Ed Boon talks Mortal Kombat secrets, MK vs. DC, and the future of M-rated fighters
In a rare interview, Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon talks about the successes (and trials) of his upcoming Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, long-standing rumors surrounding the legendary fighting series, and what may become of Mortal Kombat 8...and the third MK movie!
GamePro editor Sid Shuman geeks out with Mortal Kombat creator Ed Boon
GP: For a Teen-rated game, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is a pretty damned violent. How has the development team had to work with the ESRB to earn that Teen rating you were after?
Ed Boon: Multiple submissions. We submitted [MK vs. DC to the ESRB] at least three times. We even submitted once or twice, unofficially, to see what the ESRB thought stood out. We wanted to keep as much of the feel of Mortal Kombat as possible, without watering it down.
GP: Looking back at the older MK games, it's hard to imagine that they're still considered Mature-rated titles. Look at a game like Castle Crashers, which is quite violent yet still earned a Teen rating. Has there been a shift in opinion on game violence since the 90s?
Ed Boon: To me, Sub-Zero's spine rip fatality [in the original MK] was the only one that really stood out. Even Kano's heart rip fatality...there was no mark left on the opponent's body. By today's standards, it might have been a little different. [In MK vs. DC], we're breaking people's necks and it's still a Teen-rated game. We're pretty happy with where it ended up.
GP: The most widely circulated video for Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe shows the Joker's gunshot fatality. That's a pretty intense scene for a Teen-rated game. Did that particular fatality cause any issues in earning a Teen rating?
Ed Boon: Well, we have to work with four major ratings boards across the world, including several based in Europe. Normally, [Europeans] are more sensitive to violence than Americans are. But with MK vs. DC, they let everything go. They let us do everything. In the US version, we had to tone back some of those more violent [fatalities]. It's often very subtle things, such as how quickly the victim reacts or how long the camera stays on the scene in question. But Kano still has a fatality where he throws knives which stick into the victim's chests. For those kinds of things, we got the okay.
GP: What ended up being the most controversial fatality in MK vs. DC?
Ed Boon: The Joker's fatality was up there. Deathstroke's is pretty brutal; in an earlier version, we focused a little too much on the victim. So we shifted the camera away at the critical moment. Those were the two that stood out. We had a few things we thought we'd be flagged on for sure. In the opening cinema of the Story mode, you see someone get decapitated -- even though it's just a shadow on the wall. But the ESRB said it was fine!
GP: What has the reaction been to MK vs. DC, from the loyal, old-school MK fans?
Ed Boon: To be blunt, the initial reaction was pretty negative. I would say at least 70% negative, 30% positive. [I think the fans felt that,] "you're messing with my baby!" And DC is known to be a little more of a boy scout, clean-cut label -- Marvel is even a little more edgy than DC. We have Superman, Wonderwoman, The Flash...they aren't exactly known killers. Batman's darker, but still.
So we made the announcement for MK vs. DC, posted a quick teaser video, and gave no information. So everybody assumed that a Teen rating meant no blood and no fatalities - I think [some fans] filled in the gaps in their head, even though there's a ton of blood and fatalities in the final game. Add that to internet discussion, and the whole thing took on a life of its own.
But once we started releasing gameplay videos, and lettings folks play the game at E3, Leipzig, and Comicon...we saw a complete turnaround. It seems to me that the feedback is about 90% positive now.
GP: MK vs. DC is a fun game -- I think I personally prefer it to the PS2 and Xbox games. It feels more like Mortal Kombat to me.
Ed Boon: Exactly. It's more focused on a 2D strategy; ducking is easier, jumping is easier. Aerial strategies play a big part, too. I think people are used to that in Mortal Kombat, jumping over a projectile to kick their opponent.
GP: There must have been a few MK or DC characters you wished you could have included but didn't. Who were they?
Ed Boon: From the MK side, Kung Lao and Reptile. From the DC side, we had a lot of debates. Some people wanted Lobo in the game -- but I don't even know who that is! At one point, a staff member wanted Aquaman in the game, and now he feels it would have been a mistake. [laughs] We also considered the Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, and so on. But we looked at the game as a "greatest hits" lineup for both MK and DC. Deathstroke isn't as well known but he's darker and looks like a ninja, so he's in. And the original reason I wanted (the 1940's-era hero) Captain Marvel in the game was to include a special move where you could turn into Billy Batson [Captain Marvel's underage alter-ego]. But then we thought, "boy, if Superman was beating up on a little kid..." [laughter]. To me, Captain Marvel is one of the nice surprises in the game.
Ed Boon: I remember that it came up. There were characters who DC deemed off-limits...they said, "no, you can't use these certain characters." DC also said things like, "your Batman can't look like the Dark Knight movie, and you can't make your Joker look like Heath Ledger." So there were certain things that DC wanted to keep separate from the movies.
GP: What do you think of the Watchmen movie coming out in 2009? Did you see the trailer?
Ed Boon: Yeah, I saw it...you know what, I'm not very familiar with Watchmen! There were a couple of guys on our team who call it the greatest graphic novel of all time. But the trailer certainly sparked my curiosity about it.
GP: We've heard reports of a super-mature, redesigned Mortal Kombat 8 that was underway before MK vs. DC came into existence. Is MK8 still gestating? Will you re-visit that idea down the line?
Ed Boon: Absolutely. I don't think we've seen the last Mature-rated Mortal Kombat game. I do think that MK vs. DC is a potential opportunity for a new series - I'd love to do MK vs. Marvel, or even MK vs. Street Fighter though that would be a tough one. Or MK vs. Tekken or Dead or Alive...to me, those would be great ideas.
Over the past few years, I think fighting games have alienated a lot of players. Some of the more technical fighters have excluded 90% of players who can't master the timing and feel. With MK vs. DC, we're back to a simpler approach to fighting games. We have extra layers to the gameplay, to allow expert players to show off. But I feel that MK vs. DC will do a great job of satisfying both camps.
GP: Here's a dream question I've always wanted to ask you: What is the best Mortal Kombat rip-off you've ever played?
Ed Boon: That's a really good question! I don't know if it's a real Mortal Kombat rip-off, though it did have finishing moves, but I'd say Killer Instinct.
GP: What about the worst Mortal Kombat rip-off?
Ed Boon: Ugh...this game called Tattoo Assassins. There's a diarrhea special move, for god's sake. That was painful.
GP: Any chance we'll see a more definitive collection of the classic Mortal Kombat games, perhaps released as DLC? I'd love to have an online-enabled version of Mortal Kombat 4...
Ed Boon: Umm...probably. There's always talk of some sort of compilation. But some of the games are harder to convert: Mortal Kombat 4 was developed on proprietary 3D hardware that used four-sided polygons and not the typical triangles. All of these things, at a hardware level, are more difficult to emulate. I think that's a big reason we haven't seen an MK4 version widely available, though there is a PC version.
GP: And whatever happened to that third Mortal Kombat movie?
Ed Boon: I've been sent like five scripts so far, and we've gone back and forth with them. I know that it's in some kind of production, though they haven't shot yet. The script exists, I've read it and commented upon it. It's kind of just...plodding along.
Continue reading the Q&A