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The Story Behind The Making Of Prince Of Persia

November 4, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

Excerpt Two: Enter Shadow Man

June 8, 1988

SHADOW MAN. Credit Tomi with this one.

I was explaining to her why there are no enemies in Prince of Persia. The animations for the player's character are so elaborate, there's not enough memory left to add another character.

"Why not use the same animations for your enemies, the way you did in Karateka?"

"Wouldn't work so well this time. This character is designed to look cute. He has a very specific personality in the way he runs and moves. The enemies would have to be cute too."

"Can't you just change the face, or the costume?"

"Not possible. If I change anything, it's a whole new set of shapes. There's just no memory."

She wouldn't give up. "Couldn't you make him a different color -- say, black?"

I started to explain: "This is the Apple II..." and then it hit me: What if I exclusive-OR each frame with itself, bit-shifted one pixel over? I visualized a ghostly, shimmering outline-figure, black, with white face and arms, running and leaping, pursuing you. I described it to Tomi.

"Shadow Man!" she exclaimed.

Tomi, Robert, and Eric all huddled around my screen while I paged through my source code.

Me: "Uh, you don't actually have to watch me do this. It might take a while."

Eric: "No, we want to. It's a test."

In about two minutes I had Shadow Man up and running. He looked great. It was as if he'd always existed. Everybody was wowed. How could I have ever contemplated the game without him?

Robert suggested that Shadow Man could come into being when you run through a mirror.

You leap through the mirror; simultaneously your evil shadow self leaps out the way you came, and slinks off into the darkness. For the rest of the game he's lurking in the shadows, dogging your steps... until the end, when you don the magic amulet and become powerful enough to reabsorb him into yourself, thus gaining the strength you need to defeat the Grand Vizier.

"You'll sell a billion copies," Tomi predicted. "All I want is a Honda Legend. Coupe. Silver."


Tell me about Tomi and Shadow Man.

JM: She was really uniquely talented, and a brilliant person, and she had a great ability to look at something and just come up with the one pithy remark that summed it all up. And in the case of Prince of Persia, for the first year and a half, I was clinging to the idea that this would be a nonviolent game, that this would be a hero who was escaping traps and slicers and spikes, avoiding all sorts of horrible death in these dungeons -- but he himself wouldn't hurt anybody.

And every time I showed Tomi the latest and greatest thing I'd put into the game, she would glance at it, and say, "Combat! Combat! Combat!" and walk away. Which drove me crazy, because in my mind, there wasn't supposed to be sword fighting, or combat, in the game. And anyway, there wasn't enough memory in the Apple II to include that feature, even if I'd wanted to put it in. But as the journals describe in detail, eventually Tomi had her way.

And it's hard to imagine what Prince of Persia would have been without it. Certainly, at the very least, I don't think it would have become a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

It sounds like you were very much working alone, and you had your own work process, but it seems like you really did need to bounce these ideas off other people, and get input to take the game in the direction it needed to go.

JM: Yeah, it's tremendously important, and I hope that's something that comes through in the journals -- the extent to which even something that's a one person project really is a collaborative effort. And I think that's a lot truer than people realize, in many fields -- not just video game design, but even in fields like art, novel writing, music. I think any time something good is accomplished, it's not just the work of one person. It's the result of a time, and a place, and a community of people.

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