Mortal Kombat 11 went big by holding a kommunity reveal event and livestream to unveil the details of the next entry in this storied, brutal fighting game franchise. Several facets of the game were covered, which included new mechanics, a developing story, a brand new playable character, and a high-profile collaboration with UFC and WWE star Ronda Rousey. But behind the extravagant tongue-in-cheek gore and detailed combat system is series creator and long-time director Ed Boon. During the Mortal Kombat 11 reveal event, we had a moment to catch up with him to talk a little bit about the upcoming entry, how the NetherRealm team has evolved with Injustice and past MK games, and where the wild ideas for the gruesome fatalities come from.
We have Mortal Kombat 11 covered from all angles, so if you aren’t caught up, be sure to check out our compilation of all the fatalities so far from the seven playable characters from the event, the story trailer, the introduction of the new character Geras, and the stage presentation of breaking down a few new mechanics. The following interview has been edited for clarity and readability.
How do you and the team keep things fresh after so many years of Mortal Kombat?
I think the big thing is we always want to introduce change. The last thing we want to do is take the last game and just kind of reskin it with better graphics, and then people play it and realize that it’s the same game as before. So, we change things around. We change the story, we change the characters, we change the fighting mechanics. Every new Mortal Kombat introduces new elements that keep it fun.
Walk us through the new mechanics and how they change the game in your eyes?
In our last several games, we’ve had a meter in the bottom of the screen that the players would use. It was like their one resource for enhancing offensive moves, enhancing defensive moves, or saving it up for the big super move. And we split those three elements into two meters: one for offense and one defense. So, when you do an offensive move, you’re not using any of the resource for your defensive move or your super move. That defensive move meter and the super move is now up with the health meter. When you get down to 30%, your fatal blow becomes available and that really changes the dynamic of the game that you’re playing. It makes for a lot more fun and kind of [creates] tension in the fighting mechanics.
Coming off of Injustice 2 in 2017, what are some of the lessons that you’ve learned and how have they carried into MK11?
You know, in everything that we do, I think we look at what have we learned from each game, what can we take away, what do people like that we can apply? And I think the meter that players use, we had to kind of make the decision of: should I use it during gameplay or do I save it up for the big kind of super move thing? And when we looked at that and said, you know, we don’t want people to never do super moves, the cool cinematic attacks. So, that was a lesson, and we kind of separated that, and it had just be a separate component of enhancing your moves versus doing a Fatal Blow. We’re really excited about that change in our game.
What else have you learned in terms of customization, gear, and maybe microtransactions?
A lot. Like with Injustice, that was heavily focused on gear and changing gear. Players constantly getting rewards and stuff like that. And we’re certainly trying to separate the visuals of what the gear looks like to what it actually does. Because with Injustice, they were kind of married together. You got a mask or something, it did A, B, and C. In Mortal Kombat 11, you just get the visual mask and then the player programs what it does. So it’s really kind of separating the visual and the gameplay. That was one of the lessons that we learned from Injustice 2.
Any comment on what microtransactions will look like in MK11?
Yeah. Well, I guess you know, we absolutely divorced gameplay from any kind of advantages you could get. We really wanted to have it so you can’t buy your way to a better character. And honestly, for this game, we’re veering away from [that] , we’re not gonna have loot boxes or anything like that. So, that’s big—it’s more of an industry direction than it is a fighting game or Mortal Kombat direction. I think the loot boxes worked fine in Injustice because it didn’t affect the gameplay and whatnot. But at the same time, we’re just kind of steering away from it.
Are there any other games that you look to for inspiration, fighting game or otherwise? When I play this new version of Sub-Zero, maybe I see little bit of Kratos in there with his frozen axe and Fatal Blow.
Yeah, there absolutely has to be some kind of subliminal influence. In our discussions, we’ve probably said, «Oh, yeah, kind of like how Kratos does this,» or maybe we’re describing a move, «Oh, maybe how Ryu from Street Fighter does this.» For the most part, we’re trying to be as original or different as possible. But I think it’s inevitable when you make 10 Mortal Kombats, you’re going to draw influence from other games, movies, or TV shows.
Do you anticipate any issues with YouTube cracking down on blood and gore, and the platform being used as a streaming service for the community?
I’m not as familiar with the rules of YouTube and stuff like that, but I have seen some stuff of showing blood and gore if you’re trying to monetize or advertise, then that’ll definitely be conflicting with that. And I kind of understand it. You don’t want Pampers advertising over a Mortal Kombat video! So, there is audience-appropriate content, so I certainly wouldn’t object or say, «No, Pampers should advertise with Mortal Kombat!»
Are there any thoughts about having a bloodless mode?
We’ve had that actually for a number of our games, we’ve had a bloodless mode. Usually, somebody who buys a game called Mortal Kombat, that’s had this history of whatever, they kind of know what they’re getting. So it’s kind of like, «let’s make a G-rated version of The Godfather.» People are gonna say it doesn’t work.
It’s always tough to keep fighting games balanced. How do you appeal to a new player base making MK11 accessible while also sustaining a hardcore player base at the same time?
Yeah, that’s the million-dollar question and that’s the challenge we’re facing with every game we make. The right balance of accessibility so most people can enjoy the game and depth where the hardcore players can do it. So, we try to make the input start moves as broad and reaching as possible in terms of players who can do them, then also put nuances in the fighting where people can count frames and are able to kind of dissect the fight. And it is something that we work on every single game.
Let’s talk about Geras. MK has a long history with many of its characters that we’ve been playing for so long. How do you work in a new character? And also, how do you incorporate some very different mechanics? What was the inspiration behind bringing Geras into the mix?
A lot of Geras came from the stories that were being written. This [new] character Kronika, she hates her minions and her allies, and we knew that we needed a character to be her ally. We started talking about a couple of the visual designs and features, and that’s when Geras was born.
With that kind of framework in mind, our designers thought, «Okay, what can we make him do in the game?» That’s where they came up with things like, he can rewind time in the middle of the game. It’s kind of like a multi-step process. In terms of in Geras, his original idea came from what the writers were doing for the story.
We’ve seen NetherRealm games have an esports following and played at EVO. Any different type of push you’ll be making with MK11? Are you doing anything specific for the fighting game community?
Yes, well, as far as the fighting game community is concerned, in our last two games, Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2, we’ve had Pro Series tournaments. There’ll be qualifiers and there’ll be a big tournament. Or we’ll hold an event that’s a tournament that involves prize money and all that. So we’ve been very heavily supporting our games long after launch, or as long as a year or more after launch.
How did the Ronda Rousey collaboration come up? How did that happen?
We have relationship with people in different industries, WWE, UFC, and there’s always collaboration and discussion. At one point somebody said, «Wouldn’t it be cool to have Ronda Rousey in a game?» We’re like, «Yes, it would be cool. Let’s make her Sonya.» Sonya and Ronda just seemed like a perfect fit, perfect marriage. So that kind of felt like it was meant to be.
Ronda comes with some baggage, so are there any concerns with past history in terms of who you collaborate with?
I guess I’m not aware of it. Everything from our experience with her, she’s just been awesome. She’s an unbelievable partner to work with. She brought so much energy to the recording sessions and promotion, so she’s been great.
You’ve probably been asked this before, but we have to know, how keep do you topping yourselves in terms of fatalities?!
Oh god! Well, the fatality process is…it’s a meeting. There’s a meeting and everybody who has an idea comes with them written down, and then we go, «Okay, it’s your turn,» and that person stands up and says, «Okay, now Scorpion starts off by doing this. And then he does this.»
And every once a while someone will go, «Oh man, that’s kind of over the top, you know? I don’t think we should…we kind of cross a line.» And then, «Okay, well, how about he does…» And it’s like a negotiation.
The ones that kind of resonate with the group, and myself, we’ll say «Okay, let’s storyboard that one, see how it’ll work.» And then after we storyboard, we motion capture, get cameras on it, and then we add effects, sound effects, and everything.
Do you or any of the team ever step back and think, «Oh boy, that’s pretty messed up! I need to re-think some things real quick!»
Well, the fatalities are an absolute work of the NetherRealm team, a sort of community of all the developers. So the ideas come from all over the place. It’s not one person coming up with all the fatalities.