Karateka – Animated Floppy GIF

If there is one videogame I’m certain that I spent a few hundred hours playing, it’s definitely Karateka on the Commodore 64. Karateka a simple fighter game, which like most games of that time was really hard to complete, as there was no option to ‘save’ and pick up where you left off. The game gives quite an extensive narrative introduction, defining the role of your quest, including this text which rolled in the beginning with this music:

High atop a craggy cliff, guarded by an army of fierce warriors, stands the fortress of the evil warlord Akuma. Deep in the darkest dungeon of the castle, Akuma gloats over his lovely captive, the Princess Mariko.

You are one trained in the way of karate: a Karateka. Alone and unarmed, you must defeat Akuma and rescue the beautiful Mariko.

Put fear and self-concern behind you. Focus your will on your objective, accepting death as a possibility. This is the way of the Karateka.

This kind of narrative foundation was fairly unusual at the time of Dig Dug and Donkey Kong, and even more compelling to me was the minimalist aesthetic that went into Karateka.

The bottom half of the animated GIF shows Princess Mariko being locked up by Akuma. The color palette is restricted to black, white, gray, and the tan of Akuma’s costume. Also, the game was effectively ‘letter-boxed’ into a more cinematic wide-screen format.

So this is not exactly an remixed game cover, but it is in the spirit of that particular assignment. I wanted to give homage to the media of the day, the floppy disk, which allowed me to participate in my first bit of software piracy.

It was common to have dozens of boot-leg games copied to 5 1/4″ floppy disks. Back in the 80s you could rent videogames on floppy disk from video stores, and the only piece of copy protection was a little piece of aluminum foil sticker. It was a bit of craftsman’s work to remove and replace it without leaving behind a hint of your deviant copying behavior.

To create this particular animated GIF, I used this lovely scanned copy of the original C64 Karateka floppy. And to make the animation of the characters, I used an emulator of the C64 for Mac OS X called Power64 and then loaded up a Karateka ROM. The whole culture around rebuilding games from scratch and creating emulators is quite remarkable actually – there’s some real amazing geek efforts to preserve game history.

Once I loaded the game, I used Quicktime to do a screen capture of the intro and some game play. These movies were then opened in Photoshop to do work on the frame-by-frame animation in multiple layers. More to describe about that another time.


9 responses to “Karateka – Animated Floppy GIF”

  1. Jim Groom Avatar

    This is absolutely magical, you nailed this. So brilliant. I ant to try one fro Conan the Brbarian on C64, or Lode Runner,

  2. mbransons Avatar

    Jim and Brian this GIF was definitely a labor of love. Me and my C64 were close friends for a looong time. I see some definite video mashup potential with the emulator, but I’ve got to find a good USB joystick! Keyboard gameplay sucks.

    I miss ‘The Boss.’

    The Boss

  3. Ben Avatar

    I love the description and story of the whole “pirating” process almost more than the artifact you’ve created. I was too young to explore such options, but I was always fascinated by renting games for the NES or Gameboy that included the ability for players to save their game. It was always a mystery of whether a game we rented would have someone else’s saved game on it; their experiences, their collected abilities, and achievements. It was a rare treat when we would find one in which someone had beaten a particularly tough section of a game that we could then use to gain access to portions of a game we had been unable to experience.

  4. Alan Liddell Avatar

    I must have been seven when I played Karateka. We might have had a C64 or we might have had an Apple II at the child care center where I played it, but I have never forgotten it. (It didn’t have any music, or we couldn’t turn the sound up, so this is a first.) This is awesome.

  5. mbransons Avatar

    Ben and Alan youthful gaming stories rule!

  6. […] disks, instead of ROM based cartridges which made it very easy to copy and trade games. I made an homage animated GIF for my favorite game on that platform – […]

  7. Earl Newton Avatar
    Earl Newton

    You might be interested in a mini-documentary that just came out:

    “Making and Remaking Karateka”

    It breaks down how Mechner originally created Karateka, piece by piece.

    1. mbransons Avatar

      Very cool. Thanks for the link. Looking forward to watching.