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Komplete Kombat: The Ed Boon Interview

ame Informer Magazine gave you the first exclusive details about Mortal Kombat: Armageddon in our February issue, and now we chat with the series creator, Ed Boon.  Will Armageddon mean death to all of the characters?  Why not put this game on next-gen instead of current-gen?  What about Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Revolution development?  We get all the important details from the man who put the K in Kombat.

Game Informer: When Mortal Kombat: Armageddon was announced, some people cried out because it was for the current generation of consoles. What was the reason behind going with current-gen instead of next-gen?

Ed Boon: The main thing was timing. We have always introduced Mortal Kombat games to established systems and while we’re totally jazzed about doing 360 games and doing PS3 games, our concern for doing it so early was that it would have been a launch title for PS3 and the 360 would only had been out for about a year. We really wanted a bigger install base of players. Second, the idea of doing a Mortal Kombat game with all of the characters on the next-gen would have been too much content because we already had a head start with Deadly Alliance and Deception. So we just thought to fill in all of the ones we haven’t done and do the entire roster as one of the big features in the game.

GI: Did that make it easier for you to stay on current-gen?

Boon: Well we already have other stuff in the works. We have been studying PS3 and Xbox 360 in the offices. We have been hacking away at those for quite a long time now. We’re definitely into the next-gen stuff, but there’s some guys doing next-gen stuff and some guys doing current-gen stuff.

GI: So why did it take so long to get all of the Mortal Kombat characters together?

Boon: Well, we kind of did with Mortal Kombat Trilogy. I didn’t want to release Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 on Nintendo 64 and PlayStation. So we decided to go with Mortal Kombat Trilogy, which combined the first three games and was all we really had at the time. So at the time, that was all of the characters, which is far less than now.

Why it took us so long to do this now is because we were busy working on other games and going into next-gen like I said before. So I think it was perfect timing for it.

GI: Have you announced if Motaro is making the cut yet?

Boon: He is absolutely making the cut. We actually really regret not including him in the large render that appeared in your magazine. I was actually curious as to how many people would have pointed out that he wasn’t in there. And I was surprised at how many did. That was the big thing that everyone would ask about. We are considering redoing that render and adding him in there to hopefully clear up that question, but hopefully this interview will too.

GI: There are characters in Armageddon that are making a transition into 3D for the first time. Which ones are you most excited about and who was the most difficult to transition?

Boon: I think the ones that I am really excited about are the big crazy boss guys like Motaro. Some of them had to undergo some changes because they were so big and clunky and awkward that they would have been uncontrollable. So we made some modifications to make them more agile. I would say the big crazy boss guys like Kintaro and Motaro and having them fight in the same world as the more agile guys that can jump around is cool.


Dance!

GI: Were there any characters that became so difficult that you almost didn’t want to put them in?

Boon: Well there are certainly characters that we are still balancing because they are so huge. It’s such a different game playing with those characters as opposed to playing with the tiny Liu Kang or Tanya or someone like that. But none of them were getting to the point where we doubted it.

GI: Your obviously adding a ton of stuff to this game, but one of the biggest combat additions is the focus on aerial combat. Why did you decide to head that direction?

Boon: Every game we release we want to add something new to the fighting mechanic. Sometimes the things like the weapons or the multiple fighting styles and the breakers, we had always wanted all of the games to do that. So that was the main goal - to add something new to it. Aerial combat is something that I had always missed in Deception and Deadly Alliance. Everything was always focusing on the ground stuff and dodging and the whole cat and mouse game. Now looking back I am kind of surprised that we did that as well. A lot of people really miss the 2D feel of MK 1, 2 and 3. They miss jumping over fireballs! So we put that whole jumping mechanic back into the game. After that, it just became really apparent that we should really do this up. So a lot of that stuff was inspired by the 2D games. And Shaolin Monks had some influence on that too.

GI: So how is that going to come into play with the environments?

Boon: That’s one of the things that we are balancing as well. One of the goals with the aerial combat is that you have a little more control and we really wanted to get some directional throwing into the game. You can catch somebody in the air and them throw them into the screen or out of the screen. Left or right. So death traps became a little more accessible. But there are ways to get out of it. We really wanted to make sure that people didn’t feel like once they were caught in the air, they were stuck so we will still have breakers and a new parry system.

GI: One thing that seems pretty common among other fighters is when a player starts getting juggled, they cannot get out and seems to be a big frustration. How are you guys working around that?

Boon: There’s two things. One is the breakers that we had in the other game can be done in the air. The second is with the parries, which can also be done in the air. You will be able to time things and break out of things. One of the things with the aerial combat will be a sort of risk-reward. There will be opportunities for the victim to do things as well. So you could go for a long string combo, but you will have to slam me to the ground which will give me a chance to get out of it.

GI: Another addition to the game is a character creation mode. Can you explain some of the challenges that you guys face in terms of keeping the created characters in balance with other created characters or even characters that are already in the game?

Boon: Obviously not every attack in a fighting game is the same. Some are faster and lower which are more difficult to dodge or block. Big power moves and jabs and all that have different strengths and weaknesses. So we wanted to make sure that every attack has some sort of a penalty. Not everyone is going to pick lighting-fast low attacks and then have a completely unbalanced character.

Another thing to help with that will be the online play. We will have certain rooms for created characters only or no created characters allowed or even some rooms where the whole thing is mixed up and you go crazy. For online play, there will be ways to avoid the created characters in you choose to.


Kreate-A-Kombat

GI: When you are creating a character, will you have a set number of attribute points or something that you spend?

Boon: Yes, when you start off, you won’t have the ability to pick every single attack to assign on to your character. Everything that you do in the game we are trying to consolidate into one monetary system. So when you are playing the fighting game, you will be earning the same type of points as you would playing the Konquest Mode or any of the other modes in the game. With that currency, you can go back and purchase different kinds of moves and special attacks and keep building your character visually and skillfully.

GI: So the more you play, the more beefy you can make your fighter?

Boon: Exactly

GI: When we first saw the trailer, it looked like the Konquest mode will play much like the single player Shaolin Monks with the multiple enemies and what not.

Boon: I have seen a lot of comparison to Shaolin Monks but in reality, it doesn’t really play like Shaolin Monks. For Shaolin Monks, that was the entire mechanic of the game. When it comes to the ability to beat up multiple enemies and kind of throw them at each other, it does play like Shaolin Monks or any game that’s kind of like that like God of War or whatever. But it doesn’t have the same fighting engine as Shaolin Monks.

GI: How long do you think that the story will be in Konquest Mode?

Boon: I don’t really know right now. We have been working things and adding things and taking things out just doing the adjustments in general. I am hoping somewhere between six to ten hours. It may be shorter for better players or the people that don’t try to find all of the hidden secrets. One of the things that we really want to balance is that we don’t want to make too long and we don’t want to force anyone to go through a part of the game they don’t want to. It’s not like Konquest Mode will be the only way to unlock items like it was in Deception. There’s a ton of stuff to unlock there but every unlockable will have an alternate way of unlocking as well.

GI: Can you explain some of the design things that you have dealt with for the fatality creation mode? A lot of people are really excited about it because of the twisted things you will be able to do to your opponents.

Boon: The thing that we really needed to work around was timing. When performing a fatality, you keep cutting down the amount of time you have to execute them. Really good players are going to have to start stacking in moves while another move is being performed. It’s going to be so quick at the end that you will just be rattling them off. So the timing part is going to restrict how long your animation can last. So that was one of the challenges that we had, to come up with really cool looking and exciting that aren’t very long.

GI: So you’re going to have different move sets. Is that how you’re going to create your fatality then?

Boon: Yeah, if you think of it in the same way as the fighting game combos. A lot of the combos consist of two or three moves that can be fired off individually. It is the same premise where you have a pool of 10 or 20 fatalities per character and the can keep firing them off until he doesn’t have any more time to do them.

GI: So how many different choices or pieces are going to be available to the players?

Boon: In total, I will tell you when we are done. (laughs)

GI: So any ballpark?

Boon: Well over 100. We don’t want people to get bored. If I was playing as Scorpion and I only had three fatalities available to me, it would get boring. But also at the same time, if a person just wants to fight and not watch the same thing over and over, they can just do simple move like ripping someone’s head off.

GI: What have you learned about the online play with Deception that you want to bring over to Armageddon?

Boon: I think one of the big things about it is the scheme of pairing people up. We had three rooms. We had beginner, advanced, and expert and everyone hung out in the beginner’s room because all of the experts just wanted to pound on people. So the beginners were afraid to go into the other rooms. So if you look at the rooms, you see the beginners are full and the experts had one or two people in them. So we’re going to break it up into a different way. So you will be able to play a game that is more tailored to what you like to play.

GI: I know you’re a fan of the PSP and now you have Unchained coming out. What was it like working with that hardware?

Boon: Well Unchained was developed in Santa Monica by a company called Climax. So we didn’t develop the game here in Chicago but there were a lot of issues that we wanted to address. We really wanted to keep the framerate very high. So we went in there and helped them optimize their code and the Wi-Fi linking - we really wanted to make sure that was tight. We did have a lot more exposure to the hardware than we normally would have when working with a third party, but the main work was done by Climax.


Portable Kombat!

GI: With everything I have heard to talk about Armageddon and read about it, it’s kind of eluding to the death of all of the characters at the end of the game. It seems like you have said that you want this to be the final chapter for this set of characters. Is this going to be it for a lot of these characters?

Boon: From a story standpoint, I am going to push the guys on the team to really close this chapter. At some point, you just really need to start over. With the whole next generation of consoles, it’s a perfect time to start all over - to start over with a story or the fighting engine and the graphics. I would like to close that story. Now whether that translates into everybody dies, which I think some people automatically think when they hear Armageddon, I think there’s an assumption that everybody dies. While the story is going to end, I don’t know that we will kill every single character off. A Mortal Kombat game without Scorpion and Sub-Zero is like a Street Fighter game without Ken and Ryu. But certainly, we would like to close as many chapters as we can and characters as possible and that may involve killing them. But we would like it to somehow tie in with the next game.

GI: So what excites you the most about next-gen development?

Boon: To me the most exciting thing is having the opportunity to start everything over. Brand new presentation, as many new characters as we can, a whole new fighting engine and just the whole starting from scratch. Creating something like Mortal Kombat 1, where no one had seen the game before or like Deadly Alliance where no one had seen that kind of fighting engine. This is another one of these opportunities to make one of these. So when people see it, there is going to be so much “new.”

GI: What do you think about Xbox Live and Xbox 360 and what that could do for you and how you guys implement online play?

Boon: I have a ton of ideas and I definitely want to do as many community features a possible. Whether it’s finding people or virtual world’s maybe that you run around and you have that method of connecting up with people. I’d like the world to be more of an immersive thing. Something like a 3D world you exist in and interact with as opposed to just menus.

GI: So do you go out and pick up other games like Dead or Alive 4 and look at the way Tecmo is doing things? Or even Namco’s Soul Calibur III?

Boon: Oh yeah, I buy all of the big ones like Soul Calibur or Dead or Alive. Even the 2D ones, I still buy. I just bought Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX for the PSP. So I am still a huge fan of all the big ones.

GI: From your perspective, do you play the other games and look at how they are doing things? Like the way one game will use a parry system, or how a game handles air juggles for example.

Boon: Absolutely. I don’t think I have ever sat down and played a competition fighting game and not had several ideas come to my head. Whenever I play, I have like a notepad sitting next to me just in case. So yeah, a lot of the inspiration can come from playing fighting games.

GI: If you could ever make a game that wasn’t in the fighting genre, what would it be?

Boon: I love the games like Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid and the stealthy kind of games that change the pacing. From sneaking around to the action. I think there is a lot to still be done with those.

GI: So do you think that we will see more from the Shaolin Monks franchise?

Boon: Absolutely. It won’t be called Shaolin Monks but more of the action and adventure with fighting and those play mechanics.

GI: What about the Revolution controller, would you like to make a fighting game with that?

Boon: You know, I don’t know how you could. One of the things about the Revolution controller is that you don’t have immediate access to a whole bunch of buttons. It’s like your holding a television remote and you have that directional pad and you have a big A button next to it. But there’s not five or six buttons to give you all of these functions, so maybe they will compensate but tilting one way for blocking or another way for attack. But that is so dramatically different. So it will either be one of the biggest hits in the world or a big failure. I certainly hope it does well.

GI: Do you miss working with arcade machines?

Boon: Oh yes! There’s nothing like seeing people playing the game and getting reactions out of it. To me, I miss that a lot. I don’t miss watching the game on test for 12 hours straight. Driving back to work then driving back to the arcade and changing the ROM - that was always a big test in terms of patience. I definitely miss the whole aspect of it. Fighting against strangers and the sort of socializing is very cool.

GI: Do you think that online takes away from that or could it reach that communal aspect?

Boon: I think it can if you had an interface that promoted it. To me, in my head there is this virtual arcade that you walk into an arcade and you see people kind of World of Warcraft-ish - you know with the little name over their head. You can walk up to them and talk to them. See all of these quarters lined up. You could just say “Add my quarters.” And they pop up. DINK! I could just see people doing that. And then you have a button you push and the guy punches the screen and all of the quarters fall off. Stupid stuff like that.

GI: What do you think is going to be the key to the next-gen fighting game?

Boon: You know, you can add smart AI and stuff like that but it’s always more fun to play against real people and the only way to really get that experience all of the time is online. If you want to play at three in the morning, your friend is not going to come over at that hour, so you play online.

GI: Would you rather play a fighting game with a controller or a joystick?

Boon: Oh a stick for sure. Without a doubt. At least for me, I don’t have the kind of precision with my thumbs as I do with a joystick. I grew up playing arcade games. People that I know like my cousin, who is 20 years old has barely played arcade games but has been playing since the PlayStation One and so he has way more precision with that and I can't do that as well. I can do them, just not with the split second timing that I want. If I play with a joystick, I can do anything I want. I am way better with a joystick than a D-pad.



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