The history of the Prince of Persia franchise goes far back into the dark ages when the PC was only emerging as a gaming platform. It was the year of 1989, still four years to go till the release of Doom that would radically change the world of video games. The PC had not yet become the dominating platform even but coexisted with the now-extinct Apple II, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC and others. It was the time when not all PCs could display even 256 colors. The VGA adapter that supported so many colors had been introduced just a couple of years earlier and, together with an appropriate monitor, was a rare and expensive innovation. 16-color EGA and 4-color CGA graphics subsystems were widespread, yet game developers already began to think about how to increase the realism of the game world.
One of them was Jordan Mechner, the author of the first game about the adventures of the Prince of Persia. He wanted to make the character’s movements natural and found an excellent solution of this problem. Instead of drawing the movements manually, which wouldn’t have been too realistic, he used the rotoscoping method. That is, he just traced the necessary frames over from a movie in which a real actor (his own brother David) performed.
Notwithstanding its simple plot, the Prince of Persia arcade turned to be a breakthrough in the industry. The character animation was outstandingly smooth and natural. As opposed to all other games of that time, the character didn’t stop in a moment but moved on by inertia, which increased the level of realism even more. Coupled with exciting sword fighting and sophisticated architecture of the levels which were not unlike puzzles in their own right, the game became a hit on various platforms from the PC to ZX Spectrum. Again, the plot was most simple: an unnamed hero is thrown into prison by vizier Jaffar who is planning to usurp the power of the absent Sultan. The protagonist is to thwart Jaffar’s evil plans and save the Princess, who is being held captive in a tower, during one hour of game time. Passing all the obstacles and defeating Jaffar in the final fight, the hero gets the Princess as his reward and becomes the Sultan’s rightful heir.
The second Prince of Persia game was released in 1994 and carried on with the plot of the original. It turns out that Jaffar didn’t really die. Using black magic he takes on the appearance of the Prince, changing the Prince’s own appearance, and usurps the Persian throne after all. The protagonist has to run away on a trade ship, and then goes back home in order to defeat Jaffar once and for all by means of sacred temple fire. Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame was far more complex than the original game in terms of visuals as well as fighting system. The hero could face up to four enemies simultaneously, which was a challenge for the gamer.
The third game was released by the Broderbund division of Red Orb Entertainment in 1999 under the name of Prince of Persia 3D. Unfortunately, the game had not been tested well due to financial circumstances and was released with lots of bugs in the code. Therefore it did not enjoy any success.
Then, after a long while, Ubisoft decided to revive the legendary series by means of modern technologies and succeeded. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time not only kept up the atmosphere of the old game but added a new dimension to it, making the gameplay much more diversified. The plot of The Sands of Time is largely based on time paradoxes. The Prince unknowingly releases the horrible Sands of Time that turn every living thing into a monster. So, he must bring them back into the sand glass, return into the past and prevent the tragedy. Like Jaffar in the first two Prince of Persia games, there is an evil-doing vizier in this game, too. The Prince has to meet him in the final fight. The Sands of Time also features a well-developed love story. On the whole, this was the first game in the series that had a full-featured plot rather than simple arcade gameplay.
It was followed in 2004 by Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. The game picked up where Sands of Time had left off. Having repeatedly broken the natural flow of time, the Prince finds himself hunted by the Dahaka, the guardian of the time line, and has to return to the past to prevent the creation of the Sands of Time and thus get rid of the Guardian. The gameplay is even more complex, mostly due to fighting skills. For example, the hero has the ability to wield two swords simultaneously and wring out enemies’ weapons. The game atmosphere is far gloomier in comparison with the previous titles and the fighting is so bloody that Warrior Within is rated Mature for the first time in the history of the franchise. Jordan Mechner himself, who did not take part in developing the sequel, was very critical about that, but the game was received warmly by the fans of the series as well as by game reviewers.
Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, released in 2005, completed the trilogy about the Prince’s adventures in time. The protagonist has changed his fate successfully and got rid of the Dahaka, but the traitorous vizier mentioned in The Sands of Time has not died from the Prince’s sword because the timeline has changed. Desiring eternal life, the vizier captures the Empress of Time, Kaileena, but the Prince acquires the Dagger of Time and is set to put an end to the Vizier’s evil-doings. A special feature of the game is that the gamer controls not only the Prince himself but also his dark alter ego brought to life by the Sands of Time. The trilogy ends with a victory over the Dark Prince.