Rediscover the 1984 karate classic that paved the way to Prince of Persia.
Created on an Apple II by Jordan Mechner in his Yale dorm room in 1984, Karateka became a #1 bestseller and influenced a generation of gamers with its groundbreaking rotoscoped animation and cinematic storytelling.
Now you can play the original Karateka, and explore and share Jordan's journey creating it, in Digital Eclipse's The Making of Karateka — a playable interactive documentary packed with rare design documents, audio and video interviews, and faithfully emulated and remastered versions of Jordan's early games.
The Making of Karateka (2023) from Digital Eclipse:
"A loving video game remaster, a documentary, and a comprehensive, interactive historical archive that details the creation of a seminal work in video game history. Unique in composition, meticulous and compelling in execution, there hasn't really been anything quite like The Making of Karateka before. But there certainly needs to be far more like it in future... It's everything something like this should be: A painstaking historical record of inspired creation that is engrossing in its sheer detail, and arranged in such a way that it tells a fascinating, approachable story that inspires you to know more, and do more." 5/5
"One of the smartest, best presented, arguably most important game preservation products I've ever seen... The Making of Karateka is a fantastic ride from start to finish, full of heartwarming moments, incredible gaming history, and never before seen looks at one of the industry's most important games. Complete with a solid reimagining of the game for a 2023 audience, along with a surprise redo of an early Mechner prototype, this is a great start to the Digital Eclipse Gold Master Collection. We cannot wait to see what they do next."
"The Making of Karateka is so much more than the making of Karateka. Something that is absolutely a book and also more than a book, something that tells a story but also opens that story out in surprising ways, taking different forms, trying different things... There are plenty of other reasons to love this brilliant piece of software, but the book-non-book was my way in... I love Atari 50, but I think The Making of Karateka is even better."
"One of the most engrossing things I've played in this entire bonkers year of fantastic, top-shelf games... The Making of Karateka is a deep dive on a single game done in a way I've never seen the likes of before, presented like only our medium can offer. It takes you on a captivating journey not just of a legendary game but of a legendary game creator as he finds his strengths and blossoms. I want a shelf full of these Gold Masters from Digital Eclipse... An essential work for all fans of gaming history." 5/5
"A huge step in documenting the history of video games... Digital Eclipse has put together a masterful formula that speaks to retro explorers such as myself, and this is the perfect test of it. It's absolute gold, and I can't wait to see what they dive into next."
"Karateka was the first computer game that gave me the sense that I was seeing a new form of interactive storytelling. The characters were uncannily real compared to anything I had seen before and the flow of the game was at a new level of cinematic polish for its time."
— Will Wright, Lead Designer of The Sims
"Karateka is a landmark game, easily in my top 10. Mechner invented the video game cutscene with this game. Way ahead of its time."
— Todd Howard, Producer of Skyrim, Oblivion and Fallout 3
"Karateka was one of the first games that truly felt like a movie: from the opening text crawl to the climactic battle. It set the bar for years to come."
— Raph Koster, Creative Lead of Ultima Online
"Karateka was the first game to make it clear that games could be more than simple reflex, twitch tests. Back in the mid-80's, Karateka showed that story telling DURING gameplay was not only possible, but powerful. Even today, the story telling of Karateka still works. In some cases, it works better than today's mega-budget action games. One of my favorite games of all time."
— David Jaffe, Director of God of War, Twisted Metal
In Jordan's Words: About Karateka
Karateka was my first published game. I spent two years programming it on an Apple II, mostly in my college dorm room and my parents' basement, and submitted it on a floppy disk to Broderbund Software.
Set in feudal Japan, the story couldn't have been simpler. An evil warlord had kidnapped your girlfriend and you had to fight his karate-trained minions to rescue her from his fortress.
I adapted silent-film techniques I was learning about in my history-of-cinema classes at Yale — rotoscoping, cross-cutting, tracking shots — to the Apple II.
My goal was to create a game with fluid and lifelike character animation that would feel like a movie, yet so easy to play that even a non-gamer could immediately grasp the story, pick up the joystick and and become addicted.
Back then, games didn't have marketing campaigns. Reviews and word-of-mouth drove sales until, by April 1985, Billboard magazine ranked Karateka as the #1 best-selling game in the U.S. With versions for Commodore 64, Atari, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Game Boy, Karateka sales eventually passed 500,000 units. In those days when the video game market was less than 10% of its current size, this was a real number.
Karateka was a life-changing breakthrough for me. It proved to me (and to my parents) that making games was not only a hobby and passion, but a legitimate career. Its warm reception helped me decide, right after college, to go on and make Prince of Persia.
In the early 1980s, I could never have imagined that Karateka would still be remembered and playable on today's devices, let alone that it would become an object of study for game-development historians. I'm touched and honored that Digital Eclipse chose Karateka as the first title in their Gold Master series. If you're interested in the creative or technical details of making a game in those days, or in my pre-Prince of Persia adventures as a fledgling game developer, I highly recommend their interactive documentary The Making of Karateka. It's an amazingly full-featured downloadable package, either for a deep dive, or for just playing a bit of Karateka on your PC, Xbox, Playstation, or Nintendo Switch.
For a different angle on the same events, I've published my 1982-85 journals as a book (and e-book), also entitled The Making of Karateka. Like its better-known sequel, The Making of Prince of Persia, the book is not a retrospective; it's a time capsule of what I actually wrote in my journal at the time, with all the perspective and maturity you'd expect from an 18-to-21-year-old. Whether as a complement to the Digital Eclipse package, or on its own, the book offers a window into the maniacal brain of a teenager obsessed with "breaking in" to making games (or movies) in the era when Pac-Man and Blade Runner were new.
One of the many things I love about Digital Eclipse's wonderful interactive documentary is the way it spotlights the importance of family and colleagues in what's often seen as a "solo" game development. My dad, Francis Mechner, not only composed the memorable music for Karateka, but offered many valuable creative suggestions throughout. He even served as rotoscope model for certain key animations, pictured below in my graphic memoir Replay. If you're interested in the human side of game development, Replay is the real "origin story" of my games and 40-year creative career. I hope you'll check it out.
The above panels are from Jordan's graphic novel Replay: Memoir of an Uprooted Family. Interweaving three generations of Jordan's family story with episodes from his video game career (including the development of Karateka and Prince of Persia), Replay won wide acclaim on its April 2023 release in France.
The English edition will be published by First Second Books on March 19, 2024. You can read reviews, excerpts, and Jordan's commentary (and pre-order a signed copy of the English edition) on the Replay book page.
About the 2012 Karateka Remake
28 years after the original Karateka, I worked with a small independent team to remake Karateka for digital game platforms in 2012. Our goal was to tell a compact, dramatic human story within a simple game that players of all ages can enjoy.
In the new Karateka, three playable characters — the True Love, the Monk and the Brute — vie to rescue the beautiful Mariko from the evil warlord Akuma.
Developed by Liquid Entertainment and executive-produced by John August, the remake features rhythm-based combat, art by Jeff Matsuda, and a real-time musical score by Grammy-award-winning composer Christopher Tin.
You can download and play the 2012 Karateka on Steam:
These short behind-the-scenes videos explore different aspects of making (1984) and remaking (2012) Karateka: Inspiration, Animation, Sound and Music, and Gameplay. Oh yeah, and pronunciation.
"Karateka taught me to approach a woman kindly... and not in a Kung Fu stance."
— Cliff Bleszinski, Lead Designer of Gears of War
"I can neither confirm nor deny that many years ago a game designer gave me a shitload of health before I had to fight a bird which would knock you down three pips at a time and killed me the first time anyway. Formative game for me."
— Jason Jones, Founder of Bungie (makers of Halo)
"To me, Karateka was the first game that felt 'cinematic'... because of the short cut scenes that came after each major defeat, with Akuma dispatching another of his minions to take you down. No other game had done this before... The music by Jordan's father, especially on the C64, was so great that I used to finish the game just to let the music play over and over for an hour."
— John Romero, Co-Author of Doom and Quake
"We had a computer class in my high school, which meant one of the math teachers let us hang out in a room with a bunch of Apple ][s for an hour each day and work on projects. Our favorite project was playing Karateka. Man, I loved that game. One of those rare endings that both pissed me off and delighted me at the same time."