Tech Nostalgia: Interactive Classic Video Game Documentaries are Coming to Xbox

Microsoft announced today that Digital Eclipse will release a series of interactive classic video game documentaries on the Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One. The first is about Karateka, a video game that debuted in 1984 on the Apple II.

Note: I recently started a Tech Nostalgia series for Thurrott Premium in which I am documenting key products, events, and personalities from the early days of personal computing. I wasn’t expecting any current news stories to make their way into this series, but this one absolutely qualifies. And because it’s news, I am making it available to everyone, not just Premium subscribers. –Paul

“At Digital Eclipse, we believe classic games should be treated with more respect [and] we’ve tried to chart a new path forward and set the standard for how our industry preserves and enhances the legacy of landmark video games,” Digital Eclipse editorial director Chris Kohler writes in the announcement post on Xbox Wire. “Today, we unveiled the next step in our journey: the Gold Master Series. It’s a new line of independent, self-published games that we think are best described as “interactive documentaries.” Through video, digital artifacts, audio, photos, playable games, and more, Gold Master Series releases will tell the full stories of games that changed the world.”

The first of these interactive documentaries is called The Making of Karateka. It will debut later this year and tell the story of how Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner made major advances with animation, music, and cinematic storytelling in his next title, Karateka. It will include excerpts from Mechner’s college journals, galleries of his design documents, and all-new video interviews.

Of course, these new interactive documentaries will also allow you to play Karateka, and not just various finished versions of the game, but also several unfinished prototypes, which sounds interesting.

“You’ll be able to save and load your games anywhere, use Rewind to get out of sub-optimal situations, and choose from a variety of authentic borders and screen filters,” Kohler says. “Our signature Watch Mode lets you view a playthrough of the game, then jump in at any time and start playing. In The Making of Karateka, we’re expanding on Watch Mode by adding a chapter select function that lets you jump immediately to key gameplay moments, as well as a commentary track from both Jordan and [his father, who provided key inspirations for the game].”

The Making of Karateka will also include Karateka Remastered, a new version of the original game with updated graphics, music, and gameplay that includes an optional commentary track from Digital Eclipse president Mike Mika. There are also original and remastered versions of Deathbounce, an abandoned arcade-style shooter that Mechner created before moving on to Karateka. This is the first time that game has ever been published.

I cannot wait to experience this.

In the meantime, you may be interested to know that Jordan Mechner has written a book, The Making of Karateka: Journals 1982-1985, that covers this topic in print form, and a related book, The Making of Prince of Persia: Journals 1985 – 1993, that covers his other incredibly popular game title. I own the Karateka book and was intending to write about the game (or both games) as part of the Tech Nostalgia series (and will almost certainly still do so).

And if you can’t wait to get started with Karateka, Mr. Mechner released an updated version of the game to Steam about 10 years ago, plus ports of the classic original, called Karateka Classic, to both iPhone/iPad and Android.

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