Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Tits & Sand (& Pixels): Prince of Persia

5 Comments

The 1980s. Videogames.
The Adventures of Robin Hood, Erroll Flynn and Basil Rathbone.
Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Rotoscoping and Max Fleischer.
The Arabian Nights.
Fantasy writing and three writers laughing and reminiscing.
This post had to happen.

prince_of_persia_1989_coverA few days back I mentioned Prince of Persia, cited as a direct influence by a young fantasy writer, who replayed it as documentation for a novel.
That post led to a chat with two friends of mine: Mauro Longo, game designer and writer, and Samuel Marolla, writer, publisher and screenwriter. We laughed a lot, wondering if the young novelist re-played our Prince of Persia.
The one that ran on a single floppy disc, and in which you could save only after the third level.
We all had our special memories of the game – the almost hypnotic state in which repeating the sequence of commands would drop us. The sword duels. The traps.
We laughed a lot, and we remembered the fun we had back then.
Later other friends joined the discussion, pointing out how sophisticated and elegant the game was for its times, how mind-bogglingly beautiful it looked in that time of 8-bit graphics.
But at that point, of course, I had already reinstalled it on my PC, and had a go at it after twenty-five years.

To play Prince of Persia, the original 1989 game, you need an MS-DOS emulator (on Linux I use DOSBox) and the files you can find in a variety of old gaming websites (I used Bestoldgames.com).
Compared to today’s cinematic 3D CGI-rendered games, Prince of Persia looks as old as it is – and yet, try and play it, and it will capture you.

The plot is absurdly simple: while the Sultan is away, the evil vizier Jaffar tries to seize the power and force the Sultan’s daughter to marry him. She refuses, and is sentenced to death.
Only our hero the Prince can save her – but he is trapped in a dungeon, and the clock is ticking: the executioner’s tulwar will fall in 60 minutes.

prince_of_persia_1989_video_game_ibm_pc_version_gameplay

It is not the most complicated and refined of plots, but it works. It is straightforward, easy to understand and as soon as you realise the clock is ticking and every time you get killed you get a time penalty, the sense of urgency drags you forward. In other words, it’s paper-thin and it works just fine.

Together with a 3D Tetris version called Block Out, Prince of Persia was the first game I played on my first PC. It was now more than twenty years since I last had tried my hand at it, and I was shocked at how bad I am at this, that used to be my favourite game when I was a kid.

robin-hood-pic-3

But as I was at it, I read about the game – and found out that the fluidity of the animation (that was uncanny, in 1989) was achieved by rotoscoping live action: the game designer’s brother, and the duel between Flynn and Rathbone in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Rotoscoping is a technique invented by animation pioneer Max Fleischer1 in 1915.
I also discovered that the basic concept – a man running in a corridor riddled with death traps – was inspired by the first ten minutes in Raisers of the Lost Ark.
The venue and the general look & feel, of course, were lifted from the Arabian Nights, and various Tits & Sand movies. The movies were also referenced in the game’s packaging, that featured a take on a classic 1950s Hollywood Oriental fantasy poster.

pop2-gif

I guess younger readers of this blog are more familiar with the follow-up titles of the franchise – and I don’t mean Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame, the direct sequel to the 1989 game, released in 1993, but the more elaborate, CGI-intensive, cinematic games of the last decade.
And the 2010 Jerry Bruckheimer/Walt Disney movie.
And of course those games are better, more complex and more realistic.

But I still cherish the hours spent on my monochrome-screen PC, back in 1990, dueling and dodging traps, while the clock ticked.
I could never base a novel on those experiences – but I must recognize those gaming nights as a piece of the mosaic of my personal culture. A piece that fits with a lot of others.

Save


  1. we mentioned him talking about Sky Captain 
Advertisements

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

5 thoughts on “Tits & Sand (& Pixels): Prince of Persia

  1. I played it when I was a child, and PoP still represents a peak of gaming art. The use of motion capture in 1989 (for a game) is still stunning for me. There is also a 1998 version of PoP – a 3D game quite similar to Tomb Raider for the gameplay – that maintained the same structure (rescue the princess) and background (bad guy with magic powers vs young prince). The franchise really abandoned Jordan Mechner’s setting with the later Sands of Time.

    Like

    • Yes, but in my memory, the 3D version sucked 😉

      Like

      • Ahahaha! Well, I remember that it took 8 out of 10 on GMC (Giochi per il Mio Computer), also known as the Videogame Magazine with the Highest Votes Ever. Once, they “sold” me a game called Saga: Rage of the vikings. I will never forgive them for this. So, I think you’re right :D. How was PoP 2: the shadow and the flame, instead?

        Like

        • Quite good, and I’ll do a post about it, too.
          Same gameplay, but more plot.

          Like

          • Thank you for your answer! I would really like to see some posts concerning old games…not for the usual, dominating nostalgia of our age, but for having your point of view on some of them – you always offer an interesting approach to any kind of fictional universe (games, books, movies). And there is a lot to say about videogames – after all, they helped to spread the fantastic genre among a whole generation.

            Like

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s