Tuesday, 24 April 2012 08:19
Games - Games
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Jordan Mechner presented the PAX East 2012 Keynote. Mr. Mechner is the programmer, animator and basic, one man army behind Prince of Persia, potentially the most famous platforming game after Mario and Sonic.
Under the title "Story Time", Jordan told game development stories of his life, his ambitions and what he had learned as he grew older.
His first game was the unpublished Death Bounce, coded on his Apple II.
Doug Carlson of Broderbund Software decided against publishing it, but congratulated the young Jordan on his skills, and recommended him to look into Choplifter, a current success at the time.
Games from this early era in gaming are mostly arcade affairs, whose sole purpose is reaching a high score. Choplifter has an actual goal: to save 64 persons stranded across the screen. Each of these persons had primitive animation which made them seem alive, as alive as you can make an 8 pixel tall character.
Jordan went back to the drawing board and inspired by Choplifter started developing Karateka, his first published and successful game.
After Karateka's success, he started work on Prince of Persia. It would be finished 3 years later.
For the first 1.5 years, Mechner focused solely on the motions of main character, the Prince. No combat had actually been planned, PoP was to be a pure platforming game, allowing players to grasp ledges after missed jumps, gain balance and jump farther. All of these actions were lovingly animated using rotoscoping, a technique he recovered for game development with Karateka.
Among many other details of PoP's development, Jordan shared how the shadow mirror villain of the Prince came about. As he originally didn't plan to have enemies or combat, there was no memory left in his Apple II to hold animations for enemies. From this constraint, the shadow twin came about, as he uses using the same assets and animations as the Prince.
Eventually after refactoring the code, Jordan managed to cram in guards.
PoP is a well-known commercial success, spawning sequels and ports to other platforms.
Afterwards, however, Mechner felt burned out of game development and explored scriptwriting, basically bumming it outdrifting for a couple of years until realizing he wasn't going to get any of his scripts made into a movie.
It was in 1993 that he got back into the game by assembling a team to develop The Last Express, an adventure game set in the Orient Express as it travels to Istanbul.
Sadly this gorgeous game was not a commercial hit and Jordan went was back to writing scripts, giving himself 5 years to see if it would pan out. At this point, Jordan Mechner thought he was done with games.
Then, in 2001, 3 years into his script writing plan, when Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft, gave him a call to discuss the potential of working on a new project. It was the birth of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Mechner's lessons throughout the years, even the frustrations, prepared him to work on the Sands of Time, such as his experience leading a team for The Last Express.
The success of the Sands of Time paved the way for Mechner to write a script for the game's movie adaptation.
"If I had a dagger of time," Jordan chuckled. He never would have guessed that histhe first script that would go successfully into production would be because of anthat old game he developed in his Apple II.
"Why even attempt to plan things, because they never work out the way you think."
Jordan Mechner ended his keynote by stating with his only strategy: "Work on the thing you're most excited about."
His valuable lesson is that following your heart, even if it doesn't seem like the right and proper thing to do at the time, will always work out.
His closing remark:
"I'm excited about making games, thank you."
During the Q&A that followed, he was practically convinced to release Death Bounce by the PAX attendees.
His newest games are the remake of Karateka for XBLA and The Last Express for iOS devices.
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