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.
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. What made Karateka different was that it felt like a movie, with more fluid and lifelike character animation than any game before.
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 that was visually sophisticated, 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.
30 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.
For a more in-depth look at the new Karateka, including the extended trailer, screenshots, and reviews, visit the Karateka Remake page.
These short behind-the-scenes videos about making and remaking Karateka, then (1982) and now (2012), explore different aspects of production: Inspiration, Animation, Sound and Music, and Gameplay. Oh yeah, and pronunciation.