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.
A modern remake of Karateka has been released for iOS, PSN, Steam and XBLA. You can see the trailer, and download the new game, at karateka.com. For iOS folks, here’s the direct App Store link. Note: Karateka requires iPhone 4S or newer, iPad 2 or newer, iPad Mini, or 5th generation iPod Touch.
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 wanted to bring the silent-film techniques I was learning about in my history-of-cinema classes — 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 videogame market was less than 10% of its current size, this was a real number.
Karateka was a life-changing breakthrough for me. Until then, programming computer games had been my hobby and passion. Karateka’s success proved to me (and to my parents) that this could be a legitimate career. It helped me decide, right after college, to go on and make Prince of Persia.
The Making of Karateka
My old college journal about making Karateka has been published as an ebook. You can read more about it here.