Feature Article

Mortal Kombat X's Ed Boon on Violence, Fan Demands, and More

Bloodsport.

Ed Boon is among few creators who dedicate the bulk of their careers to a single video game series. When Mortal Kombat was released in arcades in 1992, it popularized digitized characters derived from video footage, and incorporated exceptional displays of violence, something that the series continues to thrive on today, 23 years later. It was unlike anything players had seen before, and it was a runaway success.

Once it hit the console market, a new demographic began to take notice. People (read: politicians and parents) recognized the realistic-looking graphics and took exception to the violent acts on screen. It was a milestone; video games were finally mature, so to speak. TIME magazine put it best: "...it broke an implicit taboo about what was okay to put in a game."

I recently sat down with Boon to chat about Mortal Kombat's violent roots and what it means for the game today. We also talked about how fans, of which many are loyal to the series, can influence what goes into every new Mortal Kombat if they speak up often enough.

GameSpot: If you think back, what was the first day like when you started work on the original Mortal Kombat?

Boon: "The first one? The first day was us mocking up a bit of a demo using Jean-Claude Van Damme images from Bloodsport. We hadn't had anybody come into the studio to record, so we were trying to convince Van Damme to let us do a licensed Van Damme game. We went into the movie and found an image of him getting into a stance and stripped out the background and put it into the game and mocked things up. We were kind of getting used to the new digitized technology, too, so that's what I remember, trying to setup a demo to try to convince Jean Claude Van Damme to let us do a game based on him."

Ed Boon, co-creator of Mortal Kombat
Ed Boon, co-creator of Mortal Kombat

What was the biggest technical challenge at the time?

"The biggest technical challenge was trying to get a look that was really realistic. This was the first time that we had a video camera pointed at somebody in front of a grey screen, or blue screen, or green screen, and just messing with the lighting, messing with the focus, and all of the variables that we had to mess with to get a look that we really saw in our heads."

In some respects, things are a lot easier today, but I imagine there are still plenty of challenges that stand in the way of accomplishing your vision. What is the biggest technological hurdle that your team faces today?

"A lot of it is, again, is the look, the rendering, it's lighting, but in the game as opposed to a studio set where we're physically moving lights around the camera, or a character, to make him stand out. It's a much bigger team--130 people versus 4 people--that's getting a much more of a sophisticated look. Ironically, visuals are still the biggest technical hurdle."

Back when the controversy arose around Mortal Kombat, did you see that coming at the time?

"No, ironically. The game had been out already for over a year when the controversy came out. We had made an arcade game, it was in the arcade, and nobody said anything. Acclaim, to their credit, they took Mortal Kombat and raised it to a real mass-market thing. They spent ten million dollars on advertising the game. They put a TV commercial on, they put it in the theaters, big time stuff, and once they did that, that's when I think people saw the game. It might not have crossed their radar [before]."

It was a pivotal time in the industry for mature content in mainstream games, so now we are in a position where people are used to this sort of content. Are there any concerns these days, about taking things too far?

"Oh yea, yea. Every game, we have these brainstorming meetings, and...somebody will suggest something and it's more of a gut feeling that, you know, that's a little too far. I think every single game, [there are] those discussions where, you know, everyone's trying to push the envelope, but there's always a line that you never want to cross."

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How do you feel, personally, about the violence in the game?

"I think it's really a sign of an industry that's maturing. At the point when the first Mortal Kombat came out, you know, there weren't other games that had digitized graphics, in terms of that stuff. All of a sudden, video games were getting sophisticated enough to present something in a much more realistic way. While other games have had blood in them, it was very pixelated, and all of a sudden, it jumped up and people were like "whoa, whoa." That's when it became an issue, and that's when a rating system was put in place, that we agreed with. We agreed that this content is not intended for all players. It was more for the older player who's now 29 or 30 years, that's the one that we're targeting now."

I assume you like making Mortal Kombat for many reasons. It's obviously a great business, the games always do well, but what keeps you motivated to keep working on the series?

"Introducing new things. I think with each Mortal Kombat game, we've introduced something that's never been done before. With this game, it's the character variations. Something that would answer the question: "what is different about this one?" It's more than putting prettier graphics on a game, we've seen that not work out well.

In addition, we've done other projects. We did an Injustice game that did really well for us, and it had an amazing mobile game. We've all had other games to work on, which lets you come back to Mortal Kombat with a fresh mind and new ideas."

Do you ever have a desire to work on something other than fighting games?

"Oh, yea, yea. Me personally, I've always wanted to try action adventure games, and driving games, sports games. All of that is a big thing, but you know, Mortal Kombat keeps my hand pretty full, and Injustice now, and all that stuff, so it's a very big business."

How important are the fans to you and what you do as a studio?

"They're the ones that keep coming back and buying our games, so they obviously have a huge voice. A lot of us are on social media and there's some amount of communication, but some people forget that they are one of hundreds of thousands of people that are expressing their opinion, and clearly when you have a big sample of people expressing opinions, there's going to be dramatically conflicting opinions. We can't literally listen and address every single person's point. One guy says "Liu Kang should never be in the game," and one guys says "it's not Mortal Kombat without Liu Kang." We can't satisfy everybody."

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Is there any one demand from fans that was most prevalent, that is present in Mortal Kombat X?

"Character roster stuff has been a big one. There's a really big push for the obscure character we have, Tremor, which I got so many tweets from players wanting that character. It actually stood out to me as odd, but there was this swell of people pushing for it with petitions online and all of this crazy stuff, so we included him, and a big reason was because of fans yelling loud enough."

I've heard that the new generation of characters is very important to the vision for Mortal Kombat X. What unique qualities do they have that will make them interesting down the road, beyond just being relatives of classic characters?

"In a few ways. One is that we give them moves that remind you of their parents or elders, so to speak, so you'll see little nods. And then there's also, just the new blood that we feel is needed. They are their own character, they play unique to the other ones, but there's that little thread in between, the little nuances, that we kind of keep nodding to the originals."

Will there be a lot of battles between families?

"Yea, there's all this soap opera drama going on. If you go through the story mode, it details all of the drama that's happening in the families."

Is this the biggest story mode that your team's ever made?

"Oh yea, easily."

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

doc-brown

Peter Brown

Peter is Managing Editor at GameSpot, and when he's not covering the latest games, he's desperately trying to recapture his youth by playing the classics that made him happy as a kid.
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Avatar image for aztecwarr69
AZTECWARR69

MKX has been great by far the best fighting game out their. You guys have done an amazing job with the DLC's and here is one of my personal ideas for a future DLC Character. "Ghost Rider" , This character is great and would be a great fit for this game. This character has been seen fighting in action movies and has something unique and different to bring to the game.He is immortal and looks cool. He has a fiery head and I can picture him using his chains and perhaps his motor cycle to perform some sort of fatality or special move and Having all sorts of special moves. This character is well known by fans and would certainly be a huge success.Just a personal suggestion it would make this game even more amazing!!also a great thing you guys should bring back is the "Create your own character" option.

Avatar image for ACMC85
ACMC85

It'd be interesting to see an action adventure game from him or a racing game. Something outside of MK. Also strange, how the US accepts violence so easily over Nudity. Remember the point, I see my body everyday, not blood and guts. But violence sells.

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macaque12

great interview, clever questions. Hope GS do more of this things

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sa18

charecter creation? charecter progression with gaining skills or xp? co-op? are any of these in the game? or its just a reskin? seems to me MK and most fighting are not really evolving just looking more prettier, its was my favorite genre but its a shame that they dont evolve and its just VS mode. the MK shoalin monks and SC 1 to 4 are good examples how fighting games can evolve even thr last dbz. i hope they do something worth it besides looking great and smooth

Avatar image for westsiderz28
westsiderz28

wouldnt it be cool if you could turn the tables during a fatality, countering your opponenets fatality would be soo cool

Avatar image for novaprime1985
NovaPrime1985

<< LINK REMOVED >> yes yes because the losing party should have a shot at pulling the rug from underneath the victor

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RS13

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> To be fair, it does happen in every movie.

Avatar image for arkhamcreed78
ArkhamCreed78

<< LINK REMOVED >> Actually that would be monumentally stupid. The whole point of a fatality is a reward; you get to do this flashy and devastating move move to humiliate your opponent because you WON. The loser doesn't get to counter it, they already lost. The fight is over. Allowing the loser one last chance to counter and turn it around is basically the same thing as allowing them to steal the match after the judgment has been made and the winner is doing their victory dance.

Actually that's a good analogy; fatalities are a victory dance. The loser doesn't get to run up, interrupt it, and throw a cheap shot; they lost. Its over. And the loser's role is to hang their head in shame and take it.

Avatar image for westsiderz28
westsiderz28

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> well if anything it would make a change to the finish him/fatality process

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futureops

Gore/Violence = Satisfaction/Pleasure

Avatar image for Zeeksie
Zeeksie

I have some bad news for you.

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Riccithedude

I wonder what happened to tobias aka, "tostieeeeee"!!! :-(

Avatar image for LUNI-TUNZ
LUNI-TUNZ

<< LINK REMOVED >> Tobias left in like 2000 (after 4, but before Deadly Alliance) and "Toasty" was actually Dan Forden, who still works with them, and was even on their most recent stream.

Avatar image for LUNI-TUNZ
LUNI-TUNZ

<< LINK REMOVED >> Tobias left Midway in like 2000 (after 4, but before Deadly Alliance), and "Toasty" was Dan Forden, who still works with Netherealm (he was on last week's stream)

Avatar image for LUNI-TUNZ
LUNI-TUNZ

<< LINK REMOVED >> Tobias left in like 2000 (after 4, but before Deadly Alliance) and "Toasty" was actually Dan Forden, who still works with them, and was even on their most recent stream.

Avatar image for LUNI-TUNZ
LUNI-TUNZ

<< LINK REMOVED >> Tobias left Midway in like 2000, and "Toasty" was Dan Forden, who still works on the game.

Avatar image for sgthobbes
sgthobbes

"We agreed that this content is not intended for all players. It was more for the older player who's now 29 or 30 years..." Lol when I first read this I thought he ment the older players are now 29 - 30. My brother is 29 he he was 6 and I was 4 when we started playing mortal kombat in a local pizza place back in '92. Our favorite fighting game since

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

"... some people forget that they are one of hundreds of thousands of people that are expressing their opinion, and clearly when you have a big sample of people expressing opinions, there's going to be dramatically conflicting opinions. We can't literally listen and address every single person's point."


That quote should pop up every time you hit Post comment, and you'd have to check an "I have have read and understood" box before your post went through.

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Solrac71

Where's Noob and Smoke?

Avatar image for LonelyStep
LonelyStep

Peter Brown, it's "yeah", not "yea"

Avatar image for richioso
richioso

<< LINK REMOVED >> It's actually yes.

If you want to get technical.

Avatar image for clockworkboy00
clockworkboy00

<< LINK REMOVED >> He didn't say, "yes." He said, "yeah." To write, "yes" would be misquoting.


And "yea" is a vote. The opposite of "nay."


If you want to get technical (see: correct).

Avatar image for LonelyStep
LonelyStep

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Exactly.

Avatar image for hystavito
hystavito

On the digitized graphics, I feel the need to mention Pit Fighter which came out about 2yrs before Mortal Kombat. It didn't have the crazy violence, but at least in North American arcades I'm pretty sure it was the pioneer for that type of graphics. I remember the fatalities in MK were very cool to me as a kid, but I also remember seeing Pit Fighter on a trip in a big city fancy arcade :) (I'm from a small city) and being blown away by the digitized look.


Note: I decided to check, according to Wikipedia Pit Fighter was the 2nd game to use such graphics.

Avatar image for g1rldraco7
g1rldraco7

I'm glad Ed Boon isn't bothered by people saying the game is too violent. That's the reason why it's popular, it has no boundaries.

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

<< LINK REMOVED >> He's actually saying they DO have boundaries though.

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Packerfan7575

I'd like to see a 3rd group come into the picture. It's been outworld vs earth for so long, maybe an alien species could enter the tournament and really shake things up.

Avatar image for saint311
saint311

<< LINK REMOVED >> Netherrealm, no? Maybe they won't ally themselves w/ Outworld in this new continuity. Didn't it kinda seem that Quan Chi and Shinnok hinted as much at the end of MK9 story?

Avatar image for dominoodle
dominoodle

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> The comics seem to show that Outworld is kind of divided between Kotal Kahn's followers and Mileena's followers. There's also Netherrealm and the different ninja clans.

Lots of different factions at play in the upcoming game..

Avatar image for ahpuck
ahpuck

We agreed that this content is not intended for all players. It was more for the older player who's now 29 or 30 years, that's the one that we're targeting now." You know, the old guys who are unable to do a fatality, so they had to implement a single button fatality.

Avatar image for relgn
RelGn

<< LINK REMOVED >> I agree if you are targeting 29-30 mst of the people are hardcore or at least have brains to perform a fatality

Avatar image for Viral-venom13
Viral-venom13

This game is looking seriously sick and awesome, Quan-Chi definitely is the fighter so far that i've been impressed with the most the way he can take advantage of opponents by using those warp vortex to attack them randomly from all over, it's insane!!! FINISH HIM!!!!!

Avatar image for hastati4
hastati4

<< LINK REMOVED >> No way! I thought I was the only one most impressed with Quan Chi. I played him quite a bit in MK9, and I totally want to main him for MKX, mostly with the Warlock variation for those sick portal stabs and grabs.

Avatar image for Viral-venom13
Viral-venom13

<< LINK REMOVED >>

Lol, the guy just looks and plays like a total bad@$$ so i guess we'll have something awesome to look forward to here! I've always liked his character since being introduced in MK 4 and with his awesome evolution throughout the years, he's become 1 of my top ace characters in the series since i tend to mainly favor villains mostly anyways!! We're in for a treat come this game's release, cheers!! :)

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flashn00b

I still think MGR Raiden would've been a better guest than Jason.

Avatar image for MJ12-Conspiracy
MJ12-Conspiracy

I'm looking forward to the game.....

I'm a long time fan since the first MK so yeah, returning characters are always a must, it's not MK without the ninjas, a god, a sorcerer and a few other heroes and baddies but each MK needs new blood or new characters within certain factions or bloodlines so yeah.....I've kinda not payed attention to all the new character announcements but the few new blood characters I've seen look great...I hope there's more character surprises, I'd love to see Nitara and Frost again....I'm a weird one cus I do like those oddities like them and Stryker....Kabal but at least Kabal was popular from the start lol

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IndoJimbo

All they had to do was build off of MK 9. I got a strong feeling that MK X is gonna be another NetherRealm **** up.

Avatar image for 5hd6j
5hd6j

Not happy about the microtransactions and DLC whoring, its enough to ruin the game for many.

Go home Ed, you're drunk.

Avatar image for GeneFJacket
GeneFJacket

<< LINK REMOVED >> They haven't confirmed any microtransactions one way or the other, and with no info on it just two weeks out, I doubt they're in. There's also no DLC "whoring", just the one pack of content announced thus far (or 4, if you're naive enough to buy everything separately).

Avatar image for megakick
megakick

Predator OK he is hunter that works but Jason? What does he have to do with Mortal Kombat?

Rather have Chuck Norris or Grave Digger or Brock Lesnar or Bolo Yeung or Jean-Claude Van Damme or....

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