Jordan Mechner’s career may not be one of the most extensive in terms of quantity, but it certainly is in influence, especially with Prince of Persia (1989) which today is considered a true classic and one of the fundamental titles to understand the evolution of the video game as a medium. However, long before Prince of Persia hit stores there was Karateka. A game in which Mechner already introduced many of the elements that would characterize his later work (rotoscopy animation or narrative and expository concepts typical of cinema) and that, despite not being nearly as well known by a large part of the public, influenced enormously to an entire generation of video game developers who, years later, would revolutionize the interactive medium (a very young John Romero, for example, wrote a letter to Mechner to praise his work long before turning the world upside down by designing Doom). It is impossible to take any of the great current cinematic games, such as those from Naughty Dog, and not clearly see how a line is drawn back that takes us to Karateka as its precursor.
The interactive documentary The Making of Karateka, in essence, is the logical evolution of the work that Digital Eclipse has been doing since 1992. The studio, founded by Andrew Ayre, has specialized over the last three decades in bringing returning classics to modern platforms, becoming one of the great supporters of digital preservation and one of the unavoidable companies in the retro world. They began making ports (emulated) of some of the first arcade classics, continued producing compilations focused on different companies and platforms and, finally, perfected the formula starting in 2015 with titles such as Mega Man Legacy Collection or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection, in which a huge amount of documentation and extras were added to give greater cohesion and historical context to the selection of games that were included in them.
But the turning point, I think, was last year’s wonderful Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration. In it we found the hallmarks of Digital Eclipse (an excellent emulation of the different platforms and exhaustive documentation work), but we also discovered an ideal presentation method for its content, through a careful interface that organizes all the information and captures the user. player, giving him the tools and incentives to navigate it from top to bottom. The Making of Karateka, however, goes further and is much more than that.
At a structural level, with an intelligent division into chapters and timelines, The Making of Karateka is very similar to Atari 50. It is simple, but tremendously effective; The feeling that it emanates is the same as that of a good book, pushing you to read one more page and continue immersed in its story. The events are narrated accompanied by numerous documentary material, and in a menu you have access to several classic versions of the game (from the original Apple II to the Commodore 64, including the Atari 800), an – excellent – remastered version, playable prototypes and even other games (Asteroid Blaster, Star Blaster and Deathbounce) are essential to understand the development of Karateka. Digital Eclipse’s archival work in collecting information and data, as well as making it digestible, is nothing short of commendable.
But I said a couple of paragraphs above that The Making of Karateka is much more than that. And it is because in it, along with the history lesson, there are also several very human stories, especially that of the relationship between Jordan and his mother. Francis Mechner stands as the other great protagonist in the history of the development of Karateka, and it is impossible not to be moved by seeing the interaction and complicity between father and son; It is extremely interesting and educational, of course, to know the technical and design ins and outs of the creation of such an influential game, but the star of the show, in the end, is something so universal and with which we can all feel identified as an emotional and pure parent-child relationship.
That is the great achievement of The Making of Karateka, that of using the medium itself, relying on the idiosyncratic narrative of the documentary genre to go beyond the simple regurgitation of data, to offer a vision of the most human part behind the creation of a videogame. It is a point of no return, in which this type of works (so necessary for the industry, by the way) will no longer be understood in any other way, and a title that, probably, represents the true birth of the interactive documentary as a genre with entity. own. A marvel, in short, that will also continue to give us joy in 2024, when Digital Eclipse publishes the second volume of its Gold Master Series, this time focused on another incredibly influential genius, but unknown to many players: the legendary Jeff Minter. Of course, they have already sold it to me.