He Forgot About Video Games, But Games Found Him

Posted by patrickklepek (3389 posts) -

Like so many of us, when Adam Lisagor was a kid, he was into karate movies. Naturally, he also learned karate. There was no game console in his parents' house, but there was a computer. So when his sister needed to buy him a gift in 1984, she bought a copy of Jordan Mechner’s Karateka for the Apple ][ from Egghead Software.

“I was playing games, then, but only in the way that any kid was playing games,” he told me.

Lisagor forces a smile during a black belt exam.

28 years later, life would come full circle, and Lisagor would find himself on a film set directing a commercial for a Karateka remake through his video production company Sandwich Video.

Games did not follow Lisagor much past Karateka, though he did play Mechner’s Prince of Persia, as well. As did millions of others, he bought a Wii to play the latest Mario games, but that’s about it. Games just weren’t his thing. But he was mesmerized by Karateka, taken by a cinematic flair not present in most other video games.

Lisagor and his friend, screenwriter and frequent Tim Burton collaborator John August were looking for a reason to work on a project together. August was working with Mechner on bringing Karateka to life again, pursuing independent financing and development, rather than working with a publisher.

The first Lisagor heard about the project came through a mysterious t-shirt in the mail with the game’s hero trying to take down a hawk. Anybody who’s played Karateka knows all about that damn hawk. Lisagor was immediately on board, even if he’d completely forgotten the name Jordan Mechner.

“The name was really familiar to me because I’d seen it on, first, my Apple ][ screen and the Mac screen in the early 90s when I was playing Prince of Persia,” he said. “So I knew he was a guy, and he was a legendary game creator. I looked him up on Wikipedia, and, then, things started making sense.”

Besides his personal love of Mechner’s games, Lisagor also harbored a secret fantasy.

“In the back of my mind, it’s always been a fantasy to make a martial arts movie,” he said.

The commercial Lisagor shot with Mechner, which combines the real world with the newly updated character models from the Karateka remake, scratched that itch. Before the commercial came together, though, Mechner invited Lisagor to visit Liquid Entertainment, the studio that was actually building the game. Lisagor has a policy of trying out the products he creates videos for, and a game was no exception to that rule.

Mechner asked Lisagor to sit down and play an early version of the game.

“At the very beginning of the meeting, he said ‘here’s the game, play it.’” said Lisagor. “It was really weird because I’m not comfortable with a game controller at all. I just sat down and started playing. But it was really fun to play. [...] He just watched me play for 15, 20 minutes to see if I could figure it out on my own without a primer or anything.”

He figured it out. Unlike 1999’s Prince of Persia, 2012’s Karteka is not a total reinvention of Karateka’s base mechanics. Anyone familiar with the original will have no trouble sliding back in, even if the hawk still eludes them.

Of course, I had to ask about the biggest point of contention with Karateka, both past and present: pronouncing the game’s name. ka-RA-teh-ka? kare-uh-TAY-ka? Mechner pronounces it the latter, but it should be the former.

“From the first time I met Jordan, which was eight months ago, [and] we started talking about the game, it’s just like nails on a chalkboard to hear him say the name,” he said. “It’s so funny. [laughs] Anybody who ever talks to him about it takes issue with how he says the name, and he always acts like it’s the first time he’s ever heard pronounced differently.”

In the commercial, the Japanese actor featured at the start pronounces it as KA-ra-TEH-kah.

“I love that he’s [Mechner’s] so insistent on that, but he’s a really nice guy,” he said. “He doesn’t get belligerent about it. [laughs] Maybe this is an east coast thing, but you often hear people just owning their mispronunciations of different words. ‘No, that’s just how it’s pronounced, it’s how I say it!’ I remember first hearing someone saying May-rio brothers, and cringing.”

Karateka’s revival was released on Xbox Live Arcade this week, and will be available elsewhere, including iOS, soon. The whole process hasn’t brought Lisagor back into the gaming fold, though he expects that will change soon.

“My career, my livelihood, is all based in this linear, cinematic format, which has a language that’s been developed over the past century or more,” he said. “What I’m looking for is for the medium of cinema and the medium of video games to approach each other in a way that’s more meaningful to me. Partially, it’s out of my own lack of time and resources and curiosity that I haven’t quite found it, but probably it’s because the medium is not quite there yet. [...] Eventually, it is going to be--it’s going to far surpass what cinema ever has become.”

Staff
#1 Posted by patrickklepek (3389 posts) -

Like so many of us, when Adam Lisagor was a kid, he was into karate movies. Naturally, he also learned karate. There was no game console in his parents' house, but there was a computer. So when his sister needed to buy him a gift in 1984, she bought a copy of Jordan Mechner’s Karateka for the Apple ][ from Egghead Software.

“I was playing games, then, but only in the way that any kid was playing games,” he told me.

Lisagor forces a smile during a black belt exam.

28 years later, life would come full circle, and Lisagor would find himself on a film set directing a commercial for a Karateka remake through his video production company Sandwich Video.

Games did not follow Lisagor much past Karateka, though he did play Mechner’s Prince of Persia, as well. As did millions of others, he bought a Wii to play the latest Mario games, but that’s about it. Games just weren’t his thing. But he was mesmerized by Karateka, taken by a cinematic flair not present in most other video games.

Lisagor and his friend, screenwriter and frequent Tim Burton collaborator John August were looking for a reason to work on a project together. August was working with Mechner on bringing Karateka to life again, pursuing independent financing and development, rather than working with a publisher.

The first Lisagor heard about the project came through a mysterious t-shirt in the mail with the game’s hero trying to take down a hawk. Anybody who’s played Karateka knows all about that damn hawk. Lisagor was immediately on board, even if he’d completely forgotten the name Jordan Mechner.

“The name was really familiar to me because I’d seen it on, first, my Apple ][ screen and the Mac screen in the early 90s when I was playing Prince of Persia,” he said. “So I knew he was a guy, and he was a legendary game creator. I looked him up on Wikipedia, and, then, things started making sense.”

Besides his personal love of Mechner’s games, Lisagor also harbored a secret fantasy.

“In the back of my mind, it’s always been a fantasy to make a martial arts movie,” he said.

The commercial Lisagor shot with Mechner, which combines the real world with the newly updated character models from the Karateka remake, scratched that itch. Before the commercial came together, though, Mechner invited Lisagor to visit Liquid Entertainment, the studio that was actually building the game. Lisagor has a policy of trying out the products he creates videos for, and a game was no exception to that rule.

Mechner asked Lisagor to sit down and play an early version of the game.

“At the very beginning of the meeting, he said ‘here’s the game, play it.’” said Lisagor. “It was really weird because I’m not comfortable with a game controller at all. I just sat down and started playing. But it was really fun to play. [...] He just watched me play for 15, 20 minutes to see if I could figure it out on my own without a primer or anything.”

He figured it out. Unlike 1999’s Prince of Persia, 2012’s Karteka is not a total reinvention of Karateka’s base mechanics. Anyone familiar with the original will have no trouble sliding back in, even if the hawk still eludes them.

Of course, I had to ask about the biggest point of contention with Karateka, both past and present: pronouncing the game’s name. ka-RA-teh-ka? kare-uh-TAY-ka? Mechner pronounces it the latter, but it should be the former.

“From the first time I met Jordan, which was eight months ago, [and] we started talking about the game, it’s just like nails on a chalkboard to hear him say the name,” he said. “It’s so funny. [laughs] Anybody who ever talks to him about it takes issue with how he says the name, and he always acts like it’s the first time he’s ever heard pronounced differently.”

In the commercial, the Japanese actor featured at the start pronounces it as KA-ra-TEH-kah.

“I love that he’s [Mechner’s] so insistent on that, but he’s a really nice guy,” he said. “He doesn’t get belligerent about it. [laughs] Maybe this is an east coast thing, but you often hear people just owning their mispronunciations of different words. ‘No, that’s just how it’s pronounced, it’s how I say it!’ I remember first hearing someone saying May-rio brothers, and cringing.”

Karateka’s revival was released on Xbox Live Arcade this week, and will be available elsewhere, including iOS, soon. The whole process hasn’t brought Lisagor back into the gaming fold, though he expects that will change soon.

“My career, my livelihood, is all based in this linear, cinematic format, which has a language that’s been developed over the past century or more,” he said. “What I’m looking for is for the medium of cinema and the medium of video games to approach each other in a way that’s more meaningful to me. Partially, it’s out of my own lack of time and resources and curiosity that I haven’t quite found it, but probably it’s because the medium is not quite there yet. [...] Eventually, it is going to be--it’s going to far surpass what cinema ever has become.”

Staff
#2 Posted by Grissefar (2842 posts) -

wow thanks for the article

#3 Posted by Tomzombie (396 posts) -

Always punch the hawk.

#4 Posted by SharkMan (617 posts) -

a better way to know how to pronounce it is to say it sounds like "erotica."

#5 Posted by Hamst3r (4435 posts) -

1:11 - for Mechner's pronunciation:

#6 Posted by EpicVandal (74 posts) -
Games did not follow Lisagor much past Karteka

I think you meant to spell Karateka, unless this is some kart game that is unknown to us? Actually that'd be a cool name for a kart game... someone needs to make that happen

#7 Posted by johnLongview (133 posts) -

Great article, Patrick! Huge fan of Adam and Sandwich Video, and I was surprised/stoked to hear of his working on this ad.

#8 Posted by alibson (165 posts) -

KA-ra-TEH-kah? Kara-TEH-ka?

I always find it funny when Americans try to transcribe words into their fake syllables.

Hey guess what, it's pronounced "karateka".

#9 Posted by EarlessShrimp (1631 posts) -

@alibson: oh you mean it's pronounced more like "karateka" than "karateka"?! Oh man thanks duder.

#10 Posted by RenMcKormack (1071 posts) -

@alibson: what?

#11 Posted by Foggen (832 posts) -

Everything about this would be just delightful if the new game weren't a crushing disappointment.

#12 Posted by RenMcKormack (1071 posts) -

I think the new game is pretty ballsy by being spiritually the same exact thing as the original. Run right fight bros. Although some of the animation in the new game looks wonky. Like the monk just doing handstands all the time.

#13 Posted by mnzy (2911 posts) -

@alibson said:

KA-ra-TEH-kah? Kara-TEH-ka?

I always find it funny when Americans try to transcribe words into their fake syllables.

Hey guess what, it's pronounced "karateka".

Hey guess what, you should've said "空手家", if you're going that route. Everything else is derived from that and thus your insult was pretty dumb.

#14 Posted by Vampir (129 posts) -

Just pronounce it like the man in the commercial and everything will be cool.

#15 Edited by mrplaid (26 posts) -

Adam is a hilarious individual. His podcast that he does with Merlin Mann and Scott Simpson, You Look Nice Today (http://youlooknicetoday.com/) is essential listening.

#16 Posted by Murdoc_ (291 posts) -

@RenMcKormack: Only in video games can you be ballsy by doing the exact same thing you did 20 years ago.

What a creative renaissance we live in.

#17 Posted by Sharpless (457 posts) -

Holy shit. I love Adam Lisagor. I'm a big fan of the podcast mentioned. It's surreal to see these two streams of interest crossing. I had to double- and triple-check to make sure it was the same Adam Lisagor.

#18 Posted by Jazzycola (662 posts) -

I don't really get the point of this article. It's not really giving any insight into game development or people behind it.Sure there's a lot of people that are working on games that they used play. Nothings really explored apart from that. Maybe I don't get why I'm supposed to care about his one instance of "hey I used to play that and now I'm making it". Also, snickered at the article title (it's so dumb).

#19 Posted by JoelTGM (5596 posts) -

lol

#20 Posted by leejunfan83 (948 posts) -

@Foggen: I sadly agree

#21 Posted by bvilleneuve (265 posts) -

I can't wait to hear them talk about this on You Look Nice Today.

#22 Posted by RenMcKormack (1071 posts) -

@Murdoc_: watch the QL. It captures the idea of a 20 year old game not only in gameplay but in tone. Its more impressive than what I think your comment is getting at.

#23 Posted by paulunga (1903 posts) -

I've heard it pronounced as "Kara-tea-kah" before, by a German guy, no less. The German pronunciation for that word is actually pretty close to the original but he insisted on this weird English abomination.

#24 Posted by Pimpsandwich (72 posts) -

@alibson said:

KA-ra-TEH-kah? Kara-TEH-ka?

I always find it funny when Americans try to transcribe words into their fake syllables.

Hey guess what, it's pronounced "karateka".

Yeah, because all other syllables but the american ones are totally fine, but fuck the english language.

Get over yourself.

#25 Posted by theanticitizen (254 posts) -

I stopped when the article said "28 years later" lol

#26 Posted by PulledaBrad (612 posts) -

Man, when the fuck did Karateka become a video game touchstone?

#27 Posted by Macar0niN00dle (7 posts) -

Adam Lisagor is a really nice, cool, and hilarious video production guy; just like good old Vinny Caravella. If you haven't heard Adam's podcast "You Look Nice Today," you should definitely check it out. It's super funny.

#28 Posted by RobinOttens (33 posts) -

Cool article, thanks!

#29 Posted by robobigfoot (15 posts) -

everybody do the fishstick.

#30 Posted by jeffrud (382 posts) -

Based on the Quick Look Vinny and Ryan did, this re-release has its heart in the right place. The commercial, though, is stellar. Add a neat back story for the commercial's creator, and I'm actually interested in grabbing this in the future. I like these score attack bits anyway.

#31 Posted by Binarynova (150 posts) -

So now that I've watched the game all the way through... I'm wondering if there's a reason to buy this. lol

#32 Posted by alpha_rudy@hotmail.com (24 posts) -

"You look nice today"- look up adam's podcast with a couple other funny guys

#33 Posted by GlenTennis (3144 posts) -

Like most other people in here I had no idea Adam of YLNT was involved in this, which makes it awesome. It also made me go check and realize two more episodes of YLNT have been out since I wasn't subscribed any more.

#34 Posted by McGhee (6094 posts) -

that game looks . . . kind of bad

#35 Posted by Pezen (1546 posts) -

I'm curious about that play he wrote.. great trailer, and the game seems decent from the trial I played.

#36 Posted by aacx97 (50 posts) -

Am I supposed to represent II as ][ now?

#37 Posted by Diabetic_Vampire (3 posts) -

Great article, hope to see more like this.. Nice to hear more about the mindset of people who make games,

#38 Posted by oppai2 (55 posts) -

I have to admit I don't understand what all the fuss is about. The way the actor pronounces it is the Japanese way. Though I have also been doing Karate and making a living speaking the language I feel that butchering foreign words is simply part and parcel of any language. All peoples couldn't care less about the correct pronounciation of loan words and Japanese are among the worst offenders...so who cares? I do remember playing the game though. I personally sank much more money in a Karate champ cabinet.

#39 Posted by BisonHero (6047 posts) -

@Murdoc_ said:

@RenMcKormack: Only in video games can you be ballsy by doing the exact same thing you did 20 years ago.

What a creative renaissance we live in.

I assume RenMcKormack meant it was ballsy in the cocky, bad sense, as in "Wow, making a super old-fashioned game that doesn't connect with modern audiences at all takes some cajones".

#40 Posted by Psychohead (139 posts) -

People tripping over Japanese always bemuses me, because it's really not as hard as it looks. The thing to keep in mind is that the way we romanize Japanese, it's completely phonetic. It doesn't get tricky like when we romanize Chinese and suddenly X is pronounced like an S.

A's are always an "ah" sound, as in "spa." E's are always an "ey" sound, as in "hey." Ka. Ra. Te. Ka.

But then, once upon a time, I was a small child who called a certain Koei strategy game on the NES "Nombunga's Ambition." So, heh, I sympathize.

#41 Posted by Sooty (8082 posts) -

I don't know why you're putting a H in because that's not how it sounds, a H would make it sound too strong. It's more like the te in television.

Ka-ra-te-ka.

#42 Posted by Helm (1 posts) -

It amazes me that the martial arts on display in the new Karateka look like variations on Kung Fu and not... well, you know, Karate. Like the original game.

The remake would be fine if it had a deep fighting system of some kind (not necessarily street fighter-esque). But it doesn't.

#43 Posted by cassus (333 posts) -

"...--it’s going to far surpass what cinema ever has become.”

This is a line I hear time and again, and I just don't see why it's become such a cliche. Video games have surpassed cinema in most respects ages ago. Games have longer more intricate stories. You have a say in the outfall of the story in many cases. You actually control the character of the story.. etc.. Even art direction between movies and games are basically tied at this point. The stuff that movies still have over games is that movies are movies.. And games really REALLY don't want to be movies.. $60 for a really tight 2 hour game would be ridiculous. Sure, I'd like to try something like that, but I do not want that to become a trend.

Games these days are trying too hard to prove themselves as something spectacular. What you get is the Bruckheimer flavor of spectacular, but what you'd want is something like the Coen brothers or Kubrick. Or, you know, just continue being games with awesome gameplay rather than spending all your time on story and whatnot.. Cause books beat the crap out of both games and movies in that respect. Always have, always will.

#44 Posted by LegendaryChopChop (1169 posts) -

Great article, it's a shame the re-release was so bad.

#45 Posted by saso777 (9 posts) -

Great article.Adam Lisagor is a great person.

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