ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

A Karateka Korrection —

One piece of trivia did come up during Comic-Con I should probably hasten to mention, as it clarifies a theory/rumor I gave to a lot of other people about 10 years ago.

There was a game released for the Apple II and many other platforms in the early 1980s called Karateka. It was written by Jordan Mechner, who was the brother of one of my friends in high school, David Mechner. I wrote about David previously.

Karateka had this really neat feature on the Apple II: If you put the floppy disk in upside down (label-side down) the game would be upside down on the screen. It would work the same way, but just be completely upside-down. One of the effects of this would be that people would call Broderbund, the manufacturer, and say the game was upside-down, and they could tell them to ‘flip the disk over”.

I had heard a rumor in school (this was the same school that Jordan and David had attended) that Karateka had another feature: Once in 100,000 times, the mountain in the background of a lot of the game would explode, like a volcano. The idea being that, ultimately, some kid would be playing Karateka, have this happen, tell all his friends, and then never be able to prove it again. It’s a delicious little idea, and I mentioned it, with lots of caveats, at my first speech at DEFCON in 1999.

At the Comic-Con panels, there was one held with Jordan talking a little about the Prince of Persia comic book and movie and other projects. I took this time to ask him definitively if this volcano rumor was true, and he has definitively said that it is not true, but the disk flip story is true. So there you have it.

(By the way, Jordan Mechner’s mainstream fame comes from the Prince of Persia series, but he released a game in 1997 called The Last Express. If you’re a fan of adventure games of the Myst variety, you are truly missing out if you don’t try the game out or at least watch some gameplay.)

It pays to go right to the source.

Categorised as: computer history

Comments are disabled on this post


  1. Andy says:

    The Last Express and Prince of Persia (original and the remakes) are out of print, but available on Gametap. Convenient, if you’re already a subscriber.

  2. Flack says:

    I had never heard the volcano rumor before, but I had heard (and personally seen) the “upside down” version of Karateka. Unfortunately it’s only included on the Apple II version; the C64 version of Karateka has, I believe, the Atari version on the flipside. (Two games, one disk.)

  3. Peter Ferrie says:

    There’s a cracked version of the Apple II Karateka, which is also “flipped”.
    It’s animated, but I have one of the pictures here: