The Mortal Kombat series is, like last year's successful launch of Street Fighter IV, taking the series closer to its roots, with a new game in the franchise titled simply Mortal Kombat. Rooted in contemporary technology, it's most deeply influenced by classic gameplay taken from the first three iterations of the franchise -- which were released to arcades between 1992 and 1995.
Here, Ed Boon, who's been at the center of the fighting franchise since it got its start, talks about the current state of the genre, and both why and how his team has chosen to tackle the concept of rebooting the series into something retro -- while keeping both casual players and hardcore franchise fans in mind.
He also touches on how the transition from the bankrupt Midway to Warner Bros. went for a studio forced to develop a game in "the eye of a storm" of a company going off the rails.
You guys seem to be angling this new Mortal Kombat as a revival, or reinvention, of the franchise. It's been around for so long; at this point, what's the essence of Mortal Kombat? What are you telling your team, and what are you all trying to recapture with this new one?
Ed Boon: You know, I think it hasn't really been that long since the last MK game came out. It's only been like two years, so from that respect, it's not like a reboot like we've seen... like when Tomb Raider went away for a long time, or Street Fighter, Twisted Metal, and all that. Those games had a long absence.
But from our perspective, the last game we did [Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe] was probably the biggest departure for MK. It was the first T-rated MK game, and we added characters that had never been in a MK game, with DC -- you know, Batman, and Superman, and all that.
So from that standpoint, we just heard a lot of feedback asking, "Is the next game going to be back to an M-rated presentation," and, you know, "traditional" MK? So we really felt that now is just a really great time to explore a reboot of sorts.
You know, we've actually kind of rebooted the presentation and the fighting and all that a couple of times in the past. With Deadly Alliance, in 2002, we did. And so we just really felt like, along with the post-MK vs. DC T-rated thing, and the fact that we haven't rebooted our whole presentation and fighting mechanic in awhile, it was just the perfect time for all that to happen.
I played [MK vs. DC] and it was fun, but there was always the question of whether the series would return to its M-rated roots.
EB: Oh yeah, absolutely. Especially coming from a game that was almost instrumental in defining what an M-rated game was -- just sparking the whole argument that ratings are necessary, which they are. So it's ironic, it's like making a G-rated Halloween movie...
So from that standpoint, yeah, it did really well, but at the same time, it created a great opportunity for us, because it gave us a break in terms of a period of time which there hasn't been an M-rated Mortal Kombat, and created this hunger for a return.
So I guess that I really feel like the planets are aligned, and in so many ways; it's the first M-rated MK on this generation of consoles, our last game was a T-rated game... You know, there certainly is a resurgence of games returning to their classic form; Street Fighter, Sonic the Hedgehog, now the more recent Twisted Metal, and there's just a good amount of this trend that's happening.
Are developers recognizing -- about the gamers that grew up in the early '90s playing Mortal Kombat -- "Hey, these people are in their 20s or 30s now, and let's capitalize on that"?
EB: Well, that's certainly one of the elements that's being tapped, I guess. Because we just had the E3 show and, you know, I can't tell you how many people that I spoke with volunteered their own stories of, you know, "Oh, this reminds me so much of when I used to go to the Pizza Hut down the street to play Mortal Kombat" or "I used to go to the bowling alley and did this" or "I used to go to the arcade".
You know, everybody has their memory of first seeing the game and their reaction and all that stuff, and I think it's striking that nostalgic nerve in a lot of people. But, at the same time, it's still state of the art presentation -- our presentation is 3D and our graphics engine is the best that we've had. But it's presenting a more classic game mechanic -- that 2D fighting plane, and all that. And that's what I think is triggering those memories.
In the early '90s, when it came out, MK was it was so graphic and shocking to some people just because they were used to Mario and Sonic and all that. But now, the biggest games are M-rated, and they're violent. Is violence in the new MK there simply to satisfy the violence aspect of the franchise? If you could, would you want to recreate the kind of controversy that you did back in the '90s, with the original?
EB: No, that certainly isn't a goal of ours. It's funny, if you look at Mortal Kombat 1 -- if you were to look at it again now, it's almost funny how archaic the graphics are, but at the time it was state of the art.
So we don't think it's realistic to expect to shock anybody these days. I mean, anybody who's played Gears of War, or any of the survival horror games, or God of War, or something like that -- they're not going to be shocked by something that we do.
So our goal with our violence and all that stuff is way more to just surprise, maybe entertain, just from the outrageousness of it all. You know, the fatalities are just so crazy over-the-top that they're more inventive than inherently violent. I mean, they're violent -- don't get me wrong -- but it's just funny, just such over the top ways of killing people, that you just can't take it seriously.