Following Summer Game Fest, we were able to sit down with Mortal Kombat 1 director and NetherRealm studio head Ed Boon to discuss the exciting gameplay reveal of the latest entry in the legendary Mortal Kombat franchise.
During the interview, we touched on a ton of topics, including how it felt to keep Mortal Kombat 1 secret for so long, why NetherRealm chose to leave PS4 and Xbox One behind, whether we'll ever see Injustice again, how the team keeps Fatalities from going too far, and so much more.
Mortal Kombat 1 is set to be released on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, and PC on September 19, 2023, and it serves as the start of a new Mortal Kombat Universe that was created by the Fire God Liu Kang. It also features assist characters named Kameos that will allow you to call in different Mortal Kombat characters to help you in battle.
You can learn much more about Mortal Kombat 1 below, and be sure to check out our first hands-on impressions of the game and seven awesome details you need to know from the Mortal Kombat 1 gameplay trailer.
IGN: Mortal Kombat 1 was the biggest thing on IGN the week of Summer Game Fest. The announcement trailer was huge, but you did have your announcement spoiled a little bit by your parent company's CEO on an earnings call. I know you don't want to talk out of school about the guy signing the checks necessarily, but what was your and the team's reaction when that happened? Because obviously that was not something that you were expecting.
Ed Boon: Well, he called it Mortal Kombat 12, so he kind of really didn't spoil it. And so the game is Mortal Kombat 1, and we just announced it and we're happy about that.
Now, that reveal trailer from a few weeks ago also did huge numbers. What was the mood of the team like that day? I'm sure you were expecting it to do well, but how was the vibe on the team when this announcement trailer, which was such a good cinematic trailer, set up the game so well?
EB: It was a huge exhale moment for us as we've never held onto a game in terms of talking about it for so long. But at the same time, the response was so big, it was bigger than our Mortal Kombat 11 trailer, and I thought we were never going to top that. I think to some extent players haven't seen a new Mortal Kombat announcement for so long, so It was just building up for so many years and it just culminated with that video. So we're really excited about it.
And I want to ask you about the short window and waiting so long to announce the game. The last major AAA game example I can think of that had such a short window between announcing it and releasing it was Fallout 4, and that was a long time ago at this point. So what was the thought process with that? Is it just that the game sells itself at this point? It is pretty unusual for a big blockbuster game like this to be announced and then it's out only three or four months later.
EB: Well, if you recall, we announced Mortal Kombat 11 at The Game Awards 2018 and that was in December, and then the game came out in like May. So it's not that unusual for us. It might be a little bit shorter, but there's so much more information that we are going to be communicating to everybody as far as game modes, additional characters, and all that this time around.
I also wanted to ask you about how NetherRealm has alternated between Mortal Kombat and Injustice for a good little while there. And so I don't think anybody would've been surprised if you had announced Injustice 3. So, was Injustice considered or what was the reasoning behind going right back into Mortal Kombat?
EB: There was a number of factors, some of which I can talk about, some of which I probably shouldn't.
EB: But we did go to a new graphics engine, Unreal. We really wanted to be careful with COVID and all that stuff and everybody staying safe. So there were a bunch of variables involved that eventually made us realize, "Okay, let's do another Mortal Kombat game and hopefully we'll get back to the Injustice games."
So, the door is not closed for Injustice moving forward?
EB: Not at all.
All right. Good to know. Now you mentioned the new engine, Unreal. So is it Unreal Engine 5 or are you all building off of Unreal 4 for this?
EB: We were using Unreal 3 before and a very modified Unreal 3, but Unreal 4 certainly has opened the doors to a lot of new features that we're really trying to exploit, but we're continuing to evaluate that.
You've also left Xbox One and PlayStation 4 behind here. This is a new gen game only. How has that opened up things for your artists, your animators, and even potentially maybe gameplay design? I'm not sure if even the technology can open up things there too.
EB: A big part is this latest generation of consoles have the super fast access. And I've always felt like that was the most underappreciated new feature of the consoles. It's just accessing memory so quickly.
Yeah, the VME drives.
EB: Exactly. And that's really going to let us make hyper realistic backgrounds and characters that we can actually load in a reasonable amount of time and get to the fight real quickly. That was a big part. It's really helped us in terms of how much fidelity we can have in our environments and characters.
So, I've got to ask you. Probably more than any other game, I love watching Mortal Kombat. It is just delightful to watch. And obviously the Fatalities are a big part of that. Are there any Fatalities that don't make the cut at NetherRealm? We've seen so many crazy things in the past and we've seen several more here today. What doesn't make the cut?
EB: There are plenty that don't make the cut. It's funny. Everybody kind of asks, how do you guys come up with the Fatalities? Anybody is welcome to submit Fatality ideas, but there's a committee that sorts through them. When they come up with one they like, they'll have an artist make a storyboard of it and then they'll send it to me. And unfortunately there are some that make me go, "Nope, we're not going there," and then I send it back.
It's too much?
EB: Oh yeah.
Even for Mortal Kombat?
EB: Absolutely. And so I kind of feel like I'm the big party pooper, right? Because they go, "Come on! We've done worse than that!" Then I go, "no, we haven't." There's always a little back and forth.
So you have the final say?
EB: Oh yeah.
Okay. That makes sense. Because one thing again that I love about Mortal Kombat is how it's tone has evolved over the years and that it's at this point now where it's so over the top. And I mean it is violently disgusting. And I don't mean that as a criticism, but it's sort of cheeky and funny enough where it doesn't seem like senators and congress people are knocking at your door anymore. How do you guys find that balance?
EB: There is an unwritten tone that kind of governs everything. And one way to demonstrate that is the majority of people's reactions to the Fatalities is laughter.
EB: It's not like they saw a horror movie or something and went, "Oh my God!" And they're scared. They just start laughing. And so when we get that reaction, we know, okay, we're still in the zone of what Mortal Kombat's intention is.
Now, there's a pretty strong case to be made that Mortal Kombat as a brand is absolutely bigger than it ever was. I mean, the numbers on IGN anecdotally bear that out, which I think is a massive testament to you and the team who've been at this for so long. But when you look back, were there any low points in the long history of this franchise where you thought, "maybe this thing is starting to run out of steam?" Have you ever hit those low points with this?
EB: Yeah, there were a couple of games that I wasn't involved with that had their challenges, but we were going through transitions with Midway games and whatnot. But then we got our footing again, especially with Mortal Kombat 9. Mortal Kombat 9, 10, and 11 all sold better than any other previous ones.
EB: Which is really scary. And so for me, I'm nervous just because there's such this buildup.
The bar keeps getting raised.
EB: Yeah. It keeps getting raised. And so I really got to keep telling myself, "We can still sell a ton of games, but we don't have to break every record every single time."
I mean, is it the point where the corporate overlords are going to be unhappy if it doesn't sell an eight figure amount of copies?
EB: I don't think so. I think a lot of that is just kind of self-inflicted pressure. I certainly put that on myself as well. But we always love to see the fact that our last three games have been the biggest sellers of their time. It's a nice feather in our cap.
On that note, you've been with this for so long, so where do you still find the personal creative inspiration to keep going on this? I mean, I genuinely can't think of another prominent game developer that's been with one franchise exclusively. Okay. You've done Injustice as well, but you've been working on Mortal Kombat games for your entire career, for 30 years. How do you keep finding new creativity to tap into?
EB: Well, when I originally started, I did a few pinball machines and then I did a few arcade games and then started doing the Mortal Kombat games. And our team has grown from basically four on the first game to the hundreds that we have now. And when you have that many people who are also passionate about it, there are more ideas coming in from every angle than you can imagine. So there is a studio full of brilliant people at NetherRealm who've been playing for years, and there are even some who were born after the first Mortal Kombat came out.
I believe it!
EB: And so they have fresh ideas that are coming from a completely different generation. And I think that's a big part of why Mortal Kombat is a success, it's not one idea coming from one person, right? It's a whole studio of ideas.
All right, a couple more. You guys have brought in some well-known Mortal Kombat 11 pros on the team at NetherRealm here, like Dragon for instance. So can you talk about how helpful it's been to have that pro level of feedback when developing this game?
EB: It's invaluable. And in our previous games, as far back as Mortal Kombat 9, we would actually fly in some of those players and they'd stay at a hotel for a week or so, and they would just dissect the game, show us bugs, show us infinites, and give us suggestions. And that kind of input is invaluable. Some of them are here now and they're going to be playing the game for the first time. So we've really been fortunate to have had that kind of expertise play into the myth.
All right. Last question Ed Boon, what is your favorite Fatality in Mortal Kombat 1?
EB: In Mortal Kombat 1 or in the 1992 Mortal Kombat?
The new game.
EB: My favorite one hasn't been shown yet.
Okay. Whose is it? Which character?
EB: Probably Scorpion.
EB: But I also think the one we showed with Katana's fans is one of my favorites too.
EB: Yeah, the blender. It's just ridiculous.
Yeah, I was cracking up over that one. Thank you so much, Ed! Mortal Kombat 1 is out on September 19, and it's coming out on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.
EB: And Switch.
And is that the streaming version? How are you handling that on Switch? What magic is going on there?
EB: We'll show you later.
All right. Ed Boon, thank you very much!
EB: Thank you!
Ryan McCaffrey is the Executive Previews Editor at IGN.