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Earlier this year, as a companion project to my graphic memoir Replay, I started creating "author's tribute" artworks inspired by my past video games. (You can download them as wallpapers from the Library, or see the original series of art prints on the Artworks page.)
I've been blown away by the enthusiastic response both to the artworks, and to Replay (now in French bookstores; English edition will be released in March 2024). The outpouring of love for these games so many decades after their release is amazing to me.
Today, I'm releasing a new print: "Cliffhanger" — which is where Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame ended in 1993. For those who remember the game, here's a short refresher video of the ending. (If you didn't finish it: Spoiler alert!)
Fans and colleagues have been asking me for the past 30 years: Why not do a third game to complete the 2D Prince of Persia trilogy? And who is that mysterious sorceress, anyway?
Prince of Persia 3
My graphic memoir Replay addresses the first question. In parallel to my grandfather's experience as a young soldier in World War I, and my father's as a child refugee during World War II, the book tells my own story of how Prince of Persia 3 got green-lit, then cancelled — twice: first in 1993, then in 2019.
As to the second question, my intention was always to reveal the sorceress's identity and back story through game play, not in a blog post. Short of making the game, the best answer I can give now is this artwork. Images can suggest things in ways words can't.
I composed "Cliffhanger" to evoke the final image of POP2, and to depart from it. The prince, princess, and sorceress in my drawing don't exactly match the characters in the 1993 PC game, nor do they literally represent the 2019 team's work-in-progress at the point development was cancelled. My goal was to create an artwork that embraces both my evolving vision of POP3, and fans' enduring curiosity for the past 30 years about this mysterious sorceress and the game that never was.
In the book Replay, I use a yellow two-color palette for the present-day story, blue for my 1980s and 90s game-development days. "Cliffhanger" combines both palettes. The tower glimpsed in the crystal ball behind the prince and princess's flying horse is not a Persian palace, but the medieval Gothic cathedral of Montpellier, where the 2019 game development was based.
It was a disappointment to me and the team when POP3 got cancelled four years ago, but I'm grateful for the silver lining. It gave me time and space to create my recent graphic novels Monte Cristo, Replay, and Liberty, and other team members the opportunity to bring their top-notch talents to exciting new projects — notably Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, a fresh 2D Metroidvania take on the POP universe, slated for January 2024 release.
In the meantime, here's "Cliffhanger" — my personal tribute to the POP teams, the great work they've done for three decades and counting, and to the fans who've kept the Prince of Persia flame alive in our collective imaginations.
My first two POP art prints sold out their editions of 40 within hours of announcement, leaving some people wishing they'd been able to get one. So rather than try to guess the right number in advance for "Cliffhanger," I'm doing a time-limited release. (The concept feels appropriate for POP.) Here's how it works:
For the first 48 hours following this announcement (ending at 9 a.m. Thursday, 14 September), everyone who orders can get a print (in either the 30x40 or 40x60 size; take your pick). The editions will then be sized based on the number of orders received in that 48-hour window. Whether the edition ends up being 10, 40, or more, we'll produce and I'll individually hand-number and sign that many. Once the sale closes, no more prints of this artwork will be made — that's the nature of a limited edition, and protects its value for collectors. If you'd like one, you can place your order here.
And for those who read French, I urge you to get to a bookstore and check out Replay. It provides insight into the personal and creative roots of my games, including Prince of Persia, that I can only communicate in a graphic novel. For readers curious about the connections between the book and real-life events, I've also posted an online Replay Annex with chapter-by-chapter commentary and resources.
The English edition of Replay will be released by First Second Books in March 2024. You can pre-order it, or early-order a signed edition, on the Replay page.
I'm thrilled to announce the launch of my new graphic novel trilogy LIBERTY — an epic historical adventure, spectacularly drawn by Étienne LeRoux and Loïc Chevallier. It's the true story of an unlikely friendship that changed history in 1776, when a Parisian playwright teamed up with a Yankee merchant from Connecticut to smuggle desperately-needed arms to the American rebel army. From the moment I learned about this 18th-century "black ops" — a little-known and fascinating chapter of the American revolution and of Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais' colorful life, powerfully relevant to today's world — I knew I had to write it.
If you've read my previous graphic novels Templar or Monte Cristo (or played The Last Express), you know I love stories of adventure and intrigue set against a backdrop of real historical events. (Those three take place in the 14th, 21st, and early 20th centuries, respectively.) I connected with this one immediately.
In school, I was always bored by American history. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington... yawn. But the odd-couple pairing of bon vivant Beaumarchais (the author of The Marriage of Figaro, whom Voltaire called the wittiest writer in France) and straitlaced Silas Deane (an American secret agent sent to Paris in a classic fish-out-of-water setup) grabbed my imagination. Deane and Beaumarchais are unsung heroes. They have no statues or streets named in their honor (and when you read LIBERTY, you'll understand why). Yet their contribution was critical.
I felt personal empathy with both characters. As an American expat in France myself (see my graphic memoir Replay), I identified with Silas Deane's sense of being an outsider in Paris, "lost in translation" far from home. It must have been daunting for a guy from a small East Coast town to plunge into Parisian politics and dealmaking at the glittering pinnacle of an older, sophisticated European society. And although video game development has little in common with gun running, I could vividly relate to Silas's partner, Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais. He earned fame and fortune by writing a hit play (The Barber of Seville), staked it all on a startup with an idealistic premise but questionable business model, ran through his funding too fast, and wound up at the mercy of his backers and creditors. To be sure, I gambled my Prince of Persia royalties in 1993 on a much less important venture; but it helped me imagine the predicament of a playwright-turned-entrepreneur facing bankruptcy in 1776.
The purpose that brought Deane and Beaumarchais together — an underdog struggle by a new nation against a vastly more powerful and better-equipped empire, who sends a huge army to crush resistance and lay waste to their homes and towns rather than accept their right to self-government — resonated with me on multiple levels. As an American who grew up with democracy as an enshrined ideal; as a child of refugees who fled Europe to escape dictatorship in the 20th century; and as a European citizen today. A true story about a people fighting back more resolutely and effectively than anyone expected, enduring horrific losses and reprisals, urban warfare and occupation, while sympathetic but self-interested great powers dispassionately calibrate the degree and timing of support to offer, feels worth telling in 2023.
Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Lafayette, and other well-known historical characters appear in this story, too, but even they turned out to be full of surprises. Seeing those great figures through Beaumarchais' and Deane's eyes made them human and brought them to life for me in ways I'd missed at school. Researching episodes like the battle for New York City in 1776, I was able for the first time to vividly picture the devastation once inflicted on my home town.
With its cast of compelling characters, sweeping scope that blends the personal and epic, and international action spanning two continents and an ocean, I couldn't have created LIBERTY in any other medium than a graphic novel. I wrote it on a grand scale, knowing that to find an artist capable of doing justice to the project, and willing to dedicate the years it would take, was a tall order. In Etienne, Loïc, and colorist Elvire De Cock, I found LIBERTY's dream team.
Four years ago, I met Etienne and Loïc in Tours, discussed Silas Deane, Beaumarchais and their world, and sealed our partnership over a bottle of Bordeaux. A new Franco-American collaboration was born. Tomorrow, August 23, 2023, LIBERTY Book 1: The Insurgents arrives in French bookstores.
LIBERTY is a complete story in three volumes. Book 2: The Traffickers will be released in January 2024; Book 3: The Ambassadors in September. I'll post as soon as I know release dates for English and other language editions. If you'd like to be sure to be notified, you can subscribe to my e-mail newsletter or RSS feed on the home page.
In a quirk of timing, Liberty's release makes my fifth major project announcement within six months — along with my autobiographical graphic novel REPLAY (also from Delcourt), Book 2 of Monte Cristo (from Glénat), and back-to-back video-game announcements (a new Prince of Persia from Ubisoft and a Karateka retrospective from Digital Eclipse). It might seem like I've been doing some insane multitasking, but in reality, all of these have been in development for years. The announcements and releases landing so clustered together is just an oddity of 2023.
I'm very proud of the work we've done on Liberty. If you read French or enjoy graphic novels, I hope you'll check it out — and Replay, and Monte Cristo. All three titles are now in French bookstores.
Replay Signed Edition
For everyone who's asked if it will be possible to order a signed copy of REPLAY in English: I have good news, and thank you for the idea! It took a bit of organizing, but we've solved the logistics. Starting now, you can order signed books from the Replay page, via the "Signed Edition" button.
The signed edition package will include the Macmillan hardcover English edition of Replay: Memoir of an Uprooted Family, signed by me, and a set of two collector's postcards (French readers may have seen these at my in-person book signings). Books will be signed and shipped worldwide from the U.S. in March 2024, when they'll arrive in the Macmillan warehouse. I'll make a special day trip to sign them all, and they'll go out to you along with the postcards, well-protected in premium packaging (bubble wrap and cardboard box).
I took this photo of the Replay postcards alongside the French edition (which is softcover, with different cover art), and my previous First Second graphic novel, TEMPLAR, to help imagine how the soon-to-be-printed hardcover edition of REPLAY will look and feel. I've just signed off on the 320-page interior mechanical. I'm counting down the months until I can hold a physical copy in my hands.
The Replay page also has a button to pre-order regular unsigned books from Macmillan, Amazon, or your favorite bookseller. I hope as many of you as possible will do that, as well. Publishers and booksellers watch pre-order numbers as an indicator of a book's potential, and make their own ordering and marketing decisions accordingly. So even though Replay's March 2024 release is months away, your pre-orders already help support the launch, and increase the chance that more people will discover the book.
I'll cut off orders on the day we need to tell the warehouse how many books to ship, or if the number of books reaches the limit of what I can comfortably sign. (This would be a great problem to have.) At that point, we'll remove the "Signed Edition" button from the website. As long as the button is there, you'll know orders are open.
If you're in France...
The signed English books will ship worldwide, including to France. The French edition is in bookstores now (you can also order it online from the Replay page). If you come to any of my upcoming book signings or talks, I'll be delighted to sign your book and say hello. My September/October schedule is below.
If you're in France but our schedules don't line up, you can also order from most bookstores before the event. The bookseller will gladly set your book aside for me to sign, and ship it to you.
Upcoming events for September/October 2023
- August 26 - Viols-le-Fort / La Bestiole
- September 21 - Paris / Vignettes (19th arr.)
- September 22 - Paris / Bulles en tête (17th arr.)
- September 23 - Reims / Bédérama
- September 30 - Annecy / BD Fugue
- October 4 - Nice / Librairie Massena
- October 14 - Le Touquet / Maison de la Presse La Touquettoise
- October 20 - Nantes / La Mysteriéuse Librairie Nantaise
- October 24 - Les Sables d'Olonne / Médiatheque
- September 30-October 1 - Annecy / Savoie Retro Games
- October 6-8 - Mouans-Sartoux / Festival du livre
- October 21-22 - La Vendée / Histoire(s) de BD
- October 27-29 - Saint-Malo / Quai des Bulles
I'll post updates and details via social media as the events approach. You can also see my agenda on Delcourt's website.
Karateka Climbs Again
When the Digital Eclipse team told me they wanted to give my early game Karateka "the Criterion treatment" and re-release it in a deluxe remastered edition, I couldn't quite picture exactly what they had in mind. Their enthusiasm and evident passion for video game history inspired confidence, so I said yes. I never in my wildest dreams imagined how far they'd take it.
Fast-forward to April 2023: I'm sitting with my dad and family in New York. Our jaws drop as we watch Chris Kohler demo an almost-final build of "The Making of Karateka" (announced today for digital release on Xbox, PlayStation, PC and Nintendo Switch). What they've built around my 1984 kicking-punching debut is so much more than a game remaster, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it.
The photo above captures my dad's reaction as (age 92) he watches himself climbing up onto the hood of our family car forty years earlier. He's wearing a karate gi at my request, in a Super 8 film I shot at age 18 to create rotoscoped animation for Karateka. (This was three years before I pressed my 15-year-old brother into service as the model for my next game, Prince of Persia.)
Digital Eclipse has reconstructed my Super 8 rotoscoping process — from film to pencil tracings to pixelated game character — in their interactive, hands-on "Rotoscope Theater." And that's just one element of "The Making of Karateka." It's packed with audio and video interviews with me, my dad, and game-industry luminaries; a podcast about Karateka's music (which my dad composed); rare original design documents; excerpts from my journals; and 14 playable games — including not only the final Apple II, Commodore, and Atari versions of Karateka, but also work-in-progress builds I submitted to Broderbund along the way, tracking its development from prototype to gold master. All the games are playable on a choose-your-own nostalgic menu of period monitors and TVs, with optional audio commentary and a "watch/play" mode that the Dagger of Time would envy.
As a bonus, they've salvaged and resurrected my never-before-published arcade shoot-em-up Deathbounce (the game I made before Karateka, which teenage me hoped would be my ticket to software success in 1982)… and the one I did before that, an unauthorized Apple II clone of the arcade hit Asteroids. Incredibly, they've not only remastered Karateka, but also remade Deathbounce, using today's technology to reimagine my 1982 prototype as a jazzy twin-stick shooter. All these are included and playable in "The Making of Karateka."
I'm mind-boggled that the Digital Eclipse team has poured so much hard work, love and fidelity into reconstructing my journey as a fledgling game developer. From a shoebox of 5.25" floppy disks I stashed in my closet 40 years ago — each disk a step along the 7-year path that led me from high-school BASIC to Prince of Persia — they've excavated work I never expected to see again, brought it to life, and placed it in historical context.
If "The Making of Karateka" were an interactive exhibition in the Strong Museum of Play (from whose collection many of the archival materials came), it would require several rooms and a full afternoon to explore. Now, when they release the full package (date TBA later this summer), you'll be able to download, play and discover it at your leisure.
As of today, you can wishlist it on Steam. Details and links are on the Digital Eclipse game page.
With this release, Digital Eclipse has set a new bar for game-development history preservation. I'm touched and honored that they chose Karateka as the first title in their planned Gold Master series. I can't wait to see what comes next.
The "Karateka" Super 8 rotoscoping process as depicted on page 30 of my graphic-novel memoir Replay.
Prince of Persia Takes a Mighty New Leap
I've been eagerly awaiting this moment for so long, I can't believe it's here at last. The first trailer for Ubisoft's new Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown was unveiled today at Summer Game Fest. After over a decade since the last major game release, Prince of Persia fans once again have a wondrous universe to discover and embark on an exciting new adventure.
For anyone wondering: The Lost Crown is not a continuation of either the Sands of Time or the retro-2D storyline, it's a fresh beginning. I didn't write or have a direct role in this one — which means I'll get to enjoy its surprises as a gamer. I know the talented POP team at Ubisoft Montpellier well, I've watched them pour their hearts and passion into this project over three years from pre-conception to full beta, and I couldn't be more excited. This is the Prince of Persia game I've been wishing for.
If you've read my graphic memoir Replay (released in France last month; English edition coming in March 2024), you might wonder whether there's a link between the unannounced, cancelled Prince of Persia project that brought me to Montpellier in 2017 (as told in Replay) and The Lost Crown. Is it really a coincidence that both projects were launched in the same small city in the south of France?
The link is the talent. Ubisoft's storied Montpellier studio and "French touch" were a big part of what drew me in 2001, when we first joined forces to reboot Prince of Persia (The Sands of Time), and again in 2017. A number of Montpellier hands have also worked in Montreal, including some of the best talent I've had the privilege to work with anywhere. I've seen their dedication and love for POP at close range; we've immersed ourselves together in Persian mythology and gameplay on past projects. It's no coincidence that this group of people is the one to finally crack the challenge of reinventing POP for a new generation of gamers. I'd call it destiny. I'm thrilled and delighted to see their hard work come to fruition — and I can't wait to play it.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown will be released in January 2024 for PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PC. Ubisoft will share more details in coming days; you can find up-to-date info on the official Prince of Persia game page.
If you're curious about the back story of Prince of Persia's original creation, its 35-year legacy, and the multiple (sometimes uncanny) echoes through time that intertwine the prince's adventures with my own family story, check out my graphic memoir Replay. It will add new dimensions to your appreciation of past POP games, and of why it's fitting that Montpellier — home to so much video game creativity — is the place where the prince's Lost Crown was finally found.
Now to start counting down the months till January…
A New Departure
A big thank you to everyone who purchased limited-edition prints of my first three Prince of Persia-inspired game tribute artworks, "A Faithful Friend," "Bones," and "Dagger." Today, I'm releasing a fourth: "Departure." As the title hints, this one isn't Prince of Persia.
Players of a certain 1997 point-and-click adventure game may recognize the characters (and even the time on the station clock). It depicts a moment on the Gare de l'Est platform just before The Last Express begins and the train leaves the station. I'd often imagined seeing our characters boarding the train; now at last I get to draw them!
If you've read my graphic novel Replay (released last week in France) you'll understand that this series of artworks isn't only about the games, but also about my personal journey making them. The Last Express, in particular, has echoes of my own family's story of 20th century Europe. While writing and drawing Replay's chapter 7 and 8, whose dual timelines recount my struggle to complete the game's production in 1993-97 in parallel with my dad and his young aunt's flight from Nazi-occupied France in 1940-41, I almost felt as if I was drawing scenes from a sequel to the game.
It's probably no coincidence that, out of all my games, The Last Express is the one that feels closest to a graphic novel. As an American, I'd been unfamiliar with the incredible legacy of European comics until my French friends Patrick and Sandrine introduced me to them in the 1990s. To discover, in my twenties, masters like Pratt, Bilal, and Tardi was a revelation and a formative influence in creating Last Express. (That's Patrick below, helping me with train research in 1993. He appears as a character in both Replay's blue and yellow timelines.)
"Departure" is my homage to Smoking Car Productions; to the European comics authors and filmmakers whose work inspired us; and to the fans who embraced The Last Express and have kept its world and characters alive for 25 years. It's also an homage to my grandfather, my father and his aunt Lisa, whose real-life adventures reverberate both in Replay and in The Last Express's fictional story.
Along with "Departure", I'm releasing a second Replay-linked print today. "Promenade des Anglais" depicts the storied boardwalk in Nice, France, where my dad spent a year of his childhood as a refugee in 1940. Readers of Replay (chapters 7 and 8 especially) will understand the personal resonance this setting has for my family, and why I chose it to pair with The Last Express.
"Departure" and "Promenade des Anglais" are available exclusively here in signed and numbered limited editions of 40. By popular demand, I'm also releasing "Departure" as a limited edition of 10 in a larger format, as I did last month with "Dagger." Details and links to purchase are on the Artworks page.
My graphic memoir Replay is now available in French bookstores, and from the Replay book page (where you can pre-order the English edition). And if you'd like to play The Last Express, it's available on Steam and mobile from Dotemu.
Thank you for supporting my creative endeavors in all these forms, over all these years!
Prince of Persia 2 turns 30!
30 years ago today in 1993, Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame went gold master.
My journal reminds me that the Broderbund team and I celebrated the completion of two years of work at Pasha's, our Persian restaurant in San Francisco (and I suffered the aftereffects of my overindulgence the next morning, on a long flight to Paris).
Thirty years later almost to the day, I find myself once again in Paris, fresh off a plane — this time from New York, where I celebrated the release of my newly published graphic novel Replay, and gave my dad a copy for his 92nd birthday. The book tells the story of his childhood, and of our family. The tales of the creation of Prince of Persia 1 and 2 (and my other games) are nested inside it, like "1001 Nights" episodes.
The reason I went to Paris in May 1993 was to do research for my next game, The Last Express. I visited train stations, train yards and archives, including the Gare de l'Est basement meeting depicted in the Replay panel above (which I recorded in my journal). I hungrily collected comics by European masters like Pratt, Bilal, Tardi, and Giardino — at that time difficult to find in the U.S. — that would inspire the game's story line and visuals.
Arriving in France today in May 2023, I'm not visiting, but returning home. (I moved here from Los Angeles in 2016.) In 1993, I was discovering comics as a fan; this week, I became a French comics author. (REPLAY is the first book I've both drawn and scripted.) Reading this week's batch of journal entries makes me feel that in many ways, I've come full circle, and closed a 30-year loop.
You can follow the making of Prince of Persia 2 and The Last Express on my website's new 1993 journals page (continuing where my published journal The Making of Prince of Persia leaves off, in January 1993).
The bigger story (including the 100-year loop of how my family's 20th-century survival story relates to the creation of Prince of Persia, Prince 2, and The Last Express) is told in my book REPLAY. You can find it in French comics stores this week, or pre-order the English version here.
Replay in English!
I'm happy to share the newly-completed artwork for the English cover of my new graphic novel memoir Replay — slated for release by First Second Books/Macmillan on March 19, 2024. You can pre-order it now from your favorite bookseller (links are on the Replay book page).
The English edition has a different cover design from the French edition (released by Delcourt last week, April 26), and will be in hardcover rather than paperback, but inside, they're the same book. I wrote and drew chapters first in English (my native language), worked closely with my editor Lewis Trondheim on the French translation, and brought the art to final for both editions nearly simultaneously. So both are "the original" edition.
Why such a long gap between the French and English releases (almost eleven months)? The short answer is that U.S. and French publishers work differently. In the U.S., longer lead times for printing, marketing, and distribution mean that publishers usually schedule a graphic novel release 12-18 months after an author delivers final art. In France (where books are printed locally), it's more like 3 months.
If you're bilingual and wondering which edition to get, my answer is: you can't go wrong! Whichever version of Replay you pick up, you'll be getting a beautifully designed, printed and bound edition that I'm deeply proud of. I love the way the softcover French book feels in my hands — it's just the right size, thickness and flexibility. And the First Second hardcover edition will be a different and equally gorgeous tactile pleasure, worth the wait.
Details and links to purchase both editions are on the Replay book page. If you're in France, or read French, there's no need to wait; Replay is in bookstores now!
I'm excited to finally share the project I've been deeply immersed in for the past two years. It's an adventure that will have special meaning for game fans who've enjoyed Prince of Persia or The Last Express, yet it's very different from anything I've done before. It unites in a new way three crafts and lifelong passions that have animated my work: storytelling, visual art, and history.
Replay is a graphic novel memoir of three generations. It interweaves my father's childhood odyssey as a Jewish refugee in Nazi-occupied France; my grandfather's experience as a teenage soldier on the Russian front in World War I; and my own youth as a videogame-obsessed American kid, from a 1978 Apple II through four decades in the fast-evolving game industry. The games, books, and films I've spent my career making were born out of those formative events.
Some readers may already know that my dad composed the music for Karateka and Prince of Persia and that my younger brother David was the rotoscoped animation model. That's just the tip of the iceberg of all the ways my family's story underlies my past and present creative efforts. In Replay, I share the larger human and personal context of those games' creation.
Replay is my first graphic novel as a "complete author" — meaning I've drawn as well as written it. It's 320 pages in color, so you can understand why I've been somewhat quiet through 2021-22. Making 1,500 drawings takes time. (If you've seen my recent game tribute artworks, from "A Faithful Friend" to "Dagger", you'll appreciate their kinship with Replay.)
The French edition of Replay will be in bookstores tomorrow, April 26. It's published by Delcourt. You can purchase it online (and read a free 25-page preview) at the Replay book page. Replay will be published in English by First Second Books in early 2024.
Rivers of Time
To make it easy for readers to follow Replay's intersecting storylines, I've used three distinct palettes.
Replay's "blue" timeline covers my career in game development, from programming my first Apple II arcade games as a teenager, through the 1990s and 2000s with ever-bigger teams, budgets, and stakes on The Last Express and The Sands of Time. If you've read my published game-dev journals or viewed the ArsTechnica video, you'll appreciate the destiny-altering moment in 1988 when my then-girlfriend Tomi persuaded me that Prince of Persia would be more fun if it had sword-fighting.
Replay's second, "sepia" timeline depicts my dad's childhood flight through occupied France from 1938-41, as he and his young aunt Lisa tried to outrun the rapidly expanding Nazi regime to reunite with their family across the Atlantic. I grew up hearing their stories. Like many second-generation immigrants, I've often felt that the challenges of my own life were undramatic compared to the last generation's heroic survival. Forty years before little Franzi composed the music for his son's Apple II games, he had bigger things to worry about.
This sepia timeline also holds the back story of my dad's odyssey of family separation and reunion. A quarter-century earlier, in 1914, my grandfather saw his own idyllic childhood shattered by World War I. (His hometown of Czernowitz, now in Ukraine, was a thriving Jewish capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.) He was conscripted and sent to the Russian and Italian fronts, where he spent three years in the trenches on the losing side.
Linking both timelines is Replay's third, "yellow" present-day frame, recounting my move to France for a video game project in 2016, as an American with two teenage kids. It's a story of today's game industry, when multimillion-dollar productions involving hundreds of people can be greenlit, morph, change direction, and get cancelled.
(By serendipity, Replay's release coincides with the 30th anniversary of Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame signing out of QA in 1993. For fans who've wondered why the 2D Prince of Persia trilogy never got its third game, you'll find part of the answer in Replay.)
I chose the title Replay because it resonates with both the video-game and historical threads of this book. I've often had the sensation that in my life, I'm unintentionally or unconsciously echoing past events. Like my grandfather, I uprooted and resettled my family across the Atlantic — but in the opposite direction, under significantly more favorable circumstances. "Replay" also evokes my mental habit of rehashing past decisions, as if by doing that I might somehow magically undo the past and obtain a better outcome. Which, of course, is only possible in a video game.
The French edition of Replay will be in bookstores tomorrow, April 26. It's published by Delcourt. You can purchase it online (and read a free 25-page preview) at the Replay book page.
Replay will be published in English by First Second Books in early 2024. (French readers are getting it ten months sooner.) I'll share more details about the English release in my next post. As of today, you can already pre-order it.
If you're a fan of graphic novels, video games, or are interested in twentieth-century history — or all three — I hope Replay will speak to you and resonate on multiple levels. It's the great origin story I've spent my life preparing to tell. I can't wait for you to discover it.
Dagger of Time
Today, I'm releasing the third in a series of Prince of Persia tribute artworks — my homage to the fans and teams that shaped the prince's destiny (and mine). This one is dedicated to the incredibly talented Ubisoft team I had the privilege to work with to make The Sands of Time, and to the fans whose loyalty has kept the flame alive these past 20 years.
In 2003, the Montreal team and I had no way of knowing whether Prince of Persia would appeal to a new generation of console gamers. The original 2D game series had fizzled out a decade earlier, when my planned third game of the trilogy was cancelled. A 1999 3D reboot from Red Orb had flopped. We felt sure we had something special with Sands of Time, but no one was counting on it to be a hit. The enthusiasm and warm embrace with which you greeted the new Prince of Persia, Farah, and the Sands of Time universe surpassed our dreams.
Like my two preceding artworks, "A Faithful Friend" and "Bones," "Dagger" is a personal expression as a visual artist and graphic novelist of what Sands of Time has meant to me, looking back over two decades of memorable experiences and adventures since that game's release.
"Dagger" is available as a limited edition of 40 signed and numbered giclée prints, exclusively here. This time, I've also created a limited edition of 5 prints in a larger format (60 x 40 cm).
My 30-years-ago journal reminds me that this week in April, 1993, I was in San Francisco with a Broderbund team in the final weeks of playtesting and debugging POP 2: The Shadow and the Flame. Retro-gaming fans and time-travelers can follow the journal in the Library. Time is an ocean in a storm...
In my next post, I'll have something very special to announce. It's the main project that's consumed most of my working hours and creative passion for the past two and a half years. I feel confident in saying that it's not anything you've been expecting. It's not a game, but I believe it will be of great interest to game fans — and not only to game fans. It will be released in France on April 26, only three weeks from now. I can't wait to share it with you.
Until then, I hope you'll discover and enjoy my last few weeks' releases: the 1993 journals, the exciting new adventure of Monte-Cristo (Books 1 and 2 now in French comic book stores), and Dagger!
Meet Victor Sirin
I'm excited to announce that the second volume of my new graphic-novel trilogy Monte-Cristo arrives in bookstores tomorrow (March 22) in France. It's the story of Sam Castillo, an innocent young man unjustly accused and imprisoned for 17 years, who returns as mysterious mega-billionaire Victor Sirin to take his revenge on the three men who stole his youth.
In 2005, post-9/11 America (Book One), 24-year-old SAM CASTILLO has every reason to be happy—promoted to foreman of his company's Iraq reconstruction project, engaged to his high-school sweetheart ABBY—until he's framed as a terrorist and rendered to a "black site" prison an ocean away.
Three men put him there: Sam's supervisor EDDIE DALGLEISH, who's been skimming money in a boondoggle Sam's promotion threatens to expose; FBI agent WALTER FARRELL, who makes a devil's bargain to conceal his Army general father-in-law's corrupt dealings with military contractor Greendale; and Abby's best friend ANDREW McCLANE, who betrays Sam to clear the way for his own courtship of Abby.
Over the next 15 years, cut off from the world, Sam forms a deep friendship with fellow detainee FARHAD—a brilliant, multi-lingual master of intrigue, who bequeaths to Sam the bank codes of his late Russian-oligarch employer's hidden fortune... and by his own death enables Sam's escape.
In Book Two (our present day), Sam arrives in the U.S. with a new identity as mysterious mega-billionaire emigré VICTOR SIRIN, owner of the offshore shell MONTE-CRISTO CORPORATION. The three men who separated him from Abby and shattered his life have risen in the world. Dalgleish is a hedge fund billionaire, McClane is a Congressman running for governor, and Farrell is U.S. Deputy Attorney General. Abby, now a public defender, is married to McClane with two children. They have no idea what's coming.
Victor skillfully plays on his enemies' greed and ambition, using his wealth to insinuate himself into their world of power and privilege while he methodically lays the groundwork of an elaborate plot that he hopes will destroy them. Only young FBI agent DANICA JORJEVIC suspects him. Convinced that Victor's elegant international façade masks a criminal identity, she lobbies her boss to investigate him. Victor appreciates Danica's integrity and determination, even as he frustrates her attempts to learn the truth. Their ensuing battle of wits will test Danica's trust in the legal justice system she's sworn to uphold... and reawaken Victor's frozen heart.
My collaborator, the supremely talented Italian illustrator Mario Alberti, has done incredible work bringing Sam, Victor, Abby, Danica, and their rich universe to life. I love these characters, and hope you will too. You can check out the first 10 pages of both volumes online here, and in French comic book stores starting tomorrow.
Meanwhile, my 30-years-ago journal continues this week on this website's Library page. On 22 March 1993, I was a 28-year-old American in Paris, discovering the world of European comics for the first time. Hugo Pratt, Jacques Tardi, and Enki Bilal (along with Alexandre Dumas) became key inspirations as I researched and developed the story for my next game, The Last Express. Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame was in its final weeks of playtesting and debugging.
I couldn't have dreamt then that 30 years later, I'd be back in France and once again immersed in comics, this time not just as a reader, but as an author. I hope fans of Prince of Persia, The Last Express and my other games will join me in rooting for Sam Castillo and Danica Jorjevic as they fight for justice, each in their way, against enemies so powerful that they seem untouchable. Monte-Cristo is my first adventure story set not in a historical or fantastic past, but in our own world of today. I can't wait for you to discover it.
The 1993 Journals: POP2 and The Last Express
When I launched this website in 2008, I began transcribing and posting daily entries from my old handwritten journals as a "blog from the past," documenting my game-development odyssey making the first version of Prince of Persia in 1985-1993. Later, I released the collected journals as a book, The Making of Prince of Persia, followed by a prequel, The Making of Karateka (my even older journals from 1982-1985, when I was in college trying to break into the game industry with my first Apple II games). The response was more enthusiastic than I imagined. The Making of POP has since been re-published twice, in a beautiful illustrated hardcover edition from Stripe Press (and in French, from Third Editions).
The Making of POP ends in January 1993, at Las Vegas CES, a few months before the release of POP 2: The Shadow and the Flame. I stopped there because, as I wrote in the afterword: "After that, my attention (and what I wrote in my journal) focused more and more on Smoking Car Productions and making The Last Express. Nearly a decade would go by before I'd be hands-on again in the creation of a Prince of Persia title [Sands of Time in 2003]."
I'm sometimes asked by people who enjoyed those journals whether I plan to publish a third volume about The Last Express. I've always answered no. The Last Express development was too complex and involved too many people. My journal tells only a small part of the story. There are gaps where I went weeks or even months without writing (I barely found time to sleep). Although it's a fascinating read for me personally, I don't think my 1993-1997 journal in itself would be enough for a stand-alone book entitled The Making of The Last Express.
That said, there is a lot in the journal that I think retro-gaming fans and developers would find interesting. When I set out to make The Last Express in 1993 at age 28, I was in a rare and fortunate position, thanks to the success of Karateka and Prince of Persia. Few creative artists ever get an opportunity to write their own ticket in the ways that were offered to me then. How I navigated those choices — my ongoing struggle to reconcile values of art, business, and life; mistakes I made, things I was blind to, things that miraculously went right — makes for a valuable post-mortem.
Rereading my journal, seeing my steps and missteps exposed in merciless real-time day by day, I know this is the kind of story I would have loved to read at that juncture in my life. (Hungry to learn from others' hard-won experience, I devoured Steven Soderbergh's and Eleanor Coppola's production diaries of Sex, lies and videotape and Apocalypse Now.) Non-fiction first-person narratives featuring protagonists with grandiose artistic ambitions who are mature in some ways, painfully immature in others, and spoiled for choice are not so numerous.
On February 1, 2023, I posted my first batch of "30 years ago this week" journal entries on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Mastodon. Since this year marks the 30th anniversary of POP2's release and Last Express's beginning (and the cancellation of POP3, featuring the mysterious sorceress glimpsed at the end of POP2), I thought it would be a good moment to continue the "making of" narrative. Even if my 1993-96 journals don't make a book, they deserve at least a dedicated page in this website's Library section. So here it is: The 1993 Journals: Prince of Persia 2 and The Last Express.
I'll do my best to keep up the weekly Wednesday posts, staying exactly 30 years ahead. That's a pace I think I can confidently handle on top of my other workload. It took the team four years to finish The Last Express; I've got enough journal to take us through 2026.
You can follow my weekly old-journal postings on social media (links are at the bottom of this page; take your pick). Or via this site's RSS feed and/or my monthly e-mail newsletter, which are ad-free and cookie-free.
See you back in 1993!
Prince of Packaging
So many video games, films, and music albums I "own" now live in the cloud, and I'm nostalgic for the days when they existed as physical objects on a bookshelf. The tactile quality, size and shape, and cover art of every game box was linked to memories of how I'd acquired it—new, second-hand, or as a gift?—and of hours spent playing.
For a game developer, a shrink-wrapped box that holds the thing we've been working on for years brings home the reality that our game is truly done. In the pre-internet 1980s and early 90s, before downloadable updates and patches, shipped meant shipped.
Last month, the sale at auction of American painter Robert Florczak's original artwork for my game Prince of Persia (the Broderbund "red box" edition) triggered memories of the in-house drama surrounding its creation.
That summer of 1989, I was in the throes of trying to finish and ship Prince of Persia on Apple II, its first platform. I didn't know if it would be a hit or a flop. Thanks to the journal I kept then (a habit since age 17), I can now recall dates and details I'd have otherwise forgotten—like these pencil sketches I did at the end of April to show Broderbund's art director my ideas for the package:
As a rule, a game programmer can expect marketing to receive creative suggestions about package design with about as much delight as a surgeon getting advice from a patient on how to operate. My pitch to do a painting in the spirit of old-school Hollywood swashbuckling film posters like Robin Hood (1938) or Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) earned a "meh." But I had a staunch ally in my product manager Brian Eheler. He made sure I was invited to the marketing meeting. Nine color comps were considered; this one won.
Florczak, our first-choice artist, developed the idea into a detailed sketch (which he sent by fax—this was before e-mail).
Things went smoothly until the head of marketing balked at the $5500 price to execute it. My June 7 journal entry records my angst: "After making the rounds and lobbying everyone, I think they'll OK it, but the whole thing was a really disturbing vote of no confidence in POP."
While I crunched to ship the game I'd been working on for three years, the general feeling at Broderbund was that it wouldn't sell. Foolishly, I'd built Prince of Persia on the Apple II, a decade-old machine that even Apple had stopped supporting. My game had fans at the top and bottom of the company but not in the middle, where the actual marketing got done. Apart from Brian, the QA testers who were playing Prince of Persia daily, and Broderbund's CEO-founder Doug Carlston, few people believed in it.
In the next four weeks, while Florczak painted (his friend Kevin Nealon, an actor and Saturday Night Live comedian, posed for the vizier Jaffar), I fixed bugs, added features, and spent four days in New York with my dad, adding his newly-composed music to the game.
In July, Florczak delivered a lovely painting in 1980s movie-poster style—exactly what Brian and I had hoped for.
But seeing the finished work, marketing thought it was too pulp-sexy. Broderbund had started as a game publisher; by 1989, its emphasis had shifted to educational and productivity software like The Print Shop and Carmen Sandiego. Prince of Persia was out of sync with the company's new family-friendly direction.
Marketing sent the painting back to Florczak for revision. I can imagine with what enthusiasm he duly added a green Persian sports bra to the princess's decolletage. Personally, I preferred the original; but as I wrote in my journal on July 25: "There are battles you win and battles you lose, and in the big picture, this one is pretty meaningless."
Then the whole thing nearly crashed at the final hurdle. The box was shown at a company-wide meeting. A group of employees wrote to the CEO, saying the package condoned violence against women and requesting that it be scrapped. Doug gave a balanced two-page reply, acknowledging their valid concerns ("We don't want Broderbund ever to be seen in such a light"), but defending Jaffar's threatening gesture as nonetheless appropriate for a villain in a game whose hero could be "impaled, sliced in two, squashed and otherwise discomforted for relatively minor lapses in behavior." After a tense week of debate, the box was approved.
The rest is history... sort of. Prince of Persia shipped on Apple II in September 1989, PC in April 1990, then Amiga. It got rave reviews on all three platforms. And it was a flop.
By July 1990—ten months after launch, three months after the much-anticipated (by me) PC release—fewer than 10,000 red boxes had found their way into gamers' homes. I recorded in my journal: "POP sold 500 units last month on PC, 48 on Apple. That's about as dead as can be." In August, the major chain Electronics Boutique de-listed Prince of Persia due to lack of sales. Chilled, I visited the local mall where my game could no longer be found and was told by a saleswoman: "It's a great game, but the box was horrible."
Over the next two years, in a miraculous turnaround that would scarcely be possible today, Prince of Persia was gradually, then suddenly, saved by a confluence of events. First, foreign and console versions, which Broderbund had sublicensed in a dozen different countries on platforms like Nintendo NES, Sega Master System, and NEC 9800, began to ship. There was no coordination; it was the Wild West. Each sublicensee did its own packaging, marketing launch, PR, and distribution, not overseen by Broderbund. The U.S. release flopped, but some of those overseas and console ports became hits.
Some licensees used the red-box artwork, others created their own. For the most part, I didn't see packages until they shipped. Domark's box art for the UK Sega version made me wince; I still find it offensive, even by that epoch's standards. It was too late for them to redo the package, but Brian made them promise never to use it outside the UK. (They promised, but forgot.) At the opposite extreme, I loved Katsuya Terada's gorgeous illustration for the Japanese Nintendo Super FamiCom version. It's a fan favorite as well; French book publisher Third Editions used Terada's artwork for the cover of their deluxe collectors' edition of my old journals.
The second unanticipated factor that saved Prince of Persia was that the Mac port—which I'd subcontracted to friends at Presage Software—ran two years over schedule. Between 1989 and 1992, Apple released a series of new Mac models: black-and-white and color, with different-sized screens. The Presage team, wanting to take advantage of the latest capabilities, went back to the drawing board and redid the graphics sprites three times. (Each time, I tore my hair out.)
By the time the Mac version was finally ready, Prince of Persia's overseas successes had given Brian and me ammunition to persuade Broderbund marketing that the game had untapped potential. Doug okayed our proposal to combine the Mac release with a PC re-release in a bigger, solidly constructed 1990s-style "candy box," which we hoped retailers and customers would perceive as denoting a higher-quality product than the flip-top, flimsy-cardboard red box (even though the .exe file on the PC disks hadn't changed).
San Francisco designer Hock Yeo, of Wong & Yeo, designed a two-piece candy box with an unusual shape reminiscent of an hourglass. If you're a PC or Mac gamer who played Prince of Persia in the U.S. in the 1990s, this is the box you most likely remember.
The dual Mac-PC release in the oddly-shaped box turned the prince's fortunes around. A previously untapped cohort of gamers—among them, journalists and editors who used Macs for desktop publishing—were excited to have a game they could play on their new color screens. Prince of Persia became the #1-selling Mac game at a time when most game publishers considered the Mac market too small to bother with. Prince of Persia went from ice-cold to hot on PC as well. Two years after its failed first PC launch, Prince of Persia became a hit.
I was reminded of all this when Florczak's artwork popped up on an auction website in December. (Doom co-creator John Romero, an Apple II aficionado, spotted it and sent me the link.) The last time I'd seen the full painting unobscured by a title, logo and stickers, it was propped on a desk in Broderbund's marketing office. It hung for 33 years on Kevin Nealon's wall, a thank-you from the artist for modeling the Vizier.
Seeing it again, now that its role in the drama of that summer of 1989 is ancient history, I can appreciate the painting as an artwork in its own right. The green stripe still bugs me. But a flaw in a Persian carpet only makes the whole more beautiful. And if there's one thing video games have taught us, it's that timing is everything. (The collector whose $63,000 bid won last week's auction would surely agree.) Florczak's painting joins the ever-expanding collection of diverse physical objects, of all sizes and shapes, that form the tangible record of a video game character's intangible digital existence.
A Prisoner Escapes
A huge thank you to everyone who bought a print of "A Faithful Friend" last month! I was really touched by the warm response from Prince of Persia players who remembered the princess's brave little companion. I hoped my drawing would evoke fond memories; I didn't expect the entire edition of 40 prints to sell out in less than 24 hours.
A number of people wrote to say they wished they'd heard about the release sooner. I cannot print more of "A Faithful Friend" (that's the nature of a limited edition), but I've gone ahead and drawn a second author's tribute artwork, inspired by a gameplay moment in the Prince of Persia dungeon. I'm calling this one "Bones." If you've played level 3, I'm sure you can guess the reason.
I've enjoyed creating these artworks. In the past, when I've put pen on paper to draw the world of Prince of Persia, the purpose was to clarify an idea in my head or communicate it to the team during development. To revisit that universe now as a visual artist, seeing the games through the lens of decades of personal memories, is a wonderfully pleasant experience for me.
"Bones" is available as a giclée print in a signed and numbered limited edition of 40, exclusively here.
I'm excited to make a second announcement especially for French readers. Book Two of Monte-Cristo, my new graphic novel trilogy with the wonderful illustrator Mario Alberti, will be in bookstores in France on March 22. It's a tale of thwarted love, unjust imprisonment, and a daring escape — a modern update of the Alexandre Dumas classic transposed to post-9/11 America.
In 2005, Sam Castillo is a happy young man—promoted to contractor, engaged to his sweetheart Abby—until three enemies conspire to frame him as a terrorist. Rendered to a black-site prison an ocean away, Sam befriends a brilliant, multi-lingual fellow detainee who educates him in the ways of the world... and bestows on him the key to a secret fortune. 17 years later, Sam resurfaces with a new identity as enigmatic billionaire Victor Sirin, and a plan to take revenge against the three men who stole his life.
Monte Cristo T2: The Island will be released in France by Editions Glénat on March 22. You can read about it, preview it live, and pre-order it online here.
A Faithful Friend
Happy New Year! 2023 will be an exciting year, with new releases and announcements lined up.
To start off January, I want to share a nostalgic artwork that I was recently inspired to create. It's a tribute to a delightful moment Prince of Persia fans may remember from the original 2D game. I've titled it "A Faithful Friend."
The following video clip (from Level 8) shows why the little white mouse — sent by the princess to help the prince in a dark dungeon moment — is one of my favorite characters. I added the mouse to the game in August 1989, when Prince of Persia was already well into beta testing. Today, no publisher would let a developer slip in a feature like that at the last minute.
I drew "A Faithful Friend" as an author's tribute, not just to a memorable moment in a game that's meant so much to me, but to the teams, collaborators, and fans who have supported and kept its legacy vibrant for 33 years. Without you, there'd be no Prince of Persia.
If you'd like to own a hand-signed limited edition giclée print of this original artwork, "A Faithful Friend" is available here. Tomoe, my local fine-art printer in Montpellier, printed 40 in total. I've stamped, signed and numbered them. Once they're sold out, the edition won't be reprinted; this protects its value for collectors.
Having spent most of the past four decades creating digitally, I appreciate more and more the tactile qualities of handmade physical objects. My ink line these days is finer than was possible on a 280 x 192 computer, but I've respected the restricted Apple II color palette. As for the 8-bit hand stamp (my personal logo), I expect old-school gamers will quickly recognize its source.
I'll share next month's announcements here in this space, and in my monthly newsletter. As subscribers already know, I've also recently joined Mastodon, and will be tooting there as well. Thanks for following!
On Graphic Novel Writing
Thanks to all the early adopters who showed up for the French launch of Monte Cristo, Book One! Our May festival and bookstore signings were a great occasion for illustrator Mario Alberti and me to see each other in person. (Mario lives and works in Trieste, I'm in Montpellier.)
Here's a sneak peek at our work-in-progress on Book Two of the trilogy: "The Island," on track for early 2023 release. Mario has drawn the first 19 pages (only 51 to go!), working in B&W grayscale, with color to be added at the end. He began by storyboarding the full 70-page book, working from my script; we thrashed out details via Slack and Zoom.
For those curious about the graphic-novel collaborative process, here are the script and rough storyboard excerpts for the panels above:
Every project, and writer-artist pairing, is unique. Sometimes writers dictate page layouts and panel compositions in detail. For me to do that with an artist of Mario's caliber would feel like telling a film D.P. what lens to use. I "see" panels in my mind's eye as I write, but that doesn't mean Mario needs to draw them exactly that way. A comics artist's job is like a film director, D.P., set designer, cast and crew rolled into one. In writing, whether for a graphic novel or film/TV, I try to suggest my ideas for panels and shots (and casting, and actors' performances...) indirectly through word choice and phrasing, rather than "do it this way." I want the script to be specific enough to make scenes and moments come alive in the reader's (director's, illustrator's, actor's) imagination — then leave them enough room to create those moments anew as only they can.
That said, to fit a dense, complex story into 70 large-format pages is a writer's, not an illustrator's, job. In my script for Monte-Cristo, I do specify page breaks. (I knew the panels above would be near the bottom of page 2, and that it would be a left-hand page.) But again, every project is different. For an in-depth look at the creative process on another graphic novel — Templar, with illustrators LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland — check out this free 86-page e-book.
Now, back to work — Mario on pages 20-21, and me (since I've already written the scripts for the three books) on projects not yet announced. Monte Cristo T1: "The Prisoner" is in French comic book stores now. You can read about it (and read reviews, and download color PDF excerpts) here.
A Last Express Milestone
The Last Express left the station 25 years ago this month, on 3 CD-ROMs — shipping on PC and Mac in April 1997 after an intense 4-year development. It's a game that will always be close to my heart. In honor of the anniversary, Dotemu is offering the game at 75% discount on iOS and Steam from April 19-May 3 (on Android until April 26).
To mark the occasion, I'm adding two new items to the Last Express section on this site's library page: The original 1993 game script that Tomi Pierce and I wrote for the game production, and the movie adaptation I wrote for director Paul Verhoeven in 2010 (three years after his Black Book, which I loved). We never got to make the movie, so you'll have to judge for yourself whether it would have worked on screen.
And if you want to experience the game as you remember it, you still can, 25 years later, thanks to Dotemu. Happy birthday, The Last Express!
I've had my French driver's license and mobile phone for two years now, but it took me a little longer to get this website switched over. As of today, jordanmechner.com is bilingual. (To change languages, click on the icon in the upper right.)
Now, I get to make my first announcement in French and English: In May 2022, Glénat/Comixburo will release Volume 1 of my new graphic novel trilogy, Monte Cristo. It's a modern update of Alexandre Dumas' timeless tale of betrayed love, revenge, and redemption, transposed to post-9/11 America and today's globalized world. The illustrator is the wonderful Mario Alberti (The Wall).
Monte Cristo will be published first in France as three 72-page hardcover volumes. Volume 1, "The Prisoner," will be in bookstores in early May; it's now available for pre-order. Volumes 2 and 3, "The Island" and "The Storm", will be released next year. If you'd like to be notified when an English version is announced, you can subscribe to my monthly e-mail newsletter here.
My last two book launches (Samak the Ayyar and The Making of Prince of Persia) were virtual, for 2020-21 reasons. I'm happy to say that for Monte Cristo, Mario Alberti and I will be doing in-person book signings in Paris, Montpellier, and a few other cities. I hope to see some of you there. I can't wait for readers to discover this new adventure.
Details on Monte Cristo (and link to order online) are here.
This week, I'm excited to share two new book releases.
Samak the Ayyar is a wonderful, thousand-year-old Persian adventure saga that I've had the honor to adapt in its first English-language translation. It's the source material my Prince of Persia games (and movie) always wanted but never had. You can read about the project's origins (and download a free sample chapter) here.
You can order Samak on Amazon, or direct from Columbia University Press, via the store. If you order from the publisher, enter the code CUP20 for a 20% discount.
My other July book release is the third in a trilogy: Year 3 in France, 166 pages of my sketchbook journal from 2018-19, the third year after I moved to France from L.A. for a video game project. Like the first two volumes, it's a small, high-quality print run from local publisher Tomoe.
I've signed a stack of books, so the first 30 people to order Year 3 from the online store will receive signed copies.
Year 2 has sold out its print run, but you can get signed copies of all three books at Chicago Gamespace, where my sketch art is on exhibit thru August 23. It's a unique space dedicated to video game culture and art, well worth a visit if you're in the Chicago area.
The Chicago show also includes a new print from Year 3: "Les Beatnik Modernes", in a signed and numbered limited edition of 10. It's a sketch I did in May 2019 at a café just up the street. I've missed sketching in cafés, and can't wait to rekindle the habit.
A Tale of Ancient Persia
I'm excited to share a very special project. It's been my honor to adapt a wonderful, thousand-year-old Persian adventure saga in its first English-language edition — Samak the Ayyar.
Despite having spent a certain number of the past 30 years delving into Persian culture and lore for video game and film development-related purposes, I'd never heard of Samak (or ayyars) until the day my translator and collaborator Freydoon Rassouli took down a dusty out-of-print volume from his shelf and said: "This is what you've been looking for."
As he began reading to me from its pages, translating on the fly from archaic Persian, shivers ran down my spine. Here was a fantastic adventure set in ninth-century Persia, featuring a treacherous vizier, a star-crossed romance between a noble prince and princess, kings, warriors, and an agile trickster hero who scales walls and sneaks into palaces. It was the source material my Prince of Persia games (and movie) had always wanted but never had. But since I don't read Persian (and even most Persians don't read 900-year-old manuscripts), I couldn't read it.
I really, really needed to read that book. So... we wrote it. Samak the Ayyar will be released in paperback this August from Columbia University Press.
What are ayyars? A concept as specific to Persia as ronin and samurai are to Japan, and as universal. Samak is a hero and bandit, a man of the people with the skills of a ninja and the ideals of a knight. You could call him a Persian Robin Hood, but he and his band of male and female ayyars have a unique and compelling spirit all their own. Armed with a dagger, a lasso, and his wits, he accomplishes things even kings can't.
If you appreciate the 1001 Nights, or classic tales of world folklore, I hope you'll be as enchanted by Samak's adventures as I am. You can read more about the book (and pre-order it, once it becomes available in your territory) here.
Why I Keep a Journal
I've always been fascinated by other people's stories. In my twenties — dreaming of making video games, books, movies — I devoured memoirs and interviews with my role models, hungering for insight on how they'd done it. Published journals were most rare and valuable of all, because they were a raw record of experience: written in the heat of the moment, not shaped and burnished into a smooth narrative with hindsight.
I was 17 when I started keeping my own journal. I kept up the habit, filling dozens of spiral-bound notebooks over the years. I thought I'd never show them to anybody.
The cumulative power of daily practice is well known but still amazes me. Ten years ago, my brother David picked up a ukulele and started strumming. Now he's a ukulele player. A behavior becomes a routine, a habit, and finally a trait. The things we do every day shape us, literally: We become a guitarist, a smoker, a programmer or athlete or stoner, by doing something for the first time, then keeping it up.
I'm a journal-keeper. With over a hundred notebooks filled since 1982, it's become part of who I am. I couldn't have expected or anticipated all the ways my new habit would enrich my life.
Even if we never reread what we write in our journals, the act of writing changes us. It shapes our perceptions and memory. Over time, opening the notebook and picking up the pen becomes like resuming a long-running conversation with a friend. We develop a voice, even though there's no one on the other end to hear it — or rather, our self is listening.
I decided to publish my own 1980s journals — begun as a Yale college freshman, while I was making my first video games, Karateka and Prince of Persia — when enough years had passed that their value as a time capsule outweighed my embarrassment. I still cringe rereading certain entries, but I'm glad the journals exist. They contain hard-won experience I wish I could have had the benefit of when I was 20.
Keeping a journal has special value for anyone engaged in a creative project. Reading pages written a year ago, or five, or twenty, can help reveal the big arc of our lives, and illuminate the present. Past journal entries remind us of intentions, resolves, lessons forgotten. They bring home how much of our worries, schemes and plans are transient, even quaint in retrospect.
In the four years it took me to make the first Prince of Persia game on the Apple II, my journal did more than record my creative process: it was part of it. I used my notebook as a sounding board — wrestling with design challenges, discarding ideas and sparking new ones in the act of writing. In dark moments I poured out my angst, questioned whether I was on the right path, if the game was even worth finishing. More than once, my journal brought me back from the brink and helped me find the clarity and confidence to continue. Some entries capture the exact moment of illumination when I hit upon a solution I'd been groping toward in the dark. For all the digital and technological advancement of the past half-century, pen and paper may still be the tool that comes closest to being able to record thought.
For every entry that makes me feel smart, there's a youthful wise reflection like this one: "The games business is drying up. There's no guarantee there will even be a computer games market a couple of years from now." (July 1985) Or: "I've grown middle-aged these last few years. Roland is 23 but he's still young at heart." (Written when I was 22.) Rereading such passages is a joy that only journal-keepers know.
The final PC version of Prince of Persia that shipped thirty years ago, in April 1990, is so familiar now it feels inevitable. It's easy to forget that it was once a fragile thing in flux. My journal reminds me of roads not taken, of how easily things could have turned out differently.
These days, I keep my journal in a Hobonichi Techo — a compact format that reinforces the practice of one page a day, neatly fitting a year into the palm of my hand, a decade in a shoebox. I've found poignant solace in this month of confinement, April 2020, flipping back a few dozen pages to see how many of my concerns and decisions of February have been rendered irrelevant, while a few mattered more than I knew.
A journal keeps us honest and tethers us to truth. In George Orwell's 1984, the protagonist's first act of resistance to brainwashing is to start secretly keeping a diary — a crime not explicitly forbidden, but punishable by death, because it threatens a totalitarian state's power to retroactively rewrite history.
Like a yardstick calibrated in millimeters, a journal holds both the detail and the scope of life. Our human condition is to live one moment at a time; we're never given more than that. Of all the gifts journaling gives us, maybe that's the greatest: The simple practice of making daily marks on paper, like mental push-ups, can strengthen the part of us that tries to rise above the timeline, to see a pattern and bigger picture — and, paradoxically, also strengthen the part of us that can learn to treasure the present moment.