Game Designers Remember Karateka

"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, Nintendo 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.

For a time-capsule record of that early-1980s Apple II era, and a window into the maniacal brain of a teenager obsessed with "breaking in" to making games and movies, check out my old journals about making Karateka.

The Monk is the second suitor.
Warlord Akuma and his Hawk.
Captive Princess Mariko spies on Akuma and his men.

About the Indie Remake

28 years later, I worked with a small independent team to remake Karateka for today's digital game platforms. 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.

"With a stunning makeover and simplistic but compelling action, this terrific update brings Karateka into the 21st century in style."


"Delightful... The game has the unique ability to tell a story and sell characters without words... Simple, pure fun and the price is right." 8/10

—Machinima Inside Gaming

" for those of us who played the original on an Apple II, Commodore 64, or even an NES, but younger gamers will still appreciate the unique style and easy-to-learn gameplay."

Ars Technica

"Exceptional production values... Karateka may be just the game you need to remind you what made those early arcade games so fun." 8/10

Game Informer

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 Blezinsky, 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."

—Tim Schafer, Lead Designer of Psychonauts