Announcing Karateka

One big difference between the movie and video game industries is the way they handle news about upcoming projects.

Movies are announced early, and often. When a writer sells a pitch, when a director is attached, when a role is cast — all of these stages leading up to making the movie are freely reported and commented on. Even though there’s no guarantee when, or if, an actual movie will ever get made. (See Fathom.) And studios are fine with it.

Video game studios, on the other hand, guard their game development plans like military secrets. It’s not just that they don’t want work-in-progress visuals getting out and giving a less-than-ideal impression of the game. Often, they won’t even confirm that a project EXISTS until it’s almost done, with tens of millions of dollars already spent and the end in sight.

A side effect of this is that, when game developers rub elbows at conferences like GDC, if A should ask B in a moment of drunken camaraderie “What are you working on?” the accepted answer is a big cagey grin and a tease: “Nothing I can talk about!” This is true even if B is the lead designer of Mass Metal Destruction 1 and 2 and remains employed by the same studio. It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that, MMD2 having made half a billion dollars the year before, someone has thought of doing a MMD3. But some things are not to be spoken out loud.

So it’s an exquisite frustration particular to game developers that we spend our time talking (and blogging, and being interviewed) about every aspect of our work EXCEPT what we’re actually working on and are most excited to talk about.

And for me, today, it’s an exquisite joy to finally be able to say this in print:

For the past year, I’ve been working with a small team to develop a new, updated remake of Karateka — the game that began my career 27 years ago.

(If you didn’t happen to encounter Karateka in the early 1980s, you can read its backstory here.)

A New Karateka

Eight years is a long time between games, even for me. Since Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time shipped in 2003, I’ve been busy writing movies, TV, graphic novels, and other non-game projects. It feels great to be hands-on making a game again, and I can’t wait for you to be able to play it.

It’ll be a downloadable game for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, out this year. We’re looking at bringing it to other platforms too. I’ll update with more details in the coming months, as we get closer to release.

How different is the new Karateka from the original? It’s closer than the 2003 POP:SOT was to the original, side-scrolling Prince of Persia. But it’s a more radical reinvention than, say, the 2007 XBLA Prince of Persia Classic. The new Karateka is much more than a port; it’s both a remake and a re-imagining of the original game for today’s consoles.

For me as creative director, it’s been an exciting chance to experiment with new gameplay mechanics and ideas that on previous console generations (and on the Apple II) I could only have dreamed about.

Why downloadable and why indie? For a lot of reasons, downloadable just feels right for Karateka. The original was a simple, compact, pick-up-and-play game that didn’t require a lot of tutorial to understand what you had to do. Beating the game was hard, but even little kids could have fun playing it from the first moments. I wanted to honor that simplicity. Jumping from the Atari 400 to a huge triple-A retail console title felt like it would have been too big a leap.

I want to show that a game can be simple fun while also telling a human story in a way that’s emotional, atmospheric, and beautiful. I’ve been encouraged to see gamers embrace downloadable titles like Limbo and Braid — games that stand out because of their design integrity and strong artistic choices, although they were made on modest budgets and don’t represent technological breakthroughs. The industry is changing fast. It’s an exciting time for indie.

And it doesn’t get much more indie than programming a game on a 48K Apple II in my college dorm room, mailing it to a publisher on a 5.25″ floppy disk, and crossing my fingers — which is how Karateka began.

Back to GDC

In a couple of weeks at San Francisco GDC (Game Developers Conference), I’ll be doing a panel with Tim Sweeney (Epic), Adam Saltsman (Canabalt), Notch Persson (Minecraft), and John Romero (Doom) discussing “Back to the Garage: The Return of Indie.” I hope to see some of you there.

After that, it’ll be time to put my head down, get back to work, and get back to not answering questions for the next couple of months.

But now you know at least one of the things I’m working on.

Many thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to comment, or post on twitter or facebook, asking for a new Karateka or sharing your memories of playing the original game. Your encouragement means a lot to me and has helped to get this project off the ground. I truly hope you’ll like the result.

Watch this blog and the Karateka page for updates.

Posted on Feb 15, 2012 in Blog, Games, Karateka, Making Games, Old School | 25 comments

25 Comments

  1. 2-15-2012

    I played Karateka on my Apple ][+ back in the day and really hope that it’s coming to iOS/Mac, which seems like a complete no brainier and should be an initial release.

    • 2-27-2012

      This game formed an extremely solid impression on me and the feelings it engendered still resonate. The sounds, the ultra-fluid animation… how did he do it all so well? It’s odd that it holds so much more quality and authenticity than the modern 3D cut-scene infested shake-cam fest-infested stuff we have nowadays. The simplicity meant that you really paid attention to the story and the details.

      Anyway, my name’s Tom as well, and I also played Karateka on my Apple ][+ back in the day. Must be a theme or something.

  2. 2-15-2012

    Recently I’ve been actually thinking about when and if a Karateka remake for PSN/XBLA would happen. Very excited!

  3. 2-15-2012

    OMG I can’t wait for it to come out. The original Karateka was a fantastic game for its time and have been waiting patiently for Jordan to come out and say that a updated version is in the making! Wow can’t wait.

  4. 2-15-2012

    Well, this’ll be great!

    Also, I’m glad that the recent shift in indie games with Kickstarter funding and so on means that game developers don’t keep so secretive – and in fact it’d be impossible for them to get their works funded and produced if they did remain secret. Public funding of projects has made a major change in how independent stuff happens.

  5. 2-15-2012

    My question is not “Why downloadable and why indie” but “why not PC”?

    • 2-16-2012

      @Tom and Tom — We are looking into iOS and PC. It made sense to start with XBLA and PSN for a number of reasons.

      • 2-26-2012

        You’d probably sell twice as much as both consoles on Steam alone. Just sayin’

    • 2-27-2012

      Vita version? :-)

  6. 2-15-2012

    First Double Fine gets the funds from fans to make a new point-and-click adventure and now this. This is a good time to be a LONG time gamer. Karateka was one of my favorite games on the Commodore 64. I am very much looking forward to playing the new version.

  7. 2-16-2012

    Awesome news! I’m really looking forward to it and hope it will also be released for PC eventually.

  8. 2-18-2012

    I sucked at this game. :)

  9. 2-18-2012

    No PC release? Good thing I won’t be able to buy this now.

    MS is totally painful to work with when it comes to this stuff, have fun getting taken advantage of, or fighting tooth and nail to avoid it if you’re lucky!

  10. 2-20-2012

    Karateka is my first vivid memory of a video-game. I should’ve been ~6 years old kid. Remember how I played it with my uncle :) It must have been the beginning of the passion, that is my job today (game-developer here).

  11. 2-24-2012

    Holy cats!! I played Karateka on my Commodore 64. It was the shit… this and Impossible Mission. WANT!!

  12. 2-24-2012

    Man, I can´t put in words how much karateka means to me. I spent a lot of time playing it with my father (who died last year) 27 years ago when I was just a little boy, no more than 8 years old. Just reading about this new version of the game reminded me of how much my father loved it and how great was to be with him. I wish you nothing but success, sir!

  13. 2-24-2012

    Karateka is one of THE games for me: the games that made me love games, that made me play them over and over, that made me want to know how games “happened.” This is one of the games that put me on the path that led me eventually to make games for the last 17 years. I am excited to see what you do with it, Jordan! (I feel like I need to arrange to go play it at a small town library just so it stays true to the original experience for me.)

  14. 2-24-2012

    Oh man. I’m pretty sure that I damaged a key on my C64 playing this. It was several flavours of awesome. And I only got past that dude with the chains like one time. It was a ‘Skull’ button-mashing moment.

  15. 2-27-2012

    There is only one word which appropriately describes this: Awesome!

  16. 2-27-2012

    Truly exciting, I did played Karateka in my Atari 7800 in those days, it really busted my nuts, I’ll keep watching for updates.

  17. 3-2-2012

    It’d be a shame if this didn’t come out for Apple platforms considering the original platform it was on. So please bring it to Mac and iOS.

  18. 3-8-2012

    In 1987, there was a creativity class (Beijing) where everyone had to make a unique, exact-or-better copy of Karateka. Only 4 students out of 28 got the music in there, but most got a game coded. Same HW, one even using RealBasic 0.4 (using 128k for the compiler host.) You’re out to mark what, 2022′s l337 (revolutionary) students? Maybe goad players into imagining 8 dimensions where there are only 5 (really 4+ stereo depth?)

    The Moogs (and Steam Pirates) of Asia wail (and do 12-mat full-motion controller arcs) for your sequel. (Get those newly CS/secure degreed interns some genius cred.)

  19. 4-18-2012

    Wow! I’m so looking forward to seeing this remake!

    This game is one of the fondest memories I have of my childhood when I dreamed of becoming a computer programmer.

  20. 10-6-2012

    I just saw the new pictures (my name routes to one) and god damn it’s beauitful

  21. 10-15-2012

    I use to play this game when I was a kid on a apple computer at school. But now I am Windows user. I just wish or would be nice they have this games for Microsoft Windows 7.

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