Created on an Apple II by Jordan Mechner in his Yale dorm room in 1984, Karateka became a #1 bestseller and influenced a generation of gamers with its groundbreaking rotoscoped animation and cinematic storytelling.
Now you can download and play the original Karateka Classic on mobile, or the 2012 indie remake on Steam. Whether you’re a nostalgic retro-gamer or new to the game, Karateka will charm you with its classic love story set in feudal Japan. Fight to save the lovely Mariko from the evil warlord Akuma and reunite her with her True Love!
—Machinima Inside Gaming
—Will Wright, Lead Designer of The Sims
—Todd Howard, Producer of Skyrim, Oblivion and Fallout 3
—Raph Koster, Creative Lead of Ultima Online
—David Jaffe, Director of God of War, Twisted Metal
Karateka was my first published game. I spent two years programming it on an Apple II, mostly in my college dorm room and my parents' basement, and submitted it on a floppy disk to Broderbund Software.
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.
I adapted silent-film techniques I was learning about in my history-of-cinema classes at Yale — rotoscoping, cross-cutting, tracking shots — to the Apple II.
My goal was to create a game with fluid and lifelike character animation that would feel like a movie, 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 video game market was less than 10% of its current size, this was a real number.
Karateka was a life-changing breakthrough for me. It proved to me (and to my parents) that making games was not only a hobby and passion, but a legitimate career. Its warm reception helped me decide, right after college, to go on and make Prince of Persia.
For a time-capsule record of that early-1980s Apple II era, and a window into the maniacal brain of a teenager obsessed with "breaking in" to making games and movies, check out my old journals about making Karateka.
28 years later, I worked with a small independent team to remake Karateka for today's digital game platforms. Our goal was to tell a compact, dramatic human story within a simple game that players of all ages can enjoy.
In the new Karateka, three playable characters — the True Love, the Monk and the Brute — vie to rescue the beautiful Mariko from the evil warlord Akuma.
These short behind-the-scenes videos explore different aspects of making (1984) and remaking (2012) Karateka: Inspiration, Animation, Sound and Music, and Gameplay. Oh yeah, and pronunciation.
—Cliff Blezinsky, Lead Designer of Gears of War
—Jason Jones, Founder of Bungie (makers of Halo)
—John Romero, Co-Author of Doom and Quake
—Tim Schafer, Lead Designer of Psychonauts