, sound creation, program logic (as a Computer Science undergrad, I have some understanding of the pain involved in this!) and addressing the ever-persistent issue of “does it actually play well?”.

That’s why I’ve always found the process of how games are born so fascinating. Be it from a Kotaku interview, linked on Jeff Gerstmann’s Twitter or as part of a Eurogamer retrospective piece, I latch onto any tidbit of behind-the-scenes info I can find. I was elated to discover the old journals of Jordan Mechner recently on his website, detailing his youth in his early 20s. Jordan Mechner has lived a storied life as a game designer, but things certainly didn’t start out that way. While he achieved early success with the Apple II classic Karateka, he’s better known as the creator of the original Prince of Persia, one of the most influential action/platformer/puzzle hybrids of all time. Despite this, his initial goal was to become a screenwriter, drawing inspiration from his time in college as a film-buff.

The rotoscoped animation in Prince of Persia still looks fluid today. It's incredible to think it came from this!
The rotoscoped animation in Prince of Persia still looks fluid today. It's incredible to think it came from this!

What Mr. Mechner has done with these journals is unprecedented. By publishing these online for all to see, he has painted perhaps the most interesting – and certainly, the most brutally honest – picture of 1980s games development to be found anywhere. Often pessimistic, but never forgoing hope, practically every month of his life has an entry that needs to be highlighted. He moves 3,000 miles on the strength of a game concept he calls “Baghdad”, and uses his brother as a rotoscoping model to record footage that more than a couple of our readers will recognise. He muses over Tetris and the device he calls the “Nintendo Game Machine“. He moves from one office to the next, struggles with procrastination, but gets to hang out with George Lucas. On the suggestion of his friend Tomi, he implements a rival for the Prince known as “Shadow Man”, and discusses the back-and-forth of game risk/reward. His colleague’s kids become his first real beta-testers. Some things never change, as Microsoft Word crashes and then someone at Broderbund has a problem with, uh, cleavage. Jordan recounts a certain earthquake in 1989, and then Prince of Persia becomes the mega-hit he was hoping it would. Of course, he dreams beyond that, with a film that will finally be released this year.

These accounts of his time with Prince of Persia… they’re human. They’re emotional. They’re wry. They’re intelligent. They’re amusing. They’re bittersweet. They are, above all, inspirational. If you have any interest in the history of this medium and have a few hours to kill, you owe it to yourself to check them out.

The man himself
The man himself.

“The little guy will be wiggling and jittering like a Ralph Bakshi rotoscope job… but he’ll be alive. He’ll be this little shimmering beacon of life in the static Apple-graphics Persian world I’ll build for him to run around in.” – Jordan Mechner







2 responses to “Diary of a Prince”

  1. Simon avatar

    Sounds fascinating. My background is in Computer Science too, so I think I’ll find this of interest, when I find time to go through it.

  2. James avatar

    Required reading if ever I heard of any. Thanks for the heads up. 🙂

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