Jordan Mechner, creator of Prince of Persia and Karateka, has long relied on amazing running animations to sell his games. How then does one transition into becoming an acclaimed game writer and designer? While that mystery may never be solved, Mechner is currently at the forefront of Hollywood and games convergence, writing drafts for the Prince of Persia movie, and even supervising a new Prince of Persia graphic novel, unveiled exclusively to Gamasutra in this interview.
Gamasutra spoke with Mechner at the Hollywood & Games summit in Los Angeles after his panel on crossing the digital divide, which wound up focusing a lot on game writing. In this interview, we discuss his working relationship with Ubisoft, the aforementioned new Prince of Persia projects, the importance of solid game writing, and the inspiration for the original Prince of Persia on the Apple II.
So you don't technically work inside Ubisoft? Your credit is "the Prince of Persia guy," yet you're not inside the company. How does that work?
Jordan Mechner: Ubisoft and I collaborated on Sands of Time, and I ended up being titled as writer and game designer. But I was never a Ubisoft employee. For me, it was the best of all worlds, because I had the great experience of collaborating with a tough and passionate team. But because I wasn't a part of Ubisoft, I also had a little bit more distance.
Ultimately, I was there because of Prince of Persia, and at the end of the day, the team went on to other Ubisoft projects and I went back to LA to set about my next project, which was trying to set up the movie version of Prince of Persia.
How's that going?
JM: Great! John August and I set up the project with Bruckheimer and Disney, and I wrote a bunch of drafts of the screenplay. It's in really good shape, and it looks like the movie's going.
Were you actually in-house at Ubisoft when you were working on stuff? Did you have an office?
JM: The cool thing at Ubisoft is that they try to keep the teams together, so on Sands of Time, everybody was on one floor in a big open space. Even Yannis Mallat, who was the producer of the project. He didn't have an office so he could close the door. He just had a desk.
That has a lot of big advantages, but the big one is that it promotes a lot of cross-pollination. Everybody on the project, no matter what their job is -- it feels like everybody's working on the same project.
It's not like some studios that have a separate ghetto for programmers. For me, for the first year of the project, I actually commuted between Montreal and Los Angeles where I live.
From my involvement in the beginning, we didn't foresee it being as intensive as it ended up being. Initially, I was just a consultant, and everything just grew from there. I ended up moving to Montreal with my family for the last phase of the project.
I actually talked to Yannis recently about their new digital initiative. Are you planning anything within that world?
JM: You should probably talk to Ben about that.
It just seems like a good place for a writer to be, because there's going to be a lot of writing involved in the stuff they're trying to do.
JM: That's one of the things that came up on the panel today: what role can a screenwriter or film writer play in video games? I'm not really a game writer, in that sense. I'm credited as the writer on Sands of Time and The Last Express, but I think my main involvement in those projects was really as a designer. Writing the dialogue and directing voice actors just made sense for a lot of reasons, for me to play that role on those projects. I've never written a game that I wasn't also designing.