Karateka

Jordan created and programmed his first hit game, Karateka, as a Yale undergraduate. A 1980s classic and #1 bestseller, Karateka was one of the first games to blend fluid animation with cinematic storytelling. Karateka is now available for modern game consoles and mobile devices.

Introducing Karateka Classic

Update: Karateka Classic is now live in the App Store and on Google Play.

I’ve heard from a lot of people who’ve expressed the desire to replay a certain 1984 side-scrolling, bird-punching game that traumatized them in childhood, exactly the way they remember it — on their mobile devices.

ktc-iphoneSo, by popular demand, I’m happy to announce that Karateka Classic is coming to the App Store and Google Play this Thursday. It’s not a remake, not a port, but a faithful pixel-perfect emulation of the original Apple II game, with Olivier Goguel’s ActiveGS emulator running my 6502 assembly language code, graphics, and my dad’s music.

In engineering the app, Olivier has added a number of nifty touches, including the ability to choose between color CRT, amber, or green screen, as well as a few touchscreen-friendly updates, and a certain peculiarity of the 5.25″ floppy disk version which I won’t spoil here.

I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts. Does Karateka Classic match your memories? How does it compare to the Karateka remake? And is it better to kick, or always punch the hawk?

Download links will be posted here late Wednesday night. Oh, and the price will be 99 cents.

Posted on May 14, 2013 in Blog, Games, Karateka, Old School | 17 comments

Karateka in the App Store

I’m happy to announce that for the first time since 1984, Karateka is once again available for state-of-the-art Apple devices. You can download it for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch in the App Store. (Karateka requires iPhone 4S or newer, iPad 2 or newer, or 5th generation iPod Touch.)

And if you don’t have an iOS device, the new remake is also out on Sony Playstation, Xbox 360, and PC. Don’t forget to punch the hawk!

Posted on Dec 20, 2012 in Blog, Games, Karateka, Old School | 10 comments

Making and Remaking Karateka

Update: Karateka is now available in the App Store and for Sony Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and Steam.

The modern remake of Karateka (out today on Steam) has given me a great reason to dig into my archives and revisit the long-ago era when I developed the original Karateka on a 48K Apple II.

If you’re interested in making games, you may enjoy this series of short videos about the creative and technical process of making Karateka, then (1982) and now (2012). Each episode focuses on a different aspect of production: Inspiration, Animation, Sound and Music, and Gameplay. They’re posted below.

The game industry has changed a lot in thirty years. And yet the more things change, the more they stay the same. For readers interested in delving deeper into the old days, check out the rest of this post below the videos.

Episode 1: Inspiration

Episode 2: Animation

Episode 3: Sound and Music

Episode 4: Gameplay

From My Old Journals

When I started the first Karateka, in 1982, I was a 17-year-old Yale freshman and avid gamer, trying to balance a college courseload with my aspiration to become a published game author. Karateka made that dream a reality. It launched my career and paved the way for my next game, Prince of Persia.

That same year (1982), I started keeping a private journal — a habit I’d keep up for the next decade, as readers of The Making of Prince of Persia (1985-1993) will know. More surprisingly, I never got around to destroying it. And now it’s in the distant-enough past that, rereading it, I’m able to laugh rather than cringe (OK, so maybe it’s a bit of both).

As a time-capsule record of that early Apple II era, and a window into the maniacal brain of a teenager obsessed with “breaking in” to making games and/or movies, it may be of interest to others. So here it is (as DRM-free pdf, epub, and Amazon Kindle ebook, with print edition to follow): Volume One of my old journals, The Making of Karateka.

And, of course, I hope readers will check out the new Karateka.

Posted on Dec 3, 2012 in Blog, Featured, Games, Karateka, Making Games, Old School | 16 comments

Karateka is Back!

I’m excited to announce that my new remake of Karateka — the game I’ve been working on with a small, independent team for the past 18+ months — is now available on Xbox Live Arcade for the Xbox 360. (Versions for PlayStation 3, Steam, and Apple iOS are coming soon.)

Here’s our official launch trailer — written and directed by Adam Lisagor, who infused the trailer with his nostalgic memories of playing Karateka at age six on an Apple II:

I’ll post more in coming weeks about the process of making Karateka, then and now: in 1982-84 as a college student on a 48K Apple II, and in 2011-12, as creative director of a bigger (but still small) team using modern game development tools. It’s a great excuse to dig into my archives and uncover old-school souvenirs like this one.

My goal in remaking Karateka was to recapture the simplicity of the original in a compact, reasonably priced (under US$10) downloadable game, with gameplay so straightforward that players of all ages could immediately grasp it and start having fun right away — while enjoying a dramatic human story.

I hope readers will give the new game a try. I’d love to hear your reactions, whether you played the original Karateka in the 1980s or are encountering it now for the first time. Send me a tweet (@jmechner on twitter), post your comment below, or (if you have a question of general interest that you’d like to see answered on the site) email me.

The Karateka website has up-to-date information on game availability on the various platforms. And don’t forget to punch the hawk!

Posted on Nov 7, 2012 in Blog, Games, Karateka, Making Games, Old School | 9 comments

Raiders of the Lost Archives

Two weeks ago, my Dad shipped me a box that, to my joy, contained the original Apple II Prince of Persia source code archive I’d stowed away 20 years ago and had given up for lost.

Despite my eagerness to see what’s on those disks, I’ve yet to pop them in a drive. As readers of this site have cautioned me, digital media degrade with age; if the disks are in a fragile state, normal handling could damage them further and even render them unreadable.

In today’s guest post, digital archivist Jason Scott explains why reading 20-year-old floppy disks is trickier than it sounds — and why he’s volunteered to fly from NY to LA on Monday with special equipment to tackle the job himself.

Monday will be an exciting day. Much like opening a long-sealed sarcophagus, I truly have no idea whether we’ll find what we’re hoping for, or just data dust. For anyone who wants to share the suspense, we’ll be live-tweeting our progress. Hashtag: #popsource. (I wanted to use #sourcecode, but it was taken!)

Meanwhile, here’s Jason’s story, offering a glimpse behind the scenes of a profession whose existence I couldn’t have foreseen or imagined when I was making Prince of Persia in the 1980s: Digital archeologist.


I first heard about Prince of Persia in a somewhat strange fashion; a high school friend said that David’s older brother was working on a new game to follow up his big hit Karateka. I asked what it was about, and he said it was something about Persian princes and acrobatics. I left it at that, but I knew it’d be great, if Karateka was any indication.

I went to Horace Greeley High School after Jordan, and knew his brother, David, who graduated the same year as me. David was the motion model for Prince of Persia. Jordan was this talented figure somewhere out in the fog of the real world, who was making actual, sold-everywhere games with a company I really liked and respected (Broderbund), and was basically living the dream I hoped to live one day: game developer.

(My own dream was fulfilled — I did work for a short time at Psygnosis, makers of Wipeout, as a tech support phone monkey, and another year stint at a startup game studio, before moving on to other places in the computer world.)

It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I moved away from jobs like system administration and backup-watcher into the world of computer history and documentary filmmaking, where I am now. As one of the Adjunct archivists of the Internet Archive, I seek out new collections of data and help preserve current ones — anything from digitized books and audio to long-forgotten shareware CD-ROMs and obscure information files uploaded years ago. It’s a great time, and most importantly, it affords me the flexibility to travel when I’m needed somewhere.

So this was why, when Jordan announced he’d gotten back the Prince of Persia disks he had in his own collection, a lot of friends of mine started linking me to the article and saying “Well?” It was a perfect fit. I had seen Jordan for a few moments after his recent appearance at GDC, so it made sense to have us talk about my coming in to oversee the retrieval of data from the disks. What a nice journey — from hearing the game was being worked on in my youth to helping make sure Jordan’s work lasts for future generations!

Pulling data off dead media in the present day is both easier than it ever has been, and as frustrating as ever. Continue Reading

Posted on Apr 13, 2012 in Blog, Games, Guest Post, Karateka, Old School, Prince of Persia | 21 comments

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Deathbounce Kickstarter: Fully Funded!

In my PAX keynote yesterday, I mentioned that although Karateka is the game that launched my career, I actually had just as high hopes for the Apple II game I made right before it, as a 17-year-old freshman in college: Deathbounce, which I submitted to Broderbund Software founder Doug Carlston but he declined to publish.

A clamor immediately arose in the audience, offering to support a Kickstarter campaign for an iOS/Android version of Deathbounce.

I tried to discourage this, pointing out that Doug’s judgment that Deathbounce was unlikely to set the gaming world on fire was well founded even in 1982. Nevertheless, ever since yesterday, people have been coming up to me at PAX and trying to give me money.

It turns out I actually have a disk image of Deathbounce on my MacBook Air. Continue Reading

Posted on Apr 7, 2012 in Blog, Games, Karateka, Making Games, Old School | 15 comments

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