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Mortal Kombat dev Ed Boon recalls the uppercut that started it all

“The big thing was this uppercut,” remembers Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon. “The screen shook and the guy flew up in the air then like suddenly everybody is coming into my office ‘Aw, let me see the game!’” …


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The Definitive, XL Interview With Mortal Kombat’s Ed Boon

This interview was conducted by Andrew Reiner and Suriel Vazquez, and transcribed by Michael Leri.

Ed Boon has likely been making video games longer than you’ve been alive. Years before he became the steward of the Mortal Kombat franchise, Boon was programming pinball and arcade games for companies that no longer exist. But despite his over 30-year history in the industry, he’s only ever really had one job.

To get a full view of what such a storied career looks like, we talked with Boon about his early days at Williams Electronics, some of the names Mortal Kombat could have had, and what it’s like working on the same series for over two decades.

Andrew Reiner: Let’s go all the way back, way back to first time you saw some kind of interactive entertainment like this. Take us through that day.

Ed Boon: I think my first interaction with any kind of interactive game, per se, would probably be pinball machines. From way, way back in the days of grade school. Our bowling alley had a bunch of pinball machines and we would play them. At the time, there was a concept called winning a free game. So you would get good at a game and the whole theory was “play on this for long a time with a quarter.”

Reiner: The bowling alley. Do you remember the name of that?

I know it was on Dempster Street. That’s the only thing I know. Because I remember it was down one main street from my house. I think it might have been called East of Eden’s Bowling Alley because there was an Eden’s Expressway. And it was just east of it.

Reiner: Do you know what took its place? Do you know if it’s there right now?

Yes. A furniture design store or something like that. 

Reiner: That’s unfortunate.

There’s very few arcade-type things like that anymore.

Reiner: Where did you grow up and go to that pinball arcade?

I was born in Rogers Park, which is in Chicago, and we moved to Evanston/Skokie which is like a suburb of Chicago when I was in grade school. Like fourth grade or something. I basically lived there until I went away to college – and then got this job, as a matter of fact. I lived there for about the first two years of my job as a pinball programmer, I was saving up to buy a condo because I was on this big kick of “I’m never going to pay rent in my life.” 

Reiner: And you went to school where?

For college, I went to [the] University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. It’s probably about a two-hour, two-and-a-half hour drive from Chicago.

Reiner: So you’ve never lived anywhere outside of Illinois?

No. Never. But I’ve been outside of Illinois.

Reiner: Obviously, when we go to school we have a vision of a different future for ourselves. I was going to be an artist and draw Punisher comics. What were you envisioning as your potential career?

When I was in high school, there was the Atari 800, the Apple II, the Commodore 64, the VIC-20. All those kind of personal computers were becoming available. I do remember I did have an Atari 800 and I was programming in Basic, and then I started learning assembly language, and I started getting into that. That was like my hobby. Trying to figure out how graphics work and where to write in memory to get a pixel to show up on the screen. This thing called player-missile graphics and all these things.

So when I went to school I was like, “Well that will probably be my hobby all the time, but I’ll have a real job, a regular job to pay the bills.” That was kind of like my artistic output thing. But I lucked into this job through a little asterisk I put on my resume that got my foot in the door to be a pinball programmer, which kind of led me to being able to do video games. I never thought “I’m going to do video games” because I just for some reason didn’t think that was an option.

Suriel Vazquez: So when you made that transition from working on pinball machines to video game stuff, how much did you think your skills in designing pinball would transfer over to working on video games?

It was mainly programming. Ways of solving problems of writing software. For the longest time I called myself a programmer. I called myself the game’s programmer and the ideas for the game to me were like the easy part. The challenge was, “how do we make that happen? How do we make this spear come out of his hand? How do we make fire come out of his whatever?” You had a whole bunch of really good ideas, but the implementation part was [harder]. So you learn programming techniques and safe ways to program and quick ways to program. So I think those applied. 

But the ideas were always like… you had more ideas than you had time to make them happen. So like I said before, the whole concept of a designer didn’t exist [until] many years later, even though I think I was deeply involved with design. I just kept calling myself a programmer. Those two jobs didn’t separate until many years down the line. 

Reiner: When you went into your first day at work, your first game was Millionaire.

Yeah. They put me on a game called Millionaire, which was just being finished up and they said, “Oh, do lamp effects and display effects” which was like the closest you could get to video programming on a pinball machine. So I did that to kind of learn how the system works. How do you turn on a lamp? How do you make this flasher go off? How do you make the display show this animation? And kind of just getting used to it. Unfortunately, at the time I thought it was unfortunate, [but] apparently I did a pretty good job on it because they asked me to do it again for another machine and they asked me to do it again for another. And I wanted to have my own game [where] I would do the rules and the effects, the whole gambit of things that a game programmer does.

Reiner: Did you get to make your own table?

Well, I never designed the table but I eventually became a game programmer. I was the only programmer on the game. That was a game called Space Station, which was a sequel to a pinball machine called Space Shuttle. I did a game called Taxi, and finally I did a game called Black Knight 2000, which was a sequel to a huge, huge game in ‘80s. Black Knight 2000 was the last pinball machine that I had worked on before I moved downstairs to the video game guys who were working on NARC and Smash TV and all those kind of classic games of the ‘90s. 

Reiner: Black Knight 2000, by the way, has the best soundtrack to date in a video game.

It does!

Suriel: That song is amazing! How did you guys go about making that dense of a song? Because it sounds very out of place in terms of putting it in a pinball machine.

That was totally the vision of a guy named Steve Ritchie. It was funny because he kept saying, “I want to hear a choir of angels singing.” It reminded me of how when people say what Freddy Mercury wanted for Bohemian Rhapsody was all the “Mama Mias” and stuff like that. And he kept pushing that. They went on the assembly line and they got these three or four ladies and they brought them into the studio to record these, “You got the power!” and all those lines that were in that game. And they sounded terrible. Oh my god. The two sound guys, Dan Forden and Brian Schmidt, who were the two audio guys in that game, they were just like, “This is not going to work. We have to get somebody who can actually sing.” I forgot who they found but they finally found somebody. But I remember that soundtrack to that game was certainly, especially for its time, was years ahead of its time. I still know the song in my head.

Suriel: Who does that voice… is that you?

The voice of the Black Knight?

Suriel: Yeah. The one who’s like “No way!”

Yeah, like “Give me your money!” [Laughs]. No that’s the designer, Steve Ritchie. He had a really deep voice. He’s the same voice that was the Mortal Kombat announcer for Mortal Kombat 2, 3, and maybe 4? He was “FINISH HIM!” I was the announcer for Mortal Kombat 1 and then Steve Ritchie took over as the announcer for Mortal Kombat 2, 3, and 4.


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The New Mortal Kombat Movie Has A Director

You might have heard there's a new Mortal Kombat movie in the works. Of course, lots of projects are "in the works" before getting canned, but the prospect of a new, high-budget Mortal Kombat movie actually hitting theaters is now all the more likely, as the film has found a director.

As Variety reports, Simon McQuoid is currently in talks to direct the film, which James Wan (the director of the first Saw movie) is producing, among others. You may know McQuoid from the PlayStation "Michael" commercial he directed a few years ago, which featured a number of prominent PlayStation characters and revolved around the idea of the worlds we imagine when we play. You can watch that commercial here.

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Mortal Kombat XL Balancing Patch On The Way

Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon has announced via his Twitter account that developer NeverRealm Studios is working on a balancing patch for Mortal Kombat XL.

The patch comes out on October 4 (which is the PC release date), but details of the patch's actual contents will be revealed the day before on October 3.

XL is a version of Mortal Kombat X featuring the characters from its two Kombat Packs, such as the xenomorph from Alien.

For more on MKXL, check out our Test Chamber for the title.

[Source: Ed Boon's Twitter]

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Proof That Mortal Kombat Makes No Sense

NetherRealm’s popular fighting series doesn’t pretend to be realistic, but if you think about it, it’s three round structure is pretty ridiculous.

Dorkly perfectly encapsulates one of the most ridiculous aspects of Mortal Kombat. Why do most fighting games follow this formula?

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Think this is funny? Find out what happens when Sonic sees his future.

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Ed Boon Answers Mortal Kombat’s Burningest Questions

Have you ever looked at Goro's lair and wondered what it smelled like? Have you ever pondered Reptiles seemingly forgotten cosplay career? Why is Scorpion so demanding? If you're anything like me, these are the questions that keep you up at night. I had a chance to once and for all clear up the confusion surrounding these hot topics with Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon.

Game Informer: Why doesn't Scorpion
realize he could go to his opponent rather than always demanding they come to
him?
Ed Boon: That's a really good question. I think he's a control freak.
Like, he's one of those people who has to bark orders to kind of lift himself
up.

How many times has
Johnny Cage died?
About two or three million if you consider how many games we've
sold.

I think that's a
pretty modest estimate, actually.
Yeah, maybe.

Who is your favorite
character to design fatalities for?
I would still say Scorpion. I designed the first fatality
that we saw in Mortal Kombat X where you cut the guy's face off and you see it
all slowly fall down. Fatalities are actually huge. There's meetings that we
have and everybody kind of comes up with ideas and we piece ideas together and
stuff like that. But for me personally, Scorpion is still my favorite character
to design fatalities for.

Who do you most like
to kill with those fatalities?
Sub-Zero, I guess. Contrary to popular belief, I actually don't
hate Sub-Zero, but he's the opposite of Scorpion, so he has to kill him. There's
no other way.

Why did Reptile get
his start as a Scorpion and Sub-Zero cosplayer?
Because there was no more memory left to make another
costume with their own memory and it was something that I literally hacked the
new palette together. We had yellow, we had blue; green was the next color.
What's green? Lizards, reptiles, you know.

Has he given up on
his cosplay career?
Yes. Ironically, many people like his clone of the
other characters as their favorite. I think it has a lot to do with a nostalgia
or childhood thing.

Why doesn't Raiden
always travel back in time each time EarthRealm loses a tournament?
You know what? I ask myself that same question and um… we're
going to have to address that in the future. [laughs] We gotta come up with
something that makes sense because that's a really good point.

What does Goro's lair
smell like?
Rotted flesh.

Why didn't Shang
Tsung just change back to his younger self when he was stuck in his old
form?
I don't know if he had that ability. I think he needed to
have a certain number of souls in order to do that transformation and he
probably didn't have enough at the time.

What's Kratos up to
in the MK universe?
He is waiting for his round two in Mortal Kombat.

Does Noob Saibot ever
question where his name came from?
Yes. He thinks the creation of his name was very backwards
thinking and didn't look forward to the future. Ironically, I was the one who
named him. I think he wonders why it's so backwards.

For more burning questions about your favorite franchises, check out our similar feature about Pokémon and Yoshi's Woolly World.

This feature was originally published on June 15, 2016.

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Ed Boon Is Not So Kryptically Teasing More Mortal Kombat X DLC

Ed Boon loves toying with fans of NetherRealm’s games. The man at the top of Mortal Kombat’s tower and Injustice’s regime is back at it, with some not-so-subtle hints that Mortal Kombat X still has some room to grow.

The game has already received two “Kombat Packs” with four DLC characters each. A third such bundle might be on the way with a reveal coming at Evo, which takes place July 15 through 17 in Las Vegas.

You’ll note in the second of these tweets, the oddly placed uppercase letters are E, V, and O. We asked Boon about whether there might be more Mortal Kombat X DLC when we spoke with him at E3. He did not shut down the idea.

"That is a possibility," he told us. "I guess I don't have a definitive answer right now, but it's a possibility that that's it." With less than one month away, it might not be too long before we find out if more Klassic characters and horror legends are headed to the bloody fighter.

[Source: Ed Boon on Twitter (1), (2) via NeoGAF]

 

Our Take
With at least six months (likely more) before Injustice 2, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see NetherRealm pump some more into the already packed Mortal Kombat X. Despite the already large roster, there are always more characters fans would like to see.

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New Klassic Cyrax Mortal Kombat Figure From Pop Culture Shock Collectibles

The toy company Pop Culture Shock Collectibles recently showed off a prototype image of its new figure: a 1:4 scale statue of Cyrax donned in his classic Mortal Kombat outfit.

While no release or pricing information has been provided at this time, looking at other 1:4 scale figures on its site, an estimated price for Cyrax may be between around $ 300 and $ 500. Check out a full-scale image of the figure below:

The Cyrax figure is part of the Mortal Kombat Klassic series Pop Culture Shock Collectibles has been recently rolling out, joining a $ 500 Shao Kahn statue and a $ 700 Sub-Zero statue. The company has also released figures based on the Street Fighter, Judge Dredd, and He-Man series. 

For more on Mortal Kombat, make sure to check out our review of last year's Mortal Kombat X. Earlier this year, Mortal Kombat X was re-released as Mortal Kombat XL on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, coming with all of the game's characters, skins, and fatalities. 

[Source: Pop Culture Shock Collectibles on Facebook]

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Video: How NetherRealm built Mortal Kombat’s cinematic story mode

In this GDC 2013 talk NetherRealm’s Adisak Pochanayon explains how, exactly, “there’s a full-length feature film rendered in our game, with seamless transitions in and out of gameplay.” …


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The Alien Feasts In This Bloody Look At Mortal Kombat XL

Mortal Kombat X welcomed four new combatants today through the Kombat Pack 2 DLC. Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface, a Xenomorph from Alien, Mortal Kombat veteran Bo Rai Cho, and Triborg (a cyborg that can perfectly imitate Smoke, Sektor, Cyrax, and Sub-Zero), expand the game's roster to 33 playable characters. In this short video, Brian Shea and I take a look at all four of these new combatants, and show off a few new Fatalities in the process.

If you haven't picked up Mortal Kombat X yet, Warner Bros. is offering a new bundle called Mortal Kombat XL that comes bundled with all of the existing DLC, along with the new characters, for the standard retail price. The game also features improved netcode, which we sadly weren't able to show off in this video.

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For our review of Mortal Kombat X, head here.

For more Test Chamber, click the banner below, or check out our hub.

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