American author, game designer, graphic novelist and screenwriter Jordan Mechner is best known as a pioneer of cinematic storytelling in the video game industry, and as the creator of Prince of Persia, one of the most successful and enduring video game franchises of all time.
Since 2017, Jordan has lived in France, where he made his debut as a graphic-novel writer/artist this year with the autobiographical Replay (2023). His graphic novels as writer include Monte Cristo (2022, with Mario Alberti), Liberty (2023, with Étienne Le Roux & Loïc Chevallier), and the New York Times best-selling Templar (2013, with LeUyen Pham & Alex Puvilland). His recent works have been published first in French, with English editions due in 2024.
Mechner began his career as a video game creator in the 1980s in high school in Chappaqua, New York, on a 16K Apple II computer bought with his earnings producing and selling Mad Magazine-inspired comics and drawing caricatures at local fairs. He developed and programmed his first game, Karateka, while a student at Yale University. Inspired by his film studies and vintage Disney animation, Mechner developed a rotoscoping process to capture Super 8 film footage of his friends and family members, a first step toward the motion capture technology widely used in today's video games. Karateka was published by Broderbund in 1984 and became a #1 bestseller. One of the first games to combine arcade action with realistic animation and cinematic storytelling, it created a new template that other early fighting games would follow.
After graduating from Yale with a B.A. in psychology, Mechner upgraded from 8mm to VHS to create the rotoscoped animation for his next game, Prince of Persia, using his 16-year-old brother David as a model. Inspired by the 1001 Nights tales he had known as a child, Mechner completed Prince of Persia for the Apple II in 1989. His father, Francis Mechner, an educational psychologist, entrepreneur, and classical pianist born in Vienna, Austria, composed the music, as he had done for Karateka. Published by Broderbund and subsequently adapted onto nearly every computer and console platform of the 1990s, Prince of Persia is recognized as a major influence in the development of the action-adventure video game genre.
Mechner followed by designing and directing a successful sequel, Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame, published by Broderbund in 1993. Pursuing games and cinema as separate parallel interests at a time when the two industries had not yet converged, he studied screenwriting and 16mm filmmaking at New York University, receiving a Certificate in Film. He spent the summer of 1992 in economically stricken post-Soviet Cuba making a 16mm short, Waiting for Dark, which won awards at international festivals.
Mechner next founded independent developer Smoking Car Productions, with co-writer Tomi Pierce, to create the critically acclaimed 1997 CD-ROM adventure game The Last Express. Based in San Francisco's North Beach, the Smoking Car team developed and patented a digital rotoscoping process to combine live-action footage with a historically accurate 3D recreation of the 1914 Orient Express on the eve of World War I. Remastered in 2012 for mobile platforms by French publisher DotEmu, The Last Express is still considered one of the most ambitious and artistically successful interactive narratives attempted to date. Among its innovations are its real-time structure with a large cast of characters acting independently, and a "rewind" mechanism that would be taken further in 2003's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
A lifelong journal-keeper, Mechner has published his game development diaries from the 1980s (The Making of Karateka and The Making of Prince of Persia), along with Prince of Persia's Apple II source code — lost for 20 years, then found in 2012 on a set of 3.5" floppy disks. The original Karateka has been re-released for iOS and Android mobile platforms.
In 2001, Mechner joined forces with Ubisoft to reinvent his decade-old, best-known classic for a new generation of console gamers. Developed at Ubisoft's Montreal studio with Mechner as game designer, writer, and creative consultant, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was a breakout hit of 2003, winning two Game Developers Choice awards and sweeping the 2004 Interactive Achievement Awards (DICE) with 12 nominations and 8 awards. Its success relaunched Prince of Persia as a global franchise including toys, graphic novels, LEGO sets, and over 20 million games sold to date. Ubisoft went on to release four more major Prince of Persia sequels, while spinning off the game's signature mix of parkour, sword fighting, and an exotic historical setting into a new open-world franchise, Assassin's Creed (originally developed by the Montreal team as a sequel entitled Prince of Persia: Assassin).
In 2010, Mechner became the first game creator to successfully adapt his own work as a feature film screenwriter with Disney's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, and Ben Kingsley; Mechner received screen story and executive producer credit. Mechner also wrote the script for a Disney graphic novel prequel anthology, Prince of Persia: Before the Sandstorm. With box-office receipts of $335 million worldwide, Prince of Persia set the record for the world's highest-grossing video game film adaptation until 2016.
Mechner directed a 2012 indie remake of Karateka, developed by Pasadena-based Liquid Entertainment and executive-produced by John August. The rhythm-based game features a real-time musical score by Grammy award-winning composer Christopher Tin, who reinterpreted and orchestrated Francis Mechner's original Apple II music with more authentic instruments.
Mechner's work as an author, screenwriter, and filmmaker, along with his video games, reflects his passion for deep historical research and world-building, and interest in time and memory. His short documentary film Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story won the 2003 IDA award for Best Short Documentary, was short-listed for an Academy Award nomination, and received its broadcast premiere on PBS Independent Lens in 2005.
Mechner is a recipient of the 2017 GDC Pioneer Award, among other awards and honors. His works are often included in all-time lists of the game industry's best and most influential titles. He lives in France and has two children. He keeps a sketchbook journal.
Subscribe to Jordan's monthly newsletter to receive the latest updates and announcements: