Prince of Persia Took Me on a Journey Through Time

Prince of Persia 3D

December, 1999

“Is it Prince of Persia 3?” I asked while looking at the box in my hands. The cover depicted a man holding a scimitar; the text read Prince of Persia 3D.

 “Yes,” replied the man behind the counter.

“Are you sure it is Prince of Persia 3?”

“Yes, son.”

“Nevertheless, Are you…”

My elder brother interrupted before I could finish asking another time. “It is Prince of Persia 3, brother. Don’t you see the title written right there on the box?”

I looked at my brother with a grin. “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go.”

My father had recently purchased a brand-new Pentium II, and my elder brother had heard from a friend that a new Prince of Persia game had come out earlier than year. But now, on that December evening, the pieces had fallen into place. My brother and I were rushing home. A copy of Prince of Persia 3D was in my hands. The fragrance of the new cover was calling out to me, and I could not wait to get home to play my new game.

“It’s been five years since we first played Prince of Persia 2,” I muttered. “Those five years were as 500.”

June, 1993

“Cheer up, my sons,” my father said. “Tomorrow we will go to my office, and you can play a very good game called Prince of Persia.”

“What does the Prince do in this game?” I asked with innocence in my eyes. “Who is he?”

My father smiled.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I knew the next day would be filled with video games and magic. Before this, Pac-Man was the only video game I had ever played, so I had no idea what Prince of Persia would be like. What I did know, however, was that it would be fun.

I would shift in bed, then wake my brother from his slumber. “I know this Prince will eat beans like Pac-Man,” I would tell him. “I know this.” My brother did not want to hear about beans. He wanted to sleep. I stared at the ceiling, waiting for the sun to rise.

Early the next morning, my father brought us to his office, which was empty that day because it was a local holiday. My brother and I were guided to a space where two computers were waiting to welcome us. I watched transfixed as my father opened DOS and wrote the following command:

CD:> Prince of Persia 1

Pac-Man’s appetite for beans faded from my head as the game launched and I was thrust into a different world altogether. The music was mesmerizing. I saw a golden palace before me, and the words Prince of Persia appeared beneath it.

Prince of Persia

And then came the story.

In the Sultan’s absence the Grand Vizier JAFFAR rules with the iron fist of tyranny. Only one obstacle remains between Jaffar and the throne: the Sultan’s beautiful young daughter…

I could hardly contain my emotions. Before this point, I had never considered that the fairy tales I heard from my elders and read in books as a small child could someday become video games.

The story of Prince of Persia was inspired by the classical Arabian Nights tales. We call these stories Alif Laila in Urdu, which translates to 1,001 Nights. I grew up in Pakistan, so these tales of acrobatic princes, beautiful princesses, evil sorcerers, and brave sultans were engraved in my memory.

At the time, I didn’t know that the game I was playing was already several years old. Created by Jordan Mechner and published by Broderbund, the first Prince of Persia game originally released in 1989. Mechner had already had success with his previous game, Karateka, so Broderbund gave him relatively unrestricted freedom to make a second game, which would ultimately become Prince of Persia. (Mechner’s father, the influential psychologist Francis Mechner, composed the soundtrack for both Prince of Persia and Karateka.)

On that first day, we played until 7pm. In 9 hours, we did not even finish the first level of the prison. We found the Prince’s sword, but we did not know how to make him swing it.

Prince of Persia
Prince: I have a Sword but this kid does not know how to make good use of it.

In our struggle to cross the prison, the Prince was killed dozens of times by clever guards and fiendishly placed traps.

We did not have a PC in our home, so I would beg my father every week to take me to his office so that I could finish the job of rescuing the Princess. The weekly anticipation only made my appreciation for the game grow, because Prince of Persia was consuming my fantasies. I would spend my free time planning my next session, imagining the scenarios that might play out once the Princess had been freed. This became a problem during school exams, of course.

Prince of Persia

In the story, the Prince was supposed to rescue the Princess within an hour. It took us more than six months.

December, 1994

We were spending the holiday at my aunt’s house, when I overheard my father casually mention Prince of Persia 2. What? Part 2? I asked my father when we could play it, but he just smiled and said, “Yes, there is a second game, but it is not on my office computer yet.”

Similar to the first game, anticipation for Prince of Persia 2 mounted, sending my imagination to an ancient world of princes and magic. The wait was agonizing, but finally, one Sunday morning, my father said these words, which I will never forget:

Prince of Persia 2 is now available on hard disk.”

I was overwhelmed. My brothers and I insisted that we go to the office at once. My beloved and caring father could not resist our requests, and within an hour, we were at the same table where we were first introduced to Prince of Persia. The same computer was still there, only this time it contained a treasure that wasn’t there before: Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame.

I don’t really know why, but I expected the sequel’s narrative to play out the same way as the first game’s. There would be a young Prince tasked with rescuing the Princess from an evil Vizier. As it turns out, Prince of Persia 2’s roots went deeper than that. The evil Jaffar had not died, and he was back to take his revenge and fulfil his desire to marry the Princess. Disguised as the Prince, Jaffar bewitches the Princess and the palace guards, who attempt to capture the Prince. The Prince manages to escape, only to be shipwrecked on a hostile island.

Prince of Persia 2

Thus Prince of Persia 2 breaks away from the confines of the palace, opening up a vast world that was suggested by the first game but never realized. The sequel features several breathtaking environments, such as mystical caves, deserts, and forts. A magic carpet and a flying horse would whisk the Prince to new locales, expanding the world one location at a time.

While the basics of gameplay were similar to the first game’s, they were also much richer. The simple hit-and-miss combat mechanics were now built atop a foundation of timing. Suddenly, strategy became much more important, and a broader variety of enemy types kept players on their toes. Particularly memorable for me are the floating heads you’ll encounter in the ruined fort that want to take your blood. Defeating those took reflexes and courage. As a child, those battles were terrifying and exhilarating.

Prince of Persia 2

Though The Shadow and the Flame might be the more difficult game (depending on whom you ask, I suppose), I had been seasoned by multiple playthroughs of the original Prince of Persia. I had approached the first game as a wide-eyed child, unable to even swing a sword, but by the time I played the second game, I had become a seasoned warrior.

Of course, the puzzles could be quite tough. While I navigated combat with relative ease, some of those puzzles could bring my progress to a halt. In fact, Prince of Persia 2 took me almost a year to complete.

I finally managed to burn the Grand Vizier Jaffar alive, reuniting the Prince and the Princess. That was the end of the story. Or was it? At the very end of the game, the narrator proclaims, “… and the Prince and the Princess dwelt together in joy and serenity and lived happily ever after.” But then we see a glimpse of a witch holding a crystal ball, watching over the couple as they gallop off on their flying horse.

Prince of Persia 2

I was bewildered and fascinated. Who was this witch? Was she related to Jaffar somehow? What does she want from the Prince? It seemed there would be another adventure in my future. Unfortunately, it would be several years before that would become a reality.

December, 1999

We were almost home. I looked at cover of Prince of Persia 3D, still nervous, despite my brother’s reassurances that we had indeed purchased the correct game.

“It’s been five years since we first played Prince of Persia 2,” I muttered. “Those five years were as 500.”

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