A few facts
- The first video game I ever played was Prince of Persia, I was six years old. My school had a bunch of IBM computers which you could use (after finishing homework) and the only game that actually worked on them was Prince of Persia. Unsurprisingly I never got to actually play it very often (or at all) because somehow the boys always got access to the computers before anyone else could. I did manage to play it one time, and never managed to progress further than the first level.
- I have still not progressed past level one, and I will probably never will (The game is available to play on Archive.org https://archive.org/details/msdos_Prince_of_Persia_1990).
- I am also now a game developer and a researcher so as you can imagine the first video game I ever played will feel important even if this is far from being my favourite game.
- The one thing I like the most about video game development is the fact that we do not keep our process a secret. Rather game development by nature is about documenting your process and sharing it with other developers (if you don’t believe me, check Gamasutra or GDC vault). In a way this book (while less specifically focused on the process) is not unique if you are involved in some form or another in the process of developing games, rather a part of a long tradition.
- Prince of Persia was a huge success (but as you learn from the book, that took a while), and is still a very influential game even if it’s influence is less obvious than something like Doom or Super Mario.
- Jordan Mechner, by the age of 20, already released a highly successful game (Karateka) he also REALLY wanted to become a screenwriter and is very ambivalent about making games.
The Making of Prince of Persia Journals 1985-1993 is a collection of diary entries written by Jordan Mechner during the making of Prince of Persia and it’s first sequel. While the book does give us a glimpse into the making of the game (including diagram and photos of the process).it is mainly the story of a young man navigating his way through his early career in an industry and art form that is still in its infancy. It is not perfect (like I really couldn’t handle reading more about his film career) but it is an interesting look at the creative process of making games in the 1980s and early ’90s.
- Jordan did eventually end up writing a screenplay for the “Prince of Persia” movie, which is not great but is certainly much better than a lot of other video game films.
- The hardcover book is just a beautiful book and a serious collector’s item (if that is your thing), I am sure the original ebook diaries are available somewhere (they used to be free on archive.org) but if you just want to own a beautiful book (with some historical significance, at least for video games) this is well worth purchase.
- The original ebook version had a bit of a warning about some more cringy elements, this version does not have the warning but the cringy elements (mostly some random sexism related to the cover of the game) are very much there. This to say, this is a diary written by a very talented and very young man who got very successful very quickly in an era in which our vocabulary around privilege didn’t really exist. I am not sure I would have fared much better if I wrote a bunch of diaries in my early 20’s and I was not as talented nor as successful as Jordan, so I am somewhat ok with the random cringe (but you should know they exist).
- Personally, the best part of the book was the actual illustrations and diagrams of the process, mostly because they felt like validation for my own process of designing games.