The Making Of: IK+
Developer: Archer Maclean
IK+’s addition of a third combatant was a masterstroke. The likes of Way Of The Exploding Fist and the C64 version of International Karate (but not the risible Spectrum release, with which Archer Maclean had no involvement) had already explored the possibilities inherent in one-on-one bouts on the hardware of the time. Maclean’s third fighter gave IK+ an entirely different feel: chaotic, fraught, a pace that made its peers seem pedestrian by comparison.
“Was the three-player concept present from the start?” echoes Maclean today. “Yeah, absolutely. I had the idea at the back end of the IK1 development. I wanted to introduce the third player because it meant it was a free-for-all melee: one player against two computer players, two players against each other and a computer player, or two players against a computer player – you were given the choice to cooperate.”
The joy of IK+ was its repertoire of moves, some of which were far more ambitious than other fighting games of the time. “One of my favourites is the headbutt, because it’s quick – there are two frames of animation – and the speed is pretty spot on,” says Maclean. “Another, and it was spectacular if you got it right, was the double face kick. It was actually inspired by Jackie Chan in The Cannonball Run. There’s one point where he’s having a fight with two bikers, and he suddenly jumps up and cracks both of them in the face at the same time. It’s very, very impressive – and apparently it was real, he really did break one guy’s jaw. I just looked at it and thought, wow, I’ve got to have that, and then spent ages trying to draw it.”
Although he has no formal artistic training, Maclean was responsible for all of IK+’s visuals. “I’ve always been able to draw or animate cartoons, although it’s often a very painstaking process,” he admits. “There were loads of karate games around at the time, Karate Champ, Fist – which was a big favourite of mine – and a lot of them featured the same sort of moves. I wanted to do something that was different.
“Now, to do something like the backflip – which hadn’t been put in a game before – I tried all sorts of things. One was just drawing it, but I couldn’t get the flow of it right. Then I went out and bought a video camera, and filmed myself jumping around. That didn’t work, either. I looked at hundreds of cartoons, karate films, all kinds of movies, looking for these moves I wanted. One was the backflip – I wanted it to be a way of quickly escaping or moving from one point to another faster than walking. Now, to get this, I needed footage.
“One afternoon I happened to be watching Grease with my girlfriend. At the very end of it there’s a fairground scene… and in the background, sideways on, there’s a guy doing a backflip. I watched it over and over and over, and said: that’s it! A real person, doing a proper backflip. It was perfect.”
Equipped with an expensive video recorder with a suitably static pause function, Maclean performed minor surgery on his television, opening and adjusting it in order to vertically ‘stretch’ the figure to the size he required for IK+. “I then placed a piece of cellophane over the TV, froze the frame, then drew an outline around it with a pen,” he reveals. “I’d advance it by around two frames then draw the next piece of animation. I did dozens. I then took the cellophane and put it over my computer screen, painstakingly recreating each image in pixels. That then formed the primitive ‘motion capture’ which gave me the speed of body movement through the air in realtime. That’s how I did it.”