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Early Computer Game Animation – Jordan Mechner’s Prince of Persia (1989)

February 16, 2011

The other night I settled down to watch Prince of Persia The Sands of Time written by Jordan Mechner, and was pleasantly surprised. Not only was it less cheesy than I thought it would be, but the action sequences reminded me of playing the original Prince of Persia game created by Jordan Mechner in 1989. Back then it was common for a computer game to be made by a team of just a few people who wrote the code, composed the music, and made the graphics. This method of production is vastly different to the huge collaborative effort needed for today’s games produced by whole studios.

In 1989 Prince of Persia was released for the Apple II. I remember seeing the game being played, but it was not until the early 90’s that I got my hands on a demo.

Prince of Persia 1989 on the Apple II, Broderbund software

One of the reasons I have such a strong memory of Prince of Persia is the character animation, which was very natural owing to the rotoscoping of live action video footage, and was a huge step up from Jordan Mechner’s earlier Karateka released in 1984.

Did you know that Jordan Mechner shot the reference video, and then did all the rotoscoping and character animation himself? The original model for the Prince of Persia was his little brother David, and this reference video shot in 1985 was used for the movements of the Prince in the game:

Prince of Persia Animation Reference 1985:

Prince of Persia Animation Test 1986:

Prince of Persia Animation Test 1986 from jordan mechner on Vimeo.

( Corresponding Journal entry )

Compared to other earlier games on the Apple II that had rather limited animation at the time, the animation of the Prince was indeed a ‘…little shimmering beacon of life in the static Apple-graphics Persian world I’ll build for him to run around in.’ {footnote}For instance –  Swashbuckler in 1982 –, and 1983’s Loderunner –{/footnote}

Jordan Mechner’s blog ( contains a section where he has uploaded and published all of his development journals on Prince of Persia from 1989  to January 1993. The blog is an amazing resource and is a window into how early computer games were developed.

Action clip from the 2010 movie that reminded me of the original game: