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A Prince of Persia Primer: Everything You Need To Know

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Posted May 28, 2010 - By Kevin Kelly


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A Prince of Persia Primer: Everything You Need To Know Prince of Persia

Disney's massive summer blockbuster wannabe The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time opens everywhere today, and let's face the facts: you're probably going to go see this movie, despite our own scathing review. We understand. Sometimes you just have to see these things for yourself. Or maybe you're inexorably drawn to Jake Gyllenhaal's oiled pecs, or Gemma Arteron's ... everything. Just don't tell us that we didn't warn you.

But Prince of Persia first debuted as a video game in 1989, which means that many of the people that will be dragging their parents with them to multiplexes this weekend don't even know the rich video game history behind this franchise, and I refuse to stand idly by and let them think the name just means a movie starring the guy who didn't make it as Spider-Man. With that, I give you our Prince of Persia Primer. Go ahead, soak it in.

Jordan Mechner

A Prince of Persia Primer: Everything You Need To Know Jordan Mechner

You can't mention Prince of Persia without first mentioning creator Jordan Mechner. The guy can write, design games, and even draw. He also directed an award winning short documentary, making him a true renaissance man. In 1984 at the age of 20, he published his first video game, the beautifully cinematic karate game that was Karateka. It was originally developed for the Apple II but then ported to other systems, and featured amazingly fluid and realistic animations. Much more so than any other game at the time.

The game was a success, selling over 500,000 copies, which was very impressive in 1984 numbers. This encouraged him to develop another game, which became the swashbuckling Prince of Persia. Since then, he's developed several sequels, written graphic novels based on the series, worked on screenplays, and developed the equally impressive murder mystery The Last Express.

Prince of Persia

Prince of Persia Animation Reference 1985 from jordan mechner on Vimeo.

Mechner spent more than three years developing this game, having been inspired by the opening 10 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. He wanted the Prince to move, jump, and evade traps the same way Indy did. He made this look more realistic by filming his brother David performing some basic moves, and then using a rotoscope technique to animate these videos. You can read all about this in the meticulous journals Mechner kept during the creation of the game. He's scanned them and put them up for your enjoyment.

In this game, you play an unnamed Prince from an unknown land. As a visitor to Persia, the Sultan's daughter becomes interested in you while her father is away conducting a war against a foreign foe somewhere. However, the Sultan's Vizier Jaffar has been left in charge, and he also has designs on the Princess. He locks you up, then locks the Princess up and tells her she has one hour to marry him, or die. Not really the kind of guy you want to leave in charge.

Gamers then had one hour to save the Princess, and defeat Jaffar. The gameplay mostly consisted of running, jumping, and avoiding traps, although you eventually would find a sword and start battling your enemies. At one point, the Prince encounters Jaffar's magic mirror, and a shadowy, mischevious version of the Prince springs forth and hinders the Prince from time to time throughout the game.

The game was released by Broderbund in 1989 for the Apple II and ported to numerous other systems, becoming an instand success. It sold over two million copies, and was widely praised. It was updated with 3D graphics and titled Prince of Persia Classic for Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network, and you can also get it for the iPhone/iPad.

A Prince of Persia Primer: Everything You Need To Know Prince of Persia 2

Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame

This game picks up only 11 days after Prince of Persia, and reveals that after defeating Jaffar, the Prince was hailed as a hero. Instead of seeking riches for rescuing the Princess, he asks for her hand in marriage, and the Sultan agrees. But moments before he enters the royal court, the Prince turns into a beggar and Jaffar, in disguise as the Prince, has him thrown out.

However, the Prince narrowly escapes the guards, and jumps out of a window, and flees Persia by ship. On the ship, he is visited by a mysterious woman, who turns out to be his mother. She fills him in on his backstory, explaining that she gave him up so that he could live. From there he travels to a temple where he learns that he can separate from his own body, and become the shadow from the first game.

With this new ability, and with a magical flame taken from the temple, he fights his way back to the palace and defeats Jaffar and orders his ashes scattered to the winds. Things are all hunky dory, right? Maybe not. At the end of the game, a creepy old lady is watching them through a crystal ball.

While fairly successful, it didn't enjoy the same fame as the first game, and Mechner went on to work on The Last Express. He wouldn't work on another Prince of Persia game for many years ... although they kept coming.

A Prince of Persia Primer: Everything You Need To Know

Prince of Persia 3D

The third installment in the Prince of Persia series wasn't developed by Mechner, and was only released in North America in 1999. The story has the Prince and the Sultan traveling to visit the Sultan's brother Assan, who soon takes the Sultan hostage and locks the Prince in the dungeon. It seems that the Princess was originally promised to be wed to Assan's son, Rugnor.  The Prince soon escapes and fights his way to the Sultan, but Assan accidentally kills him while trying to kill the Prince.

The Prince then goes after Rugnor, who has taken the Princess hostage. Eventually, he tries to kill her, and you save her at the last second. The game was rushed to completion,  and was released with many bugs, and a poor camera system. A Dreamcast version was released in 2000 that fixed some bugs, but had the same wonky camera. Not the proudest moment in the Prince of Persia series, Mechner himself disavows this game.

A Prince of Persia Primer: Everything You Need To Know Harem Adventures

Prince of Persia: Harem Adventures

In 2003, Gameloft released the bizarre Prince of Persia: Harem Adventures, a Java-based cell phone which had the Prince trying to rescue the Sultan's seven wives. There were a lot of sexual innuendoes, with the wives promising to offer up the carnal delights of Persia. Imagine Leisure Suit Larry with a turban. Truly bizarre. I wonder how Mechner feels about this one.

Prince of Persia The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

In 2001 Ubisoft president Yves Guillemot decided it was time to revive the Prince of Persia series, and he set the wheels in motion. Eventually, Mechner himself was brought onboard: "I joined the project initially as a consultant, signing on to write the script, casting and directing the voice recording sessions; but soon stepped up my involvement, eventually joining the team full-time." This game was the result.

In this story, the Prince and his father, King Shahraman, conquer the Maharajah via the help of his Vizier (you just can't trst the guys), and they then travel to Azad with the Maharajah's treasures, including an Hourglass and a mysterious Dagger, and the Maharakah's daughter Farah. The Vizier tricks them into releasing the Sands of Time from the houglass, and they rage across the land, turning people into vicious beasts. Only the Prince, Princess Farah, and the Vizier are protected because of magical implements they hold.

The Prince and Farah begin battling in an effort to return all of the Sands of Time to the Hourglass by using the Dagger, and although they are successful, the Princess steals the Dagger and the Hourglass and leaves the Prince on his own. He catches up with her, although she falls to her death. Angrily, he smashes the Hourglass, and finds that all of the events of the game get turned backwards. Only he remembers everything. The Vizier shows up and tries to kill them, but the Prince defeats him, and leaves the Princess with the Dagger.

The game was praised as beautiful and graceful, but the real noteworthy element was the Dagger itself, which gave you the ability to rewind time, just for a few seconds. This provided you with extremely innovative gameplay, and along with the Prince's updated moves and look, made for a very fun game. It won numerous awards when it was released in 2003, including Game of the Year.

Prince of Persia The Warrior Within

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within

Seven years after The Sands of Time, the Prince is being hunted by Dahaka, the guardian of time. Since the Prince has touched the Sands of Time, he was supposed to perish. Dahaka is trying to make sure that happens. The Prince travels to the Island of Time in an effort to make sure the Sands of Time were never created, and ... this is where things go Marty McFly. He travels back in time, kills a woman, and then discovers she was the Empress of Time and that her remains were used to create the Sands of Time. Whoops.

The Prince is about to lose hope, but then discovers the Mask of the Wraith, puts it on, and becomes a Sand Wraith. He then coexists in the same timeline as his former self, through some sort of clone / time travel magic, and when his former self dies at the hands of Dahaka, he is able to take off the Mask and become grounded in that timeline. Then he kills Kaileena in that present, knowing the the Maharaja won't find the Sands of Time there, and sparing the world their release.

Confused yet? Well, the game then offers you two endings. In one, you fight Kaileena (yes, again) and then when you defeate her the Dahaka returns, takes her body, and your Time Medallion, and then ceases to exist. In the other ending, you force Kaileena into the present, but beg her not to attack you. When the Dahaka shows up, you kill him and leave Kaileena alone. Thus the Sands of Time were never created from her body.

This game didn't receive as much praise as Sands of Time, and Mechner separated himself from the game. He objected to it's artistic direction, and also object to the M rating it received for violence and scantily clad females.

A Prince of Persia Primer: Everything You Need To Know Prince of Persia Two Thrones

Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones

This game assumes you've saved Kaileena in the previous game, and they sail together to Babylon, which is under attack. The Vizier is back and running around, because he was never killed by the Prince, since the Sands of Time never existed. Yet somehow the Vizier has the Dagger of Time, kills Kaileena with it, and then stabs himself, making himself immortal. The Prince also becomes infected with the Sands, and grows a whiplike Daggertail under his skin.

The Prince battles both the Vizier's forces and the Dark Prince, an evil version of himself, and eventually defeats the Vizier, then has his infection cured by Kaileena, who is somehow still alive. It was at this point I learned to stop questioning things and just go with it. The Prince wakes up in Princess Farah's arms, and tra la la everything is peachy. Like Warrior Within, this game wasn't as well-received as The Sands of Time. It offered some unique innovations with the whip and the Dark Prince, but thankfully, this was the end of the triology.

 

Be sure and visit our Prince of Persia Primer, Part 2, where we talk about the new new Prince of Persia games, the graphic novels, and yes, even more about the movie. Set your turban to thinking cap mode, and keep reading.

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