Making of Karateka (Book)

Tell us about games you are currently playing. "Quick hit" reviews.
User avatar
scotland
Posts: 1946
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:33 pm

Making of Karateka (Book)

Postby scotland » April 21st, 2015, 10:36 pm

I will make a 'Reader Review' when I can structure my thoughts, but just finished this book today. I am going with this forum for quick impressions, but maybe the two forums could be merged?

The book is a series of excerpts from the developers journals on making Karateka for the Apple II while in college. Its neat to follow the warring passions and duties of a young movie fan, such as his love of classical music, movies, video games for hire, video games as creative outlet, classes and money all working sometimes together, sometimes in conflict. People....billions of us and how amazing each of us are, and how little we can invest in knowing people around us.

Two quick takeaways. 1) He wrote the game was 99.99% done at one point which turned out to be the halfway point in terms of time left working on the game. That is sobering. 2) Early in the book, in 1982, he wrote how he had become disillusioned with arcade games in that losing a man or spaceship was impersonal, with no sense of connection. I still get mad losing a ball in pinball, but I get what he meant.

Reading this has gotten me playing Karateka again. I have played multiple ports, but I want to see if the Atari 7800 port (which Dave ripped apart) is better with a joypad. I may have to buy a joypad or try a SMS joypad mod. As far as I know there was no NES port, just a famicom port. One of those Nintendo mysteries of life, like why his name is Mario Mario and why that guy from Sha-na-na keeps kidnapping Miss Georgia.

Sut
Posts: 607
Joined: April 8th, 2015, 4:23 pm

Re: Making of Karateka (Book)

Postby Sut » April 22nd, 2015, 4:55 am

I'm enjoying your book thoughts, can't say I've ever given much time to Karateka. Might be worth another look.

I'm still reading Console Wars which has some really interesting parts and a lot of filler, but overall is an enjoyable read. Probably more so if your a Sega fan.

User avatar
scotland
Posts: 1946
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:33 pm

Re: Making of Karateka (Book)

Postby scotland » April 24th, 2015, 9:36 am

Guess I'll conclude my thoughts on this book here. My kindle battery is no longer charging...that never happened to paperbacks.

This book is a quick read as its just diary entries without being fleshed out. It starts as Mechner begins college (and how he stayed in college without doing any work is either a testament to his brilliance, or Yale's willingness to look the other way as long as the tuition keeps on coming).

It begins with his working on a game called "Deathbounce", a sort of bouncy Asteroids kind of game, which he never finishes. Later he gets the idea for a karate game, and it becomes a passion. Along the way, he makes good money creating an application for a client, so its a war between taking the easy money doing dull business work, or working on his own project hoping it makes money one day. He also pursues light coursework instead of computer course work, as why being in some terminal room doing mook work when he could be home doing his own code.

One thing about karateka, developed from 1983 to 1985, is it seems to be the limit of a what a single programmer could achieve. If you think of homebrews, they are mostly of this generation or before. Even here, it took other people to create artwork, advertising, capital for production, playtesting, etc. In the end, he only got a 15% cut of the game from Broderbund -and he was a freelancer with a fantastic program! (Earlier games like Choplifter were also free lance jobs, but got a slightly higher percentage). I think this did include a cut from the Commodore port that he really only assisted with coding, but again, it was his game.

At one point the home consoles crash, and people talk about there not being a future as a game maker. It was also a time when both Atari and Apple were held up as examplars of the new age of business. Reminder that no matter what company is on top today, times change. Todays Samsung could be tomorrows Atari, who knows.

Even at this time, female friends questioned why the hero is saving a princess - why not a little brother or something less sexist. Mechner was also a big film buff, and being cinematic was a major aim. He wanted to have a game we cared about losing, not just losing our quarter. Witness the setting, the cliff, the little vignettes of sending out the guards - those little cut scenes add to an otherwise pretty static game. The inspiration to film a karate instructor and then paint in those to his program were great, but so much work after that inspiration. He also was constantly worried someone would beat him to the punch with his idea, and indeed, other karate games were in the works.

The game also went through a process of both added features (adding in the villain's eagle as an antagonist, adding in Mt Fuji, more levels, easy first opponent and gradually increasing difficulty) and a process of culling features (the fighting gameplay was originally far more complicated, with multiple kinds of kicks and punches, Mt Fuji was going to erupt at the end, etc). As games get more complicated, its interesting to see simplicity being heralded as a virtue. (Which speaks to me, as I like cart racing games but not all the powerups and whirling turtle shells - just race!)

So, this is a fun read, but really only at the margins of being called a book - its more source material for a book. People enter and exit without comment, or things are mentioned without any clarity, as its just a diary. You can feel the connection of the author and his father coming through. Its also interesting to see a person drawn into their hobby in a really transformative way, like finding their bliss kind of thing. Makes you realize their might be, say people who slack at work or school but in other settings are real dynamos.

Have to play more Karateka this weekend if I can.

BlasteroidAli
Posts: 317
Joined: April 9th, 2015, 7:50 pm

Re: Making of Karateka (Book)

Postby BlasteroidAli » April 25th, 2015, 8:47 am

Have only played the dreadful 7800 version I am not sure that this book is for me. I hated it and am happy not to remember this piece of trash. Though I am glad you enjoyed the book.

The 7800 was shuffle shuffle death... or at least it was for me.

User avatar
scotland
Posts: 1946
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:33 pm

Re: Making of Karateka (Book)

Postby scotland » April 25th, 2015, 7:22 pm

BlasteroidAli wrote:Have only played the dreadful 7800 version I am not sure that this book is for me. I hated it and am happy not to remember this piece of trash. Though I am glad you enjoyed the book. The 7800 was shuffle shuffle death... or at least it was for me.


I understand completely. It wasn't you...its was that proline controller.

The mid 80s was a time though when ports between consoles and computers varied a lot. The original Karateka game was crafted for the Apple II, and ported to the Commodore 64. It used the keyboard for input. The Atari ST version is graphically stunning really. Not sure when that was made, but it looks like a TG-16 game.

The famicom version is graphically pathetic, but at least the joypad of the famicom is pretty good and game is playable. Kinda like what Space Invaders is on the 2600 compared to the coin op. They are both playable, and recognizable as the same game, but wow, what a difference. I can get pretty far in the famicom game with the joypad, so I'm guessing it just a real 2nd rate port and the famicom capable of more than that.

The Atari 7800 games seems graphically far better than the famicom one, but subpar to any of the 8 bit computers...but that proline controller is like swimming with concrete lifevest on. Its just awful. What happened to the Atari R&D for controllers - the 5200, the 7800 proline, the jag phone pad. The sad part is that I sought out Karateka for my 7800, having loved it so from the 8 bit computers. I may have to get a joypad for the 7800 just to see if its any better.

Has anyone played the 7800 version with the European joypad or a converted NES/SMS controller?

When games have ports on both the 8 bit computers and 8 bit consoles, often one or the other is demonstrably better. For Karateka, the 8 bit computer game is better, while its Broderbund cousin, Choplifter, got a better (much better) 8 bit console port in the SMS than its native Apple. Its like if you had a slob twin, or a 2nd rate transporter accident evil duplicate, going around and ruining your reputation.

BlasteroidAli
Posts: 317
Joined: April 9th, 2015, 7:50 pm

Re: Making of Karateka (Book)

Postby BlasteroidAli » May 3rd, 2015, 3:12 pm

I played it with the euro joy pad and it was ... guess what ... shuffle shuffle death... dreadful game on the 7800.

BlasteroidAli
Posts: 317
Joined: April 9th, 2015, 7:50 pm

Re: Making of Karateka (Book)

Postby BlasteroidAli » May 3rd, 2015, 5:48 pm

scotland wrote:
BlasteroidAli wrote:I played it with the euro joy pad and it was ... guess what ... shuffle shuffle death... dreadful game on the 7800.


Thank you. I was considering the investment in a joy pad or converted other system joy pad...but I'll take your word and keep my money.

It is great for Ikari warriors. Actually it is a great joypad but it is just not great for Karateka.


Return to “Now Playing”