Sunday, 5 August 2012

How PRINCE OF PERSIA was saved from oblivion

Wired has a fascinating article on how Jordan Mechner has saved the original source code for his classic 1989 computer game, Prince of Persia, and shared it with the world.

The original Prince of Persia. Fantastic graphics but insanely rock-hard.

Mechner spent three years coding Prince of Persia, from 1986 to 1989, for Broderbund Software. The company was dubious about the project, which featured never-before-used-for-gaming rotoscope technology and polygons to deliver more fluid animation than anything ever seen before. However, they also saw its potential and allowed Mechner to complete the project. Their faith was justified, with the original game selling two million copies in several years and being ported to every computer game and console of note at the time. Mechner, who obsessively saved all of his drawings, journals and notes from the time period, also saved the original source codes on Apple II disks, storing them in a box. Unfortunately, the box went walkabout and when Mechner tried to track it down in 2003, to help the Sands of Time team recreate a 3D version of the game as an Easter Egg, he couldn't find it.

He assumed it was lost to the world. Whilst plenty of copies of the game are out there, it still troubled him that the original source code - the original manuscript if you will - had been lost to the ether. This worry has intensified in general in the retro gaming community in recent years, as the magnetic disks that people coded games on in the 1980s are starting to decay and lose the information stored on them, even if perfectly stored.

Then success! Mechner's father located the storage box and shipped it to his son in Los Angeles. Mechner called in the specialist services of professional software archivist Jason Scott and renowned Apple expert Tony Diaz to see if they could extract information from the disks. They could. After several hours of work, the entire game's source code had been copied and stored. The only thing Mechner could do with it was, of course, release it for free onto the Internet.

As the technologically-revolutionary game that launched a franchise which has sold tens of millions of copies and inspired a successful Hollywood movie, Prince of Persia is of tremendous historical interest. But it's slightly sobering to think that most games from that period have not been so lucky and, if they are lucky, survive only in emulated form.

1 comment:

Peter said...

I loved this game. The final swordsman was challenging. I still remember hitting the up arrow to parry an attack before thrusting with a counterattack.

I never played any of the subsequent Prince of Persia games, though.

Man, I would love to try this game again. Falling floors seem to be but a fleeting memory...