Karateka reboot: Q&A with Jordan Mechner

But beware: for the Karateka there is always a next time…

February 15, 2012
Jordan Mechner

The developer of the original Karateka and Prince of Persia games, Jordan Mechner, recently announced that a remake of the 1984 classic would be hitting PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade sometime this year (2012).

We had an opportunity to interview Mechner about the upcoming Karateka reboot, and while he didn’t delve into specifics, he did get us excited about the game.

The obligatory "leave room for a sequel" epilogue

Karateka epilogue: Predicting a future 28 years hence

Could you run us through the game elements? [millions of related questions redacted]

The new Karateka is a straight remake of the original 1984 game – different in many aspects of the gameplay and visual presentation, but very similar in terms of story and scope. It’s a compact, downloadable, single-player, story-driven game in which the player fights his way through a small army of the warlord Akuma’s minions to rescue his beloved Mariko.

What sets Karateka apart from other games like it? For instance, are you planning on introducing a unique/interesting mechanic that would differentiate Karateka similar to the way PoP:SoT’s time manipulation distinguished it?

Karateka isn’t really a fighting game in the vein of a Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. I think of it as a story-driven game in which the gameplay mechanic is fighting. Its design philosophy and the overall experience are very different from a brawler. It’s funny you should mention POP:SOT, because in fact for the new Karateka we have created an innovative gameplay mechanic, which is a new way of solving the same problem that led us to create the time-rewind feature in POP:SOT. And that is, in a normal story, the hero can only die once. So how do you handle failure in a life-or-death situation, without taking the player out of the world of the story and breaking the continuity of the experience?

For the new Karateka, we’ve found a new approach to that conundrum. It’s not the Dagger of Time, but it fits with the story and world of Karateka, and I hope players will enjoy it.

Will Karateka have a strong/direct narrative? Will we see the return of Princess Mariko and Warlord Akuma? What about that infernal hawk of his? Will there be voice acting?

Most definitely, we will see the return of the infamous Akuma, the lovely Mariko, and Akuma’s lovable pet hawk. Like the original game, Karateka is a kind of silent movie. The storytelling will rely on the characters’ gestures and expressive animation rather than spoken dialog.

What aspects of the original Karateka game can fans look forward to in the remake?

The new Karateka pays homage to its 1984 counterpart and is very much a re-envisioning of that game using modern technology.  Like the original, it’s easy to pick up and start playing, but hard to truly master. It’s a compact narrative that nonetheless creates a strong mood and atmosphere, in a simple, straightforward human story inspired by Kurosawa films and the world of feudal Japan. Also, there’s a heck of a lot of karate fighting.

It seems like a risky move to remake a well-loved game like Karateka. Why return to it?

Unlike my other 1980s game, Prince of Persia, Karateka has never had a sequel or a remake. Yet even after all these years, fans haven’t forgotten it and I still get messages on my blog and twitter, asking when Karateka will be revisited in a new version like Sands of Time. After devoting much of the past few years to writing films and graphic novels, including the giant Prince of Persia movie, I’ve been wanting to do a smaller-scale game, and since I’d developed Karateka almost single-handedly when I was still in college, it seemed like the perfect candidate to do as a modern downloadable console game.

["]Jordan Mechner at his Apple ][

Jordan Mechner at his Apple

It seems like you took quite a long break between the release of PoP:SoT and this game. Why the long sabbatical from game design and development, and why return now?

It wasn’t my intention to stay away from game design quite so long. The success of the Prince of Persia franchise launched me on a new screenwriting career and I began a number of projects that have consumed a lot of my attention for the past few years. I love writing screenplays and graphic novels, as well as making games – to me they’re all different ways to create a world and tell a story – but game design has stayed in the back of my mind, and Karateka is the perfect reason to return.

Who is funding Karateka’s development?

The entire development has been funded by angel investors.

Why did you decide to release only on PS3 and Xbox360? Specifically, why did you choose not to target the PC? Do you think there’s merit in targeting platforms like Mac OS X and Linux? Are you considering bringing Karateka to other platforms (not just PC, but mobile platforms as well such as Android, iOS, Windows Phone, PSP, PS Vita, Nintendo DS)?

We haven’t ruled out other platforms, but for now we are focusing on XBLA and PSN. In bringing back Karateka, I wanted to push the visuals and audio to create a beautiful and immersive gameplay experience, and the power of the Xbox360 and PS3 consoles allows us to do this spectacularly within the compact framework of a downloadable game.

Does it surprise you to compare 1987 to today and see how widespread a medium video games has become? Would you have predicted it?

I recently published my old game development journals from the 1980s as a book, “The Making of Prince of Persia.” I’m embarrassed to admit that as late as 1986 during the development of the first Prince of Persia, I still thought that video games might possibly be a fad that could dissipate at any minute. Much as I’d like to forget I said that, I can’t, because I actually wrote it in my journal at the time. So obviously, I didn’t have a crystal ball.

From reading your book you don’t seem like a one-project-at-a-time kind of guy. Do you have another project lined up? Is it a video game?

Thanks for asking! Having been an independent creator for over thirty years now and never had a real job, I’m always in the middle of plenty of projects. I’m still juggling screenwriting for film and TV, games, and graphic novels, often at the same time. I can’t always talk about what I’m doing, but I do try to keep readers posted via my blog at jordanmechner.com and on twitter as @jmechner. So, please stay tuned!

Tags: headline, interview, Jordan Mechner, Karateka, Q&A, remake

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