Where They Are Now

The game maker

A pioneer video-game designer remembers Karateka, Prince of Persia, and his Apple II.

Hugh Hamilton

Hugh Hamilton

Jordan Mechner ’85 created the popular video game Prince of Persia in 1989. He also wrote the screenplay for a 2010 film based on the game. View full image

Jordan Mechner ’85 is a pioneer video game designer, graphic novelist, and screenwriter. He’s best known for creating the game franchise Prince of Persia, released in 1989. Mechner’s most recent project is a reboot of his first published game, Karateka, downloadable this fall for the Xbox and PlayStation.

Y: You made the first version of Karateka while an undergraduate at Yale.

M: I got my Apple II in high school, and took it with me to Yale in 1981. Karateka was a project I started my freshman year, working on it between classes.

Y: The game sold half a million copies.

M: I’d been holding on to this dream since high school, that one day I’d make a game that would be good enough to be on the bestseller lists. I remember going to the bookstore by the A&A Building and buying Billboard magazine and seeingKarateka was number one. It was exactly the dream I’d come to Yale with.

Y: Did that get you lots of dates?

M: I’m sure there must have been a way it could have helped my dating life, but alas, in four years I was never smart enough to figure it out.

Y: Your next game for Broderbund was Prince of Persia.

M: I wanted to combine the cinematic storytelling of Karatekawith a platform game, where you had to figure out how to get through the level. I was inspired by the swashbuckling and sword fighting in the 1938 Errol Flynn movie The Adventures of Robin Hood, and the fantastical, magical world in the 1940 movie The Thief of Baghdad. I spent four years making Prince of Persia. As with Karateka, it was just me and the Apple II, and a couple years’ worth of elbow grease.

Y: My favorite game of yours is 1997’s The Last Express,a brainy game that takes place on the Orient Express at the dawn of World War I.

M: After Prince of Persia shipped in 1989, at that point I had spent a good chunk of the last ten years at the Apple II, programming. I wanted to do something different. I lived in Europe for a year, and got immersed in French graphic novels. That was a big inspiration for The Last Express.

Y: Did you decide to remake Karateka out of nostalgia for the ’80s?

M: Nostalgia is a feeling I’ve always understood. Looking at my games, I’ve always been drawn to time periods in the past. Somehow the ’80s to me just seem to be in the zeitgeist in so many ways. I think one of the things about those early ’80s games that appeal to young people today is that they have this handmade quality. For the animations in Prince of Persia, I videotaped my brother running and jumping.

Y: You recently published the journals you kept while making Prince of Persia.

M: There are moments in the journals when I’m in despair and ready to give up the whole thing, and there are moments of excitement when I just can’t wait to work on it. There’s one entry that always makes me laugh, where I wrote, “But who knows if there’s even going to be a video game industry this time next year?” 


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