Beta’d: Ed Boon on His MORTAL KOMBAT Legacy
by Brian Walton on September 26, 2013
Mortal Kombat: Legacy premiered its second season today on Machinima. It tells the continuing, and hyper-violent, journey of your favorite characters from the classic video game franchise. The man behind all of it, the creator of the video game, is Ed Boon, who, along with John Tobias, brought some of the most colorful and singular characters in all of gaming to life. We spoke to Mr. Boon back at Comic-Con about the new season, about taking the Mortal Kombat formula to Injustice, and about the legacy that led to Legacy.
NERDIST: So, what’s it like having created a game that was so well-known for digitizing actors, and then seeing them fully realized by actors? How has that been from your perspective?
ED BOON:Well, the evolution, I guess, has been very gradual. We went from 2D kind of sprites to pretty awesome technology, so it’s been great in that it’s endured as long as it has. I just saw the episode with Johnny Cage. And the spirit of Johnny Cage is that he was our comedic change in the whole story. He’s the guy with the smart-ass lines with that kind of twist on it. Raiden’s the serious god who came through, and the spirit of those characters has maintained throughout all those renditions of it.
N: How do you feel having created all this and knowing that there are people out there, like the creators of the show, who love these characters so much that when they see that it’s not in the public eye, they say “We need to do this”? What’s that like, having people not just love it, but want to support it and want to make it big?
EB: It’s overwhelming, I guess? It’s weird to think that one little idea you had is now represented in so many different forms of media. You see the guy in Legacy 2, the Liu Kang guy, he throws a fireball and that was an original idea we had represented in sprites, and now it’s presented in a much more sophisticated way. That’s so cool to see that as technology evolves, different mediums adapt Mortal Kombat in a much more sophisticated way than we originally did with sprites. I’m still in awe.
N: So with the games evolving, you moved into 3D graphics, and continuing to follow things, you’re still involved with the series, correct?
N: And to have it move beyond just Mortal Kombat, where DC is saying, “Okay, now we need a fighting game that feels natural and real.” NetherRealm, your company, helped create Injustice, and it doesn’t feel exactly like Mortal Kombat, necessarily, and it’s so interesting that Mortal Kombat has a flavor but it’s so amiable. How do you feel about the interpretations people are bringing to it?
ED: I guess to your point about “Injustice feels like Mortal Kombat but it’s not” is that we did try to separate it, but you know, the DNA of us and stuff is there.
N: It is the best pick up and play game of the year, by the way.
EB: Oh, thanks.
N: If I have a friend who I say, “I want you to come over and play video games” and he says, “I don’t play video games,” I can say, “It’s fine, I have Injustice”. We’ll be able to play and you’ll be able to beat me a few times. It’s such a good game; sorry, a little aside there.
EB: Thank you. But, yeah I think the DNA of our studio, of our people, some of that just has to get into Injustice. You know, that’s a very superhero over-the-top game. Mortal Kombat is a little bit more, I don’t want to use the word tongue in cheek, but we don’t like to take ourselves too seriously, like we have elements of humor and stuff like that that we introduce.
N: With Legacy, it is very popular, people know it, and it is a part of Mortal Kombat now. Do you feel at some point you might take these people and go back and do the Mortal Kombat game based on Legacy? Is that something you want to look at as DLC for another game?
EB: I think that could happen. I think, like you said, like the DLC of Legacy Johnny Cage would be a hit. I don’t know about the entire game being around it; that might be a different interpretation.
N: But a cast-portrayed DLC of Johnny Cage.
EB: Exactly. I think that would be cool.
N: I would download the Legacy DLC if it all came together in a heartbeat.
EB: Exactly, and with Injustice we had Arkham City versions of Batman, we had just different renditions of….
N: Oh, you’ve gotten a lot of my money sir.
EB: So, I think it’s great that, like those comics, they have these different universes, these different interpretations of it, and that’s what I consider Legacy to be. It’s just a great contemporary model.
N: It’s interesting to me that you have this DLC coming out and everybody’s moving into DLC, and some DLC is better than others. I mean, people that are doing the multiplayer maps, things like that. You guys went in and you’re not just unlocking skins with your DLC; you’re getting a fully formed character that’s balanced. Lobo has completely different traits than the Martian Manhunter, and nothing feels farm-produced, and you guys are doing it right. As a company realizing that DLC is what going to be pushing people forward, how do you get people that might even be skeptical on your own team; how do you get people jazzed and going, “guys, people are going to embrace it, we just need to go with it for now.”?
EB: Honestly, with our team, I didn’t have to convince anybody, everybody was like “I wanna see Darkest Knight skin, I wanna see Flashpoint skin, I wanna see New 52”.
N: And you gave us so many skins in the regular game, I don’t feel cheated when I’m being asked for a whole new character.
EB: Exactly, but the level that it has been embraced has exceeded our expectations and it’s been ridiculous. I was always a little bit wondering for the skins, like Hal Jordan skin vs. John Stewart skin, and “are people really gonna care?,” but they’re all over it.
N: Everybody has his or her favorite version.
EB: That’s exactly it. Everybody has something that resonates with them and it’s cool, it’s nostalgic, there’s a novelty to seeing it in the front game and just like you were saying with the Legacy thing, people dig seeing something like a Johnny Cage character.
N: This is the last question on the games, and then we’ll focus back on Legacy: With the DLC and the Xbox One and PS4 coming out, one of my favorite moments in games of all times is Metal Gear Solid when Psycho Mantis reads my card. Do you feel that DLC is moving in such a way where, say, someone buys one NetherRealms game and then a few months later they buy the next game, do you think reading games of all you own is going to start becoming an unlockable thing with the way Xbox One is integrating?
EB: Absolutely. Especially, studios like us really like to have a relationship with the players. A lot of people identify us with “they’re still doing DLC” and other stuff. So it’s almost like talking with the play, like, “we know you got Mortal Kombat 9 so here’s a free thing to give you for that,” just as like a loyalty thing.
N: It’s just got to feel good to have the publishers reinvigorating by some of the things that have happened. For a while there I felt like we were just getting a bunch of ultimate editions and things like that, and in the last few years with Warner Brothers and everything it feels like people are reinvigorated. And it did seem for a little while it was starting to feel like Mortal Kombat was starting to eclipse and find its end, but between this and Warner Brothers and everything, it’s really like it’s back.
EB: Warner Brothers is absolutely great. Every conversation I’ve had with the higher-ups and stuff like that is that they are absolutely committed to Mortal Kombat. This Legacy 1, Legacy 2, my fingers are still crossed for a third movie; I’d love to see these guys to do a full-length feature film. That would be a great thing as well. And you know I wouldn’t be surprised if we never did a Mortal Kombat game again. So I really think that they are committed to it, and they are showing all the support in the world.
N: As far as Mortal Kombat: Legacy goes, how soon did they get you involved? Because that original teaser, that was just a proof of concept video that you guys weren’t involved in.
EB: You know what’s so funny is, we were one day away from releasing our own trailer for Mortal Kombat 9, the Mortal Kombat game that came out in 2011. The day before we released ours, Kevin’s trailer came out, and everybody thought it was us somehow showing, “hey, this is what Mortal Kombat is”. And it wasn’t and I was in front of my computer screen like everybody else going, “What the hell is this?” New interpretations of Baraka and Reptile and all these characters so it couldn’t have been better timing because people just started talking about Mortal Kombat. And then ours came out and they kind of played off of each other.
N: I think from the word “go” everybody just thought “OK, make it now”.
EB: Exactly, it was just a fantastic, like you said, proof of concept that just laid the groundwork, established the vision, everybody saw the third movie and the Legacy series just from watching that.
N: When they sat down with you, what were you happy to bring to the table for Legacy? What contributions have you been able to point at and go, “I’m happy that this is in there and it’s in there because of me,” aside from just the general whole thing?
EB: They sent us scripts really early on, and we were just the gatekeepers in terms of keeping the characters consistent. What’s great about the series is they have diverged, like their interpretation of Raiden was pretty way off, but I kept thinking this is an alternate universe like Red Zone Superman or something like that. It’s something that has the spirit of the character, but it’s in a completely different context and so when you think about it in that way I was cool with them taking some risks and taking some tangents. But the spirit of the character is what our conversations maintained.
N: And just to wrap up, what are you playing right now?
EB: I’m playing The Last Of Us, which is the main thing I’m trying to consume. And the smaller games and stuff like that. And I’m trying to go back to trying to some of the games that I missed just ’cause I was in the middle of finishing a game or something like that.
N: I’m going back way further than you should normally have to, but I’m playing Beyond Good and Evil for the first time.
EB: Are you really? (laughs)
N: I’m playing it on my Gamecube. I didn’t get it downloaded on my Xbox so I’m like “No, I’ll play it on my Gamecube, I’ve had it.”
EB: One of the games that I’ve seen people play, appreciate and I’ve got an idea for but never played was Resident Evil 5 or something like that, so I really want to get those.
N: So Street Fighter vs. Tekken happened and there was that kind of synergy. Warner Brothers seems open to that kind of conversation sometimes. What’s the likelihood that we might ever see a Capcom/Mortal Kombat brawler? Like the game where everybody’s jaw would drop if you ever did that because DC vs. Mortal Kombat paid off.
EB: What I tell people is, the obstacle isn’t our desire to do it. To me, the obstacle is Capcom and NetherRealm to Warner Brothers are competitors, and it’s like, who would control it?
N: Pure fanboy question, I will make sure it’s worded (so) that it doesn’t sound like you’re bad, but if you had your choice of which franchise Mortal Kombat would square off against in a Vs. game like that…
EB: Oh, Street Fighter.
N: Street Fighter?
EB: Yeah, without even blinking. That would be great, that would be my number one choice. I mean, I would love to do Marvel Vs. DC as well, but Disney owns Marvel.
N: Yeah, but there are certain things, like Kingdom Hearts is that example I like to put out there, where everybody would make so much money it’s just, whatever.
EB: Oh, yeah. (laughs)
And if you haven’t seen Mortal Kombat: Legacy‘s first season, you can catch up on the whole thing by clicking here.