We look back at the history of Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat. A name so synonymous with brutal, hand-to-hand combat, there are no doubt people out there who think â€ścombatâ€ť is spelt with a k. Itâ€™s not, but with such a great fighting series to support me, I might just petition that we change the English language in honour of the games.
It all started back in 1992. Jean Claude Van Damme was a big deal and so the idea of making a game based on the action star, complete with digitized images of him for the game sprites, was born. Something of a non-starter, Van Damme was cast aside early on but the concept of characters based on photos taken of real people (digitized sprites; rather than hand-drawn sprites, which is what everyone else was using at the time) stuck.
With just four people in the core team, a quick, almost throw-away project was churned out - with loads of blood and flying chunks of flesh to add a visceral streak to it.
Mortal Kombat was born.
Featuring loads of schlock gore and grotesque humour, the game managed to garner a LOT of attention, much more than ever anticipated by anyone involved in its development. Players loved the gameâ€™s over-the-top bloody violence, which caused adults to reel in shock - sending the gamers into ever greater levels of rebellious raptures.
It was actually pretty decent, too - even if Capcomâ€™s Senior Director of Communications would later derogatorily compare Mortal Kombat to his companyâ€™s Street Fighter, in an interview with Gamasutra, by asking if the interviewer preferred the "precision and depth" of Street Fighter or the "gore and comedy" of Mortal Kombat. Sure, it lacked the precision of Street Fighter IIâ€™s ground-breaking fighting engine but there was no doubt that the outcome of any fight was most assuredly affected by the skill of the player above all other variables, which is surely the most appropriate measure of a fighting gameâ€™s validity.
And it was funny.
Mortal Kombat II rocked the fighting game world when it debuted in 1993, going head to head with Super Street Fighter II - the latest variant in Capcomâ€™s popular series. With the all-new weight of expectation on their shoulders, thanks to the legions of fans created by the unheralded original, the Mortal Kombat team went all-out to ensure MKII was as big a leap over the first game as Street Fighter II was over its rubber-button-bashing crapfest of a first title (if youâ€™ve never played the first Street Fighter, donâ€™t).
Mortal Kombat II was also packed with secrets, including the infamous Smoke secret character fight (when fighting on the portal stage, if you see the gameâ€™s sound designer Dan Forden pop up in the bottom-right corner of the screen and say â€śToasty!â€ť, quickly hold down on your joystick and press your start button - if you do it right, you get to fight Smoke). There were twice the fatalities of the original, too, with the team looking to double everything that made the original so brutal and so popular. Not everything was gory, though, with the offbeat â€śFriendshipâ€ť finishing moves introduced in part as a tongue-in-cheek reaction to the negative press the game was getting from parents and social commentators.
Another new â€śFatalityâ€ť style was added, called a â€śBabalityâ€ť. This allowed you to transform your defeated opponent into an unanimated baby version of themselves, which typically meant a baby with a hat or a mast on. While not a particularly popular inclusion, they definitely achieved Dan Forden (the sound designer)â€™s wish of being funny the first time they were seen (or, more likely, used against you).
Combos spiced up the fight system for the first time with the debut of 1995â€™s Mortal Kombat 3, which made several major enhancements to the series - including how the game was made in the backend. While the sprites were still based on photos of actors, the backgrounds were now created with 3D software for the first time (rather than hand-painted in the earlier games).
There were also Animalities, in which your character would turn into a signature animal and destroy your opponent - typically with much screaming and rending of flesh from your defeated foe. These, believe it or not, were added in response to a rumour from fans that characters would be able to morph into animals - no doubt itself started as a result of Liu Kangâ€™s fatality in Mortal Kombat II, in which he morphed into a jade dragon and ate his victim (with accompanying gore, naturally). Of course, to perform an Animality, you first had to perform a â€śMercyâ€ť (where, instead of performing a fatality, you grant the other player some extra life and another chance to beat you) - something most people didnâ€™t know you could do and, if they did know, were unlikely to do so as it once again risked them losing the fight (losing after granting mercy is shameful!).
This was the only appearance of the Animality, however, as the MK3 series marked the last of the â€śTrue 2Dâ€ť Mortal Kombats - MK4, to release in 1997, was going to change everything...
Look out for part two next week!