Hi! I made my first games (Karateka and Prince of Persia) on an Apple II in the 1980s. Since then I've worked with larger teams (The Last Express, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) but have gone the indie route for a modern remake of Karateka -- out this week on Steam (30 years later). I also write movies and graphic novels. For fun, I like to sketch with a pen on actual paper. Ask me anything!

Update: Got to go now... Thanks to everyone who posted questions and comments, I'm sorry I couldn't answer them all in time! It was fun.

http://jordanmechner.com, @jmechner http://twitter.com/jmechner/status/276747231334375425/photo/1/large

Comments: 671 • Responses: 46  • Date: 

NinjaDiscoJesus501 karma

Dude, Prince of Persia 1 was the first game I ever played and it is still in my top 5. Thanks.

Not a question I know.

jmechner300 karma

And this isn't an answer, but thank YOU!

DaNiceguy66 karma

Didn't I read somewhere that you rediscovered the source code to PoP recently?

jmechner227 karma

Yes indeed! I'd given it up for lost, but then after ten years it turned up accidentally in my Dad's closet. It's now on github. You can read the full story on my blog here http://jordanmechner.com/blog/2012/03/prince-of-persia-source-code-found/ and here http://jordanmechner.com/blog/2012/04/source/.

ravikiranj87 karma

First of all, thank you very much for making my childhood PC gaming days awesome with PoP. I read your book 'The Making of Prince of Persia' and it was awesomely inspiring. My question to you is "Do you miss being a hardcore game developer in a smaller team where you did most of the technical work OR being a movie/script writer has given you more joy?' From your journals I could make out that you badly wanted to be a successful movie writer than a game developer.

jmechner80 karma

Writing movie screenplays and making games in 6502 assembly language are actually oddly similar activities, at least in terms of how I feel (felt) doing them. They're both mostly solitary, with a lot of seeking input from other people; both have a very tight space constraint (48K RAM vs 120 pages) and therefore require a lot of rewriting/optimizing for greater efficiency. By the time it's done, each line of code and each line of the screenplay has probably been rewritten many times.

raydeen28 karma

On the subject of assembly language, how did you initially get your head around it? I grew up in BASIC land in the 80's and played a bit in Pascal and C and am currently getting to grips with Python. Assembly has just always boggled me. I'd like to learn and understand it but it just seems so incredibly 'out there' compared to what I know. Any advice on where to start or how to think/plan to program in it? Like, what mindset if any is helpful to get a better understanding of it? (if that makes any sense).

jmechner162 karma

You kids today are soft.

raydeen19 karma

Heh, I know. :)

Anyways, thanks for the games and the recent material you published.

jmechner79 karma

You're welcome! If it helps, I seem to remember that I got started in assembly language by looking through other people's code and trying to figure out how it worked. And setting myself really simple challenges, like "put a pixel on the screen" and "put a shape on the screen" and "move the shape around in response to keystrokes"; etc. As with learning a musical instrument, it takes time to build up your skills step by step. Don't expect to play a song that sounds awesome on the first day. (That's what Flash is for :)

fullnovazero50 karma

I've always wondered what your involvement was on Sands of Time. This was the game that originally introduced me to the franchise and I've since played the original (which is some fantastic gaming for its time btw, very impressive). What sort of work did you do with Ubisoft and what did you like/dislike about the new direction of the series (with the focus on time manipulation)?

Thanks, love your work and I'll have to check out your new game!

jmechner62 karma

Thanks! I was writer and game designer on Sands of Time which was an Ubisoft Montreal project. I've posted a bunch of background info about the various incarnations of POP, including an article for MIT press about how the time-manipulation story came into being, at http://jordanmechner.com/prince-of-persia.

Cynic0431 karma

Jordan, I really enjoyed reading your Prince of Persia journals a couple years ago.
Do you think indy game development is easier to succeed with these days because of all the distribution options available, or is there too much competition to get noticed without the right connections? Would you still make Prince of Persia if you were a young man today?

jmechner45 karma

For sure, the potential for an indie game to have a breakout success today is very exciting -- but it's anything but "easy." 99% of indie games will be unable to ever get enough exposure to fund even the small cost of making them, and that includes a lot of good and deserving games.

If I were just starting out in the business now instead of 30 years ago, I would probably make an indie game, as Karateka and Prince of Persia were then -- but I'd expect it to take a lot of tries and persistence. Every successful indie game developer I know made a lot of games you've never heard of before the "breakout hit" that put them into the black. The same was true in the 1980s; before I hit it big at age 19 with Karateka, I'd spent five years and probably thousands of hours making games and trying to get them published.

Denault2 karma

what advantage exactly do multiple iterations give you? is it the learning you gain about how to make a successful hit? or is it more luck of the draw thing where you put out 5 games in the hopes that one of them gets noticed?

jmechner5 karma

Both! Hopefully everybody who works at their craft continues to learn and get better, but it's also very unpredictable what will be a hit. First, the public needs to find out the game exists and feel compelled to check it out themselves -- and without marketing dollars to spend, that's a hard threshold to reach, even for a deserving game.

blakespot30 karma

Hey, Jordan -- What is your favorite version (other than the Apple II orig) of the original Karateka?

jmechner39 karma

Robert Cook's conversions for the Commodore 64 and Atari 400/800 were definitely the best ports, and actually improved on the Apple II in certain ways, especially sound and music. My dad reorchestrated the entire music score to take advantage of the better sound capability, and Robert tore his hair out trying to get it all to play correctly.

limbclock26 karma

Hey Jordan!

Here's My question:

Are you going to continue to be involved with games after the recent Karateka remake (disclaimer: bought it, loved it) or are you going to concentrate on doing screenplays?

Follow up: Do you have any interest in screenwriting an animated feature film?

jmechner35 karma

Thanks! Having spent so much of the last 24 months in gameland, I'm really looking forward to diving into my current writing project, which is a screenplay. It creatively refreshes me and helps save my sanity to keep switching between media.

With regard to animated feature films, I actually spent some time with a screenwriter friend a couple of years ago working out a pitch set in the world of 8-bit video game heroes. But now that they made "Wreck-It Ralph.", we don't have to do ours.

psyced22 karma

But now that they made "Wreck-It Ralph.", we don't have to do ours.

That's a sad way to look at it :(

jmechner76 karma

On the contrary, the sad way to look at it would be "Damn, someone beat us to it!" The happy way is "Now we can free up the mental space that idea was occupying, and use it to do something else!"

In my friend's case, he went on to co-create HBO's Game of Thrones, so I'm pretty sure he has no regrets.

menae23 karma

I just want to say, growing up I spent many hours playing Price of Persia on the NES, it was easily my favourite game and was the one that got me "hooked" on gaming. Thank you for being such a big part of my childhood!

Do you prefer working with large teams or the independant route?

jmechner20 karma

Thank you! Working with big teams, small teams and solo all have their advantages and drawbacks. In my own life, I try to have a balance between different sizes of projects.

GreenlineIR23 karma

Hi Jordan!

Why did you pick Persia and not Arabia for example? What was special about Iran and Iranian culture to you?

Thanks for the AMA!

jmechner44 karma

Honest answer? At that time (1985), even though I'd just graduated from college, I had only the vaguest idea of the difference between Persia and Arabia, or the sixth and the ninth century. I got most of my ideas from Orientalist fantasies, Hollywood movies like 1940 "Thief of Baghdad" and reading the "1001 Nights" (often published in English as "The Arabian Nights" even though the stories are mostly of Persian origin, which says a lot). The title "Prince of Persia" sounded good because it was alliterative. It wasn't until years later, doing the research to write "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (game and movie), that I discovered the Shahnemeh (Persian Book of Kings) and educated myself about actual Persian history and culture. The game (2003 POPSOT), screenplay, and graphic novel drew a lot of inspiration from Persian legend.

TheChuckBartowski21 karma

Would you rather have the Dagger of Time or the ability to fly? Tough choice, I know.

jmechner48 karma

Depends... how much sand is in it?

holywhut21 karma

You're banned for life from writing stories and making video-games. What field do you get into?

jmechner42 karma

Drawing! Am I allowed to tell a story with drawings, like a graphic novel?

ashlomi17 karma

What was the favorite thing you ever worked on?

also would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses or 1 horse sized duck

jmechner46 karma

Gotta say Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, because it was so unexpected and such an amazing team.

With regard to the ducks, do I get a weapon?

MyCoolYoungHistory16 karma

Just wanted to say thank you for working on The Sands of Time. One of my all time favorite games ever created.

What do you find to be the biggest difference between writing movies and graphic novels? I'd expect them to share some aspects, since you are essentially writing something to be translated into a visual medium. But what do I know, not my area whatsoever.

jmechner19 karma

It's true that both mediums are audiovisual and use a lot of the same "cinematic" conventions (camera, music, etc). But that similarity is only on the surface.

Here's the big difference: When writing a game, you're designing an experience for the player. The most important question to ask at every moment of the game is "What might the player DO here? What will happen, and how will it make him (or her) feel?" If the story, characters, dialog, etc. that you're "writing" don't affect the answer to that question, then you're not really writing a game, you're writing window dressing.

Whereas in a movie, your task is to design a story that will engage and move the audience emotionally and intellectually while they're watching it unfold. In a movie, what the characters DO is more important than what they say; we try to look through to the dialog to understand what their actions really mean and how they feel. But in a game, it's what the PLAYER does that counts the most.

slyf13 karma

Hey Mr. Mechner, thanks for the source code release of the Apple II POP as well as your book. If you were to remake POP, how do you feel it would be? Do the new POP games fit your vision of how you wanted POP to be, or would you rather just make a graphical upgrade of the original POP. I noticed with Karateka you did a whole overhaul of the game, would you do the same with POP if you could? If so, how would POP be different.

jmechner24 karma

Hm, I faced that very question in 2002 (as part of Ubisoft Montreal POP team) and the result was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. That was only ten years ago!

masanian12 karma

Will we be seeing any new Prince of Persia games or remakes in the future?

jmechner16 karma

I hope so!

hgstrm9 karma

Hi Mr. Mechner!

There where rumours about a The Last Express movie. Will there be a movie? If yes, is it already in progress?

Are there plans for a remake of The Last Express or a sequel?

Recently, The Last Express was released for iOS. Is an Android version also in progress?

Do you think there are more 'new' players that use the iOS app (those who didn't know TLE before) or more 'old' players who enjoyed the game on PC or Mac and

now just replay it on iOS?

As I am a musician and composer, I have also a question regarding the Soundtrack of TLE: Why did you choose Elia Cmiral's work? Where you looking for already existing music that might fit the game or where you looking for composers that would

write and record music exclusively for the game? Was Elia Cmiral involved all the time during the development of the game or did he just present his work at the end?

Thank you very much and sorry for my bad English ;)

jmechner15 karma

Whoa those are a lot of questions!

Here's where the Last Express movie is at: I've written the screenplay, with input from Paul Verhoeven, who is attached to direct. We're both really happy with how it turned out. It's just a screenplay at this point, though. In order for it to become a real movie, we'll need a star, a producer, and financing. Suggestions welcome.

As to the game music (back in 1994), we solicited submissions from a number of composers, and Elia's demo just blew us away. He was far and away our first choice.

hgstrm6 karma

Thank you very very much :)

And whenever it comes to the movie, make sure that Elia's music is also in it, it's just great.

jmechner6 karma

Thanks, I'll pass that on to Elia!

doubleyeux9 karma


jmechner15 karma

Burrito from Yuca's?

doubleyeux9 karma


jmechner19 karma

Ham sandwiches!

MohawkJD9 karma

Hey Jordan, I was at PAX East and loved your opening speach. GO DEATH BOUNCE!

Anyways, here is a question, how are you?

nochilinopity2 karma

We need a Death Bounce journal

jmechner4 karma

Wish granted. The full story of Deathbounce is told in the Karateka journal ebook: http://jordanmechner.com/blog/2012/12/making-and-remaking-karateka I was actually surprised, rereading the journal, at how long I continued working on Deathbounce, even after starting on Karateka. I just wouldn't give up the ghost.

thingsinperspective7 karma

How did you start with programming at all? Is that part described in your new Karateka book? (Making of POP starts with it already hitting BillBoard no 1.)

jmechner8 karma

The new/old book of Karateka "making of" journals starts in 1982, when I was 17 and a freshman in college. By then I already had four years of programming under my belt (I started in high school) and I brought my Apple II to college with me.

I didn't keep a journal in high school, so you don't have to worry about me ever publishing those. Fortunately.

btsierra7 karma

What were the best (and worst) parts of being on TableTop, and would you do something like that again?

jmechner10 karma

The best part was playing a tabletop game with fun people. The worst was doing it for the cameras.

I'd absolutely do it again. In fact, I'd play a game of Settlers of Catan right now. Without the cameras.

ossao6 karma

Have you ever been to Persia?

jmechner15 karma

Never! I live in Los Angeles... does that count?

parahaxz6 karma


jmechner15 karma


remusLv6 karma

Hey Jordan! I have read your diaries on both Karateka and POP. Will there be one for The Last Express? Also, are you now working on any new stories/screenplays?

jmechner9 karma

I actually did keep a journal during the making of The Last Express, but I don't think I'm ready to publish it. It doesn't feel like long enough ago yet.

And yes, I'm writing something new at this moment! (well, I was before the reddit started).

throwaway489345 karma

Hey Jordan. I grew up with your games and I consider playing them with my dad to be some of my happiest memories. I remember a few years ago reading your journal from the time you were making POP1 and I thought it was really interesting. Thanks for being fucking awesome. Have you seen that girl that did the motions for the princess since it happened?

jmechner15 karma

Thank you! Tragically, Tina LaDeau passed away just a few months ago, at a much too young age. Her dad worked at Broderbund for many years. I know you didn't expect to get sad news as a result of your very kind question, but I didn't know how else to answer. Here is a link to her obituary http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/pressdemocrat/obituary.aspx?pid=159167234

snarkabout5 karma

Do yoi still hold any rights for the POP brand? That is can you influence Ubisoft' decisions considering future games based on the franchise? On a related note what do you think about the POP flick they made?

jmechner9 karma

The POP movie is based on a story and screenplay I pitched to Disney in 2004. It's a strange feeling to watch the movie of something you wrote, because it's never quite what you imagined. In the case of POP, it changed a LOT -- three other writers came after me -- but it still has the basic structure of what I wrote, so it's an odd experience for me to watch the movie and see the ways that structure still shows through, even though so much about it changed.

If you're curious, I've posted my own first draft screenplay for POP here, with a quick recap of the process: http://jordanmechner.com/blog/2010/10/pop-orig-screenplay/

With regard to POP games, yes that's Ubisoft's franchise. The only game I've been directly (creatively) involved in was the first one, POP:SOT, and that was a great experience. We've often talked about doing another one together, and I hope we will.

mzungu7774 karma

Inspired by the different medias you've gotten a chance to work in - I'm remembering that you wrote in your POP development journals that you weren't sure if you should make another game (POP) or try to focus on screenwriting, but eventually Prince of Persia allowed you to write a screenplay. Was the Prince of Persia screenplay your first to get made? With a few years remove now, what are your reflections on that process?

Also, how is Solomon's Thieves coming along?

jmechner6 karma

Thanks! Yes, POP:Sands of Time was my first feature screenplay to get produced, though I'd made short films before (Chavez Ravine). I hope it won't be my last!

The Templar graphic novel trilogy will be published as a 480-page, full color book in July 2013 (Solomon's Thieves was book one). The artists outdid themselves, I'm incredibly proud of how it turned out and I can't wait to see it in print!

kavorka24 karma

Non-gamer here who grew up loving Karateka on my Apple II. I'd play the shit out of that if it was available on the internet (like a flash/browser version) or my iPad. Not a remake but the classic Apple II game. Is that out there anywhere? If not, can you make that happen? I'd gladly pay well for some classic Apple II games in that fashion. Karateka, Caste Wolfenstein (Apple II original version), and Super Sunday were my favorite games.

jmechner13 karma

I've got the original 6502 source code (of Karateka). Anyone who wants to port it to browser or iOS, hit me up on my website or twitter!

(Warning: The Karateka source isn't quite as clean as the POP code I posted on github. The fact that the POP code is reasonably well structured and documented is largely due to my having been shamed by Robert Cook, who had to suffer through my Karateka code to do the C64 and Atari ports.)

Medo3G3 karma

Hey, love your work man especially PoP SoT. I have a couple of questions. How involved are you involved with PoP games after SoT, as you said that you didn't like WW? Did you give Ubi the permission with the reboots? Like the scrapped present day PoP. How much did the SoT movie's script change from the first draft ? And how different was the first draft from the game?

jmechner2 karma

Thanks! Here's my first draft screenplay for the movie: http://jordanmechner.com/blog/2010/10/pop-orig-screenplay/

Yserbius3 karma

jmechner8 karma

How to pronounce Karateka: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjocmhoH5q4

As to the question about rotoscoping POP and did I run out of memory... OH GOD YES. The full story, with its endlessly fascinating ups and downs for all 5 people who may be interested, is told in gory detail in my old Making of POP journals at http://jordanmechner.com/ebook.

azisen3 karma

Hi Jordan! How much of persian history did you guys go through before you made the game?

jmechner6 karma

For writing the story, I drew more from Persian myth and legend than from actual history. Shahnameh and 1001 Nights especially. For sure, it's a fantasy. But I read a few books on Persian history and the relevant Wikipedia pages, to help ground it in some kind of historical context. And the artists looked at a lot of historical references to get ideas for settings, weapons, costumes etc.


What's your favorite movie adaptation of a graphic novel?

jmechner10 karma

Here's one I liked a lot: A History of Violence.

Drivethrugaming3 karma

Who did you base "Dastan" on? Anyone in particular?

jmechner4 karma

The character of the Prince Persia was inspired by a lot of heroes of movies and legends -- Robin Hood, Indiana Jones, the 1001 Nights, Persian Shahnameh, among others. But my brother David might be disappointed to learn it's not all him, so don't tell him.

Lupicia3 karma

Prince of Persia was the first computer game I ever really got into, and as an 8-year-old, some of it was pretty spooky... the chompers even still scare me a little. But I totally loved your game. Thank you, sir, for creating a huge chunk of my childhood.

So here's my question... what was your inspiration for the "dark mirror" doppelganger?

jmechner3 karma

Thank you! The Shadowman story is too long to repeat here, but it's one of my favorites. You can find it in the "Making of POP" journals, http://jordanmechner.com/ebook... I don't have the link to the specific journal entry at hand, but it's somewhere in my "old journals" blog as well!

jmechner2 karma

Shadowman aka Mirror Man was born of necessity... specifically, out of a severe lack of memory (on a 48K Apple II). The full story is told in gory blow-by-blow detail in the Old Journals at http://jordanmechner.com/ebook and it's one of my favorites.

massivejoe3 karma

What you did with the "lives" in the new Karateka was really clever. Was that something you thought of shortly after you shipped the original (like a clever come back that comes to you only later that night after the argument is long over), or was it something that you thought of before you started this remake, or is it something that came in the middle of development and you guys were like, "holy crap, we have to add that!"

jmechner3 karma

Thanks! The "three suitors" mechanic was actually one of the core ideas that we started with and that inspired the team to do the remake. The other was the rhythm fighting mechanic.

Except, in the beginning, it was five suitors. We cut it down to four, then three, during production because of time and budget constraints.

ssfsx173 karma

What are your favorite silent films, or dialogue-less scenes from films?

jmechner3 karma

There's a great dialogue-less moment in "Running on Empty" (1980s) where River Phoenix is playing the piano and his mom walks in. You have to see the whole movie to understand the impact, but trust me, it's great screenwriting, acting and directing. And I'm not just saying that because Jake Gyllenhaal's mom wrote it.

twisted422 karma

The original Karateka was the first game I bought on the C64 and I loved it. The big question is.... WHY DID YOU HAVE TO RUN TO THE GIRL????

She killed me twice before I figured that out....

jmechner2 karma

If YOU were being held captive for hours by an evil warlord and some dude in a karate outfit burst into your cell in fighting stance, what would you do? You'd defend yourself, right?

R_The_Outlaw2 karma

As a creator of this franchise which games are you prefer: prince of persia sands of time trilogy or reboot simply called prince of persia (2008)?

jmechner3 karma

The first Sands of Time is still my favorite.

AzzyDee2 karma

Karateka... Gods no - not 30 years! I played that in science lab! It was even more exciting than 'Hunt the Wumpus!' Even with 100% fewer Wumpii!

I wish I had a question for you, but you've probably answered any that I can think up in countless interviews already. Just in case though?

Did you put an easter egg into Karateka anywhere??

jmechner6 karma

Try putting the disk into the drive upside down (Apple II version).

dannywpt11 karma

For some reason I read your name as "Jordan, Michael" and clicked on the link expecting something else. I'll let myself out.

jmechner14 karma

Yeah, I get that a lot. Also, "I thought you'd be taller."