Worlds Collide: The Ed Boon Interview
During the Midway Gamers' Day 2008, one of the big unveilings was the first Mortal Kombat title for next-gen consoles. It was well known that series co-creator Ed Boon had a new Mortal Kombat title in development, and rumors had surfaced as of late that he might be combining another franchise with Mortal Kombat. But what exactly that game would be was unknown -- that was until Ed Boon unveiled Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe.
We had many, many questions. How did DC get into the mix? What is this new fighting mechanic? Will DC force Boon and company to remove the series' trademark fatalities? We sat down with Midway's Ed Boon to get all of these answers and more.
Crispy Gamer: So tonight was the big unveiling of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. How did you feel about it? Are you excited to finally take the wraps off?
Ed Boon: Yes and no, I guess. From my perspective, personally, I would have wanted to hit a lot harder. I would have wanted to come out, "Boom, these are all the features, this is this, check out the gameplay," and all that stuff. But I understand that there is such a thing as a teaser release and a teaser video and whatnot -- that sort of process. There are so many questions I want to answer and respond to with the whole process of unveiling a game -- you have to go through the proper channels.
Crispy Gamer: So, the teaser trailer says, "Worlds will collide, the fate of the universe will be decided." And then all of a sudden we see Sub-Zero and Batman. From that standpoint, I'm a little confused.
Boon: It's funny. When I was growing up as a kid, I read tons of comic books. There were two Earths in the DC world. There was the Justice League Earth and the Justice Society Earth. They existed in parallel worlds but they weren't in the physical same space. That's the approach we're taking with Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. In the Mortal Kombat world, there's no such thing as Batman -- and in Batman's world there's no such thing as Scorpion.
The way we took it with the story is at the same time two cataclysmic events -- we reveal it all in the game -- occur at the same moment in time in the two different dimensions and it causes a rift between them. So all of a sudden Batman is in Gotham City and he comes across Scorpion. How did that happen? Who is this character? Scorpion is like, "Where am I?" There is this slow mergence of the characters -- they start swapping places and whatnot -- and all of a sudden the realms start. You'll see an island that's half of Shang Tsung's island and half of something like this. All of these events are slowly merging over time and some of the characters figure out what's happening -- it's all kind of based on magic. This magic kind of explains why Superman would lose to anybody. We had to answer a lot of these questions through the story and make it plausible. Why would Superman be fighting Sub-Zero? Why would it even be a challenge? Somebody who could move a mountain versus somebody who can freeze people -- that's the "worlds collide" thing. These two worlds are merging and it's chaos.
Crispy Gamer: Now this is a totally new storyline and separate from everything else?
Boon: Totally. It's interesting. A number of people were asking, "Is this a continuation of the Mortal Kombat story? Or is it a 'What if?' scenario?" I guess we don't know right now. When we start the next one we'll decide if it's going to be a continuation. Right now you can consider it a "What if?" situation. If this is really huge I fully intend on doing another M-rated Mortal Kombat game that's just Mortal Kombat. Just like Capcom has its vs. line and their Alpha line and whatever -- I can see us doing this.
Crispy Gamer: I know you're a big comic book guy. How did the whole DC relationship come about, and was this part of the original vision?
Boon: No. We developed the game a good six to eight months thinking that this was a Mortal Kombat game. Back in the days of Mortal Kombat 3 or 4, I always thought it would be so awesome to do a Mortal Kombat vs. Street Fighter game. And it would be cool to do a Mortal Kombat vs. Tekken game, or Mortal Kombat vs Virtua Fighter -- just because I play all of those games. I play every fighting game that comes out and I'm a huge fan of them all. We never really thought about other non-fighting game possibilities.
So our marketing department came to us and said, "What do you think about DC characters?" Honestly there was pause at first. We thought, "Well, it would have to be a T-rated game." They're not going to let us rip Batman's head off. Superman's not going to be able to tear off Sub-Zero's arm. We were weighing the benefits of it. I guess the biggest thing that inspired us to do it was we felt it was time for a big change. We felt like we had done the multiple fighting styles thing enough. We were happy with how it turned out, but we felt like there was nowhere to go with it anymore. We had 60 or 70 characters, and it's like moving the Titanic to update everybody's story, so we needed a reboot -- with next-generation consoles: new presentation, new fighting mechanic, new story. Let's make as dramatic of a change as possible with everything. That's our motivation.
Crispy Gamer: One of the staples of the Mortal Kombat franchise is fatalities. So with a Teen rating are you going to be able to rip Superman's heart out or rip Batman's spine out of his back?
Boon: No, probably not. I don't even know if I wish I could. I probably would find it disturbing if you could rip Batman's spine out. There's part of me that would want to do it, yes. We are going to have a big event, a finishing move at the end of the round that you will perform by doing a button combination, but I probably wouldn't use the word "fatality." Superman is a Boy Scout. He doesn't kill people. Batman is always a good person. Plus, I don't think DC would let us rip Superman's heart out. That's one of the challenges. We're going to be making big outrageous events -- superpower events -- kind of annihilate the character. He's not necessarily dead. Maybe the Mortal Kombat characters will have different rules when they're fighting each other -- we're still toying with all these variables.
Crispy Gamer: Last time we talked, before this game was even announced, you mentioned that you would be throwing out the move sets. Will characters like Scorpion and Sub-Zero have all-new moves? Meaning, you can't go back and play them like you used to?
Boon: That's a good question. No, I think we're definitely going to have a spear move. Sub-Zero is going to freeze people. From that standpoint, yes. In terms of the basic fighting mechanics, our goal is to reset everything. Reboot everything. So I guess it's not a 100-percent reboot of everything from that standpoint, but I think part of what makes Scorpion Scorpion is that spear.
Crispy Gamer: It looks like a darker, grittier world. Are you still sticking with the multi-tiered environments? In the trailer you've got them going off the top of buildings, punching through the air. Are you also going to have the environmental hazards that you've had in the past games?
Boon: Not the death traps, per se. You can't throw someone in a pit, and then all of a sudden you've won the round. Again, we like the feature but we did it before, so we didn't want to repeat it. We've had transitions in the game, but it was always a show. You knock somebody off a cliff and then you watch some cool event of him falling, landing, and then you continue fighting. So we said, "Let's make a fighting mechanic within that seven seconds of that falling." So it's a boom, boom, boom -- switch sides -- boom, boom, boom -- and there's a little mechanic there. And then you go back into normal fighting. I grab you and I pull you in, and then it's this boxing mode. There are big huge moments. I'm Scorpion and I mass shatter -- you see this skull underneath it, the damage on the clothing -- you see the progressive damage and all that stuff -- and then boom, you break out of that. There are these moments when you go into this temporary different fighting mechanic and then you back out and go back to normal. Right now we are in the process of balancing for what is the most fun. Falling for one minute? No, that's probably too long. Falling for one second? No, that's probably too short. What's the perfect balance for that? That's what we're working on right now.
Crispy Gamer: With DC characters, there are obviously different eras, different time periods. Do you have a set time period that you're working from? Are we talking current?
Boon: Yeah, I guess it's kind of current. The differences that we've messed with are the art styles. There's the Jim Lee thing, and then there's the Alex Ross thing. It's not "Superfriends," it's "Batman Begins." It's probably a little more photorealistic representation of the characters, I think. We're trying to be as serious-looking as possible -- as serious as you can get with superheroes and whatnot. I'd have to say it's more modern, more present-day.
Crispy Gamer: You know, you've said in the past that Mortal Kombat doesn't work on the Wii, and then magically it appeared on the Wii?.
Crispy Gamer: ?and it did very well on the Wii. Are you planning on bringing Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe to the Wii?
Boon: We're definitely not not planning on it. There are challenges involved with doing it on the Wii -- nothing to do with the controls, but for instance the Unreal Engine 3 does not exist on the Wii. One of the ideas that we're toying with is that we'll get the commands for the moves from the new game into an older engine, and we may explore that. Right now, there isn't somebody working on it, but I would not be surprised to see it in the future.
Crispy Gamer: One thing Namco is doing with its new Soulcalibur is that it has "Star Wars" characters in the game. It is doing an exclusive character for the Xbox 360, and an exclusive character for the PlayStation 3. Is that something you're thinking about doing?
Boon: No. No. Now that you've said it, it's the first time that's popped into my head. [laughs] It would have been pretty cool. I think we would have been excluding it for the sake of excluding it. If we took the time and put in -- I can't even think of a character -- if Spider-Man was part of the DC lineup, and we put Spider-Man into the game and we put all of the work to put it in, it would almost seem like we were just doing it to sort of screw over the other one to not put him in there, you know?
Watch us end up doing it now, too -- and then you'll call me on it... [laughs] My mindset now is that if we put in the work to include the character in we'd put it in both platforms.
Crispy Gamer: You're not talking about the modes of the game now, but in the last couple games you've had a puzzle game in there, you've had a kart game. Are you looking to throw those things like that into the game this time around, or are you just focusing on the fighting?
Boon: No, because we did it and it started to become expected, like we would see people on the forums saying, "Oh, I wonder what kind of mini-games there are going to be." Because of that we're not doing it. Instead of that we're kind of just focusing in on the fighting and the new modes. We have this whole reinvention -- there's a ton of balancing and stuff to do. And then our story mode is from two perspectives -- there are kind of two story modes in the game when you think about it. You play from the DC side and see what the characters experience, and it's the invasion of the Mortal Kombat guys. When you play from the Mortal Kombat side, you see it from the experience of Scorpion -- it's the invasion of the DC characters. So you're kind of telling the same story from the different perspectives as they see their realms merging.
Crispy Gamer: Is it going to be like the Quest Mode when you evolve the character?
Boon: No, you play multiple characters in this one. So you spend Chapter One as Superman -- it's not literal -- Chapter Two might be Batman. Chapter One in Mortal Kombat is Scorpion -- you play as Scorpion and you learn his moves -- and in his story he meets up with Sub-Zero, and you continue the path as Sub-Zero. You follow a character for a certain amount of time.
Crispy Gamer: Now we're going to assume that online multiplayer has been a big part of Mortal Kombat in the past. The last time we spoke you said that one of the things you were thinking about doing was having an arcade where people could put up quarters on a machine and play multiplayer. Is this something you think you're going to be able to achieve with this game?
Boon: One of the challenges that came about when we took on the DC license was exactly that -- the presentation of the game. We did have to postpone some of the directions that we were traveling down, and that's one of the ones, to be honest, that's on the fence -- we may or may not. We are getting more sophisticated with our online presentation, but that's a lot more towards the community stuff -- people being able to chat and talk to each other and cooler matchmaking. So between doing that and getting the DC approvals, some of that stuff had to be put on hold.
Crispy Gamer: It's a big year for fighting games. In 2008 we're seeing a new Street Fighter -- possibly two different versions of that -- Soulcalibur, Tekken and now Mortal Kombat. What's going to separate Mortal Kombat?
Boon: As a fighting game fan, I'm excited about those games. I think all of these fighting games need to do a reboot at some point, and not just do an incremental change. I think with the fighting genre, that's one of the reasons why it's smaller now than it used to be 10 years ago.
Everything is going to separate Mortal Kombat -- the whole presentation. The DC characters, the whole new fighting mechanic. Everything that about playing Mortal Kombat is going to be new.