Jordan Mechner’s Prince of Persia

May 27th, 2010 11:27 AM
Filed under History, People, Software showcase;
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Tomorrow sees the release of the film Prince of Persia, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Although the latest of many video-game-to-movie adaptations, it marks perhaps the first time an Apple II game has been translated to the silver screen — an honor not yet bestowed upon Choplifter, Lode Runner, or even Castle Wolfenstein.

Despite not all video games making for great movie material, I’ve been encouraged by the constant presence of the original game’s creator, Jordan Mechner, throughout this project. When interviewed in the December 2008 issue of Game Informer magazine, he reflected:

With Prince of Persia, I’ve had the opportunity and the challenge of recreating the character and story anew, not just once but several times, since the first Apple II version 20 years ago… Each of these projects gave me the chance to work with a great creative team in a new medium—a triple opportunity that in my Apple II days I could have only dreamed of.

Around that time, Mr. Mechner published a wealth of historical data about the evolution of his original vision and game. For a game designer to extensively document his creative process, retain that information for decades, and then make it available to the masses is ever historian‘s dream. In addition to his handwritten notes from the era, he also uploaded several videos of his younger brother David that he rotoscoped to serve as the animation for the titular prince. Observe this source material:

Now compare it to an early draft of the art that would appear in the final game:

For the Apple II to have played host to such a early depiction of realistic motion is an honor. It warrants at least a cameo by Jordan or David Mechner in the film. What better an Easter Egg could there be?

(Hat tip to Juiced.GS Volume 13, Issue 4 [Mar 2008], pages 18–19)

Lode Runner: One of the best games ever

May 20th, 2010 10:47 AM
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When Game Informer magazine published its 100th issue in August 2001, it presented the staff’s top 100 games of all times. At number #52 was a piece of software every reader of this blog should recognize:

Appearing first on the Apple ][E, Lode Runner wasn’t a platformer, didn’t have a proper maze, and was levels above any simple shoot ’em up title. With only two abilities, digging or climbing, you had to make your way through over 100 boards — some with mind-boggling configurations. Featuring set traps and loads of strategy, yet imbued with a fast pace, Lode Runner was a true challenge in the early era of games

Nearly ten years later, Game Informer revisited the topic with their top 200 games in issue #200, published in November 2009. A decade of impressive entertainment software was sure to have an impact on the old standings, but Lode Runner held on, slipping to #173 yet remaining on the chart:

My next door neighbor when I was growing up was the only kid on the block with an Apple IIe, so I bugged this kid mercilessly all the time to go over to his house and play games on it. Poor ***. We spent hours and hours in the summer cooped up in his room playing Lode Runner, Karateka, The Bilestoad, Zork, and a bunch of other stuff. I have a feeling he doesn’t look back at this time as fondly as I do.

Lode RunnerI grew up playing Lode Runner, one of the first computer games to be ported to the arcade instead of vice versa. Since then, I’ve bought versions of the game for the Nintendo and Xbox 360, and Juiced.GS reviewed the iPhone version. The added features of these updates — online play, leaderboards, portability, and more — keep the franchise fresh and fun, but the series progenitor had a certain novelty that hasn’t been beat: was it an action game? A puzzler? What were the possibilities of the unprecedented level editor it came bundled with? And once I’ve beaten the game, can I do it again — with the accelerator card enabled?

Lode Runner is a fantastic concept worth exploring on any platform, but especially the Apple II. To enjoy the game vicariously, check out podcast 1 MHz‘s review of Lode Runner, and visit Tozai Games’ Web site for the full history of Doug E. Smith’s franchise.