The story of Karateka’s decades-old Easter egg

Mechner developed Karateka while still a student at Yale University, and with the help of publisher Broderbund, launched it at the tail end of 1984 on the Apple II. What you may not know is that it features what some consider the greatest Easter egg of all time.

Jordan Mechner is arguably best known for creating Prince of Persia, but before starting work on the 1989 classic, he cut his teeth on a martial arts action game called Karateka.

As the story goes, one of the programmers working on the game’s copy protection mechanism realized that by tinkering with the bit table, the whole game could be played upside down. “We thought it would be hilarious if we burned the flipped version of the game to the other side of the disk,” Mechner revealed during a Q&A session at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2008.

“We figured of all the people who buy the game, a couple of them would accidentally put the floppy in upside down,” he continued. “That way, when that person calls tech support, that tech support rep would once in blue moon have the sublime joy of saying, ‘Well sir, you put the disk in upside down,’ and that person would think for the rest of their life that’s how software works.”

The team didn’t think the executives at Broderbund would go for the gag, since implementing it would require an assembly line change. But surprisingly enough, they were receptive to it and gave them the green light.

When the game dropped, it did indeed feature the Easter egg. Over the years, gamers would slowly discover the gag and eventually, it became more widely shared thanks to the Internet.

If you haven’t seen it, YouTuber Geek With Social Skills recently shared a video of it in action that’s worth a look. Just imagine the sort of reaction you’d get if you “discovered” this on your own. Great stuff.