The 1993 Journals: Prince of Persia 2 and The Last Express

This page is a continuation of my journal from January 1993, starting the day after my published The Making of Prince of Persia diary ends.

That January, I'd just rented an apartment in San Francisco, after a year living abroad in Paris. My main reasons for returning were to be closer to the Broderbund team in the final months of production of Prince of Persia 2, and to form a new studio to make my planned next two games: Prince of Persia 3 and The Last Express (called, at that point, "train game").

The success of Karateka and Prince of Persia had put me in a rare and fortunate position that few creative artists ever get to experience. At age 28, I was being offered a dazzling array of opportunities to write my own ticket. How I navigated those choices – including mistakes I made and things I was blind to, as well as what went right – was raw material for the journal I kept during the four years I struggled to finish The Last Express.

If you've read either or both books of my previous journals, The Making of Karateka (1982-1985) and The Making of Prince of Persia (1985-1993), you already know the back story and many players in the drama. The journal is not a look back; it's what I wrote then, in present tense. The entries are selected and abridged (even my mother wouldn't want to read everything I wrote between age 17 and 32), but apart from light copyediting, I've let the text stand as I wrote it thirty years ago, and avoided the temptation to revise with hindsight. If some lines make you wince in 2023, they probably make me wince too.

I'll post a new "30 years ago this week" batch of journal entries (and relevant archival images) here every Wednesday. If you like, you can also follow via this site's RSS feed, and/or my social media links and monthly email newsletter.


I'm sharing the journals here for educational and historical purposes.

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Thanks for reading! Now I'll pass the fountain pen to 28-year-old me. I'll occasionally jump in to add clarifying context, but mostly, I'll stay out of it.

My previous journals, The Making of Karateka and The Making of Prince of Persia, are available in paperback, hardcover, audiobook, e-book and/or PDF. Books here.

January 11, 1993 [San Francisco]

Jake let me sneak a peek at this month’s sales numbers. Guess I can go ahead and buy a car after all.

Bought a vacuum cleaner at Sears. The saleswoman was from Cataluña.

George [Hickenlooper] was thrilled that I’d met Brad Dourif. He’d wanted to cast him in Grey Night, but was thwarted by the producers.

January 12, 1993

Opened a bank account for Smoking Car Productions.

I need to buy a futon. (And a dining room table And chairs And bookcases And a coffee table And some sort of additional living room seating And end tables And floor lamps) And a shower curtain.

I see this apartment basically as a place to crash and entertain. No desk, no spare-bedroom office, none of that.

January 13, 1993

Day at Broderbund. Prince 2 goes on.

January 15, 1993

Kelly and Ann opened a bottle of champagne to welcome me to the neighborhood.

January 18, 1993

The movers arrived yesterday morning and, with amazing speed, transferred fifty-two boxes and a rug into an empty apartment. I spent last night on the new futon. Wow. After a year and a half of wandering, I’m once again chez moi on American soil. It doesn’t feel like home yet, but it’s terrifically exciting.

DuArt sent the first answer print of Waiting for Dark. I projected it today at a low-rent lab on Battery St. It needs another pass. But what a relief to see it all put together, clean, with no mistakes!

Spent yesterday shopping with Tomi [Pierce] for office furniture, sheets and towels for me, and the like. Did some more shopping on my own today after work.

Well, this café is pleasant, but I’m eager to get home and start hooking up my stereo.

Home! What a heavenly beautiful word it is after all.

Waiting for Dark was a short film I'd shot in Cuba over the summer of 1992. My friend Aarón Yelín completed editing and post-production in Paris.

January 20, 1993

Listening to music on my own stereo for the first time since August ’91. What a luxury! Unpacking these boxes is like opening a time capsule. Books packed away 18 months ago, dishes wrapped in New York Times from June and July ’91.

Yesterday was a Smoking Car day. Worked on the [train game] story with Tomi. Some good progress. She’s spread so thin, I have to fight to get her to work on it; but when she does, she comes up with really good stuff. I stayed till ten p.m. last night writing, elaborating on the ideas we’d invented in the afternoon.

Today was a Broderbund day. Lunch with Doug [Carlston] and Brian [Eheler], visited John Baker, Ken [Goldstein], and other people. Other than that, got no work done. It was basically a “bonding” day.

We’re probably going to slip the Prince 2 schedule two weeks, but it’s not clear yet whose fault it’s going to be. I’d be happy if they slipped it to June – I know every day Jeff [Charvat, lead programmer] has, he’ll use to make it better – but the powers-that-be are breathing down our necks. They want to ship in April as scheduled.

Doug and John made me feel good. They’re convinced it’s going to be a huge hit. John wants to talk about Prince 3. Heh heh heh.

Went out for drinks and fajitas with Lance [Groody, senior programmer on PC Prince 1] at Pepper’s in San Rafael so he could flirt with the bartender, Brandy. I told him a little about the train game. It would be an abuse of my uniquely privileged position as Broderbund’s only in-house outside developer for me to try to lure anybody out of the fold, but I figure it won’t do any harm to let people know I’m looking for talent.

Brian Eheler was my product manager on POP 1 and 2. Doug Carlston, who'd co-founded Broderbund in 1980, was one of my first game industry mentors (see The Making of Karateka).

Tomi Pierce was writing the new "train game" story with me; she and Doug had just gotten engaged.

Page 41 of my graphic memoir Replay (chapter 2) pictures Doug at Broderbund in 1986.

January 23, 1993

Chinese New Year. It’s a beautiful day, cold with a clear sky and warm sun. Last night I went out with John Kavanagh of Domark and his friend Martin who’d just flown in from England. We had dinner at Caffé Sport and then to Grant and Green.

Thursday was a Smoking Car day, assembling office furniture.

Tomi says Pete [her artist partner on a contract project] is fretting. He feels cramped with three people in the office, and competitive with me over Tomi. Aww.

I’ve started playing The Dagger of Amon Ra. It’s got surprisingly good graphics, music and overall style.

January 26, 1993

My living room rug has fleas.

January 27, 1993

Day at Broderbund. Lunch with Brian and Rusel [DiMaria]. Played Prince 2 with Doug and Colleen. Dinner with Morris Silver [my accountant, visiting from NY] at Marin Joe’s.

My phone number in Paris has been disconnected.

January 28, 1993

Tomi lent me her table, chair and lamp. Having furniture makes a big difference. I’m sitting here listening to Ella sing Cole Porter. New York music.

January 29, 1993

Spent the day at the office. Got a hell of a lot of work done on Train. This story is writing itself.

Pete designed me a killer business card today, borrowing a train silhouette from that French coffee table book I bought at FNAC with Patrick. It’s great.

Awful news from Suzanne. George’s film Grey Night has been taken away from him. The producers are recutting it based on the suggestions of a PR firm. I mean, that film was done! I saw it! It was good! Now they’re going to reduce it to a piece of schlock. Thank God I didn’t go into the movie business.

February 1, 1993

Day at Broderbund.

Did a phone interview with Russ Cicola of Computer Games magazine. The first coverage of Prince 2 has appeared in print, in Joystick’s CES issue. They said lots of nice things. I showed it to the artists. They got a big kick out of seeing their work in print for the first time.

February 4, 1993

Worked till 1:30 a.m. on Prince 2. Got the first temple level pretty much laid out. What a relief. It only took all day.

Pete was still there when I left. He’s going to be there all night.

Patrick called. He’s coming to San Francisco! You can’t imagine how that call cheered me up.

Yesterday was a Broderbund day. Lunch with Brian, Ken and John Baker.

Patrick Ladislav, my friend and neighbor in Paris, was my second key collaborator on the train game. We'd met in 1991 at a NYU filmmaking workshop (see The Making of Prince of Persia).

February 5, 1993

Spent the day working on Prince 2. Second temple level, done. One level per day seems to be the rate. It takes a lot out of me; I feel drained and burned out at the end of the day.

February 6, 1993

John Kavanagh and his fiancée Fiona arrived and drove me to Leslie’s birthday party. Leslie’s hair caught on fire when she was blowing out the candles.

February 7, 1993

A grey day. I pulled out of my funk long enough to order some bookcases and put in a few hours of Prince 2 level building.

February 9, 1993

Yesterday I went to Broderbund. Prince 2 is shaping up nicely.

When I got back to the Smoking Car office a big batch of mail from France was waiting for me, including a charming pair of missives from Patrick and Sandrine, and all the letters from Cuba I’d missed dating back to November. I wrote back to everyone.

New print of Waiting for Dark arrived from DuArt. I can’t wait to screen it.

Spent today working on train game. Made up a master plan schedule.

February 14, 1993

Yesterday Patrick and I drove to the Haight and bought some Corto Maltese comics in English.

Friday I showed him the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific. He wanted to swim, but it was too cold and the waves were too big.

February 15, 1993

Rusel and his young artist friend Ocean drove in from Walnut Creek and took us to his favorite Persian restaurant, Pasha, for tea. The Turkish/ Azerbaijani owner is a friend of his and we stayed a long time drinking mint tea, arguing over whether belly dancing is a respectable occupation for a young lady, and how and where the next world war will start.

February 16, 1993

The sky was overcast this morning, as if announcing that the weekend was over. Tomi and Pete are back. Patrick sat at the Mac learning Photoshop while I made a particularly fiendish Prince 2 level.

Tomi had the rather brilliant idea of hiring Patrick to do video editing for their Software Toolworks project Pete is resisting. It was a good way for Tomi and Patrick to meet, actually, after all this time.

My bookcases arrived! Patrick and I unpacked the cartons and wow, suddenly it looks like I live here.

February 18, 1993

Another long day at the office. Breakfast with Patrick and Tomi, talking train story at Caffé Greco (where the French waiter last night told Patrick that Coppola has breakfast every morning). Today he didn’t.

Nicole [Tostevin, Prince 2 art director] came to the city for dinner. Patrick and I took her to North End Café. After Nicole left, it still felt too early for bed, so we went to the Savoy. I was in a funk. I felt everything coming down on me like a giant saucepan lid, as Baudelaire would say. I decided to follow Patrick back to France next week. I need to get out of here, get my head straight, get my perspective back.

February 21, 1993

Another long day at the office, another night of café-hopping in North Beach.

Patrick tried to put into words what’s been bothering him about American women. “They don’t act like women! Even the ones that are beautiful don’t seem to know it. They don’t play with it, they don’t admit the power it gives them over men. A beautiful girl should have some shyness when a guy comes up to her and starts talking. Here, they’re just like ‘Hey, how ya doin’?’ They act like men. They even drink beer!” Voilá a French perspective.

February 22, 1993 [Los Angeles]

Having such a good time we decided to stay an extra day. Went to a party given by a friend of Mark Netter’s named Tamara. Mark was there, also Erika Schickel, star of his NYU film My Night in Bohemia. Patrick loves L.A. because “The people are cool and beautiful, but friendly... And they like me to be French!”

Yesterday we went on a drive in the mountains with George and Sue. It was startling to see snow only a short drive from Pasadena. George was happy to see us; he’s depressed about Grey Night, and we quickly hatched a new project which he got excited about shooting in Cuba this summer for $200,000. We saw Groundhog Day. It was great to go to the movies for the first time in months.

Had lunch with Brad Dourif and his wife at a 24-hour diner in Beverly Hills. He paid. (“You can’t pay,” he said. “You gave me a computer game.”) Next George took us to visit Cynda Williams. I fell in love with her. (She has a boyfriend.) George pitched her our Cuba film, introducing me as “my friend Jordan, an independent producer.”

George wants to come up to S.F. next weekend to start writing the script. It’s fun to have movie projects to dream about, even if they probably won’t happen.

Mark Netter graduated from NYU film school with my college friend Kevin Burget, who'd been George Hickenlooper's roommate. All four of us were aspiring filmmakers, but George was the one for whom any life path other than directing movies was unthinkable. Rather than go into debt at film school, George had gone straight from college to L.A. to break into the business.

By 1993, he'd already directed an acclaimed documentary, Hearts of Darkness (see The Making of Prince of Persia), and had just wrapped his first narrative feature.

George is pictured on page 262 of my graphic memoir Replay (chapter 8).

February 23, 1993 [San Francisco]

Day at Smoking Car. Dinner with Patrick and Tomi at Max’s Diner. Then back to the office with Patrick to finish the last two levels of Prince 2 while Patrick scanned maps of Europe into Photoshop.

“I dreamed I was an ant,” Patrick said this morning. “Newborn, with no teenage years or nothing.”

February 24, 1993

Introduced Patrick to Broderbund. Looks like it’ll be a good three weeks before I can get away from Prince 2.

Went driving on the back roads of China Camp. Patrick gave me pointers on driving stick shift. His dad used to race cars.

February 25, 1993

Drove Patrick to the airport this morning. By now he should be in Paris, reunited with Sandrine.

Spent the morning and afternoon catching up with Tomi. She’s overstressed by this Software Toolworks multimedia project; Pete isn’t carrying his weight. She wants me to take office space elsewhere so she can leave and move in with Smoking Car. At the same time, she’s appalled by the thought of what that would do to Pete and doesn’t know if she’ll be able to go through with it.

Meanwhile, she’s not working enough on Train and we both know it. I made her promise to reserve two hours every morning, 8-10 a.m., but it hasn’t worked out; too many crises, too many demands on her time from other sides.

On fait ce qu’on peut avec ce qu’on a.

February 27, 1993

I’m going to Paris next week. I’ll go for two weeks and come back before Brian and Jeff even notice I’m gone.

March 1, 1993

Brian Eheler came down for the afternoon so we could work on the Prince 2 documentation. George and Suzanne and Matt Greenberg are visiting. We all had dinner at Michelangelo’s. It was fun, mixing my separate worlds.

March 2, 1993

A long day at the office working on Train story. Some good innovations. Went to a Cuban restaurant with George and Matt and talked about our new screenplay, El Dorado. Saw a no-budget Mexican movie that got picked up by Columbia, El Mariachi.

Reading Black Lamb and Gray Falcon.

The character of Rebecca Norton, created later in The Last Express, was named in honour of the author Rebecca West.

March 4, 1993

Tomi and I have been working a lot on the train story. It’s getting better every day.

Jeff persuaded me to postpone my flight to Thursday to give him more time to work on the Final Battle logic before I leave.

March 5, 1993

Caught a cold, staying home to baby it. I feel as if I’m alone with myself for the first time in months. Come to think of it, I am alone for the first time in months. George and Sue and Matt left this morning.

Reading The Sheltering Sky.

March 6, 1993

Why do I always have the nagging feeling that there’s something better I could be doing, someone better I could be with? That little voice is so much a part of me that I almost don’t notice it any more; but man, I’m starting to think it’s my worst enemy. Is there any way to shut it up? Do other people feel this way, or is it just me?

I mean, you can go through life always looking ahead to the next thing – or backwards to the last thing; I don’t know which is worse – instead of just enjoying it. Where does it come from, this feeling that I might be missing out, that if I fail to extract the gold from this moment it will never come again??

March 8, 1993

Spent a few hours making a photo album. Contemplating the past is a tricky business. I’m not sure it doesn’t do more harm than good.

Keeping souvenirs (photos, journals) is tricky, too. Little by little, what you remember is replaced by what you’ve recorded. What is it all but raw material for a story – for your own story? But it’s a story that will never take form, never be told, never exist – except in fragments, in the minds of the people who know you.

I wish I were going to France for longer than just two weeks.

Smoking Car business cards arrived today.

March 9, 1993

Went out and bought a Hi-8 video camera.

Video dubs of Waiting for Dark arrived, finally. I was disappointed by the image quality, but still, it’s good to have them. Sent one to Oberhausen film festival.

Lunch with Tomi and Ann, Pete and James, at Malvina’s. Toolworks has killed their project. They weren’t sure whether to mourn or celebrate.

March 10, 1993

Day at Broderbund. Prince 2 is looking good.

Gave Doug his box of honorary Smoking Car cards. I think he was thrilled, actually.

March 14, 1993 [Paris]

Saw Arizona Dream with George and Patrick and Sandrine at the Champs-Elysées. It’s good to be home.

March 16, 1993

Spent the afternoon on the phone arranging meetings.

Patrick and I took the 1929 Orient Express to a suburb of Paris and back. A three-hour ride, dinner included, 800FF per person (special half-price deal). Filmed some stuff. Unfortunately, no coal locomotive and no sleeping cars.

Told Patrick and Xavier and Sandrine the train game story. Bénédicte came by and gave me a couple of sticks of incense. I gave her Leaves of Grass.

March 17, 1993

  1. Bought a Renault 205 “Roland Garros” convertible, green with a white top
  2. Drove Patrick, George and Sandrine through Paris with the top down
  3. Had coffee with Sandrine while Patrick and George had their meeting with a French producer
  1. Drank wine on the quai by the Seine
  2. Bought groceries for dinner, which Greg and Ilena cooked for everybody
  3. Took Bénédicte to an after-hours piano bar in rue Mazarine, drove at random through the empty streets and ended up at the Pantheon, her favorite place
  4. I love Paris.

March 20, 1993

Dinner at 8 rue Boutarel. Sandrine made salad while Greg and I made pasta upstairs, George came with Lucie, and we had a much better time than if we’d gone out to a restaurant.

After dinner we went to the quai and drank coffee and a bottle of wine. Patrick was the perfect host. We got sentimental and drank to our next reunion, our next film, etc. Patrick broke a glass, I broke one, and we threw them into the Seine and broke the reflection of Notre-Dame. Patrick poured me the last drops of the bottle: “You know what that means...” Another night that will live in memory.

March 25, 1993

Tuesday, two screenings of The Killing Box (fka Grey Night). Dinner at the Bateau Ivre, then a jazz club at Luxembourg, and drove back with the top down, singing at the top of our lungs. The next day, we left for Argentan.

Driving down a remote country road, Patrick spotted a Cardenas sculpture through an open gate, so we stopped and took a look. The owner was thrilled to show it off. I guess not many people in Argentan know about Cardenas. We also stopped at a couple of antique shops. I bought an old, beautiful metal belt. A gift for someone I haven’t met yet.

Now I’m on the train back to Paris. I left Patrick and Sandrine the Peugeot, to keep at Sandrine’s dad’s shop in the country until the next time I come to France. My flight leaves tomorrow.

March 28, 1993 [San Francisco]

Tomi met me at the airport Friday night. Man, was I happy to see her. We had dinner at Gira Polli, then she drove back to Marin.

Yesterday it rained. I drove up to San Rafael, to Jeff and Diana’s new house. Jeff was working at home over the weekend. Prince 2 is looking pretty good. He was vastly relieved when I approved of what he’d done over the last two weeks.

March 29, 1993

Broderbund. Everybody wants a piece of me. It’s great.

Shopping with Tomi to furnish my apartment.

Reading Luis Buñuel’s autobiography.

March 30, 1993

Tonight I went to a “focus group” for Myst in S.F. It was fascinating. Very instructive. Met the Cyan brothers. Afterwards Rusel and I went to Pasha’s for tea.

Feyna did a photo shoot of me and the crew for the European tabloids.

April 4, 1993

Just finished When Nietsche Wept. Some ideas really impressed me.

  • Choose your fate, love your fate
  • I didn’t see her, didn’t love her. I loved the idea of her, of being in love with someone like her.
  • If I didn’t think about X, what would I be thinking about?

April 5, 1993

Patrick called from Paris. I’m going back in three weeks.

The first week or two I’m someplace, whether it’s Paris or S.F., is always a special, golden time. I’ve just arrived and feel like there’ll be time for everything. Then one day, BAM! the endpoint comes into view. In this case, three weeks from now. It’s not a bad feeling, exactly, just a shift in my brain, a clock that’s begun to tick.

What a crazy life I’ve chosen, when the times when the clock isn’t ticking are so brief.

It’s Passover and I don’t know anybody here who’s Jewish.

April 7, 1993

Another full day at Smoking Car, Tomi and me, cranking away on the train story. Getting there.

April 9, 1993

Roland [Gustafsson] came by for lunch. Prince 2 impressed him, but he doesn’t want to do the train game. No surprise, but kind of a downer. Time to start thinking of other possibilities.

Doing it as some kind of co-production with Broderbund suddenly seems more attractive. What if I did the screenplay, game and interface design, and film production under the Smoking Car aegis, then turned it over to Broderbund to do artwork, sound, music and programming?

I can’t decide if that would be the best of both worlds, or the worst.

Yesterday Ken Goldstein asked me about Prince 3. I wonder if I should be trying to make this a “two-picture deal” — that is, tie the two projects together, rather than trying to keep them apart.

You know? That’s not such a dumb idea.

What if I put together a real production team — several programmers, sound people, artists — and used it to do both Train and Prince 3?

Start Prince 3 in, say, August, ship in spring ’95, and ship the train game six months later, for Christmas ’95. The moneymaker and the art piece. Prince 3 pays for both, reduces the overall risk of the venture.

And if both games are a hit? with sequel potential built in? Smoking Car suddenly becomes a saleable entity.

It’s inefficient for me to divide my time between two offices, two production teams. If I’m going to do two games at the same time, it makes sense to combine forces. Build name recognition for Smoking Car with Prince 3 that will benefit Train when it comes out.

Time to talk to Doug.

April 11, 1993

Prince 2 is in its final week(s). Brian is as stressed out as I’ve ever seen him. Even Jeff is starting to show the strain. It’s supposed to sign out Friday, but I’d say next Friday is more like it.

Called Bénédicte in Paris, no answer. Weird to think of that phone ringing in an empty apartment 7,000 miles away.

April 20, 1993

Game Developers Conference Sunday and Monday. Today I worked on Train. Then went to Broderbund and had a drink with Brian to celebrate signing out the demo disk. Hoping to sign out the game itself tomorrow.

I’m pissed that the final battle still isn’t really good enough. It’s my own fault. Time to let it go.

Dinner with Doug at a Japanese restaurant in Sausalito. I told him my ideas for starting a new company. You know... I think he might actually want to be my partner! It sounds crazy, but he seemed excited about it.

So I went back to the office and stayed till 2 a.m. writing a master plan.

April 21, 1993

We almost signed out today, but didn’t. I invited everyone who worked on it to dinner at Pasha’s tomorrow.

Went to see Point of No Return (lame remake of La Femme Nikita) with Bruce, because we’d heard the Prince of Persia box appears in the background of one scene. Sure enough, there it is in Bridget Fonda’s apartment. So Nikita plays Prince in her spare time. Great!

April 24, 1993

Thursday was a bad day. At the last minute they found a gnarly bug, didn’t sign out, we called off the planned celebration. But, Friday was a good day. Jeff fixed the bug, we drank champagne at happy hour, I went to the Carmen Space party at Lance and Christa’s house in Petaluma and stayed till one a.m.

Today I worked on Train interface. I’ve actually made quite a lot of progress on it these last few days.

April 26, 1993

Michael Baisuck [Prince 2 artist] came down, I showed him Smoking Car, and we went to a barbecue on Telegraph Hill, just down the street from Feyna.

Met with Doug this morning, showed him the business plan. He didn’t say yes or no. I showed him Waiting for Dark.

Met with Ken G. in the afternoon, told him I’d be doing Train out of house and maybe Prince 3 too.

In between, QA discovered another bug that means we probably didn’t sign out today after all. Grrrr!

Now I’m puttering around, tidying up the apartment before I leave. I’ve got that momentous feeling of being in between two stages of life. When I get back from France next time, I’ll really be here.

I’ve been practicing hell out of “Wish You Were Here” on guitar. I feel sorry for my neighbors.

Counted all my keys, from Paris, NY and SF. I have fifteen keys. That’s a lot of keys.

April 30, 1993 [Paris]

It’s good to be here. Seven o’clock on a muggy afternoon, with thunder crackling in the distance and the rain just starting to fall. Patrick and I drove the car back from Argentan — a project that took all day, starting with the two-hour train ride there from Montparnasse.

I’m surrounded by deep rich colors, thick Turkish-style upholstery and throw rugs, drapes that weren’t there before. It’s kind of great to come back to your place and find it transformed. It’s incomparably more habitable than when I left it. Patrick even hung a plant outside the window.

I got in yesterday at noon, after a flight from hell that was held up for four hours at the gate in the Chicago airport. The night before, I’d invited the whole Prince 2 crew to Pasha’s. I was so sick from the celebration, I threw up three times: when I got home, then in Tomi’s car on the way to the airport (sorry Tomi!) and again shortly after the plane took off from SF.

Remarkably, after landing in Paris, and a ride back to the Île with my suitcases on a crowded RER, all it took was a shower, a shave and a change of clothes, and I felt ready to take on the world again.

Patrick and I had coffee at St. Regis, then went straight to the prefecture to get my car registration straightened out. It was a warm humid springy day. By the time it started to rain, we were back at my place.

[4 a.m.] Back from Yo’s birthday party at Jeannette’s. After dinner we sat around for five more hours in a haze of cigarette smoke, coffee and champagne, arguing about religion and politics — topics you’d think we’d have learned to avoid when were were 18 — but on such a high theoretical plane that there was no chance of anybody convincing anybody of anything. Now I know I’m really in France.

May 1, 1993

Put in a good afternoon’s work on Train. Tomorrow morning we start.

It’s still raining.

May 2, 1993

Drove with Patrick and Aarón to Longueville, way out in the country, to see trains that were being restored by a bunch of enthusiasts. They gave us a lot of good information.

[2 a.m.] Just got back from dinner at Dany Boolauck’s. His mom cooked Indian curry (the best in Paris) and we sat up talking long after mom and brother had gone to sleep.

Dany’s first proposal, which he came out with almost immediately, was to create a new division of Delphine for me to run. I’d have creative control, they wouldn’t interfere, and I’d get a good salary and a royalty. “We could call it Jordan Mechner Productions,” Dany suggested. He offered to share ownership of the company 50/50. I said no, but it’s good to know that this kind of deal is possible.

Dany also said he could get me $1 million in royalty advances for Nintendo and Sega rights to my next game through Delphine, sight unseen. If true, that should be more than enough to pay for Train’s development. The only problem he foresees is that 2 years is a long time to ask them to wait.

It’s kind of dizzying the way one’s destiny gets batted around in these conversations. You say yes to whatever, and then you find yourself living it for the next two or three years. It’s scary to think that at one point I was considering letting Broderbund develop Train in-house, and how much worse that deal would have been than any of the scenarios Dany outlined tonight.

May 3, 1993

It’s 2 a.m. and I just got back from spending two hours with Xavier and Patrick, poring through comic books and looking at computer game magazines and trying to shout each other down. It’s great to be with people who have so much creative energy that they’re willing to lose a night’s sleep talking about a project they’re not even getting paid for. A lot of good graphic ideas came out of that discussion. I think I get more done here than in San Francisco.

Today we found a guy we’re hoping will be able to give us the answers we’ve been unable to get anywhere else. He’s got the archives that CIWL/SNCF wanted to destroy, he saved them from oblivion, and we’ve got an appointment Saturday. 18h, Gare de l’Est, quai no. 4, through the door that says “Acces interdit.”

May 4, 1993

I rewrote the story taking into account what we learned in Longueville. Details like the fact that every car has its own conductor, and the passengers don’t have keys to their compartments. It’s actually much better now.

Joystick and Generation 4 magazines both have spreads on me and Prince 2 this month. Screen shots, photos, interviews, everything.

Patrick and I spent the day at the Bibliotheque Nationale. Got a nice big map of Europe in 1914, big enough to cover an entire wall of my apartment. It was a small but satisfying triumph for Patrick, who’s been trying to track this map down for months.

Patrick said: “You know, that whole rue du Four period, you were really down. Like, you needed a computer but you wouldn’t buy one because it was too expensive, so you waited for them to send you one, and then it was that really bad one. It turned around when you came back from San Francisco carrying a new computer. Then, when you bought a new pair of shoes, I thought: ‘OK, he’s going to be all right.’”

Shoes are important in France.

May 6, 1993

Saw “Louis, enfant roi” with Aarón at the Gaumont. I brought him up to date on the progress of the train game. He thinks it’s hilarious to see me playing the young capitalist. He reminded me of all the reasons why I’m in an ideal situation, and added: “I hope you’re enjoying it, because if you aren’t, it would be a real shame.”

When we got back to the car at 2 a.m., it turned out I’d left the lights on and the battery was dead. We bought jumper cables and hailed a passing car to give us a jumpstart. Unfortunately, it was a carload of plainclothes cops.

As soon as I tapped on the driver’s window, I wished I hadn’t; the guy gave me a look that I can only describe as “ready to kill.” I had to go through with the explanation. In the end, they jumped out of the car and gave us a start.

I tried to get the guy to connect the cable to the engine block so it wouldn’t risk damaging the alternator, but he snarled (in the roughest French I’ve ever heard): “You’re not gonna show me how to jumpstart a car, get the fuck out of my way and shut up.” After they left, Aarón said: “What an asshole! He’s just like the cops in Cuba.”

May 8, 1993

Drove all the way out to Rueuil to the wrong address to miss a rendezvous with Olivier Nicolle the modelist. Back in Paris, went to the flea market with Patrick and Sandrine, bought some 1914 magazines (and a nice Art Nouveau lithograph). Then we went to Gare de l’Est, quai no 4, for a rendezvous with some train buffs who helped us enormously. That was fun.

Patrick bought us dinner at a Chinese restaurant at Place de l’Italie.

Sandrine said: “You want people to fall in love with you, but you don’t give them anything. You just want to take without giving.”

Sandrine is way too smart.

May 10, 1993

The first really gorgeous summer-like day. I have to say, we took advantage of it. The day started early with a rendezvous with M. Carcalla, author of the De Nöel “Orient-Express” book, who disappointingly turned out to know very little about his subject. He gave us the names of two of his sources, one in England and one in Germany.

Patrick was disgusted. He thinks Carcalla is a plagiarist. But I bet for guys who write coffee table books like that, he’s pretty typical.

May 21, 1993 [New York]

Dinner with Paul Federbush, who wants to start a CD-ROM production company. I showed him Waiting for Dark.

It’s spring, the weather is perfect, New York is calling to me, and it’s so sad because I’m here just long enough to leave again. Short trips tantalize you with what might have been. I love to arrive; I hate to leave...

I want something new to start. Spring is in the air and I’m wasting it — I know that makes no sense, but it’s how I feel. I’m going to squeeze this next month in Europe to the last drop.

(“That’s like waking up in the morning knowing you’re going to still be alive at the end of the day, and what fun is that?”)

May 23, 1993

Showed Kevin [Burget] Waiting for Dark. He showed me Park Tragedy.

Went to the Cuban Studies Center and showed the film to Sandra [Levinson]. She liked it a lot and thinks I should distribute it right away.

May 24, 1994 [New Haven]

Class Day for Robert [Cook]’s graduation. Old Campus full of proud parents and black-gowned grads. Déjà vu all over again.

Jodie Foster spoke. She took out her Instamatic and snapped a picture of the class from the podium before she began speaking. It was endearing.

The Yale police busted in this morning and evicted Corey [Kosak] and me from our squat in the vacant suite next door to Robert’s. “We could take you in for burglary,” they pointed out.

I'd been friends with Corey and Robert (now Veda Cook) since the summer of 1984, when I arrived in California at age 19 to finish my game Karateka under Broderbund's roof. Both were brilliant programmers whose talent brought them success fresh out of high school. Broderbund published Veda's first game, Gumball, when she was 17. Later, she did the Atari and C-64 ports of Karateka. (See The Making of Karateka.)

We shared an attic at Broderbund from 1986-89 while I developed Prince of Persia and Veda developed her next game, D/Generation. Veda and Corey both put their game programming careers on pause to move cross-country and attend four-year colleges on the East Coast, as I had.

Jodie Foster was in my graduating class at Yale '85, but I didn't know her.

May 26, 1993

Lunch with Cindy downtown, the first time I’d seen her in two years. In a parallel universe, maybe we’re a scorching couple; in this one, just another Road Not Taken. Sigh.

May 28, 1993 [Paris]

Patrick met me at the gate at Orly. I almost didn’t recognize him. He was wearing his classy gray Mao silk suit. It turned out he was on the way to his uncle’s funeral. Dropped him off, switched seats and drove back with Sandrine through stop-and-go traffic. (There was a metro strike.) Two hours in the car with Sandrine was a pleasant way to start off the day.

Showered, changed into shorts and polo shirt (summer is here!), put the top down and drove to Sally’s place in the Marais, where Tomi is staying. Lunch with Sally and Tomi at Ma Bourgogne on Place des Vosges. Dinner with Patrick and Sandrine, Emmerich and Virginie.

May 29, 1993

Brought Tomi home to meet Sandrine. Patrick took Tomi and me on a historical tour of the Ile. Then we went to Joeda to print out a copy of the train scenario for Tomi, left Patrick and Sandrine there to do some photo shoot involving Sandrine in a black dress (“It must be great to be beautiful,” Tomi sighed), and went clothes shopping. Dinner at Le Cloche-Perse, put Tomi to bed and drove home.

The next day was devoted to tourism. Musée Marmottan, then Les Halles, with Tomi and Pete and James and Bénedicte. After that I was exhausted and spent the afternoon back at the Ile playing Prince of Persia 2.

Tomi on Bénédicte: “She’s intellectual and good-looking and all, but she’s sort of a pain in the ass.”

It’s good to be back. It’s strange having Tomi, Pete and James here. I feel like I’m in San Francisco.

May 31, 1993

Went to the movies with Tomi, Patrick and Sandrine. The Piano Lesson by Jane Campion.

Walking along the rue de Rivoli with Patrick and Sandrine cavorting in front of us, Tomi said: “My gosh, I see why you’re so obsessed with romance. It’s even depressing me to watch these two. Oh, to be tall and gorgeous!”

Frédérique offered her place for a going-away party for Aarón (and birthday party for me) Saturday.

June 1, 1993

Day of phone calls and errands with Patrick, trying to track down Orient Express cars. Talked to George Behrend in Scotland, sent a fax to Greece.

June 2, 1993

Drove to Compiègne to see the car of Marechal Foch.

This Last Express research trip is depicted on page 187 (Chapter 6) of my graphic novel memoir Replay. It explains why a 1914 Orient Express restaurant car happened to be sitting in a forest north of Paris, for reasons closely intertwined with my own family history. See the related Replay Annex entry.

June 6, 1993

It’s funny, but I can’t remember what I did for my birthday last year. This one I won’t forget. It really felt like the beginning of a new year.

Sandrine and Patrick cooked a special dinner in the fireplace, Pete and James and Tomi came over, Sandrine brought out a cake with 29 candles, it was festive and touching. Then I was awoken at 6:30 a.m. by a phone call. It was Brian and a cast of thousands calling from the Prince 2 celebration party at Leila’s house to sing me Happy Birthday. (It was still my birthday in California, nine hours earlier.) They passed the phone around. I was practically bawling.

Then Saturday night was the big party at Frédérique’s. There was Carole and her friend; Frédérique; Claudine and her husband Dominique; Dominique Biehler and a very pregnant Manuela; Zoe; Isabelle, my old neighbor from the rue du Four, and her boyfriend Vincent (who turned out to know Xavier); Eric Chahi; two Cuban girls, friends of Aarón; a Spanish girl named Toni, who I invited since she’d called me back when I left a message on her answering machine for her roommate Maria who’d gone back to Spain; Toni’s friend, who looks Spanish but is really Viennese;

Aarón; Sophie, Tzadic and three friends of hers; Xavier and his fiancée Gabi (who is Argentine and was surprised and glad to find so many Spanish-speaking people there); Emmerich; Anna and Basile; Patrick and Sandrine; Virginie; Fred’s friend Bernard (who turned out to know Patrick from Casablanca)...that’s all the people I can remember for now.

I’m only sorry Tomi didn’t come (with Pete and James and Sallie and François-Marc). She was too tired.

Today was the “regional products” fair in the Marais. Sandrine and Fred and Anna and I made the rounds, ate and drank ourselves into gourmet oblivion like we did last year with Jérome, wound up stupefied by the sun and wine and mussels and sausage and cheese and foie gras. It was Mother’s Day.

After the Broderbund call I went back to sleep and had a flying dream.

This birthday has given me a lot of strength. (Full moon, too.) This is not going to be a year like any other. Something’s starting, I can feel it.

June 10, 1993

A week of work on Train. Patrick and I sit on the floor and make maps and schedules and paint in the borders with watercolors and glue them onto big sheets of cardboard like we’re doing a project for history class. It’s fun. I’ve written 30 pages of the script.

Dinner with Lobna last night. She hasn’t changed.

Aarón left for Madrid on Tuesday, Tomi on Monday.

Sandrine is studying English.

My journal contains a one-month gap here, during which Patrick, Robert, my friend Stacy, and I took a road trip across Europe, following the old Orient Express route from Paris. We stopped in Munich — not to pick up gold, but to visit our friend George at the film festival. We got as far as Budapest. The ongoing war in Yugoslavia prevented us from continuing on to Belgrade.

July 6, 1993

Almost a month since I’ve written.

Took Stacy to the airport this morning, Robert in the afternoon. The people who clean the airport are on strike, so there were piles of garbage everywhere. Now I’m alone in my apartment for the first time in forever.

July 9, 1993

Sitting on the quai waiting for the laundromat while George back at my place reads the train game treatment.

Last night was a party at Mario’s. He’s got a great apartment overlooking the Seine and the Ile and Notre-Dame, on the fifth floor of the Cité des Arts, a student complex where they house promising foreign artists. Michelle Thomas came — child neighbor of Grandpa’s from Rockaway, now grown up and in Paris working for a modelling agency. She remembers Kooky magazine better than I do.

July 11, 1993

George left. Patrick and I went to the modelism club in Saint-Cloud to photograph Olivier Nicolle’s model Orient Express.

Alone at last, with all my American friends gone, I holed up in my room for two days and worked on the screenplay.

Today I had a light-bulb idea: Organize the scenario not by location, nor by chronological sequence of events as in a traditional screenplay (which is what I’d been doing, and it was getting too tangled), but by character. That is, write a sort of separate mini-screenplay for each character except the player. You’ll see.

It’s coming together. I’m going back into what Ben Normark used to call “work mode.”

July 12, 1993

Wrote to about 20 film festivals. I’ve missed a whole bunch of them just because I didn’t write to them in time. Really stupid. I’ve got to watch that stuff; I have a tendency to let things slide, and on this train game, I can’t afford to make those mistakes.

Saw Fanfan with Patrick and Sandrine (she burst into tears on the street/rue Princesse/Jacques Dutronc/clear night/bridge).

Set the trip to Athens for the 18th and my return to S.F. for the 25th.

What I’ve skipped: Horseback riding at Sandrine’s mom’s place near Le Mans... drive to the sea with Stacy (Le Croisic)... back to Paris where Robert and Emily and Becky and Samantha awaited us... then the road trip from Paris to Budapest along the old Orient Express route... George and Greg and Dana and the Munich film festival... Catherine and Jacqueline in Vienna... Budapest... and back. Two weeks (or was it three?) out of time, so that it almost seems like they never happened.

July 14, 1993

I’d never seen the 14 juillet in Paris, so we went down to the quai to see the crazy party.

Last night went with Patrick and Sandrine to Nathalie’s for dinner, then to a club called “Paradise” at Montparnasse to see Nathalie perform. Man, that girl can sing. At the end she sang “Le Blues du Businessman” just for me.

The ticking clock has started again. My mind is already halfway back to San Francisco. I’m impatient for it all to begin. I’m going there to start a new project, a new business, that will consume all my energy for at least two years (which is as far ahead as I can think).

July 15, 1993

Saw Jamón, jamón with Patrick and Sandrine, dubbed into French.

The nights are wrenchingly beautiful here on the Ile. Sky, clouds, moon, water, sparkling, bridge, etc. I can’t take it. I gotta go home.

July 18, 1993

A good day’s work at Gare de l’Est. We tested out the new wide-angle lens in a couple of empty trains on tracks no. 3 and 4. Spent a pleasant few hours in the AFAC library digging up Orient Express arcana. Then our 6 p.m. rendezvous with Monsieur Mertens who had put together a few things for us.

I had dinner at Sophie’s and by 2:30 a.m. was back in my apartment, backing up the Outbound onto floppies, washing dishes from the morning’s brunch, and packing. By 3:30 a.m., Patrick and I were on the way to Roissy. Now we’re here at the gate, waiting for the flight to Athens. Patrick’s getting coffee.

July 22, 1993 [Athens]

Patrick and I arrived at 10 a.m. Sunday morning and promptly blew up at each other over something that probably neither of us would have overreacted to if we’d slept the night before. Without a map or anything resembling a plan, we nonetheless got our act together, and by 2 p.m. we were stretched out asleep on a particularly dirty stretch of sand across the street from a cheap hotel on the coastal road, with the sea lapping at our toes.

Monday morning we drove into Athens, exchanged our rental car for an open Fiat Panda (essential in the killer heat), secured the required filming permit and the address of the railroad depot, and drove there in time to get a look before they closed at 2:30. We went back the next morning, and the next, to take pictures and measurements.

Two days in that sauna of a busted-down Wagon-Lits car, baked by the sun for the past fifty years or however long it’s been sitting there. Kicking aside debris, sending up clouds of dust, covering the windows with sheets to try to cut down the contrast, sweating, snarling at each other, and generally getting to know that car more intimately than we ever could have if it had been in good condition with an official keeping an eye on us, like the one in Budapest.

I think we can now safely say that we know more about the 1914 Orient Express than any one person living. I’m ready to write this script.

It was restful to come back to our little hotel at the end of each day and get the hell out of Athens, which is a big, noisy, sprawling industrial city, like Mexico DF. For four days we sat by the pool, swam in the sea across the road, made friends with the family that runs the place (and lives in the house next door) and with a trio of teenage girls who were there for the summer with their families. On our last night we went for a walk on the beach with the girls, watched the sunset, sang French and American and Greek songs. It was sad to say goodbye.

Page 188 of my graphic memoir Replay (Chapter 6) depicts our visit to the Athens sleeping car. (See the Replay Annex.)

July 25, 1993 [On the Plane]

Wow, it’s comfortable here in Connoisseur class. The champagne is so good I can’t even spell. Alcohol works fast at 35,000 feet.

Patrick drove me to the airport, we blasted Kent all the way to Roissy, and prolonged our final coffee to the last moment until they had to page me for boarding. This way they didn’t have time to count my four carry-on bags and decide if it was too much, they just rushed me on board.

I’m loaded down with six months’ worth of Orient Express research. I’ve never travelled so heavy in my life.

Last days in Paris were idyllic. Patrick and I sat on the floor and made photo albums about the Orient Express while Stephanie and Sandrine studied their notes, cramming for their first gig as air hostesses.

Lunch with Dany Boolauck, who’s painting his new apartment in preparation for the arrival of his fiancée from Thailand. He repeated his offer to create a new Delphine label for me. I’ve got some serious thinking to do in the next few weeks. I’ll ask Dad, Doug, and Tomi for advice.

Dany’s boss, Paul de Senneville, said he considers me in some ways the father of their game Flashback (which is now #1 in Europe) because its creator, Paul Cuisset, was so inspired by POP. It was nice of him to say it.

July 31, 1993 [San Francisco]

I came back to find my insurance cancelled, my car battery drained, a big pile of unpaid bills and unanswered mail.

I’m over my jet lag now. I’ve been back for a week — waking up at 5 a.m. and going to the office before sunrise, then working all day. I actually got a hell of a lot done. I had three months of absence to make up for.

Wrote a letter to Rob Martyn in Canada inviting him to come be product manager/producer for Train.

Read an awesome book called Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

August 3, 1993

Today I went with Tomi and Pete to pick out office furniture. We’re expanding into the upstairs office. It’s exciting.

Patrick called. I spoke to Sandrine. “Fais-moi une sourire,” she said.

Had lunch at US Gold. Bob Botch, president, had gotten my number from Lori from CES. Nice downtown office.

I’m fluctuating between feeling naked and exposed and vulnerable, and feeling superhuman. This is a big deal, this starting a new company, starting a new project.

Rob Martyn is in S.F. He joined George and Nina and me last night for dinner. Today I showed him the office and the game. We had a nice dinner at Hunan, but it doesn’t look like he’ll do it, dammit. “Six weeks ago would have been perfect timing,” he said, “but now they’ve [E.A.] gone and made me a pretty decent offer, so I dunno.” It was nice to see that he was at least tempted.

August 4, 1993

Worked too much. Felt like I was coming down with a cold all day but stayed at the computer anyway, didn’t eat lunch till past three o’clock, didn’t take a break till 7. Abusing the machine. I’ve got to watch this tendency to overwork, to let everything else slide.

Once home, I worked out at the gym (first time since Paris), bought groceries, cooked pasta, did the dishes, trying to make myself feel human again. I need to figure out some sort of livable routine.

I’m in the blackest of foul moods. Mind and body and heart, all fucked up at the same time.

August 7, 1993

Went to Broderbund for the first time since April. Prince 2 is doing great; it’s shipped 42,000 units in three months. We just got a really glowing review in Computer Gaming World and one in VG&CE. Mac Prince 2 is ahead of schedule. Mac Prince 1 is still selling 6,000 units a month. So everyone is happy.

August 10, 1993

The shape of the world has changed overnight. Robert drove up from L.A. We had lunch with Tomi and Jon Hamren and talked about what if we start a software company? At dinner at Spuntino’s, Robert said: “If you and Tomi are in, then you can count me in too.”

Tonight Jon came to the office and we put it up on the spreadsheet and got a ballpark idea of how much revenue we might muster, between Train and Dragon I/II/III, over the next three years. Then we went to dinner at the Italian restaurant around the corner and discovered we all wanted to do it.

Surprisingly, the only drag came from Tomi, who’s in despair about the prospect of breaking the news to Pete. The three of us spent forever reassuring her that it’s OK. Three level-headed, reasonable guys, who love Tomi and want to protect her.

Just before we left I took out a sheet of paper, drew a quarter-circle on it, and handed it to Robert. He extended it to make a half-circle. Then I gave it to John, who made it a three-quarter circle.

“What sort of arcane nonsense is this?” Tomi demanded when the sheet was passed to her. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Whatever comes naturally,” I said. We were all watching her intently.

“Why does it have to be up to me?” she lamented. But she made a full circle. I tore the sheet into four pieces and gave one to each of us.

“You’ve been in Europe too long,” Tomi said.

August 11, 1993

Took Robert to the airport this morning. He’s psyched to do it. Yesterday I drove him around S.F. with the top down. “What am I doing in Boston?” he kept asking. He’s going to try to persuade Julie to pull out of her accounting internship program.

I’m so happy to think of Robert coming to S.F. I’m terrified that something will happen to derail this deal.

We’ll raise $3 million, get Glenn Axworthy to join, and do Train and three Dragon titles in two years.

"Dragon" referred to a series of educational games that Tomi was developing with Pete. The stories featured a cute dragon in a kind of point-and-click interactive children's book.

August 12, 1993

Had dinner with Jon tonight, first time just the two of us. Moose’s. We mostly just chatted and got acquainted a little.

Made some good innovations on Train today. Felt like the first time in days I’d worked on the actual design. It needs it, man. The new idea is: one big panel, one small one. It works.

August 14, 1993

Lunch with Katie Povejsil down in Palo Alto. She’s my new best hope to produce Train.

Thursday night went up to the Headlands to see the meteor shower. Stacy brought along Tim and Derek to keep us company. We drank a bottle of wine and looked out at the foggy wonder of the bridge. No stars, of course.

Today in the office Tomi and Jon came in and we talked business. Jon is now voicing serious reservations about the deal, specifically, the idea that Tomi and I take royalties. He thinks this will scare off investors. We’ll meet again tomorrow.

Spent five hours alone in the office trying to work out the Train interface.

August 16, 1993

Spent Sunday in the office. I’m full of energy to work.

Today I made a big (tentative) decision that’s going to change the future of Train: Build it in a 3D modeling system, like Myst, and render the screens with ray-tracing. I know almost nothing about this, but I’m convinced it’s the way to go. Robert might fly out and help me get started.

Prince 2 got a plug in Newsweek.

August 18, 1993

Dinner last night in Sausalito with Doug and Jon and Tomi. It feels like momentum is gathering.

Called Rand and Robyn Miller and invited myself up to Spokane next week to learn from them about 3D modeling. I’ll take Jon with me so he can meet them and learn about affiliated labeldom. Little do they suspect Jon is scoping them out as potential additions to our stable of artists. United artists.

August 21, 1993

Mark Moran, the 18-year-old programmer I met at CGDC, came to visit. He reminds me so much of me at that age, it’s scary.

I started telling Robert about Mark, and he stopped me halfway through. “Wait a minute,” he said. “You’re narrating my life story.”

Mark’s got no credentials, has never held a programming job. But neither had I before Karateka, or Robert before Gumball. I think he and his partner Noel might be just the smart & hungry young programmers I’m looking for.

Robert’s flying out from Boston tomorrow for two weeks of consulting on Train.

I had a dream last night in which Patrick said wistfully: “I like Robert and Tomi and Sam and all your friends... but I wish it was the way it was before, when we were just friends, before we were all working for you.” I said a heartfelt: “Me too.”

August 22, 1993

Mark Moran came over again. Robert approves. I think I’ve got a programmer.

August 28, 1993

Lots happening.

Just got back from Spokane where Robert and Jon and I flew up to meet the Cyan boys, Rand and Robyn, and learn about 3D modeling.

It was worth the trip. We spent the night at a lake resort called the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Now we’re back in S.F. and jazzed to make it all happen. Robert’s consulting for me at $7500/month (gulp) during the startup period.

Tomi is off with Doug in Aspen.

New developments on the business side: Tomi made a deal to buy Pete out of Dragon. The new company (“Big Time”? “Black Cat”? “Alley Cat”?) will comprise Train, one new original Tomi product, possibly one new original Robert product, and possibly Prince 3, which I’m boldly attempting to prise from Broderbund. Robert is moving out here in the hope that it will all come together and that his presence will help it to do so.

I’ll start trying to peddle console and European rights to Train as a way of funding the development until VC money comes in.

I need to get some kind of funding by January at the latest. By then (according to my schedule), I’ll have spent $300,000. Which doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable amount to risk on this project (I’ve got $700,000 in the bank now; it seems the whole thing will cost $1 million)... but in my head, I’m still a cheapskate. I can’t imagine spending that much money.

We’ll see.

September 1, 1993

Sam came over and helped us move upstairs. It went fast. By lunchtime we were installed in the attic. Mark came over and helped us destroy our 486 trying to put in a new hard drive.

September 2, 1993

Robert left this morning for Boston. He’ll be back on Wednesday. Moving here.

Dragon has blown up again. Tomi went in yesterday determined to buy Pete out, then came upstairs in tears and begged me to try to find some way to make it work. So Pete and I had a long talk. Tomorrow he’s going to tell me if he accepts the deal I proposed.

The Dragon question has made a nightmare out of the last few weeks. Jon, Robert and I are ready to snap. We love Tomi, but this has gone on long enough and it’s got to end.

I see this company as a way to save Tomi’s creative and professional life. She’s brilliant at what she does, but she needs to be protected and supported and nurtured, or all that talent will just burn itself up leaving no trace but a memory for those of us who knew her. Pete was the wrong partner for her. It’s partly my fault for letting her get in so deep. She ignored my advice and Jon’s advice, and I can’t help feeling I could have advised her harder and made it stick.

If we can pull this company together, she’ll have a forum in which she can create, and not have to bear the weight of the world on her shoulders — a weight she is patently incapable of supporting, as the debacle with Pete demonstrates. God, partnerships are a delicate thing.

Oh well. I wanted drama in my life, I’ve got it. No more trips to France any time soon.

Patrick’s green card application is progressing.

I’m about to sign a deal with Mark and Noel to program Train.

Katie Povejsil is back from France. I hope I can persuade her to product-manage the development.

Robert’s signed on as technical consultant for the next month or two at least.

John Baker called in response to the letter I sent asking to do Prince 3 out of house and publish as a Broderbund affiliated label: “Let’s talk after Labor Day.”

Carl Oman, Feyna’s husband, is eager to do the 3D modeling for Train. Two problems: He can only work half time (he’s got a job), and I’m not sure he’s good enough.

The great wheels are cracking free from the frozen ground. The train is starting to move.

September 5, 1993

Last night I went up to Fairfax for dinner with Tomi and Doug. They’ve remodelled the house beautifully; it’s like a different place. We talked about the Future. Or rather, Doug and I talked about Tomi’s future, while Tomi waited with bated breath for the decision. It was hilariously macho, like The Godfather. Doug and I are united in our love for Tomi.

Today Carl came over for lunch (sandwich at Mario’s) and I gave him some stuff to work on. A tryout.

Friday night after Catherine’s party Sam and I went to 181. While we were inside, someone got shot on the sidewalk outside. I’m sort of burned out on the whole club scene.

Love is nothing if it’s not madness. Right now, I need to spend all my madness on the train game and the new company.

September 7, 1993

Just saw Zentropa on Nicole’s recommendation.

  • Chubinov should set the bomb to blow up over a bridge.
  • He should make a speech about how the ruling establishment is evil and will drag the people into war, spill the people’s blood while they grow richer and fatter. “What is the death of one man, what is the death of one hundred people, if by example and inspiration we can save millions?” Tatiana is horrified, doesn’t believe he’ll do it.
  • Should the frame always be jiggling slightly?
  • Film on an actual moving train?

Signed the contract with Mark. We’re in business.

This is going to be a lot of work.

I’ve got to get myself disciplined and organized. I can’t do it alone. I need to surround myself with the right people, get them organizing me.

Directing a feature film would be easy compared to the job this is going to be.

September 9, 1993

Brian, Bruce and Seth (assistant product manager at Broderbund) came over and watched Waiting for Dark. We had dinner at Caffé Sport.

Tomi and I did some good work on the story yesterday.

Carl brought in his 3D samples today. I still feel like he could go the extra distance and do a great job... but he didn’t, and that’s not a good sign. I guess he’s not the guy.

Spoke to Patrick and Sandrine. I get the feeling Patrick is sort of pissed off at me for dangling the promise to transform his life and then not coming through. What to do?

September 15, 1993

Robert arrived on Sunday. We’ve been working and playing together practically nonstop since then.

We’re having an inaugural party for the fifth-floor office suite Saturday night. It’s great throwing a party. It gives you an excuse to call people you haven’t spoken to in years.

Today Robert and I bought office furniture and supplies. On the corner outside the Rand McNally bookstore on Market St. I was randomly greeted first by my college friend Letitia, then my high school friend Ayman, all within three minutes. Robert now has an exaggerated notion of my popularity in San Francisco.

The Pacific Bell guy who installed our phone yesterday saw the game box and said “Hey, Prince of Persia!”

Noel’s arrived from LA. He and Mark came over for dinner yesterday. Today he took an apartment in Berkeley. He signed the contract and we all drank a bottle of champagne.

When we got back to the office there was a hand-delivered letter from Pete’s lawyer waiting for us. Fun fun fun.

Did my 1992 taxes, finally.

September 20, 1993

The party went till 3 a.m. Even Sam judged it a success. We had at least 80 people, probably considerably more.

  • Mark Moran doing somersaults down the corridor. Mark must never, ever drink again. Good to know this sort of thing about the people you work with. At one point I seriously thought Brian Eheler was going to deck him.
  • Marilynn and Letitia dancing
  • Gina Smith, whom I hadn’t seen since Las Vegas airport at CES, is starting a new computer game magazine and wants to do an article about me. It turns out she knows Robert’s friend Matt Ocko.
  • Mark talking to Doug Carlston for an hour before asking him “So, what do you do?” Doug told him, but couldn’t convince Mark he was telling the truth.

Working like a demon.

September 24, 1993

Major progress on Express with Mark and Robert and the whiteboard. Major progress on Newco today, too, all four of us together in one room for the first time in weeks.

Met with Brian and John Baker and Ken at Broderbund to discuss the fate of Prince 3.

Dany Boolauck got my letter, called back, is coming to SF in three weeks to see me.

Nicole came over, I pitched her the project, she loved it. She’ll quit Broderbund to do it. “You saved me!” she said.

September 27, 1993

Patrick arrived Saturday night. Robert and I picked him up at the airport.

Sunday was the blues festival. Brian and Maggie and Rob met us and we sat in the perfect sun all afternoon. Maria was there with two of her friends. She’s cool.

Went to see Donald Grahame, 3D modeler recommended by Rix Cramlich. His stuff blew me away. “He’s a mad genius,” Robert said. I’ve got to have him. I’ll even offer him a royalty point.

Nicki was going to stay at Broderbund another three weeks to get her end-of-year bonus (about $2000), so I offered her the $2000 to quit now. She was thrilled. “Yay!” she exclaimed. “I was hoping something like this would happen!”

It’s good to have a woman on the team. No guy would say “Yay!”

Today was a good day. Patrick’s arrival seems to have given things a kick in some mystical way. It’s all coming together; it’s starting to move.

Wish I could say the same about Tomi and Dragon and Newco. Right now both Tomi and Jon are pretty low.

September 30, 1993

Don Grahame,



“She Blows Bubbles From the Fire Escape,”


Harlequin makeup

October 5, 1993

going going nonstop

blues festival, Tito Puente, Paco de Lucia


rotoscope working better, think we got it

October 9, 1993

Drove Patrick to the airport this morning. Robert and I spent the day cleaning up the place, doing laundry, all those soothing domestic tasks we haven’t had time for in the rush of the last few weeks. I even got the Saab washed for the first time since I’d bought it (in January!)

I haven’t written much since Patrick arrived. Not for lack of material. We’ve been working long days and partying hard at night and there hasn’t been time to stop and reflect.

Yesterday was the long-planned test shoot at Theater Artaud. The lighting was a hassle — they weren’t set up properly to do the kind of soft, high-key, shadow-free lighting we need — but in other respects (costumes, makeup, actors, cameras) it went smoothly. Tomorrow we’ll see what we got.

It was great having Patrick here. Aside from helping with the shoot, his arrival revitalized me, made me feel stronger and more connected to France. San Francisco for all its charm lacks certain elements that are key to my long-term psychic well-being. I’m okay to spend a couple of years here, even settle down, but I’ve got to keep Paris alive, and not just as a place to visit. I need to find a way to set up my life so I can spend big chunks of time there.

Decision whether or not to do this company looms. Patrick and I had serious talks about it. Tomi and Jon and Robert and I had marathon meetings. Even Doug offered me (cautionary) advice when we all had dinner in Fairfax. Tom Marcus too.

Dany is coming on Tuesday.

We’ve found an office space to rent.

Glenn Axworthy is psyched to join us. (As would be, probably, half of Broderbund.)

I’m leaning toward the view that an affiliated label company could be great, but it would behoove us all to postpone the decision until Robert and Tomi have gotten further along on their projects. Until then, we can share office space (and programming and art resources), and give each other royalties on our projects, while keeping those projects separate.

We got fairly close to doing it the other way, and I panicked. It hit me that I’d be selling my freedom, and I didn’t even know what I was selling it for. Sobering thought: If Tomi and Robert weren’t my friends, I wouldn’t even be considering a deal like this.

October 13, 1993

A lot has happened since Saturday.

Monday was Black Monday, the day I broke the news to Tomi and Jon that I wasn’t up for the affiliated label startup deal. Robert knew it already and Jon didn’t seem surprised, but Tomi was upset. I felt terrible. She’s still angry with me. It’s for the best, but oh, boy, did I feel bad. I still feel bad.

Dany came yesterday and we spent the whole night talking about ways to finance Express and Prince 3. While we were having dinner at Royal Thai, Tomi and Robert showed up and surprised us. It was a little awkward, but it turned out OK.

Today was one of those days where it really felt like the project advanced. Robert got the file server, “Winona,” up and running. I put together a six-month big-picture plan. We were at the office till midnight.

October 15, 1993

I think I did the right thing. I don’t want to get into the publishing business. I’ve got a sweet deal as an author. I’m doing just what I want to be doing, I’m free, I answer to no one. The affiliated label would have been a huge millstone, and for what?

In retrospect, the one I really needed was Robert. He’s been invaluable in getting the train game going. He’s worth the $7500 a month (glug!) I’m paying him.

Suddenly it’s clear to me what I should create: A development group — call it Smoking Car — to make my own games. Express and Prince 3, to start with. I don’t want to muddy the waters by trying to make educational games at the same time, or trying to present it as a group of “united artists.”

What’s in it for Robert? Good money (to start with), and a platform to establish himself to develop an original title. When Train is done, there’ll be an engine and an organization crying out to be used, and I’ll be more than happy to take a six-month sabbatical and let Smoking Car’s next title be A Game by Robert Cook. By then, this damn development company might actually be worth something, and we’ll need someone besides me who can design games.

Meanwhile, I’ll take on Prince 3 as a way to expand the staff (no more than 12-15 people to start with) and help fund the overhead while we keep working on Express. By March, I’ll sign some sort of deal to fund Express so I won’t be quite so exposed.

I won’t be greedy. I don’t mind giving out royalties, I don’t mind paying high salaries. The important thing is that the group come together and the products get done right.

It’ll be fun!

October 23, 1993

In the week Lobna was here, everything fell into place. We found an office. Tomi and Pete are talking again and it looks like they’ll come to an agreement. I made a proposal to Ken and Brian on Prince 3 (at a Thai restaurant in Novato with Lobna at my side) and that’s looking good too. Jon will share the office with us.

Today, Tomi and I had our first real talk in ages, and I came up with a plan to do Dragon through Smoking Car that seems to work for everybody. I even have a new pair of shoes.

October 26, 1993

Took Lobna to the airport Saturday morning and put her on the plane to Paris. After seeing her off I mourned and celebrated by driving north to Point Reyes, to the sea.

Robert’s weekend with Julie went badly. He’s in a “scorched-earth” mood. He still hasn’t found an apartment.

October 29, 1993

Warm night, full moon, open window. Letter from Aarón in France.

We’re moving next week to 414 Jackson Street, 2150 square feet of prime office space. Going legit!

Robert’s back in my place, after a stint in Fairfax. He and Tomi and I decided to go to Aspen for a weekend retreat to work on the story.

November 10, 1993

I could fill a book with what I haven’t written these past 12 days.

Most important: Weekend retreat with Robert and Tomi in Aspen, Colorado, in a cabin on the Wildcat Ranch. No phone, no electricity, no neighbors.

We drove to the site of Doug’s future house and saw the beginnings of a foundation being laid. It’s gonna be great. Five hundred acres, looking much as it must have 100 years ago, and should 100 years from now.

Beautiful cold, clear weather, starry nights, deer and elk and even a bobcat. Propane fireplace, propane lanterns, long underwear and wool socks under the covers. We got a hell of a lot of work done on the story treatment.

We got back yesterday. Today, we moved. Amazing how fast a thing like that gets done. In 24 hours we went from a fully functioning office space at 725 Greenwich to an (almost) fully functioning office at 414 Jackson. Phones, desks, bookshelves, new computer for Nicki, new fax machine. Suddenly we’ve got room to breathe. We’re six (Robert Jordan Tomi Nicki Noel and Jon) and could accommodate probably six more without strain. It’s a beautiful space.

November 15, 1993

Grandma and Grandpa came to town. Picked them up at the airport, took them to dinner at Ernie’s. Came home with two-thirds of a bottle of wine in me and spent two hours on the phone calling everyone I know.

November 19, 1993

Peace at last. Grandma and Grandpa left for LA, Robert for Boston, Nicki for Hawaii. It’s lonely around here. I kind of like it.

Tensions are high between Robert and me, and Tomi and me. The mood is O.K. as of now, but it’s a tightrope walk. I fluctuate between feeling “How I need them! My friends! How I love them!” and moments of stabbing paranoia that they’re sucking me dry. Last week, I made the major faux pas of writing up a “priority list” for Robert; he blew up. Tomi gave me hell for it. Basically we are, all three of us, bundles of seething emotion, hypersensitive to slights and what have you. Are we partners or are they working for me? I want the best of both worlds, and so, it seems, do they.

This will get better when Robert gets back from Boston and we renegotiate his deal. He should be on a long-term contract with a royalty stake in the projects. Part of what makes it tense right now is that he’s billing me as a consultant at $7500/month.

I know that these feelings — fear of being taken advantage of, being overly critical and demanding — are my enemy and that if I give in to them, this project could become a nightmare. Tomi and Robert are like plants that respond to warmth and sunlight. The more trust I give them, the more they’ll work to fulfill it.

On the other hand...

This is FUN. At times, I’m just so happy and excited...

It’s gonna be quite a two years.

November 21, 1993

Just watched Casablanca. Didn’t plan to watch the whole thing, but I started and couldn’t stop. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen it, and it still makes me tear up. You could make a dozen masterpieces with what Hollywood has forgotten since they cranked this one out.

The love story in Express needs to be pumped up. There’s got to be more to it than just hormones. We need to establish a fundamental connection between Anna and Cath that separates them from everybody else on the train, a link that we feel even when they’re at odds.

November 24, 1993

Life goes on at this breakneck pace.

Don Grahame is back from Europe with 30 rolls of film and a stack of train books bought in the bookshops of London (“It was on the way”). Tomi and I visited his place yesterday. “What a perfect, magical human being,” Tomi sighed.

Miniature model trains arrived from Germany. Left two cars with Donald.

Having all posters framed. Today, Andrew helped Tomi and me put up the four-section map of Europe 1914.

Rented The Great Train Robbery and San Francisco (Clark Gable). Good movie.

Many licensing conversations. Dany, John Eaton, Dominic and John Kavanagh from Domark, Jon Hamren’s friend Steve. Gathering information.

Much writing on the script.

Noel is making progress. Got the rotoscope animation test running at 15 fps. It’s a start.

Negotiating hard with Broderbund on Prince 3.

Robert’s called several times from Boston. He misses us.

Got a nice notice in the premiere issue of Electronic Entertainment magazine.

November 26, 1993

Thanksgiving in Fairfax with Doug and Tomi. Noel was delighted by the warm family hearth, the domestic fireside feeling. Afterwards I invited Noel back here for a glass of port and we chatted until it got late.

Today I started to feel run down so I came home, lay in bed and read the first 200 pages of The Ambassadors.

This book is giving me a terrible desire to go back to Paris and never leave again. I’ve got to, when Train and Prince 3 have shipped. I need to spend at least six months there. I can’t just let my French life wither and die.

November 29, 1993 [Bilbao, Spain]

Got into Madrid at 7:30 this morning — I mean yesterday. Aarón and I spent the day walking around Madrid in the fog, had a delicious lunch with his friend Juan Manuel, then he put me on the bus to Bilbao. I slept through the trip (including most of The Last of the Mohicans dubbed into Spanish) and here I am, alone in a hotel room in a new city, as yet unmet (except for the nice people from the film festival who put me into a taxi at the bus station, paid the driver and told him the name of my hotel).

It’s weird thinking back on my arrival in Spain for the first time two years ago, realizing how much I’ve changed since then. Where was my devil-may-care, take-life-by-the-horns side all those months? In retrospect, it seems almost as if I were behaving like someone doing a penance, putting himself through the crucible in order to come out stronger. But I didn’t think of myself as doing that at the time. Strange.

Whatever instinct made me leave Spain for France, I’m glad I listened to it. Unconsciously, I was seeking the influences — of people, of a place — that I needed to make me into the person I wanted to become.

I wonder what else will be obvious to me, in hindsight, two years from now?

December 9, 1993 [San Francisco]

Since Mark started coming in to the office (yesterday) the momentum has really picked up. Don and Nicki are cranking away. The place is starting to thrum with creative intensity, that feeling of everyone being on board. The only one missing is Tomi (in the Bahamas with Doug).

Another exchange of faxes with Broderbund over Prince 3. I wrote a really good letter. If they don’t accept it, I give up; I’m through. But I think they will.

I’ve talked it over with Robert. If Prince 3 doesn’t happen, we’ll go with Plan B: Concentrate on Express till spring, then start a new arcade-action type game, funded by an advance from somebody like EA, to publish in ’96.

But I still hope we do Prince 3.

Meanwhile, I got a call out of the blue from Caravan Pictures, Joe Roth’s company in LA, interested in doing a movie version of Prince of Persia. Pretty exciting! Jon and I sent off a packet of stuff today. I’ve informed Mark Netter, who stands ready to co-write the screenplay with me if need be. Cross your fingers. I know it’s a long shot, but if this happens it could be an incredible bonanza.

Went to the Electronic Entertainment launch party Tuesday. I’m glad I did. I met Nolan Bushnell and Jeff Braun, and somebody from EA who promised to try to recruit me, and I got the phone number of the cute stuntwoman who starred in Critical Path. There was a plaque on the wall with a dumb quote from me about the future of the industry, among other quotes from other people.

December 14, 1993

Listening to the new Tom Waits album I bought last night with Robert. Walked back from Tower Records in the rain using Tomi’s red umbrella. Finished the bottle of port and talked about women until it was time to either open another bottle or take Robert home.

Tomi’s back. We had dinner last night at Il Fornaio in the rain, just us. Today we went shopping for Christmas presents for everyone.

The office is steadily getting more official. Nicki’s done some encouraging graphics tests; Mark and Noel are looking for an apartment here in the city. I gave Robert signing authority over the Smoking Car bank account.

December 19, 1993 [Havana, Cuba]

In the high-ceilinged living room of the Yelins’ house, all tiled floor, plaster ceiling, huge-backed dark wood chairs, walls crowded with paintings and fascinating objects. That bright soft Cuban light filtering through the Venetian blinds. I can’t believe I’m here.

“Good news for everyone!” Yoana said cheerfully after the ecstatic greetings. “Since yesterday, there’s no water.” The power was out, too, but came back on unexpectedly when Yoana spoke the magic words “there’s a very good Cuban film playing...”

Havana at night is spooky, a silent city where bicycles and pedestrians loom up out of the darkness and you don’t see them until they’re almost upon you. A few cars, a few street lights to punctuate that strange darkness that feels like the desert at night, except you’re in a city and there are people all around you who you can’t see. We walked to the theater, saw it was packed, and decided to walk on to Fabito’s (Viera’s) house, half-fearing to surprise him with his girlfriend; but he was alone and so we sat out on the balcony and talked until Yoana got sleepy enough to take home.

San Francisco and Smoking Car are too far away to remember.

December 20, 1993

We went through Yoana’s Yale application before and after dinner, and I must say, it looks pretty strong. I encouraged her to take another crack at the personal essay. It’s an OK beginning, but it needs more punch.

Damn. I hope they take her. The difference it would make in her life is huge. I’m afraid to build up her hopes too much.

Enrique Pineda Barnet (the director of La Bella del Alhambra) came by with his mom. “You’ve made another conquest,” Yoana teased me.

December 22, 1993 [On the plane]

Yesterday I stopped by I.C.A.I.C. and Enrique introduced me to the animation department. He’d shown them Prince of Persia and they all wanted to meet me. About 20 people crowded into the room to watch me demo it. They bombarded me with questions, like a press conference, then sat me down to watch a half hour of their work. Unfortunately, I missed Gustavo. I felt bad about that.

Accompanied Siomara to the house of Yoana’s physics professor, who’s sick with hepatitis, to fill out and sign the teacher recommendation form. Then to the house of the director of the school to drop off the other forms. I’ve got them all now. Her entire application, minus the financial aid forms, which I don’t know how the hell to fill out.

December 24, 1993 [New York]

It’s going to be a white Christmas. It was snowing when I left the house with Sam to drive him to the train station. Chappaqua at night in the falling snow.

Just spent an hour indulging in one of my favorite home-for-Christmas pastimes: reading old journals. The cumulative sense that you get flipping through your life, sort of nostalgic and wonderful, how rich it is and how it all just flashes by. It gives me the urge to seize the day, to not let opportunities slip by, to wake up, to live...

I miss Patrick; I miss Paris.

All those people, all those places. I want to absorb them into me and carry them around with me wherever I go. There must be a way to live twice as intensely, twice as deeply, twice as much. To not forget other places and people just because they’re not at hand clamoring for attention.

I want to surround myself with my family and friends, I want them all to know each other. I want more of those times when it feels like you live more in a week than you do in six months, times that bind you together in a way you never forget.

I want so much life.

Erich Forster died two weeks ago.

Readers of my graphic-novel memoir Replay will know Erich Forster as Erich Feingold, my dad's cousin and stamp-collecting buddy in Nice, where they were refugees together in 1941.

Erich survived the Holocaust and immigrated to the U.S. after World War II. He got his Ph.D from Columbia, like my dad, and became a pioneer in dielectrics and electrical insulation. I remember him visiting us with his family in the 1980s, when I was getting into computer programming. (He encouraged me.)

My note in the Replay Annex (Chapter 8, page 292) contains additional details about Erich and his family, including his escape from Auschwitz as reported by my grandfather. (Spoiler warning: the Annex is best read after having read Replay.)

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