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The Making Of Karateka Key Art

The Making Of Karateka: A Legend Revisited

Video game history is something that needs to be preserved. Nothing fascinates me more than learning how a thing came to be and seeing how early video games did what they did with the resources they had. It’s nothing short of a miracle. They may not be much by today’s standards, but they crawled so today’s video games could run. If I didn’t understand that before The Making Of Karateka I surely would now.

Admittedly I was too young for Karateka. It was originally released for the Apple II by solo developer Jordan Mechner in 1984. But just one look at it and I can see its likeness to one of my earliest video game memories: Prince Of Persia. Turns out that Mechner created that too.

Karateka on the Apple II

In The Beginning

That’s getting a little ahead of myself though. Karateka was groundbreaking. It was one of the first games that had that cinematic feel to it. It actually had a story! I’m not talking about an objective, like shoot all the things or collect all the objects. It was a bona fide story, complete with a hero, a villain, and a princess to boot!

In what publisher Digital Eclipse calls an interactive documentary, The Making Of Karateka takes you through Mechner’s early days of game development, with interviews from industry veterans such as Tom Hall (Co-Founder, ID Software), John Tobias (Designer, Mortal Kombat), and Raph Koster (Lead Designer, Ultima Online). Jordan Mechner also features in interviews alongside his father, Francis Mechner, who composed the music for the game.

The Making Of Karateka Raph Koster

The Making Of Karateka

The game is separated into five chapters, each detailing a part of Mechner’s journey to releasing Karateka. It starts with his first unpublished game, the Asteroids inspired Deathbounce, and how its rejection and the lessons he learnt from it would help push him towards Karateka. From concept and programming to release and marketing, The Making Of Karateka gives players a rarely seen insight into 80s video games. The last chapter contains plans Mechner has for Karateka II, some of which made it into Prince Of Persia.

Along with video interviews, The Making Of Karateka includes digitised versions of paper documents. Reading through correspondence with publishers and seeing the technical diagrams of Mechner’s designs really lets you experience his journey. There are even some interactive pieces, like sections where I could explore the rotoscoping footage, fading out the filmed footage, into the traced outlines, and see them transform into pixels.

Karateka Rotoscoping

Games In Different Stages Of Development

By far the most interesting is all the different playable versions of Karateka. I’m not just talking the completed versions released for the Apple II, Commodore 64, and 8-bit Atari. Different prototypes from various parts of the development cycle are also included. Even though not released, Deathbounce also gets that the same treatment, with four different prototype version available to play.

Karateka and Deathbounce have both been updated so players can experience a more recent version of these early masterpieces. They have the added bonus of containing commentary on the making of the remasters.

The Making Of Karateka Playable Games

The Making Of Karateka: An Interactive Documentary

The Making Of Karateka is such a complete look at the development and history of the game. I’m particularly enamoured with the interviews featuring Mechner and his father. It’s pretty obvious that Mechner Senior still doesn’t understand quite what all this video game malarky is about, but his son loves it and that’s enough for him. It reminds me of my own relationship with my parents and how supportive they are of what I do.

It’s such an interesting behind the scenes look at a legendary game, beautifully curated, and presented in a way that taught me something about the industry that I love. I wholeheartedly recommend The Making Of Karateka to lovers of video game history and those that fancy a trip down memory lane.

Karateka Jordan & Francis Mechner

The Making Of Karateka releases on August 29th across Steam, GOG, Epic, Playstation and Xbox for AU$29.95. A version for the Nintendo Switch will release in September.


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