Jordan launched his career while still in college by creating and programming his first games, Karateka and Prince of Persia, on an Apple II computer. His old journals and archived materials give a time-capsule view of the process of making games in the 1980s and 90s.
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.
The paper book comes from CreateSpace, a really cool self-publishing service for authors. Basically, we sent them a print-ready PDF and they did the rest. The book weighs in at 323 pages, and looks and feels like a good-quality trade paperback. We’ve priced it at $16.99 (the difference from the ebook versions reflects the printing cost).
You can purchase the book here.
To anyone who’s previously paid for another version of the ebook and would like to have the .epub version for convenience, let us know and we’ll email it to you. Like the PDF, it’s non-DRMed.
Once the dust has settled, I’ll post (and Aaron, Dave and Danica may guest-post) about the results of our grand ebook/self-publishing experiment, and what we’ve learned. Short answer: It was more work than we anticipated — but now that we know how, the next book should be a lot easier. I think.
Many thanks to everyone who’s read the book and reviewed, posted or tweeted about it. The response has been fantastic, and makes it all worth it.
Since I got my iPhone 4S, I’ve been intrigued, fascinated and alarmed by Siri’s fast-growing capabilities. I thought it would make sense to introduce her to my psychotherapist, Eliza.
ELIZA was one of the first (and longest) BASIC programs I typed into my then brand-new 16K Apple II in 1979. Originally created at MIT by Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966, this pioneering natural-language-processing simulation of a Rogerian psychotherapist impressed my family and friends every bit as much as Siri does now. I was curious to see how they would get along.
Here is a transcript of their first encounter. Despite their 45-year age difference and two-million-fold disparity in RAM, I thought they understood each other remarkably well. Continue Reading
For readers who’ve gamely clicked their way through all seven years of my “Making of Prince of Persia” journals online — and those who haven’t — I’m happy to announce that the complete saga is now available as a PDF and Amazon Kindle ebook.
The book isn’t free — we’ve priced it at US$7.99 — but at 300-plus pages, I hope it’s good value. We’re publishing it without any copy protection or DRM, so pirates shouldn’t have much of a challenge. Book sales will help defray the costs of this project and of maintaining the website.
The ebook contains the original Old Journals, plus never-before-published entries leading up to the beginning of The Last Express. You can download a free sample PDF of the first 40 pages, or the full ebook, here.
Thanks to Danica Novgorodoff for designing the book (Danica is the multitalented author of the excellent graphic novel Refresh, Refresh, and designer of many First Second books, including Solomon’s Thieves), and to David Anaxagoras, Ryan Nelson, and Aaron Simonoff for their hard work putting it together. It’s safe to say it turned out to be a lot more work than any of us expected.
How Prince of Persia got made — and almost didn’t
In the ebook, you’ll read what I wrote in my journal on the day I videotaped my kid brother running and jumping to model the prince’s moves; the day I gave up on the project; and the day I decided to finish it after all.
In the seven years from May 1985 to January 1993, Prince of Persia went from a few scribbles on yellow-lined paper to a published, best-selling video game franchise, and I changed from a callow kid into (I thought) a seasoned software entrepreneur. If you’ve read the journals, you know that it was a bumpy ride, and that the game’s eventual success was anything but a foregone conclusion.
Whether you’re a game designer or in another creative field, whether you had an Apple II in the 1980s or weren’t born yet, I hope you’ll find inspiration (or something else of use to you) in this story of how one game got made.
Check out the ebook here.
This ebook is an experiment in many ways. I have no idea how many people will be interested, or how well the non-DRM “honor system” will work. Either way, I’ll post once the dust has settled, and let you know how it went.
If you’ve enjoyed the Old Journals on the site, but don’t feel the urge to own the ebook, you can still support this project by helping us spread the word. Readers like you who take the time to post or tweet about the Old Journals ebook, review it on Amazon, or just tell a friend, will make a big difference in the experiment.