He Who Crowned the Prince: Talking with Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner

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Video game movies tend to suck. That ain’t news. But the visual sizzle on display in he previews for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is giving movie-goers and gamers reason to hope. Dreamy-hunk–with-actual-acting-chops Jake Gyllenhaal ratchets up the anticipation meter, too. But, if the film translation of PoP winds actually being good, Jordan Mechner will be the reason why. Mechner created the acrobatic hero in the early days of PC gaming more than a decade ago. Not only is the Prince his character, but Mechner’s connection to the film medium run as deep as his video game roots. Mechner studied film in college and wrote the story for the upcoming movie, directed by Mike Newell. In the interview that follows, Mechner talks about how the Prince is different on the silver screen, and the differences in writing for comics, games and graphic novels.

How old were you when you started programming? What were your most impactful early video game memories?

I got my first Apple II computer when I was in high school.  It changed my life.  Instead of taking rolls of quarters down to the arcade, I could stay home and play games… and what was even more addictive, start programming my own games.

Let’s just step back for a second and let it soak in. Prince of Persia, a game concept that you created when you were twentysomething, is now a big-budget movie. What were your worst fears and highest hopes on the road to release?

I’ve been daydreaming about a Prince of Persia movie in one way or another for the past 25 years.  And I’ve wanted to be a screenwriter for even longer than that.  For this movie to have actually gotten made and released, on such a scale, with such an incredible cast and filmmakers, as my first screenwriting credit, is more than I dreamed.

A lot of people will be encountering the Prince of Persia for the first time in the movie. What do you think they need to know about your character? How does Dastan differ from the video game Prince?

We set out to make a movie that everyone can enjoy whether or not they’ve ever played a video game.  It’s really an old-fashioned, romantic, swashbuckling adventure movie; there’s absolutely nothing special you need to know going in.  That said, there are many elements of the movie that gamers who’ve played Prince of Persia will recognize and hopefully appreciate on an added level.

There have been other entities baby-sitting the Prince for some time now. What’s your level of involvement when new iterations of something based on Prince of Persia come out?

The versions I’ve been directly involved with, beyond the first two side-scrolling games, are the 2003 game The Sands of Time, the graphic novels, and the movie. I worked hard on those and feel a lot of creative ownership and investment.  I wasn’t involved in the creation of the more recent games, the LEGO, toys, or other tie-in books.  I’m delighted they exist, I root for the people that are making them, but I’m not a co-creator in any sense.

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