From the start, Jordan Mechner seems to have mastered the art of the hustle: In high school, he sold Mad Magazine–inspired comics and penned caricatures at local fairs. He then took the revenue and bought a 16K Apple II, which he used to create the hit video game Karateka while studying at Yale. (Oh, and he developed the predecessor of motion capture tech in the process.)
And then, fresh out of college with a BA in psychology, he created the legendary Prince of Persia—and the unlikely, fascinating, if not thrilling, saga of its development is the subject of the behind-the-scenes illustrated and annotated collector’s edition, The Making of Prince of Persia: Journals 1985–1993, out today from Stripe Press.
Here, PRINT presents an exclusive excerpt of the book’s introduction, and a sampling of pages for a defining game of the late ’80s and early ’90s, which would redefine the field of video games for years to come.
From the Book:
I started keeping a journal in college, and kept it up for several years afterward. During those years I created my first games, Karateka and Prince of Persia, on an Apple II computer.
It was the start of a journey that would see my shape-shifting prince transform into a modern video game hero, LEGO Minifigure, and even Jake Gyllenhaal in a summer blockbuster movie. But in 1985, he existed only as a few scribbles on a yellow-lined pad. In my old journals I recorded his birth pangs.
Rereading these notebooks years later, reliving the creative, technical and personal struggles that brought the prince into being, I thought others might find them of interest. So I began posting daily entries on my website, at jordanmechner.com, a kind of “developer diary from the past.”
When the blog ended, I compiled the entries and published them as a book. The old journals seemed to resonate not only with retro-gaming fans and game developers, but with writers, artists and creators of all stripes, some of whom weren’t born yet in 1985.
This book is not a look back. It’s what I wrote then, in present tense, weird capitalization and all. The rawness is inherent—to “fix” a diary by revising it with hindsight would be cheating—yet for this 30th-anniversary hardcover edition, Stripe and I thought a bit of judicious annotation might help readers who aren’t me understand what the heck I was talking about at certain moments. So we used a different color ink.
We also wanted to add illustrations. This gave me a reason to spend pleasant hours combing through the Strong Museum of Play’s digital archive of my 1980s notes, sketches and work-in-progress floppy disks I hadn’t seen in decades, seeking images to complement the journal entries. My thanks to Julia Novakovic, Andrew Borman and Jon-Paul Dyson of the Strong’s ICHEG (International Center for the History of Electronic Games); Jason Scott of the Internet Archive; website admin Bryan Seles; Olivia Chernoff and Brianna Wolfson of Stripe Press; and especially book designers Tyler Thompson and Kevin Wong, who elegantly wove a jumble of disparate visual elements and two narrative voices into a coherent whole.
As the journal pages show, even a game ostensibly made by one person is a group effort, supported by a circle that starts with friends and family and expands as the project progresses. Prince of Persia is remembered today because of the work, talent, and dedication of thousands of people around the world, including the teams at Broderbund, Ubisoft, Disney and elsewhere who worked on the games, books and movie, and an incredible community of fans and retro-gaming enthusiasts who have carried the torch to places I couldn’t have imagined in 1989.
Now I’ll hand the narration over to 20-year-old me. He will occasionally say things that make me cringe. I’ll see you in the margins, as I follow along with my blue pen.
—Jordan MechnerMontpellier, France
Excerpted from The Making of Prince of Persia: Journals 1985–1993 by Jordan Mechner. Copyright © 2011, 2020 by Jordan Mechner. Excerpted by permission of Stripe Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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