Karateka (video game)
||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (December 2012)|
Commodore 64 cover art for Karateka
Liquid Entertainment (HD Remake)
D3Publisher (HD Remake)
Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Wii U:
|Media/distribution||1 5¼" disk or other, dependent on platform (Original)
Digital download (HD remake)
Karateka (Japanese: 空手家, "practitioner of karate") is a 1984 beat'em up video game by Jordan Mechner, his first game created while attending Yale University. It was originally programmed for the Apple II, and was later ported to several other home computers and early gaming consoles. The game was published in North America by Brøderbund, and in Europe by Ariolasoft.
The player controls an unnamed protagonist who is attempting to rescue his beloved, the Princess Mariko, from Akuma's castle fortress. A combination of a side-scrolling platform and fighting game elements, the player faces Akuma and his guards, using punches and kicks to defeat his foes and make his way deeper into the fortress. The game, as with most at the time of development, lacked checkpoints or the ability to save the game, making it a challenge to complete in a single sitting.
Karateka has been well-received, particularly in the realistic animations used for the game's characters. The game was considered a breakthrough success for Mechner, and would lead him towards the development of the Prince of Persia franchise. A high-definition remake, helmed by Mechner, was released as a downloadable title for the Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, with planned ports for the iOS and Wii U systems.
Karateka uses gameplay elements found in both side-scrolling 2D platformers and fighting games. The player is introduced to the unnamed hero as he ascends a mountain into Akuma's fortress to rescue his beloved, the Princess Mariko.
As the player directs the hero into the fortress, various foes will appear and attempt to stop the hero. The player must have the hero, normally in a run stance, enter a fighting stance before engaging in combat, otherwise the hero will be easily killed by the enemies. Once in a fighting stance, the player controls the hero to deliver blows, punches, and kicks at the enemy while dodging the enemy's own attacks. The hero's health, shown by a bar on the bottom of the screen, diminishes with every hit he takes, though health can be recovered slowly by not engaging in combat. Should the hero lose all their health, the game is over, requiring the player to start again. Similarly, the enemy's health bar is shown on the screen as well; once this is drained, the player has defeated the enemy and can progress forward. In addition to human enemies, Akuma sends his trained hawk infrequently to attack the hero, which can be deflected with an appropriately-timed punch. There are some environmental hazards that the hero can fall into, such as a falling portcullis or an open cliffside, ending the game immediately. Throughout the game, cut scenes using the game's animation are shown, such as showing Mariko nervously awaiting her fate.
Eventually, the hero will reach and face Akuma in a final conflict. Once Akuma is defeated, the hero is able to rescue Mariko, though the player must assure that the hero is out of a fighting stance, or else the princess will assume he is an enemy and defeat the hero in one blow. Once Mariko is freed, she and the hero leave the fortress together.
An easter egg was present on the Apple II floppy disk release; though claimed to be sold as a single-sided disk, the reverse side of the disk included a full version of the game that would be rendered upside-down on the player's monitor. According to Mechner, this was done as a joke, causing naive users to call tech support and ask why the game was upside-down. Invariably, those users would receive the reply, "take the disk out, insert it right-side up, and reboot".
Karateka was developed by Jordan Mechner while he was a student at Yale University as a side project between his classes. Originally, in learning how to program on the Apple II, Mechner had developed clones of other popular coin-op games at the time, including higher-resolution version of Asteroids (which was pulled due to Atari's legal stance on direct clones) and a modified version he titled Deathbounce. He had submitted Deathbounce to Brøderbund for publishing, and while the company appreciated his work at the animations, they declined to publish the title; in their response, the publisher provided Mechner with a copy of Choplifter, then one of the top selling games from Brøderbund. Mechner recognized from this game that he could pursue original game concepts instead of having to remake existing titles. 
In addition to some of the graphic features that Choplifter provided, Mechner centered on a karate-themed game as a result of numerous factors, including his current studies as a film student, his involvement in several film clubs at Yale, and having recently taken lessons in karate at the time. Other inspiration drew from Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock print art, and, from cinema, the works of Akira Kurosawa, early Disney animated films, and silent pictures; he claimed that such works "convey such powerful emotion and atmosphere without a word being spoken". A goal was to combine cinematic techniques with game elements to create, at that time, a novel experience, and Mechner programmed some of the screen wipes used in Seven Samurai as game elements. In reflecting on the game, Mechner stated that he did not consider the game as a "fighting game", but instead that of "a story-based game where the gameplay mechanic is fighting".
Developing the game for the Apple II proved to be challenging. Mechner wanted to create fluid animations within the limitation of eight frames per second that the Apple II could support, but this itself would be hampered by the presence of any additional on-screen elements, such as one of the palace gates. Mechner found that he could not animate and play music, limited to one-note tones, at the same time, forcing him to adapt to these limitations. To create the animations, he used rotoscoping, drawing over images taken while filming his karate instructor demonstrating various moves. Mechner credits his father with creating the music for the game. Work to complete the game took approximately two years, with Mechner submitting the game to Brøderbund during the later part of his sophomore year at Yale.
The game was originally developed for the Apple II. It was later ported to several other systems, including Amstrad CPC, Atari 800, Commodore 64 and DOS in 1986. The Atari 7800 port was released in 1987. In 1988, a version for the Atari ST was released and in 1990 it was released for the ZX Spectrum though only released in Spain and in Spanish. The game was released in Japan for the Famicom in 1984, ported by Soft Pro. An original Game Boy port was done under the name Master Karateka with release limited to Asia.
Modern remake 
In February 2012, Mechner announced that he was leading a small independent development group to create a remake of Karateka for the Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation 3 via PlayStation Network, and Wii U via the Nintendo eShop with an anticipated release date in late 2012, later confirmed for a November 2012 release. The concept for the remake came after Mechner completed work for the 2010 film, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, based on his Prince of Persia games and screen-written by himself. He felt that he wanted to do a new project with a "guerrilla" feel and at a much smaller scale than he had experienced for the film. He also considered that nearly 30 years after the game's release, he was still being asked questions about Karateka in interviews. This led Mechner to remaking Karateka which, outside of the ports near the time of its release, had not had a remake. He envisioned that he would be able to retell the story using modern console hardware and without the limitations of the Apple II system. Other factors leading to the remake included the resurgence of small, independent game development in 2010 and 2011, and games such as Limbo that "created a powerful emotional atmosphere within a limited budget and scope".
Mechner assembled a small independent team at Liquid Entertainment backed by angel investment, to create the remake; this smaller group allowed Mechner to be more hands-on with the game's development. The remake will stay true to core game, described by Mechner as "a compact, pick-up-and-play game that is fluid, atmospheric and beautiful". Certain cinematic elements, such as being a dialog-less work, remain in the remake. Mechner's team focused on improving the game's controls, making it "hard to master" and encouraging players to run through the title again to improve on their performance. During the remake's development, the team experimented with different approaches, ending up with "brand-new combat mechanics" and creating a "rhythm-based" fighter, where "you match the rhythm of your opponent’s attacks and eventually earn your counterattack", according to Venture Beat.
Mechner considered to prevent frustration for younger gamers that may have not played the original, they could not have such one-shot deaths that would force the player to restart the game. An additional change was made in the approach: in the game the player starts as Mariko's "True Love", as the original, but should they fail in combat, they then play as a second character, a Monk, picking up where the True Love fell, and then as a third one, a Brute. While the player can complete the game as any of the characters, the ultimate goal is to reunite Mariko with her True Love, giving the approximate forty-minute game high replayability, according to Mechner. The game maintains the immersion as the player transitions between each character.
Mechner stated that some of the humorous additions, such as the possibility of being killed by Mariko at the end of the game, will likely be removed, believing that "you can’t surprise people twice the same way", and replaced with other secrets for players to discover. The focus on keeping the game as a simple game to pick up and play led to the decision to distribute the title through downloadable game services. Comic and animation artist Jeff Matsuda was brought aboard to help with character animations, while composer Christopher Tin developed the game's dynamic score.
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The game was considered a best seller in its original release in 1984, with more than 500,000 copies sold.
See also 
- "Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner to remake Karateka (interview inside)". Official Xbox Magazine. 2012-02-15. Retrieved 2012-02-16.
- Kohler, Chris (2012-02-15). "Karateka Remake Marks Jordan Mechner’s Return to Games". Wired. Retrieved 2012-02-16.
- Forster, Winnie (2005). The Encyclopedia of Consoles, Handhelds & Home Computers 1972 - 2005. GAMEPLAN. p. 22. ISBN 3-00-015359-4.
- McWhertor, Michael (2012-02-16). "Prince of Persia Creator Reveals His Next Project: The Return of Karateka". GameTrailers. Retrieved 2012-02-16.
- Caoili, Eric; Cifaldi, Frank (2012-02-15). "Jordan Mechner returns to his indie roots with Karateka remake". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- Rouse, Richard; Ogden, Steve (2005). Game Design: Theory & Practice, 2nd Edition. Wordware Game Developer's Library. Jones & Bartlett Learning. pp. 320–354. ISBN 1-55622-912-7.
- Karateka on World of Spectrum
- Matulef, Jeffrey (2012-10-01). "Jordan Mechner's Karateka remake due on XBLA in November". Eurogamer. Retrieved 2012-10-01.
- Takahashi, Dean (2012-02-15). "Prince of Persia creator returns to games with remake of Karateka". Venture Beat. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- Takahashi, Dean (2012-11-07). "Jordan Mechner launches Karateka remake on digital gaming platforms". Venture Beat. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
- Lesser, Hartley and Patricia (October 1987). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (126): 82–88.