A 30th anniversary note to Prince of Persia fans
Thirty years ago today, I was at my Apple II, crunching on a six-week deadline to finish Prince of Persia by mid-July to ship in September.
I know this because I wrote it in my journal. If I hadn't, those details would have long since faded from my memory, along with the 6502 hex op codes I once knew by heart.
In 1989, I could never have imagined that Prince of Persia would last this long — much less have foreseen it being ported to a future generation of game consoles from the makers of the Walkman. (Or to the big screen by the producer of Beverly Hills Cop.)
To all of you who've played, watched, and supported PoP over the years — thank you! I've been especially moved by the things you've shared about the ways PoP has touched your lives. Your kind and encouraging words have been an inspiration to me.
Many of you have asked when there will be a new PoP game (or movie, or TV series). If you feel that it's been a long time since the last one, you're not alone. I wish I had a magic dagger to accelerate the process — it would have been poetic to time a major game announcement with this 30th-anniversary year. But I'm only a small part of a bigger picture.
There is one PoP announcement I can make, and am happy to share with you. Stripe Press, an imprint specializing in books about innovation and technological advancement, will publish a hardcover collector's edition of "The Making of Prince of Persia" — my 1980s original game development journals, newly illustrated with notes, sketches, work-in-progress screen shots, and as many visual features as we have the bandwidth to add by our target "gold master" date of September 2019 (30 years after Apple II PoP signed out of Broderbund QA). Oh, and there'll be an audiobook.
What I cherish about books
For me as a kid who dreamed of creating mass entertainment, in the pre-internet days, when you still needed a printing press to make a book and a film lab to make a movie, the Apple II was a game-changer: a technological innovation that empowered every user to innovate. Suddenly, I didn't need adult permission (or funding) to tell a story of adventure that might reach thousands — and ultimately millions — of people.
That direct connection between author and public is still possible today for small indie games — and for books. By contrast, making a major movie or AAA game requires millions of dollars and hundreds of people. It's a thrilling ride, and the rewards can be great, but by nature it's beyond the scope of what one person or even a tight-knit creative team can accomplish alone.
So it felt very much in the magical 8-bit spirit when Stripe's co-founder Patrick Collison emailed me to propose this book, and less than two months later, we're doing it. For me personally, in the midst of longer-term projects whose announcement is still a ways off, it's refreshing to add one whose timeline is reckoned in months rather than years.
In 2012, when the PoP source code disks I thought I'd lost turned up in my dad's closet, I discovered that an incredible retro-gaming fan and archivist community has been keeping the flame of early game development knowledge alive. The Internet Archive and Strong Museum of Play (which houses work materials and artifacts from my past projects) are already on board to help us make the collector's edition of "The Making of Prince of Persia" as feature-rich as possible.
As we move toward beta, we'll document and share our progress online via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. With luck, we'll be able to bring boxes of printed hardcover books to PAX East in spring 2020 — 30 years after the PC release of Prince of Persia (which is the one most people remember). I hope to see many of you there in person.
Until then, here's a fateful time-capsule post (and photo) from the week PoP went alpha, thirty years ago. Reading it now, the drollest part is that I still thought (as usual) I was about two weeks from the finish line.
And then there's the mullet.
July 26, 1989
Left a stack of disks three inches high on my desk for Brian. Eleven for sales, three for QA, plus seven more. Hope they work.
I played the whole game straight through for the first time ever, start to finish, cheat keys turned off. Made it with seconds to spare (my hour ran out while I was fighting the Grand Vizier).
You know what? It was fun!
There's a level of tension generated when you know you can't cheat, which is completely absent from the normal playtesting I do. By the time that final battle rolled around, I had a solid hour invested, and damned if I was going to lose!
Still a few bugs — two weeks of work, like I said — but it's a game, and a damn good one. I'm content. I'm ready to go river rafting.