Top positive review
Reviewed in the United States on June 2, 2013
Why would someone read this? It's the epitomy of geekiness to read a 200 page journal about the making of one of thousands of simple games made for the Apple II between 1982-1986.
Well, for me anyway, The Apple II was one of the most powerful elements of my childhood - I directly credit it with my interest in computers, and ultimately a successful career in computers. Games were a huge part of that. And, as I now understand, the zen-like minimalism and focus on artwork, music and story were a big part of why I loved this game as a kid. It is a great example of restraint and balance in art, even though it's on an underpowered Apple II computer. There were plenty of games at this time (hundreds, if not thousands) and very few showed the attention to detail, and sought a balance between art, gameplay, drama and mood the way Karateka did. The cinematic treatment of the story really does have a huge impact, and sets it apart from all the other games made at the time: the long pauses in some of the music, the slow motion running of the guards as they come to fight you, and actually, the lack of music for most of the game except during transitions are just some of the elements that help accomplish this.
The story of its creation is interesting because Mechner was only 19 at the time he wrote it, he was a "lazy" but intelligent young man bent on success and impressing the world. (I would argue that his self criticism regarding motivation is now better understood as the way a creative mind works - it must be balanced with inspiration and sufficient spaces between 'make' time) He was also a bit of an ego-maniac, balanced with a kind of endearing insecurity, both of which I can relate to. Ultimately, I relate to a lot of Mechner's tendencies, which is why I read til the end. I'm also terribly interested in the creative process he used, and was very curious about how much of what we know and love as Karateka was intentional vs. what ended up being a compromise between his vision, the feedback of others, and technical (and temporal) feasibility. Almost all artistic (and business) creations have this element of compromise, and these stories are always fascinating to me.
The story itself is interesting in how it's interwoven with his work on some other paid programming work, as well as the pop culture narrative of the mid-80's: Risky Business, Krull, Revenge of the Jedi, Dragon's Lair, Asteroids and Pac-man, Gremlins, Raiders, Splash, E.T., Top Secret, Neverending Story, The Last Starfighter (with Dune preview!), Karate Kid, Temple of Doom, and of course Chuck E. Cheese. Amazing how much of what I think of as quintessential 80's culture - culture which probably had more impact on me than anything else - happened precisely within this window while he was working on Karateka.
In the end, what's most interesting to me is the reality behind a success - the often uncertain, insecure, yet driven and focused effort to make a name for yourself and show the world what you can do. To me, this story is ultimately about reassurance - that even the most successful endeavors are rarely the product of 100% focused and confident actions, but instead the result of good creative judgment, intuition, and intense focus, in spite of a great degree of uncertainty about whether you're doing something worthwhile.
My only complaint is that there are lots of references to drawings and some to film, which are not shown, and which I think would have added immeasurably to the story here. There are a few drawings which act as chapter title pages, but otherwise, this is seemingly a straight transcription from his journals, and nothing more. A bit of context/commentary from Mechner or others could have made this much more interesting as well. All that said, however, I enjoyed it, and take it as inspiration and reassurance that you can accomplish great things if you have a strong vision, and move towards it with limited compromise.