Prince of Persia, how to make a classic game

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I’ve been blogging for a long time now, probably upwards of 15 years at this point. I started writing stupid features (like a poor man’s Onion) and that led into honest blogging, mostly about video games and toys. Writing is something I enjoy doing but one thing I’ve never done is kept a diary. I’ve always written with intent for others to read it whereas a diary is typically private, never to be read by anyone except the author. Thankfully some people do keep diaries, and some of them even choose to publish them as a book later on in life, which is exactly what Jordan Mechner has done. You might otherwise know Jordan as the guy that created Prince of Persia.

Good old games

Prince of Persia was one of the first games I had on my PC when I was a kid, and thus it was one of the first games I finished from beginning to end. I got a copy of the game from a friend (yes, I did copy that floppy) and played it non-stop until I saved the princess. As a kid with a new computer, Prince of Persia blew me away. Looking at it now it might look cheap and simple but back then it was near-unmatched in animation and sound…not to mention it was just straight up fun. Prince of Persia was just challenging enough to be fun without being frustrating, it struck a good balance that some other games just couldn’t reach.

Prince of Persia

Like stepping back in time…

Making a future classic

Jordan Mechner recently released his development diary that covers the creation of Prince of Persia. You can get the ebook/Kindle edition for only $7 or order a print edition for a little bit more. I’m sucker for video game origin stories, especially when it covers a game and/or time period that I played and remember fondly…and Prince of Persia is one of those games. It’s funny because when you’re a kid playing the game you assume there’s a whole team of people making the game but Jordan’s diary shows the truth is just the opposite. Prince of Persia was pretty much a one-man project when it came to original development.

Prince of Persia

Jump, man, jump!

The diary covers a big chunk of Jordan’s life between 1985 and 1992, starting pretty much the day he graduated from college at Yale. Prior to Prince of Persia, Jordan created Karateka, another classic, so he wasn’t new to making a video game but nothing up to that point had prepared him for what would become of Prince of Persia. His diary talks about the trials and tribulations of making a video game from scratch…the programming, the story, the art…everything. Despite the story being almost 30 years old at this point, you can’t help but feel for Jordan as he talks about his own slacking in making game under a deadline which was only compacted by the troubles of the game industry at the time. You also get an incredibly personal account of what Jordan was feeling as a 20-something trying to make it in what was still an infant video game industry. Yeah, you know that everything turned out for the guy and now he’s a game industry legend but that doesn’t ruin this book in the slightest.

Prince of Persia

Swashbuckling at its finest

I’ve been a game dev wannabe since I was in 7th grade. I always dreamed of making a game (or anything for that matter) that people wanted to play and, more so, enjoy playing. I probably missed my chance when it comes to video games but I’ve come up with many, many projects that have come and gone in my life. Whether those project were web sites, wall art or games or whatever, I always have to be creating something or I’m just not happy. But as what typically happens, I get jazzed up about the prospects and then get discouraged or just lose interest when things don’t happen fast enough. In short, the thrill of the thought only lasts so long and thus many of my projects never get done. It’s rare that one makes it from concept to production and actually succeeds. Of course, failure is necessary for success but it’s easy to get bummed out. However, all it takes for me is a read like this Prince of Persia diary to motivate me. Finding out that one of your favorite games was the result of one man’s hard work ┬áis a reminder that good things can happen when you just see things through. Success is never a guarantee but you’ll never see success unless you get your product in front of people.

A motivating tale

The Making of the Prince of Persia is an intimate story of one guy’s quest to make a game that people would enjoy but it’s also a decent guide for how to do anything. The challenges he had to go through making Prince of Persia are the same ones we all have to overcome regardless whether you’re making a video game or a dollhouse. One of my favorite quotes from this diary is one that I will be hanging in my office where I work. It was written in context about Jordan’s slacking and anxiousness in making Prince:

You’ve dug your way deep into an active gold mine and are holding off from digging the last two feet because you’re too dumb to appreciate what you’ve got and too lazy to finish what you’ve started.

That pretty much sums up every project I’ve ever started. It always sounds like fun and it is to start but then you fall down the rabbit hole and you start discovering things you didn’t plan for or think about. Yeah, proper research and planning should have avoided this but who does that? Honestly, you can waste a lot of time planning too and then it’s easy to not even start! I’d rather start and not finish than keep an idea only in my head.

But I digress…whole point is that The Making of the Prince of Persia is a great success story that will motivate anyone to take a chance to get involved with something they love. Since the book is really just his published diary, there are spots where it’s easy to glaze over and skim because he’s not talking directly about the game but even then it’s a good read. If you’re interested in video game history or what it takes to create your own game, then The Making of the Prince of Persia should definitely be on your reading list.

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About Author

Brian is a staff writer at TMA. He races Hot Wheels at RedlineDerby.com while watching cartoons with his kid. You can follow @morningtoast on Twitter.

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