Prince Interactive came out in 1994, during a brief period where everyone and their dog had a CD-ROM game. In the same period between 1994-1998, CD-ROM games were released by the likes of Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson and DEVO, as much for creative and experimental purposes as for promotional ones.
As a graphic puzzle adventure game relying on a point-and-click mechanic and the perspective of contiguously arranged static images to create the illusion of a 3D environment, Prince Interactive invites the obvious comparison to Myst, which is a fine enough reference point for setting up general expectations on how it feels to play.
But what one finds upon playing this game is something that is uniquely and unequivocally Prince, not just because his face and works are plastered everywhere but because the developers at Grafix Zone were clearly making creative decisions from a place of real admiration for the late artist. And considering this is a licensed game, one can imagine how much of its gilded, velvet and crystalline environments were conceived by the Artist himself.
The premise to Prince Interactive is simple: you’re an astronaut who has crash-landed on a strange planet which just so happens to be home to Space Paisley Park. In order to restore your ship, you must collect pieces of The Artist’s famous symbol scattered throughout the estate, but not before taking the time to rummage through all his personal effects. Within this musical virtual cosmos you’ll find the conventional—songs, photos, videos, exclusive interviews with Prince’s luminary peers (such as George Clinton)—and much less conventional, much more sensuously Princely fare.
How to Set Up The Prince Interactive CD-ROM…
(I should mention that I’ve personally only played this game on PC, although a MacIntosh version is absolutely available.)
The most reliable method* I know of to play this game requires you to set up either a WIndows 3.x or 95 virtual machine using a program like DOSBox or Oracle VM (there are many guides for how to create a basic machine online). The tricky thing—and one of the more frustrating setbacks for me—when it comes to trying to get the software to run in Win3.1, is that it’s actually something of a resource hog and may take more available memory to run than your default virtual machine comes with.
Thankfully for me, friend and peer Jenn Frank came to the rescue with her customized Win3.1 virtual machine created for the purposes of playing Cosmology of Kyoto, which came to me with almost none of the original app icons and folders loaded onto the desktop (though still retrievable using the search function). Making sure your virtual machine is as lean as possible—in essence a shell to be filled with the Prince game and the Prince game alone—may well save you tears provoked by a very annoying startup error message down the line.
Be sure as well to install the 16-bit Sound Blaster driver for sound that you will very sorely need to enjoy this game, and to set the display resolution in your virtual machine to 640×480. That latter part is crucial, because there’s a bug that pops up about three quarters of the way through the game—during a segment in which the player must crack open a safe in Prince’s studio—that renders the puzzle and therefore the game virtually unbeatable. But as long as you’ve correctly set your resolution, you should be able to bypass the problem.
You can install the game off your disc (or the image file you probably downloaded) by mounting it in your virtual machine’s disc drive and running the install executable. You’ll be asked to install an old version of Quicktime, which you’ll definitely need to run Prince Interactive and which you probably don’t already have. Once you’ve let the installation wizard do its thing, a new folder should appear on your Win3.1 desktop containing icons for the game and for a guide which may prove useful to you as you’re playing. At this point, you should be able to settle into the warm, sensuous bubble bath that is Prince Interactive.
*Note: There are alternate methods for getting Prince Interactive to work, including setting up a Windows XP virtual machine. A helpful post by user floralelephants on the Prince.org fan forum explains that once you have XP running, you can simply type “run Windows 95 programs” in the search menu and receive additional information from there. The same forum also contains a post from moderator luv4u offering up a patch for XP users that helps to correct certain bugs that may appear during your playthrough. I haven’t tried this method myself, but I have confirmation from several individuals that it does work.
About The Game Itself
I’ll spare readers most of my observations on the game and let you experience it first for yourself, but one thing I can say is that when people inevitably ask me what my favourite game is, I tell them it’s Prince Interactive. The most superficial reading leaves us with an impression that this game is nothing more than a watered-down point-and-click puzzle game, cheaply using these conventions as a way to deliver promotional material to fans who will eat it up. But the simplicity of the puzzles is a lot of what endears me to this game; they just barely matter. Far more important is taking in the ethereal and otherworldly environments, including a spiral staircase in space—which is still somehow within Prince’s home—a “candle room”, a dance club, a boudoir, and much more beside. It’s a beautiful, indulgent, impishly smirking game that feels something like walking through a virtual Prince-themed curio cabinet. Click on an unsuspecting vase and suddenly, snake charmer music plays and a 2D bust of Prince suddenly appears. Rifle through Prince’s closet or stare closely at a purple magic eye poster hung on his studio wall. Count all the things that make sex noises when clicked on, but do nothing else. And take your time. Luxuriate. There’s no pressure to collect the puzzle pieces—the sooner you do, the less you’ll experience anyway. You never actually meet Prince, yet his presence is felt all over the game.
Prince Interactive could be mistaken as a commercial for Prince, and in some ways that’s what it is. But it’s also a trip into this really imaginative world that presents itself as a rather joyous piece of digital art. It’s not especially committed to being a puzzle game and has a sense of humour about itself, and yet Prince Interactive feels serious and meticulous as a creative undertaking (in other words, it’s quintessentially a Prince vehicle). This game strikes me as a relatively early and enthusiastic example, at least for me, of attitudes seen in experimental game circles, and it’s hard to imagine the licensed game of a mainstream media figure existing in quite this way today. Even Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, for all its strangely acerbic in-jokes, doesn’t exhibit the same boldness in terms of aesthetic, form, space or text. Prince Interactive is a weird, wonderful, singular and hilarious piece of the late artist’s expansive repertoire, and now that you know how to retrieve it from the dustbin of computer game history, I highly recommend that you do.