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Prince of Persia’ Through The Ages

Tae Andrews | Friday, January 27, 2006

With the new release of the latest installment of the reincarnated “Prince of Persia” series, more than a few fans have waxed nostalgic about the countless hours they spent glued to their Apple II computer monitors while playing the original game.

Like so many great video game origin stories, the creation narrative of “Prince of Persia” begins with a rather nerdy young man with a lot of free time. Creator Jordan Mechner watched hours of film of his brother running and jumping in order to best encapsulate realistic human movement.

Using a process known as rotoscoping, Mechner went frame-by-frame through the live-action footage of his brother moving around and traced his outline in order to capture human movement in a highly realistic way (for the time). This same technique was used to great effect in the creation of the original Star Wars trilogy, where animators used rotoscoping to create the phosphorescent glow of the lightsaber blades.

First released in 1989 by the software company Broderbund, “Prince of Persia” was a side-scrolling, two-dimensional game with eight-bit graphics played on now-fossilized Apple II personal computers. Fans of the old-school version will fondly remember swinging swords at malevolent skeletons, dodging spike traps and drinking potion bottles filled with various elixirs. The old-school version of “Prince of Persia” required the player to rescue a beautiful princess from an evil vizier (sound familiar?). The catch was that the game was played in real time, so that after one hour elapsed, the game ended.

“Prince of Persia” was released to a variety of computer and video game platforms throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s, including DOS, Apple Computer, NES, Game Boy, Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. However, after the uneventful release of the game for the unsuccessful Sega Dreamcast console, the franchise fell upon dark days. Diehard fans feared that the series was over, that their beloved Prince had swung his last sword and dodged his last spiketrap.

Enter the dawn of the third millennium. In 2003, the videogame developer Ubisoft decided to pick up the flagging series and released a new installment- “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” The company faced a decidedly difficult challenge: how to reinvent the game for a new crop of videogame buffs now expecting spectacular three-dimensional graphics and fast-paced gameplay. Suffice it to say, UBI Soft more than answered the bell, putting out the 2003 release of “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” for Xbox, PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Gamecube.

Complete with 128 bits (for the math majors out there, that’s a 16-fold increase) of pure three-dimensional glory, the new reincarnation of the game managed to keep the emphasis on puzzle-solving and sense of adventure inspired by the original, while adding a few new features of its own, such as the time-travel element and more complex environmental challenges.

The improved technology is not the only revamped aspect of the game, as the plots of the newest installments have developed to match the series’ visual brilliance. In “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” the Prince defeats the evil Vizier and rewinds time, restoring tranquil peace to his kingdom of Babylon.

However, in the sequel “Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within,” this changing of the timeline incurs the wrath of the dreaded Dahaka, a time-travelling monster resembling the Balrog from “Lord of the Rings.” Having defeated the Dahaka and saved the beautiful Empress of Time, Kaileena, the Prince finds himself in one last battle to save his hometown of Babylon.

By resurrecting this franchise, UBI Soft has managed to create a gaming experience every bit as innovative and revolutionary as its predecessor, but for a whole new generation of 21st-century gamers.