Earlier this month, Robert Florczak's original painting for the cover of Jordan Mechner's Prince of Persia sold at auction for $63,000. So, in order to mark the occasion, Mechner himself decided to publish a blog on the website Game Developer giving fans a fascinating insight into the "drama" behind that particular piece of famous video game art.
According to Mechner, the artwork originally stemmed from some pencil sketches that he made in April 1989 to show Broderbund’s art director a few ideas for packaging. These sketches showed the prince fighting on a staircase, with various different arrangements of the central characters, including one where Jaffar has the Sultan's daughter pinned to a bed.
As Mechner describes in the blog, marketing wasn't exactly thrilled at the suggestion of doing an old-Hollywood cover in the style of Robin Hood (1938) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), with the idea earning a resounding “meh” at the time. Nevertheless, through Broderbund's product manager Brian Eheler, Mechner was able to attend the marketing meeting and eventually had his way.
Broderbund tasked the artist Robert Florczak with creating a more detailed sketch of the cover, but as Mechner recalls, there were also other signs of resistance to the idea with the head of marketing balking at the $5500 price in order to execute it. Then in July, when the painting was finished, Broderbund was aghast at the image thinking it was too "sexy" for the company which was at that point known for creating edutainment software.
After adding a green sports bra to the portrait to quell these concerns, the piece of artwork only had one final hurdle to get through: a company-wide review. However, this again saw controversy, after a group of employees wrote to the CEO suggesting the art "condoned violence against women" and that it should be scrapped. This prompted a 2-page reply from Broderbund's CEO Doug Carlston acknowledging their concerns, while defending his villain's gesture as appropriate for a game where players are “impaled, sliced in two, squashed and otherwise discomforted for relatively minor lapses in behavior.” According to Mechner, Carlston was one of the few people at Broderbund who believed in the project (which was being released on the outdated Apple II) and one of the individuals responsible for the cover making it to market.
We hope that wherever the painting is now that it is in good hands!