Videogame creator Jordan Mechner has watched as the game industry has come full circle. He used to program games like Prince of Persia and Karateka by himself for devices like Apple II and Commodore 64. As thing evolved, a team of 200 people worked with him on Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time remake for consoles. But the proliferation of tablets and smartphones has once again allowed creative minds to bring new game experiences to the masses without huge budgets and large teams. Mechner, who has returned to game development with a Karateka remake for digital distribution this year, talks about the opportunities tablets provide to game makers in this exclusive interview.
Seamus Blackley recently announced a new retro game initiative, Choplifter was recently remade, and you’re bringing back Karateka, what do you think it is about retro games that we're seeing a resurgence of remakes and reimagining?
These games of our past have become cultural touchstones in much the same way silent films are. Since I made Karateka in 1984, the games industry has evolved in ways I never could have imagined. Who could have foreseen that half the planet would carry gadgets in their pockets that are not only gaming platforms hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than my Apple II, but can also make phone calls? Today's technology has created amazing possibilities that I'm excited to incorporate to breathe new life into this Karateka remake. The story is dear to me, and until now it's had no remakes, sequels or adaptations of any kind.
Do you see similarities, when you look past the big budget console titles, of the early days of small teams or even individuals making games for the burgeoning mobile and tablet games space?
Absolutely. Much like in the early 1980s, an enterprising creator like Notch Peterson can build Minecraft in his home and change the gaming landscape forever. That feeling that we're living in a time of explosive, yet uncertain growth, of not knowing which direction the next big hit will come from, reminds me a lot of the way I felt 30 years ago. It's a great opportunity for innovation and creativity.
What opportunities do you feel that tablets, as a medium, are opening up to creatives like yourself?
Tablet games are tremendously exciting, and there's a lot of overlap with the console digital download space. Games like Limbo and Plants vs. Zombies work well on both. The bottom line is that the gaming world is growing in all directions at once, and the opportunities for creative developers are enormous.
Why did you decide to remake Karateka?
Making the original Karateka was a labor of love. To have so many people embrace it and share their stories of playing it has been really rewarding. I am always surprised to hear how much impact that game had. In remaking Karateka, I want to honor the original game with a compact, pick-up-and-play game that is fluid, atmospheric and beautiful.
Your games have always appealed to a broad audience. Can you talk about the challenges of creating games that can appeal to both the core gamers and the growing mainstream gaming audience that we’re seeing on tablets and other devices?
At a basic level, Karateka is—and always has been—a game that anyone can pick up and play. Like Prince of Persia, it's a classic story of love and heroism, set in a beautiful and exotic world with a rich history, and because of this, it can appeal to a wide variety of players. The challenge for a designer is to keep that simplicity, while also building enough depth and challenge into the game that core gamers will find it worth their time and will feel motivated to keep returning to it and replay it in quest of mastery.
What surprises you about where the game industry is today?
I love it that at this moment, no one knows whether the next big hit will come from a top triple-A studio or from someone working out of their house. Anyone can change the game–so to speak.