Interview

Ed Boon

Architect Of Annihilation

Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon says he and his team were too busy to notice their huge success.

By Roger Riddell • October 15, 2012

This interview is the second part of a two-part retrospective on Mortal Kombat. Be sure to check out the interview with Boon’s co-creator, John Tobias.

Midway Games released Mortal Kombat in arcades 20 years ago this month, breaking new ground in the gaming industry with its campy ultra-violence, realistic digitized characters, and arcane mythology. When Acclaim Entertainment ported the game to home consoles in the fall of 1993, it featured so much blood and gore—most famously in the gruesome, fight-ending “Fatality” animations—that the resulting controversy led to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Not coincidentally, Mortal Kombat’s popularity skyrocketed. After two decades, multiple sequels, a handful of films and television shows, a plethora of merchandise, and even a live touring show, Mortal Kombat is still reinventing itself. We invited the game’s co-creators to take a look back on the game’s origins and legacy.

Ed Boon was originally hired as a pinball machine programmer, but with time, he found his way to Midway’s video game department, where he created Mortal Kombat with John Tobias. Unlike Tobias, Boon remains involved in Kombat—he oversees the series as creative director of the Warner Bros. subsidiary NetherRealm Studios, and until recently he even provided the voice of the undead ninja character Scorpion. Tobias talked to The Gameological Society about his 20 years working on Kombat, the series’ evolution and future, and his upcoming fighting game, Injustice: Gods Among Us.

The Gameological Society: I understand you had programmed pinball machines at Williams prior to moving up to some football games and then to Mortal Kombat. I was wondering what the transition from programming pinball machines to video games was like, as well as how you met John Tobias and got involved in getting the Mortal Kombat ball rolling.

Ed Boon: I guess the way I got programming pinball machines was kind of like an accident. I had just graduated with a degree in computer science, and I sent out a bunch of résumés to banks and other financial institutions, just assuming I was going to get a job doing something, you know, a little bit more “grown up.” I think I put in this asterisk on the bottom of the résumé, “personal interest in video games,” just as a hobby reference. At some point, a headhunter saw that and sent it to Williams Electronics. I don’t know how that qualified me as someone they would call and inquire about, but they did.

I went there thinking that it was an interview for a video game programmer, and then they told me at the interview, “No, this is for pinball machines.” I remember asking them, “Do people program pinball machines? How does that work?” And then I met a bunch of people who had done video games, because they also had a video game department. I met the guy who did Joust, which was a big game that I loved to play when I was a kid, and the guy who made Defender, which was another game I played. So my enthusiasm for working there was very high just because I knew that they had a video game department, and I knew that they also had a lot of people that I admired a lot growing up.

I got that job, and then I programmed pinball machines for about three years. Like I said, I knew that there was a video game department, and I knew that they were working on new hardware and this game called NARC, so I just started hanging out with the guys who were downstairs doing the video games. I started working with this guy named Eugene Jarvis, who had done this game called Defender, and Stargate and Robotron. He wanted to do a football game, so I kind of moved down there and started programming that football game. That game did well, and then we did a sequel to it. It was called High Impact and the sequel was Super High Impact. In the process of those football games, John Tobias was working with a guy named Mark Turmell on Smash TV, and then Total Carnage, so I got to know John. We weren’t working together, but I knew him.

One day, I remember Street Fighter had come out—and Williams was doing digitized graphics, which was our big technology thing—and John and I had a conversation where we were both kind of thinking, “How cool would it be to have a fighting game like Street Fighter, but with realistic looking graphics and blood and a real storyline?” And all that stuff. It was really just one conversation, because I remember when he was working late, we came back, and John and I were just talking. Literally, I was playing a game at the time during our conversation, and we had just kind of agreed, “Yeah, that would be really cool.” An opportunity came up where the company had, you know, an assembly line of games that they had to sell, and they said, “We foresee a gap next August,” or whenever it was. “Can you guys make a game really fast?” John and I were very much gung-ho for it—we were a lot younger back then—and that kind of started the whole Mortal Kombat thing.

Gameological: And the game was originally going to have a license tied to it with Jean-Claude Van Damme, right?

Boon: Yeah. The whole idea was to really do something that was inspired by movies. So, Enter The Dragon—and then Jean-Claude Van Damme was in a movie called Bloodsport at the time. He was kind of like the up-and-coming action star, and so we thought that it would’ve been cool to have a game basically called Van Damme: The Video Game. Jean-Claude Van Damme would be the star of it, and we would have other characters and stuff just like Mortal Kombat did, but Jean-Claude Van Damme would be the focus of it. That eventually just never panned out. Our licensing guy contacted his people, and I think he already had a deal going with Sega or something. At least that’s what we were told. So we kind of sat there over the years waiting for his Sega game to come out, and it never did, but it turns out that was probably a good thing, you know?

Gameological: That also makes it somewhat ironic that he ended up in the Street Fighter movie after that, as well.

Boon: Exactly, and [Capcom] did a Street Fighter: The Movie game, which had digitized graphics like we did in Mortal Kombat. It was all kind of like a big “full circle” thing for us.

Gameological: Were you surprised by the controversy that spun out of the game once Acclaim ported it over to home consoles?

It just added fuel to the fire.

Boon: I was only surprised from the standpoint that the game had already been out for almost a year at the time. What people didn’t realize was it came out in arcades originally as an arcade coin-operated machine. It did really well in arcades, so, for the better part of a year, people were playing it and knew what it was. As a matter of fact, we were already working on the sequel to Mortal Kombat when Acclaim started promoting it and started really kind of bringing it to the mass market. I never hesitate to credit Acclaim for having the faith in the game that it was something that could be pushed to investing $10 million for marketing it and all that. So they brought it to the mass market, and when that happened, it became a home product. Home video games is more of where you think of the younger people playing it, and all of a sudden when it was that, that’s when the objection was there. I definitely understood and appreciated and agreed with the need for some kind of ratings to let people know what kind of content was in the game.

Kung Lao fatality

Gameological: My first experience with the game was in first grade, and I remember my dad never being particularly upset about the violence because he actually played it with me. When I talked to John Tobias, I know he said that a lot of the uproar came from people who were viewing the game out of context.

Boon: Yeah, and a lot of people were just viewing it based on the news stories that they saw, and the news stories would basically just show Fatality after Fatality after Fatality. If you watched that, you just got the impression that the game was all about, you know, you tear this guy’s heart out, you rip this guy’s spine out, you light this guy on fire—as if it’s a big bloodbath type of thing.

Gameological: Do you think the controversy contributed to the game’s success in the long run?

Boon: Absolutely. It was a snowball thing. It was a game that a lot of players really loved to play, and then it became a game that people said, “Don’t play this.” Anybody who is young who is told not to do something, their initial thing is, “I need to go find out what it is that they’re telling me not to play,” and then they got hooked, too. To me, it just added fuel to the fire. But again, the original objection was legitimate. Once Mortal Kombat II came out, and that had an “M” [Mature] rating, the hoopla just really kind of died down.

Gameological: With all of the movies and television series, and the touring shows and comic books and merchandise that spun out of the game, which of those was your favorite?

Boon: I guess I’d have to say the first movie. Really, it’s kind of like the home versions of the first arcade game because those were the ones that really launched it. The home games doing so well—the first one, I think, sold like six million copies or something like that—kind of brought it into the mass market. But outside of the games, I think the first movie was the one that was the most exciting to see because we went to the set in L.A. We met the actors and the director, and were involved in the interpretation of the characters and the signature moves, and incorporating that into the movie. So, that was a lot of fun.

Gameological: Were you ever surprised by how much of a pop culture phenomenon the franchise became? Like, I don’t even think Mario’s ever had a live touring show, you know?

It’s so violent that you almost can’t take it seriously.

Boon: I absolutely was surprised by it. I was a lot more surprised years afterwards, because, you know, at the time, the team’s heads were just down just working on the next one. When Mortal Kombat was being sold as a home game, we were working on the arcade game of part two. When part two was being sold as a home game, we were working on the arcade game of part three. We were always kind of working on the next iteration, kind of setting the stage for the next year’s game, so all of this was happening when the movie and the TV show and the live tour and the animated show was going on. We were working 12-hour days [laughs] just working on the next game. I certainly don’t remember sitting back and basking in any kind of, like, “Wow, this is awesome!” But after the fact, it was kind of like, “Wow, that was really big.”

Gameological: You’ve kind of developed a reputation with fans over the years for teasing everyone with supposed secrets in the games—whether they be rumors or actually true—so I was wondering which of those was your favorite?

Boon: I guess I would have to say the first one was my favorite. Reptile was really a fun thing to do. Street Fighter always had a little bit of a, “Oh, is this feature in the game,” and people would speculate on “You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance.” People would interpret that as this character in the game called “Sheng Long,” but there wasn’t. I remember thinking, “Wow, that would be really cool if there really was a totally rare occurrence of a character that people would say they saw, but it was so rare that you couldn’t duplicate it anytime you wanted.”

We were out of memory in terms of the ROMs that were put into the game, but we were still able to change the color of the characters. I don’t even think I told John about it at the time. I went into the art program and tinted Scorpion green and made him Reptile, and then made these crazy circumstances of how to make him come out so you fight him. It was very rare instances, so people would start talking about it. I really wanted to make sure nobody was talking about it within the company, because that would legitimize it and it would no longer be a mystery. That one really kind of set the stage for all of the other hidden stuff that we put in the game. After a while with Mortal Kombat, it became expected, but with the first one, there’s something magic about people talking about it and not being 100 percent sure if it was true.

Scorpion fatality

Gameological: There are also characters like Ermac that began as hoaxes because of glitches or lines people noticed in the coding, and there have been a number of conceptual design hoaxes released over the years—my favorite being Zebron. Is there any chance we might see something like Zebron in a future installment?

Boon: Zebron was 100 percent a joke. One of the artists on our team, his name is Mike Taran, drew it as literally a parody on the entire concept of the hidden character. He was trying to think of the most silly thing in the world, like a zebra with a top hat and all this kind of stuff. That was really just kind of mocking that whole thing. By the time we did that, we were up to Mortal Kombat 5 [Deadly Alliance] at the time. But with Ermac, there were certain parts of the game [Mortal Kombat] that were not supposed to happen. Like, if I couldn’t find a certain player object or if I couldn’t find a projectile object that should be in the air or something like that, and I wanted to audit those things just to debug the game. So I put it in the diagnostics when you go into the game. It would count, how many times was Kano picked, how many times was Liu Kang, and Johnny Cage—and at the end, I put “Ermac,” and it wasn’t referring to a character. It was referring to how many times this error macro, or “ermac,” would execute. People just interpreted that as, “Oh, it’s in this list of things. That must be another character.” That became this urban legend thing, and, a few games later, we just decided to make it real.

Gameological: When you did Mortal Kombat 4, you shifted from the digitized graphics over to 3D models, so what was that shift like?

Boon: It was kind of a challenge because, at the time, Street Fighter was starting to wane down and other games were emerging. Tekken, in particular, was really kind of hitting its stride. I don’t know if they were on Tekken 2 or 3 yet. That was certainly the direction that fighting games were going. We wanted to maintain some amount of familiarity—which is, basically, we kept the high punch/low punch, high kick/low kick—but visually, we went to 3D. MK4, to me, is like the bridge between the 2D games and the 3D ones, which started with Deadly Alliance. MK4 is kind of like a hybrid, a 2D-playing game with some 3D elements to it.

Gameological: In the first games following John’s departure on PS2 and the first Xbox, the character models became more complex and the characters all got their own individual fighting styles. What was it like fleshing the experience out that much more?

Boon: Certainly, I think Deadly Alliance was what I call one of our reboots. With a franchise that’s 20 years old, I don’t think that you can successfully continue to offer the same experience again and again and still sell in the millions like we still are. Deadly Alliance was kind of like a complete reboot. We got rid of the high punch/low punch, high kick/low kick similarity thing, we got rid of the 2D-restricted movement, and we introduced the whole notion of fighting styles and weapons. We just really rebooted the whole thing. The visuals were a lot more sophisticated and there was motion capture animation. That really paid off. I mean, that game sold huge. I think that was necessary for the whole thing, and it really started what I would call the “trilogy” of Deadly Alliance, Deception, and Armageddon. Those were kind of like the PlayStation 2-era games of the 3D games. It wasn’t until we introduced the game that we did in 2011, which we just called Mortal Kombat, that we did another reboot, so to speak, where we went back to 2D and really kind of just rewrote the whole basic fighting game.

Gameological: Out of all of the MK characters and finishing moves, which are your favorites?

Boon: Of the characters, I would say Scorpion is my favorite for a number of reasons. That whole throwing the spear out and pulling the character in, that was really my baby. I really loved trying it out, and when people saw it and got excited about it, that was a great moment for me. From the first Mortal Kombat game, to me, it’s really what started identifying what was going to be different about Mortal Kombat, where we really started going with the outrageousness of characters teleporting and freezing and throwing spears. There have been, literally, probably hundreds of Fatalities that we’ve made over the years. It’s hard to pick out any that I would call my favorite, but just because of the controversy of it all, that first one where Sub-Zero pulled the guy’s head off and the spine was still attached. [Laughs] As ridiculous as that is—that was kind of based on the movie “Predator”—I would say that was my favorite because that was so iconic for the game.

Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe

Gameological: What was the shift like to doing a Teen-rated game with MK Vs. DC? I imagine having Superman or Batman behead anyone or vice-versa was out of the question.

Boon: That wasn’t an option. Never in the course of our discussion of DC did we even mention the idea of an M-rated version of it. We pretty much assumed that was off the table. I think, to this day, it would still be off the table. When we finished the trilogy of Deadly Alliance, Deception, and Armageddon, I felt like there was a need to do something dramatically different, and introducing these new characters and overlapping the two universes was our approach to really mixing things up for the eighth iteration of a fighting series that was, at the time, 17 or 18 years old.

Gameological: Did you ever feel during the fall of Midway that it might be the end of Mortal Kombat?

Boon: No, no. Never. I knew it was going to continue in some capacity. When Midway was going through their problems, there were plenty of publishers and developers who were looking to pick up the Mortal Kombat license and rights to it. I spoke with many people. I think Warner Bros. picking it up, for however much they did, was a great move on their part. That was a great call, and now Mortal Kombat is one of the big selling WB Games titles along with Batman: Arkham City. It’s a very strong pillar in the Warner Bros. game line.

Gameological: Is there a lot of difference being creative director of NetherRealm Studios now under WB, as opposed to when you worked for Midway?

Boon: It’s not very different. Our team has grown quite a bit. My position as creative director is really focusing in on the game that we’re making and the content we’re making. I don’t do studio management stuff. We have a studio head here—his name is Shaun Himmerick—and he does the whole running of the studio while I lead the creation of content. It works out well with me being able to focus solely on the game that we’re creating.

Gameological: What’s the next step for the series following the success of Mortal Kombat 2011?

Boon: Right now, we’re focusing on our game called Injustice, which actually doesn’t have any Mortal Kombat characters in it. We need to finish that game for 2013, and that’s gonna be our main focus. We’ve never actually announced a future Mortal Kombat game, and I certainly don’t feel like it’s my place to make an announcement, but I would be surprised if NetherRealm or Warner Bros. chose to never release a Mortal Kombat game again. When it would be time to work on it, I’m sure we would want to add something dramatic and not just make a typical sequel—more characters with the same stuff. Certainly, there are opportunities, if we have this new generation of consoles coming in the pipe, there’s always going to be more power and stuff to do something even cooler.

Gameological: And that actually brings me to my next question regarding the DC Comics fighter, Injustice: Gods Among Us. How are the last 20 years of experience on Mortal Kombat are shaping your work on Injustice?

Boon: I think our team, in general—having the experience of doing so many of these games always helps us in making the next one. There are certain fundamental principles in making a fighting game that we have in our DNA at this point. That really helps, because Injustice is not like our first fighting game. If we were to make a driving game or something like that, there would be a big learning curve, but the fact that Injustice is fundamentally a fighting game really lets us draw on the experience that we have—some of us 20 years—making fighting games.

Gameological: What do you think the legacy of Mortal Kombat is?

Boon: Wow. That’s a good question. [Pauses.] It’s a fighting game that really got a lot of attention from how bold and how violent and brash it was, and has endured for 20 years. To me, the fact that 20 years later, we can sell a version that sells in the multiple millions of units is really a testament to its staying power. There aren’t many franchises, fighting or any other style of video games, that can really say that—that can sell that many games in its latest incarnation. It just shows how much this series is willing to change and evolve over time and stay interesting. I think endurance is a big part of its legacy. It has great personality. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s so over-the-top violent and crazy that you almost can’t take it seriously. It’s not supposed to be a horror movie. There’s an element of campiness in there.

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  • Enkidum

    Really nice pair of interviews. I appreciate the fact that both of them actually explicitly approved of the ESRB labelling. I suppose if I was in the same situation I would probably think much the same thing.

    Interesting non-parallelism with the music industry. When Tipper Gore and whoever (the…. uh.. PMCA? too lazy to look it up) were campaigning for parental advisory stickers on cds, they were attacked by dozens of artists. Zappa had his famous quote about it being like trying to treat a headache with decapitation. But at the end of the day, the labels went on the albums, and it hasn’t really touched anyone’s sales, has it? (I think the main objection was that big box stores like Wal Mart or whatever could just refuse to carry anything with a parental advisory, but that just doesn’t seem to have happened much.) 

    I dunno, I feel like a stodgy middle-aged sellout for thinking this way, but that’s probably because I am. When did I lose my edge, man?

    • George_Liquor

      Yeah, video gaming really needed its own Mothers Of Prevention.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

    Hm.  Well, I enjoyed the interviews, but it’s funny that Roger only circled around the gameplay.  Like the series itself (in my opinion), its “stuff” is better than the core game.  Since Boon’s stuck with fighting games, I think that there was a missed opportunity to talk about its gameplay bona fides in 1 of the most addict-filled genres.

    It was always the “bro” series, and it only seemed to get by as a party game for fighting fans.  Moreover, it’s unique in that it has no Japan presence (it looks like the last few games didn’t even come out in Japan, but correct me if I’m wrong) and it quickly left the arcade as its primary outlet because of that and because of its console controversies. 

    That makes it very odd, ESPECIALLY in light of the fact that it’s gained enough respect/popularity among North American fans to be at Evolution 2012.  (Even if it was big in Japan, I doubt that it would be at Togeki.)  Going from controversy to solid respectability was not a path I expected for it.

    • Enkidum

      By “stuff”, you mean that the fatalities and other window-dressing were better than the actual fighting? Fair enough, although at the time it wasn’t like there were dozens of well-designed fighters. Certainly Street Fighter II was better, and when Virtua Fighter came out it was an improvement as well, but MK has always been at least a fair game that requires some skill, and much less susceptible to true button mashing than Street Fighter, I think. 

      • Bad Horse

        A skilled Street Fighter player will absolutely dismantle a button masher every time. Now, Tekken…

        • Enkidum

          Oh sure, that’s definitely true, but I think button mashing will get you further in Street Fighter II than MK I.  At least if you do what I always did and play Blanka / E Honda, who are essentially the same fighter and have moves that consist of “press punch a lot”.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          That may have been true from 1 to Tag Tournament 1, but, apparently, you have not played Tag Tournament 2.  I have never been more consistently outclassed, and I play the crazy Capcom Versus subseries, which have exploits galore.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        Yeah, I remember people being more fascinated by the animalities, secrets, and tie-ins than whether it was fun to play against or easy to counter a low sweep, jumping downward punch, uppercut spammer.

        • The_Misanthrope

           True, the MK series will never stand toe-to-toe with the well-respected Capcom and SNK fighting games.  They have tried over the many iterations to build a more solid fighting engine, but it never really quite gets there.  But I think it’s a mistake to dismiss the “stuff”, all the window-dressing, out of hand. 

          First off, it’s appropriate that he started in pinball machines.  One of the foundations of modern pinball game design is all those (often literal) bells and whistles.  There’s always something going on to keep the player engaged, to make them feel like they are making progress.  It is important to have those discrete Skinner-box-experiences in a game that often feels like a lot is resting on a the timing of a few button presses;  The same feeling might occur to a novice fighting game player.  All that unnecessary-on-the-surface “stuff” in the MK series–the secrets, “Toasty!”, fatalities, hitting your opponent into another arena, etc–really keeps the beginner from feeling disengaged.

          Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it also makes it fun to watch, both as the player and the audience.  One could easily draw a line from the MK series to the “spectacle fighters” of today:  God of War series, Bayonetta, etc.

        • Enkidum

          (Responding to your thing upthread) – yeah, the only fighting games I ever really played much of was MK I & II, SF II (various versions), and Virtua Fighters I-IV. And at best I’ve never been more than a competent beginner. But I definitely had my most button-mashing success with SF II.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         At the time it came out, I didn’t have an SNES (my family tended to be at least a half-generation behind on each console), but I distinctly remember being annoyed that my unbeatable strategy in Game Boy MK1 of spamming Sub Zero’s ice beam, and upper-cutting the frozen enemy to get countless flawless victories didn’t work in MK2 for the Game Boy. In retrospect, that probably means MK2 was actually a better-designed game, but BOY was I annoyed.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

      It’s great that they tried all sorts of crazy moves in Mortal Kombat games, but it often led to balance issues. Mileena in MKII and Noob Saibot in UMKIII could be really cheap. 

      • Bad Horse

        Never has a character been more accurately named than Noob.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          As if it wasn’t already clear, Noob Saibot = Boon & Tobias.

        • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

          LK LK LK LK

      • jessec829

        Ah, Mileena. How pleasant it was to drive my little brother crazy by just fwd-fwd-low-kicking his ass into the ground. Sometimes I’d back-back-down-low-punch to do that roll just for variety. She was one cheap-ass bitch, and I loved her.

        Liu Kang, on the other hand, was the worst.

  • TheAngryInternet

    KANO TRANSFORMATIONS: 0

  • Effigy_Power

    “…as if it’s a big bloodbath type of thing…”

    Well… I mean, it’s one thing to say that the game shifted in marketing from a more mature crowd that could handle this to a younger crowd at home, where parents got a little iffy about this, but the game is very much a bloodbath. I am not saying that that’s inherently a bad thing, but with every punch spurting half a gallon of blood from the characters’ bodies, it’s not hard to imagine where the fear of more “careful” people came from.

    While the game was a milestone and brought fighting games to the American market in a big way, rather than having big-eyed schoolgirls throw lasers at each other, it did so with a very 1980′s type American attitude. The problem is that the kind of available violence, nudity and harsh language in the media around that time was already making the conservative and puritan element of US society pretty itchy, so MK played right into their hands.The huffers and complainers were already preparing their assault on all of this stuff and a game that let you tear out someone’s spine was great fodder for them.

    So while MK was an integral part of 80′s culture, it was also another step towards a society that was more free and uninhibited in such a way that the “Moral Majority” wasn’t gonna let happen.
    As such MK was as much to blame for controversy as it was a victim of a time where we wanted too much too fast and were still at the beck and call of people who remembered milk-shake parlors and drive-ins. We’ve barely caught up to the mature freedom media (including games, but especially on TV and in movies) had back then, this time at a slower pace less likely to upset the powers that be… even if we all know that if they are looking for outrage, they will find something for it. Hot coffee, anyone?

    • Enkidum

      Hot coffee, anyone?

      I didn’t realize our relationship was ready to move to that level. Things are going too fast!

    • Moonside_Malcontent

       ”a very 1980′s type American attitude.”

      And I would argue that it’s that very attitude that gives MK the “staying power” that Boon and Tobias talk about at the end of their respective interviews.  Mortal Kombat is very much not of the 21st century action canon; there’s much more of Death Wish and Out For Justice in the series than the Bourne series or even something comparatively campy like Bad Boys II.  MK isn’t self-conscious.  The story mode in the 2011 reboot (which I enjoyed immensely) resembles nothing so much as a 1980′s or 90′s wuxia film with an unusually large number of American accents.  But in a gaming climate where we are sometimes deluged with action games striving to prove their serious, morally nuanced bona-fides (not at all a bad thing, necessarily), I think there’s a certain nostalgic satisfaction that comes with playing a leather-bikini clad commando from the future whose only objective is to FINISH HIM.  Leave moral ambiguity to Bioware.

      • Bad Horse

        If you ask me what really seems to keep MK going (if not exactly relevant) is how it always falls into this nice, accessible difficulty space. Where Street Fighter II offered numerous, complex special moves, combo tricks, and wildly different characters, Mortal Kombat gives every character the same basic attack ranges, one projectile, one distance-closing special move, and no kombos to speak of (at least not at the start). Even as the series has become more elaborate, it has generally stayed behind its peers in complexity, which serious fighting fans tend to sneer at and more casual ones find a lot more friendly.

        The buckets o’ blood and American chop-socky homage feel caught the eye and felt genuinely new back in 1992, but I’m not sure if that really connects as much with new players. The gameplay does.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         Actually, now that I think about it, the FINISH HIM prompt is not really any less complex than Bioshock’s laughable “moral choice” system…

        • Effigy_Power

           ”Would you kindly finish him?”

    • PaganPoet

      I dunno. I see where you’re coming from with it being inspired by 80s culture, with the whole action movie star angle, but to me, MK is much more about XTREME 90s RADICAL DUDE! attitude than anything.

      Funnily enough, other than Mortal Kombat II and last year’s reboot which I really enjoy, I wouldn’t consider any of them particularly good as fighters. They had a gimmick which was really cool at first, but as the series went on, the novelty died and the gameplay just didn’t hold up.

      • George_Liquor

        Personally, I think Mortal Kombat is equal parts Enter The Dragon, Riki-Oh and Fu Manchu It has loads of goofy, over-the-top chop-socky violence couched in a bizarre Western interpretation of Asian mysticism.

  • Aurora Boreanaz

    The original Mortal Kombat was one of the many battlegrounds in the “war” with my father over violent and “Satanic” content.  He freaked out when he saw me playing it in an arcade once and tried to forbid me from playing it.  I had to once again remind him of the phrase he used on me when I threw my Sega Genesis controller across the room: “It’s only a game.”  (See also Wolfenstein 3D, Magic the Gathering, etc.)

    As far as gameplay, I liked MK largely because it was simpler than the other fighting games at the time.  I couldn’t last five seconds against most Street Fighter II players, but could at least last a round or two in MK.

    My highest point for fighting skill was Virtua Fighter though, largely due to finding the best player in the arcade, and paying for his games for a day so he would teach me.  First semester of college I was one of the top players in the cafeteria arcade.  Never really put any effort into them since though.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      Well, Virtua Fighter 4 and 5 do his work for you with the tutorial modes and skill-building single-player modes, and they’re the best 3-d fighting games ever.  You should try them!

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        I’m pretty sure I had VF4…was that the first one to feature the woman specializing in Aikido?  I actually spent some time trying to program the AI version of her to practice real Aikido, with no offensive moves, only counters and throws.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          It was, and that’s totally possible!  That’s devotion, though.

          Virtua Fighter’s the only series where 100-percent countering is not a dull fighting strategy.

    • PaganPoet

      Everything about this post reminds me of that episode of the Simpsons where Homer pays some kid in an arcade to teach him how to play some wrestling game so he can beat Bart. i.e.: Everything that was good about the 90s.

  • boardgameguy

    my favorite fatality from the original was definitely Kano’s tearing out the opponent’s heart.  the problem was winning two rounds with Kano first

    • PaganPoet

      I was all about SubZero’s spine rip…it’s too bad I had the neutered SNES version of the game.

      • George_Liquor

        All the blood & guts came back full-force in SNES’s version of MK2. Funny how Nintendo’s vaunted standards of decency fell by the wayside once they realized they were getting shellacked by Sega

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          But really, in retrospect, I think we can all agree that each punch producing gallons of viscous, salty sweat is far more disturbing than blood.

  • PaganPoet

    The Sheng Long thing is quite funny. I can’t people believed the EGM April Fool’s joke…something about getting to M. Bison without taking damage, and then not dealing or taking any damage for 10 rounds and just letting the clock run out. That’s utterly impossible!

    I like it when these things lead to actualy characters, though…Akuma and Gouken in SF, Ermac in MK, etc.

    • Bad Horse

      All unlocks back then were absurd, though. I could buy something that was only a couple degrees removed from unlocking Reptile, itself a nigh-impossible feat that I’ve never managed.

      • PaganPoet

        A few years later, I remember hearing some pretty bizarre stuff about reviving Aeris in Final Fantasy VII…which we all know by now is complete bs. It was all pretty ridiculous, but when you think about it…in order to actually use her final Limit Break Great Gospel, you have to do some pretty ridiculous things, so why not?

        • Bad Horse

          I never tried to resurrect Aeris – I figured her death was too cool story-wise to try and reverse. This is the same reason I have never passed the torture sequence in MGS1 without submitting.

          I did, however, spend a long time trying to figure out how to resurrect General Leo in FFVI. This is also not possible.

      • lethargyclad

        I believed the All Bonds cheat in Goldeneye for YEARS and I’m still kind of sad it was just a prank.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      Well, TECHNICALLY, it did lead to an actual character.  http://streetfighter.wikia.com/wiki/Sheng_Long  (He existed since 0, of course, but the look!)

      As did my favorite: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EGM_April_Fools'_jokes#2002

  • doyourealize

    I don’t remember if the “MORRRTALLLL KOMMMMBAAAAAAT!” yell came from ads for the first or second game, but I remember Christmas shopping at the mall with some friends one year (one of their fathers drove us), and I was inspired, in the parking lot on the way back to our car, to yell just that. We all, about 6 or 7 of us, ran through the parking lot yelling it over and over after that. I’m sure my friend’s dad was thrilled, as was everyone else in the lot at the time.

    Nice pair of interviews, though, and it seems as though there’s a lot of agreement between the two on favorite moves or characters, although a little different ideas of the amount of inspiration drawn from Street Fighter.

    • PaganPoet

      Oh, and you remember the dance song that went with it? That song was pretty cool to my 8 year old self.

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        The soundtrack from the first MK movie is still pretty good if you like techno/dance stuff. I like Test Your Might and the theme song.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         If you think the Mortal Kombat version had too many video game announcer voice-overs and not enough ridiculous Euro-trash techno nonsense lyrics, I suggest listening to the 2Unlimited song that was the inspiration for the MK theme.

        • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

          these guys really love whatever they think the twilight zone is