With the announcement of Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath, players in the latest iteration of the classic combat franchise have plenty to be excited about. Not only does the paid expansion bring players a whole new story and three new characters to add to their lists (including RoboCop as played by original actor Peter Weller), but each player in Mortal Kombat 11 gets new moves from Friendship finish and a few classic steps to add to their rotation for free.
With the biggest expansion the series has ever made next week, I met the series co-creator and director of Mortal Kombat 11, Ed Boon, to talk about the thinking behind this expansion and what fans can do. expect the future of Mortal Kombat and the games. in general.
Why did you decide that an expansion was the right track for Mortal Kombat 11 instead of waiting to continue the story through a sequel as we have seen in the past?
Ed Boon: At the end of the day, when we finished Mortal Kombat 11, we left it as a sort of “Hey, this story is over”. Our last games we have had, we have always released what some people call a “game of the year edition” that repackaged throughout the year in a single package. With Mortal Kombat XL, we tried something new where we added four other characters like Alien, Predator and some MK characters. And it was huge for us! It was unexpected like, “Oh wow! It was really, really big!” So from that point of view, our first reaction was, “Oh! Let’s see that. Let’s do that, and then some!”
History was the area where … many of our fans love this part of Mortal Kombat: story mode, storytelling and all that. So it was kind of like, “Oh, let’s do that! Let’s just hit very hard with a great addition – almost like an epilogue – final conclusion of the story. And so our main thing was that we really wanted to drop this crazy bomb of content on the player. As we had this discussion on the story, we saw that there was more than we can say for that, so we found a little Back to the future II synopsis; you go back in time and you see the events, then you change the course of history. It ended up very cool.
And it is not the first time that we go back in time, especially in this current trilogy starting with Mortal Kombat 9. Why make the decision to bring things more or less back to square one?
Well, when you think about it, we’ve sort of reached the end of time with MK 11. It’s like reaching the virtual end of the universe … which, I guess, doesn’t exist. But we felt like if you were to draw a visual timeline, you would see the dot at the end like, “Okay, I guess we hit that.” Then, with history going back to the beginning of time, it made sense to – again, the Back to the future approach. We wanted to continue with the same story; we didn’t want to tell a new story, because it’s still MK 11. It’s a bit like reaching the Pacific Ocean under the name of Forrest Gump, then turning around then backing away, sort of going back on its not in some ways. As for the timeline that seemed to be the way to go, and also for the player who is in MK 11, there will be a lot of cool nostalgia like: “Oh, I remember where we are now!”
Will the reminders be limited to the story of MK 11, or will we also see moments from other Mortal Kombat games?
It’s mainly the MK 11 stuff. There are other things that have happened that are referenced and that have an influence, but it’s not like we go back to Deadly Alliance and see that.
Can you give me an idea of the scope of the story? How does this compare to the basic story of MK 11?
It’s not as big. It’s five very thick chapters. Traditionally, we will have four fights in a chapter per character. This one, some have six. These are much thicker and longer chapters. We’re really trying to focus mainly on these new characters: Fujin and Sheeva. RoboCop is do not in history in case you ask! [Laughs] But this kind of reveals their role in the overall history of MK 11.
What about this story is something players should look forward to that we may not have had with the original MK 11 story?
For me, Shang Tsung, Cary Tagawa returning by making it heard – presenting it again in a story mode – I think a lot of people, they visualize Cary Tagawa as Shang Tsung from the 1995 film like the Shang Tsung they remember. When you see this visual and hear its voice and the nuance it puts into it, there is something very special about it.
Plus, Fujin and Sheeva are characters who haven’t really mattered as much over the years. Fujin in particular, he just appeared in Mortal Kombat 4 and Armageddon, but he never had a big lead role, so we’re really deepening his story and his relationship with his brother Raiden, and all that, so it’s is very cool. And then the back and forth between Sindel and where will it end? Is it good? Is it bad? We are really trying to tease him too.
But for me, Cary Tagawa as Shang Tsung and the constant expectation throughout the whole thing and the suspense of “When will he turn on these people?” is a lot of fun. [Laughs]
RoboCop and guest characters
And obviously having Cary Tagawa back as Shang Tsung is great, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Peter Weller taking over his role as RoboCop in the same breath. I know he’s not in the new story mode, but what was it like working with him?
Many of us grew up watching 80s action movies, so there’s something so cool about it … when he came into our studio, I was like, “Oh my God! RoboCop is in our studio! It’s the coolest thing there is! “Getting the original voice of the actor makes it even more authentic. It’s a subtlety. I always think of RoboCop as the Terminator bookend. There is a comic book made of RoboCop against Terminator. So this is a list of things to do. We have these lists of people and we have been talking about RoboCop since MK 9. We kept it on the list as long as possible and finally we checked it.
There are defined themes for your DLC guest characters: Mortal Kombat 9 was horror movies, Mortal Kombat X was science fiction action, and now it seems like the theme with MK 11 is the action of the 80s Are there other guest characters you would like to add?
Like I said, we literally have a list on which we move people up and down. Obviously, it’s not just a matter of who we want and then we get them. There are a ton of hoops you have to get through for these things to happen. But if you’ve seen a very big movie from the 80s or 90s, it’s probably on our list!
When working with these third party licensors, how do you make sure that you don’t cross any line when their heads explode, or that you work together to make sure their movement sets are as authentic as possible?
Well, the discussion of “We don’t want to have their heads ripped off” never happens. [Laughs] For example, the prerequisite is: “These are the things we are going to do for your character”, and if they register there, it’s a bit like there are no limits. Regarding what the character does in combat, we send them concepts all the time. We send them stories, we literally send them the preliminary animation of what we captured and how it will feel and all that. They have comments they give us and there is a lot of back and forth, especially with these top profiles … you know, Terminator was a big one. RoboCop is a big one. Spawn was great because Todd McFarlane was like, “Go crazy!” so there was no, “Oh, let’s back up there.” He was just like, “Go crazy! I’ve wanted to see this for so long” and he was just in party mode.
And I’m sure some of these people who worked for these movie properties in 2020 grew up as fans of Mortal Kombat.
Yes, and when you think about, say, RoboCop: RoboCop was a long time ago, and so it’s not like we’re talking to the person who created RoboCop; we’re talking to a person who was also a child, and so they have the same level of “Oh, it’s going to be so cool!” You know, it’s conversation. They’re not the ones who say, “Well, you have to make sure RocoCop never does that.” It is not the topic of conversation. It’s more like, “Yes! And then we can do that too!” You know? They will make suggestions. Nostalgia and childhood memories fuel the majority of conversations, as well as enthusiasm and excitement. Restrictions are the much rarer topic of discussion that we have.
Besides RoboCop, Aftermath also adds Fujin and Sheeva. Although you rightly point out that they were both overlooked in their roles in the MK stories, I think it’s safe to say that Fujin was much less important. I think that even in MK 4, it was not confirmed that he was Raiden’s brother, only implied. Why was it so important to add it in particular?
I think over the years we have about 80 characters from Mortal Kombat to some extent. We added Fujin because he hasn’t been seen in a game for so long. Frankly, I think a decent number of players will be like, “Who is Fujin?” If we had just made Mileena, Kitana, Jade, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Rain, you know, all these characters, I think it would become outdated after a while. We have to give the characters a break from time to time. Then when they come back, it’s a big deal. It is a novelty and we are just spreading it. Fujin was one of the things our designers said, “Hey, I think we could do something really cool with this character with the wind and run with the wind and do things with his sword.” When the designers say they could do something really unique with the gameplay, it weighs a lot in terms of who to bring back.
Let’s get into friendships. We’ve seen a lot of the new friendship moves added to the game, but I’m curious about your favorites.
That of Noob Saibot – it was perhaps the first that we did – simply set the bar how stupid we are going to be with them the right way. God, there are so many! Jax playing the saxophone is just a genius … Kung Lao with its toy trains is so childish. It’s just the opposite of a fatality, which is so cool. Our deaths have become so exaggerated that it’s like, “Let’s go 180 degrees and go that far in that direction with those stupid friendships.”
I have spoken with you and your team members in the past about the fatality design process, but how is this process different from friendships? Is it similar where you pull them and throw them on a board to see what sticks? Do you always have the number of beats you want to hit with each of them? Or are the rules completely different?
The rules are very different. They don’t have the same beat criteria as you said; we talk about it with Fatal Blows and Fatalities. We go, “What are the rhythms? What are the highlights?” But it’s just, “How can we be stupid?” And they are usually oriented around the character, like Fujin has wind capacities, so you think of a kite and you think of flying a kite.
Noob Saibot is with friends, so suddenly it’s the jump rope. The motion capture talent that we have adds a lot of nuance to that. Some of the nuances you see when Noob Saibot bounces on his hands and does things, it’s not like we said to do this and then do that; he just left and it turned out that it was just gold.
There are not as many meetings with Friendships as someone would write a paragraph, and we would send it out and then those that made us say, “Oh, we have to do it!” Like the Kano barbecue and stuff like that, it’s almost a given that we would do that.
Were there any left on the cutting room floor?
Yes, there were a ton. Some of them were so big in production that we had to compose them. And then some of them weren’t as funny or entertaining or too short or something. The Sub-Zero has undergone a few iterations. I love where it ended up with the ice cream truck on a bike.
And in addition to friendships, which are free for all MK 11 players, everyone has access to classic scenes and stage fatalities. How did you modernize these return stages?
Right. Stage Fatalities, Friendships and new stages are only part of a free update. I remember in MK X, we brought back The Pit and it’s cool to make a more modern representation of these classic environments that we’ve had over the years. It’s always fun to see them again, and the environment team, the concept guys, they have field days because they have memories of what it was like to play, so it’s like, “Let’s add this nuance. Let’s add that.” So it’s fun to see them go crazy with it.
And the Stage Fatalities are also modernized.
Yeah, it was almost like a prerequisite. Of course, we are not just going to reproduce the exact events of the last one. We have to push the button up a bit.
It seems that with each Mortal Kombat or Injustice game, your team repeats the gameplay and functionality. With MK 11, it felt like we had found an ideal place for gameplay in particular. Do you consider this a perfect opportunity to treat Mortal Kombat 11 as a platform instead of a simple game that exists and generates a sequel? Does this play a role in your thinking of releasing an expansion of this magnitude?
I think we have something solid. I’ve said it before, though: I feel like there’s room for additional loosening of the reins. Ideally, I would always, and we certainly are still exploring, the concept of allowing custom variations that players make to be used in competitive play. It’s a huge balancing act, but we’re looking at it absolutely. If I understand correctly, it will be something that we will release in a future patch or something that will simply give the player more freedom. We just want to say, “Here are some other toys to play with. Come with your favorite!”
So I can’t help but notice that you mentioned a controversial word within the MK community earlier: Mileena. Is there a Kombat Pack 2 after Aftermath?
[Laughs] I can neither confirm nor deny anything after Aftermath.
On the subject of Mileena: Was it just a total troll job to put her as a guest in a friendship?
No, the idea was just to be that kind of schoolgirl thing. And who else are we going to do with Kitana? [Laughs]
Are there any plans to continue keeping this game alive after Aftermath?
Yes, at this highest level, we obviously want to support the game as long as the players are with us, so to speak. I would certainly love to continue exploring this. Although, to what extent is a much larger conversation, as if it are additional characters or new features, new modes, whatever.
Next generation capabilities
A photo from last week’s Unreal Engine 5 tech demo from Epic Games
Did you have a chance to watch the Epic Unreal Engine 5 technology demo last week?
Yes! I was riveted. It’s so, so impressive. You almost question it. You almost go, “No, it can’t be that.” Like, and if so, then they did a great job, like, it raised the bar so high. And you know, the timing of this one – Unreal 5, PlayStation 5, this new generation – it’s as if the timing was incredible as much as from a marketing launch window. That’s great.
If what we see and hear about these abilities is true, do you have any idea what it would mean for players in the future?
I think one of the things people underestimate is the impact that this theoretical load-free time will have on games. Many games design things that some players might perceive as the boring part of the game, but that serves one function: loading. Now the loading time is not zero, but if it goes from 10 seconds to half a second or a second, it is important. I think it will allow people to do things that we, like in our understanding of moving data in and out of the game, when we remove this limitation that we have been mentally thinking about for 15 or 20 years now, it’s going to open up doors. I don’t think we’ve seen a glimpse of the potential of what it’s going to be.
UFC Fight Island
Official “Fight Island” merchandise currently available on UFCStore.com
Let’s close on this: I don’t know if you’ve watched the news surrounding the world of sport, but the UFC has this private island that it plans to use to organize international fights during the pandemic. Obviously, one of the first parallels that many people, including myself, drew was that of Mortal Kombat. Have you heard of “Fight Island”?
Yes, and I see how they found this parallel. [Laughs] I guess the words “Mortal Kombat” were spoken in their discussions about when they created this, like “just like” or something like that. But it’s exciting to think about it. I think this is one of those examples of Mortal Kombat being in pop culture and affecting other mediums. So I think it’s a compliment for us.
So one of those life situations imitating art?
Exactly. Well, and you know, when you think about it, Enter the Dragon, Bloodsport, they had a huge influence on Mortal Kombat, so it’s all part of the ebb and flow of things.
Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath will launch on May 26. To see some of the weird friendships in action, check out our exclusive look here. To learn more about the history of the series’ emblematic Fatalities, go here.