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The Making of Prince of Persia (2011) [pdf] (jordanmechner.com)
302 points by tosh 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments

I actually met Jordan Mechner a couple of times, around 2011. I had a coworker/common friend who would throw big parties I recognized him oddly enough based on his drawing style, as a fan of his blog. he was sitting in one of the bedrooms at the party drawing in his sketchbook. We talked a bit about the last express, (another one of my all time favorites) and the various iterations of PoP. He was very shy and quiet but really wonderful to chat with. Funny enough, at this same party I met another hero of my youth, Dave Taylor, one of the original members of ID. most likely because they were both working on the Karateka remake together at the time. (these were fancy hollywood party with a few film celebrity type people... but me being a game nerd only recognized the game folks that showed up)

I've never met Jordan but I used to work with his brother, David, whom the motion capture is based on. He was always proud of his contribution to his brother's game. What a great experience for both of them to be involved with this in their youth.

We had this game on a Mac in 7th grade. We'd play through the first part, then get to the copy protection scheme which was a room where you'd have to select the letter of the first sentence on page 7 or something. We'd guess constantly and occasionally get it right so we could play, but otherwise didn't have the manual.

I loved Prince of Persia for MSDOS because it made me learn to "hack" / "crack" at computers.

I remember also being stuck on the first level and then on the copy-protection. Until one day while pressing random keyboard combinations I noted that a game was saved. At the same point, my father had this XTree Gold program in the computer (like DOSSHell but better), and it had a HEX view... when you opened the .SAV file in this view, you had only like 8 or 9 bytes. I remember my excitement when I changed that 01 to 02 and boom! after loading the game I started in level 2 .

Back in school (I was in 6th grade at that time) my friends had no clue what had I done to get past that copy protection level.

It was downhill for me and cracking at that point... I was not interested in playing but more on doing reverse engineering on different games and programs.

Similar story, but he editing doom and SimCity was a good time. A double barreled unlimited ammo shotgun made levels a little easier. or building a city with 2 billion dollars was fun.

There was a famous pool game with different formats (8-ball, 9-ball, snooker etc) in early 2000. The game-play was pretty realistic but it was demo version and it asked for 6 digit password to unlock all features. I just loaded the executable in editor and voila the only readable digits among the binary data was the password. It was pretty stupid of developers not to encrypt the password!

> It was pretty stupid of developers not to encrypt the password!

You are being very unfair to that era. Even cutting edge software like Norton Utilities did the same, although they XORed the passwords. That passed as encryption then.

Not if the idea is to get money from honest customers only. Most people who try to get the full game for free aren’t going to pay anyway.

Yes! We played through the first level so many times we found a way to beat it in ~90 seconds. If you lure out the guard on the right, the first in the game who protects the entrance to level 2, you can climb up through a false ceiling and drop down behind him. You never get the sword, but on level two you're assumed to have taken it and so you have it with you. This meant we could get a playthrough in once every hour or so of playing the first level...

Sometimes I would run to that guard and jump through him and finish the level very quickly. On a small but significant fraction of the times, his sword strike would miss so it was possible to skip him without luring/climbing. Since the success rate is low, this only makes sense for that guard, as losing to that guard has a low cost: you just restart the game.

Yes, not sure what triggers it but I would often see this random shift past an enemy with the skeleton later in the game. What a great game.

I remember on the PC one would type

C:\> prince megahit

to get unlimited lives and level skipping.

For Prince 2, the magic word was "makinit". Does anyone know if there is any meaning behind it?

If you open the executable in a text editor there is some text that actually tells you this code.

My first discovery of this game was also on a mac in 7th grade (in NOLA).

That's really interesting, here's the link to the full book:


I bought it immediately upon finishing the PDF, and my Kindle's battery is dead..

Making Prince of Persia is terrific. I'd also recommend Masters of Doom, a book about the heyday of id Software.


The book is awesome, make sure to read also Making of Karateka, about his previous game.

I read both books 4 or 5 times, basically once a year everytime I start having doubts about being indie (non-game) developer.

For someone who is into old games, I would also recommend book "It's behind you" which covers a story of porting R-Type to ZX-Spectrum:



Thanks for mentioning this. R-Type is one of my all time favorites, can't wait to give it a read.

Prince of Persia (1990) has found its way into the Internet archive. You can play it here on your browser (DOSbox emulator):


it doesn't work well on my mac with chrome unfortunately...

*It is actually working fine after a refresh. shift + L for next level, shift + T for more lives (you have to ctrl quit and then start with Prince.exe megahit)


Yes, and Shift-W to float when falling.

Worked fine in firefox.

On a somewhat related note, there's a blog[1] that details how the Commodore 64 port of that game was made:

[1] http://popc64.blogspot.com/

That's a modern recreation based (in part) on reversing the original rather than a contemporary commercial port - a much crazier story than 'C64 port' might make it sound. Readers should also stick around for the post-credits scene where the original Apple ][ source is found well after the project is completed!

"On the one hand, if I live at home for much longer I’ll go stir-crazy. What I need is a place to go. Friends. Work. Moving to Marin and doing another game for Broderbund would give me that...the games business is drying up.

Karateka may make me as little as $75,000 all told, and it’s at the top of the charts. Tere’s no guarantee the new game will be as successful."

What. $75,000 for a 21 year old in 1985? ($180,000 today.)

Why did he seem so upset about that?

Probably not, but expectations change through time - especially if you make such a successful game. Quoting from The Making of Karateka Journals:

"February 13, 1982 Scott Barnes from Hayden called. Will they ever publish Asteroids? It’s been over a year — fifteen months — since I submitted it and they accepted it. (Sigh.) If they only sell 1,000 copies, I’ll make $4,500 — if they sell 5,000, I’ll make $22,500 — ridiculously high sums of money. Right now I only have $500, counting everything. So why am I not on the phone with them every morning, pushing, pushing? Oh well. When I finish Deathbounce and sell it, I’ll be rich and then I can stop worrying about money for the next few years."

I guess because amortized over, say 5 years, that's just equivalent to a $15k p.a. salary (or $36k today) and that's a maximum for him. Hardly 'fuck-you money' really, and I think it might even be less than the average wage in the US...?

The DOS version had a CGA port, which runs extremely slow. Seems to be about 5-8 fps on a 4.77MHz machine, probably 8-12 fps on an 8MHz machine. The technical document doesn't seem to say how the sprites were done on the Apple II (I could be wrong, but I don't think the Apple II had sprite hardware either). It looks to be about 12 fps on the Apple II and a whole lot more colourful. It's amazing how smooth that looks. But I wonder if they used a sprite compiler or not. There's not a huge number of sprites on the screen, so it could potentially have been very, very smooth.

I played PoP on an IBM XT 8088 4.77 MHz with a monochrome monitor and it was ok.

It was one of the faster modern games available at the time.

The XT could run a surprising number of modern games in the late 80s e.g. Police Quest, Budokan, Monkey Island, etc.

Looking at the description of the C64 port, it looks like each frame of the character in the DOS and Apple II versions were just drawn over the scene and the pixels affected just redrawn when he moves (including blocks that obscure his view). So, no sprite compiler.

With the cheat mode enabled, you can see this in-game by pressing Shift + B. Static parts of the level go dark, only the animated characters and their surroundings are rendered.

I'd love to read more development diaries of games and software in general. Is there a list/collection of some?

We aggregate exactly that kind of material over in https://www.reddit.com/r/TheMakingOfGames/

There are many books (and magazine articles) written about these.

While I don't have a directly useful list, one source I can recommend is Humble Bundle (humblebundle.com), which also runs book bundle sales (where sometimes the topic is gaming). I've seen it have some game related book bundles over the years.

Another site to keep an eye on is Story Bundle (storybundle.com), which is somewhat similar to Humble Bundle, but focuses only on books.

Unfortunately, the bundles on these sites are always available only for a limited time.

You can see past Humble Bundle books at https://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/humble-bundle

You can see past Story Bundle books at https://storybundle.com/archive

While not something to read, I really enjoy GDC classic game postmortems. One of my favourites is Populous. [1] I find it fascinating how such a successful game came out of experimentation without a real plan ahead of time.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIaK6y5kdro

I like these too. Here's Jordan Mechner on Prince of Persia:


Also for Fallout fans (the first game): (EDIT: unrelated to Prince of Persia, I just like Fallout) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2OxO-4YLRk

Check out Spelunky book (published by boss fight)

Noclip also has a documentary on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv434Xyybqc

We're all bad negotiators when we're young. Poor kid got taken to town by the jerks at Brøderbund.

Is this intimated in the linked PDF? (I haven’t read it yet).

I agree about being poor negotiators when we’re young - and young is only a function of how long you have spent in the field you’re negotiating.

> and young is only a function of how long you have spent in the field you’re negotiating

Not only in the field, i think it's also about general life experience and dealing with people.

I suspect Steve Jobs was an exception to this rule.

To me it's a mystery how one can sustain an effort for so long and not losing faith along the way and throw everything through the window... I know it's tenacity that wins the race in the end, but still, it's always impressive to read those stories.

You might like this talk by Jonathan Blow on "Deep Work": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uUl_aTbOzQ

This was pretty much the only game on my computer in the 1990s when I was a little boy. I must have played and replayed it a thousand times!

Same here, it was the game of my childhood.

Same here starting in 1990, me and my then-6-year old daughter spending many happy hours playing PoP on her Macintosh. "Oregon Trail" was our #2.

I remember it very well on my Amiga 500, together with Another World the movements felt wonderfully fluid and natural. Used it as reference when paining sprites in Deluxe Paint, my brother coding in Amos etc. good times.

I've never played the original, but I had the Genesis version as a kid. That game was hard, so ridiculously hard and when I did finally manage to make it to the end, i didn't have enough time left to kill the boss and finish the game. You had 60 minutes or something like that to beat it. I spent a lot of time playing it though, I think I did beat it eventually but if I did it was overshadowed by that first time making it to the end with just not quite enough time. I tried from that last password over and over again and just couldn't do it.

> There’s no guarantee the new game will be as successful. Or that there will even be a computer games market a couple of years from now.

One of those things that you look back at and can't believe it.

'There’s no guarantee the new game will be as successful. Or that there will even be a computer games market a couple of years from now.'

- JULY 5, 1985

I love reading stuff like this.

”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”

I can’t help but feel that the generation before mine was a lot more well rounded as individuals.

Just here to say I loved this game. Afew years back I stuck it in a virtual machine so I could pause it and actually finished the game!

How pause it will give you an edge?

I take it to mean they paused the VM, allowing them to complete the game in sections when they had the time.

Actually there is a trick with ingame pause that can be used to bypass the blade traps. If you walk as close to the blade trap as possible, pause the game constantly until the blades are completely shut, then press the movement arrow, the game will unpause and you will perfectly go past the blades trap.

The game is timed, normally.

>> I’m getting to the point where I want to rush out and buy a video camera, a VCR and a digitizer and get to work.

What was that back in 1984 dollars? I remember my dad buying just a VCR from Fretter electronics when I was a kid and it was like $700.

I remember the game was hard, I used to know some cheat codes

Does prince.exe /megahits ring a bell? Prince of Persia was the very first PC game I ever played. Fun days of booting my 486 with a dos floppy disk and running the game off of a different set of floppy disks.

It rings some bells, yes it does. Back when I was playing PP I it was out of reach to play the original and I came by a hack/crack to pass the potions part of the game got which you had to have the originals game booklet to look up certain words on pages, remember that excitement. Games were superior in estetics IMO and now they got complicated and lost the magic, I look at my nephew playing some horrible games and wonder..

How did Mechner get access to a rotoscope?

Fairly sure he just painted on transparent paper over a film projection and then manually digitized or something like that, no fancy equipment.

He talks about the process here (for Karateka) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wnutf4XObWk Not mentioned in the video, but the process for getting from the tracing paper to digital was a Versawriter tablet, which looks like a pantograph - you can see one here http://blog.lonaday.com/2007/02/graphics-tablets.html

I mistook the title to refer to the Prince of Persia (2008) reboot of the franchise haha. Cool read though.

Disclaimer: This is a 41 page sample.

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