(Warning: Geek Quotient of today’s post = 11)
My Dad (yep, the same guy who composed the music for the original Karateka and Prince of Persia) called from New York to tell me he was doing some spring cleaning and had shipped me a carton of old games and other stuff of mine he’d found in the back of a closet.
The carton arrived yesterday. My jaw dropped when I saw what was inside.
No, I don’t mean the stacks of Spanish Drosoft versions of POP and Karateka (though those are cool too, especially if you have an Amstrad computer with a cassette player). I mean those three little plastic 3.5″ disk boxes nestled among them… which appear to contain the ORIGINAL APPLE II SOURCE CODE OF PRINCE OF PERSIA that I’ve been searching for, off and on, for the past ten years, pestering everyone from Doug Carlston to Danny Gorlin and everyone who ever worked at Broderbund, and finally gave up hope of ever finding.
I KNEW it wasn’t like me to throw stuff out!
So, for all fifteen of you 6502 assembly-language coders out there who might care… including the hardy soul who ported POP to the Commodore 64 from an Apple II memory dump… I will now begin working with a digital-archeology-minded friend to attempt to figure out how to transfer 3.5″ Apple ProDOS disks onto a MacBook Air and into some kind of 21st-century-readable format. (Yuri Lowenthal, you can guess who I’m talking about.)
This is a crazy busy time (in a good way) with too many projects, so it might take a little while. I’ll document our progress via the twitter and facebook feeds, and I promise, as soon as we can extract something usable, I’ll post it here.
Update: The Last Express will be released for iOS on September 27, 2012.
I’ve been biting my virtual tongue for the past few months in my eagerness to respond to the many fans of The Last Express who’ve suggested how beautifully this 1997 adventure game could work as an iPad/iPhone app.
Ilya, Veronika, Jan, Jáchym, Sebastian, Felipe, Robert, Will, Stefano, Chiara, Felix, Alexander, Arnim, Jennifer, Lydia, Lauren, Ravi: You’re absolutely right.
It’s with enormous pleasure that I can finally share this good news: A young French company, DotEmu (who celebrated their fifth anniversary in Paris last night — making them ten years younger than the game) is developing a full iOS version of Last Express, to be released later this year.
Details to follow — but be assured, this will be the complete, original PC game, a deep and immersive real-time interactive narrative offering 20+ hours of game play, with a few additional enhancements to make it more iOS-friendly.
My thanks to DotEmu, the original Smoking Car team, and all the Last Express fans who’ve encouraged us to refill the coal tender and stoke the furnace so that this train can leave the station once again, fifteen years later.
I can’t wait!
When I was 17 years old and dreaming of a career making games, my role models — the people who created the games I admired — were known to me only as names on Apple II title screens. I couldn’t look up their bios, read interviews, or check out their websites, because the internet didn’t exist yet. I didn’t know what they looked like, what countries they lived in, or if their names were even real (“Lord British“?).
There was one way, though. You could send a letter to the publisher (the old way, with postage stamps) and hope that it might get to the game creator who might actually read it.
At 17, I didn’t have the chutzpah to think of that — but another enterprising kid named John Romero did. John informed me of this when we finally met, in an elevator at GDC, years after he’d fulfilled his childhood dreams and become one of the best-known game designers on the planet, thanks to Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake.
John’s first words to me were: “I wrote you a letter. In 1985.”
When I got home, I dug it out of storage. Indeed he had. It was one of the first three or four fan letters I ever got — forwarded by Karateka’s publisher Broderbund Software to my Yale Station post office box, where I was a 20-year-old senior in college. John himself was “17 going on 18,” as he was careful to specify in his letter, perhaps figuring the extra year might cause me to take him more seriously.
John assures me that he has my answer in storage somewhere. I don’t remember what I wrote, but you can read his original letter here. Thanks, John!
I couldn’t resist posting this now, because I’ll be seeing John again next week at GDC. We’ll be on a panel with Tim Sweeney (Epic) and young whippersnappers Adam Saltsman (Canabalt) and Notch Persson (Minecraft), moderated by Jane Pinckard, on the topic of “Back to the Garage: The Return of Indie Development.” Hope to see some of you there!
This video by comedy group Karahat is so classic, I just had to repost it. Thanks to Kotaku and many kind people on twitter for alerting me to its existence.
The prince’s foray into real life may not do for parkour what the Real Life Angry Birds commercial did for T-Mobile, but at least he’s out there trying.
I didn’t even realize this video’s true genius until I saw it a second time — so thoroughly has the modern iPhone era of cheap-and-easy digital compositing effects reshaped my expectations. As far as I can tell, its central special effect was created using a technology that was equally available in 1985.
A special booster potion to the first reader who calls it out.
OK, so this isn’t exactly “behind the scenes of making a game”… it’s more like “behind the scenes of PROMOTING a game.” It’s a video about making a video: yesterday’s G4/Xplay episode announcing my Karateka remake.
Anyone who knows me knows I’d rather spend nine hours straight at the computer than fifteen minutes on-camera, but I’m glad Dave and Earl documented this. I think.
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.