If you ask someone to name a developer tied to the Mortal Kombat series, Ed Boon is likely the name you'll get. He was there at the series' start, and is still heading things up to this day. There's no doubt that Boon lives and breathes Mortal Kombat.
Of course, Boon isn't the only one responsible for bringing the Mortal Kombat franchise to life. John Tobias was a big part of the original game, and a number of the early sequels. Much like Boon's involvement, Mortal Kombat wouldn't be what it is today without the input from Tobias all those years ago.
In a recent interview for GameDev Stories: Volume 6, John Tobias sat down to talk about everything and anything Mortal Kombat. In one snippet, Tobias gives details on how the dev team came up with the roster for the original Mortal Kombat.
The initial roster evolved from a set of character archetypes. Because there were so few characters at the time, we were able to lean on that concept as a way of informing the player on who the characters were and how they related to each other within the context of the larger setting. Liu Kang was the hero, Johnny Cage was a sidekick, Raiden being a god implied wisdom as a mentor character. Every character fell some place on a basic spectrum of archetypes. In the first two games we were dealing with a relatively small list of characters and so we were able to manage that effectively. That became more difficult to manage as the roster grew in later games.
Another part of character creation was what they looked like, which also played a role in conveying story. Very simple visual choices led to questions by the player that helped layer story. Kano has one eye; how did he lose the other? This guy puts on a pair of sunglasses at the end of a match; why? Liu Kang’s intro says he’s a Shaolin Monk but he doesn’t dress like one; why? Goro is a monster and clearly not like the other characters; where is he from? This woman is in the US military; how does she relate to the mystical nature of some of the other characters?
Also, if there were influences from other media, we typically used it because we felt it would help the player identify with a character. If making a character resemble ‘that guy from that movie’ helped establish the character in the mind of the player, we saw that as an opportunity. Being an arcade game, we didn’t have a place to unfold story exposition so we had to take advantage of telling story any way that we could.
Tobias stepped away from the Mortal Kombat franchise a number of years ago, but still has ties to the game industry through other companies. Wondering if Tobias keeps up with the latest entries in the franchise? You can find his answer below.
I visit NetherRealm on occasion and the guys will share works-in-progress. They’re kind enough to send games to me when they’re released and I’ll typically play through the single player modes. I really only started playing again at MK9 and I think the new versions are amazing. I’m always excited to see what they’ll do next and the graphic capabilities are incredible. Honestly, I’m in heaven when I see how cool the original characters are interpreted in the new games.