Since before Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment acquired developer NetherRealm Studios, the creators of Mortal Kombat have been working with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 technology to bring fighting fans a more powerful punch. With the Chicago-based team crafting its 10th Mortal Kombat game – and its first for next gen consoles – UE3 technology has been pushed to the limit thanks to a lot of new development from NetherRealm.
“We’ve actually been modifying the Unreal Engine for a few years now,” said Ed Boon, creative director of NetherRealm and co-creator of the Mortal Kombat franchise. “It’s almost become our own kind of proprietary engine at this point. We had to do a lot of modifications because we have two big characters on the screen, we’re running 60 frames per second and our environments are a lot more enclosed. It’s a lot different from a first person shooter or something like that. We have requirements that are specifically tailored to our needs that we’ve spent years working on. So we’re very comfortable with this engine at this point.”
The last Mortal Kombat game was the bestselling title in the entire 20 year franchise history. NetherRealm was able to focus on creativity by licensing the game engine from Epic.
“Licensing Unreal Engine 3 was a huge advantage because of the complexities of making a graphics engine, which is evidenced by the few people who actually are doing it successfully,” said Boon. “It’s really hard. At first we had a lot of help from Epic. They were really helping us through support to build this fighting game. But then at some point we stopped taking builds from them and we veered off into our own version of that engine.”
Mortal Kombat X marks the debut of the franchise on next gen consoles Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The April 15, 2015 release will also be available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
“We didn’t want to just skin the same game with next gen graphics,” said Boon. “We really wanted to add as many new elements as possible. There are some pretty big game-changing play mechanics with the variations of every character and we wanted to add as many new characters to the mix as possible. We’ve kept the x-rays and the breakers and the enhanced super moves. It’s really that perfect combination of new and what worked in the last game.”
The game combines cinematic presentation with all new gameplay to deliver the most brutal Kombat experience ever, offering a new fully-connected experience that launches players into a persistent online contest where every fight matters in a global battle for supremacy. Players step into an original story showcasing some of the game’s most prolific characters including Scorpion, Kano, Raiden and Sub-Zero, while introducing new challengers like D’Vorah, Ferra/Torr and Total Kahn that represent the forces of good and evil and tie the tale together. For the first time, MKX gives players the ability to choose from multiple style variations of each character impacting both strategy and fighting style.
“Normally in a fighting game a character is defined by the costume he’s wearing and what he can do on the screen, but we’re taking every character and having three versions,” said Boon. “For example, the Ninjitsu version of Scorpion has these swords on his back and he uses them in combat. Only that variation can use those swords and do all of the moves specific to that. The Hellfire version has fire-based moves and he can shoot a fireball, bring fire up from the ground and light himself on fire. The Inferno version can summon a demonic minion. If you think of every character in the game, there are three versions of it with their own exclusive moves that really adds more variables to the mix in terms of what can happen in a game.”
NetherRealm also wanted to make these huge characters look even better on screen, and move fluidly to showcase the new moves. Boon said his team used Unreal Engine 3 to maintain the game speed at 60 frames per second at 1080p. This also opened up beautiful interactive stages.
“We wanted players to leverage themselves so they can jump off of certain things, swing on branches and trees and use these different leveraging points in the environment,” said Boon. “They actually play a role in the fight. Each of the environments we have all look and play different, and have their own unique personality. For example, Snow Forest has these trees that you can jump in the air and push off of and do a double jump. Or you can launch up off a tree stump, swinging on branches, grabbing branches and then hit and at people.”
In The Cove, players can run up a wall when they’re trapped by the water or they can throw a log and seal it up. Gamers can also grab a dead body out of the water and throw it at their opponent. The Outworld Marketplace has a big tiger in the middle of it that players can jump off of and hit a barbeque that throws coals at their opponent. Boon said these interactive elements are mainly for leveraging and moving your character around, but there are also some projectile opportunities. And they add a mix of unpredictable gameplay to the fight.
With the popularity of Mortal Kombat at EVO and within the esports community, Boon and his team have spent a lot of time tuning the fighting mechanics to make it flawless. That’s good news for pro gamers as well as ordinary players.
“Esports is kind of daunting,” said Boon. “You really get super cautious about making sure that the game is balanced and doesn’t have any cheats in it. It’s like if you made a basketball hoop that was a little bit wider for one team. You really want to make sure that everything is as even as possible to keep it legit because some people are putting their livelihood on the line there.”
Fighting fans will be in for a slew of new Fatalities comes 2015, when the 10th installment of Mortal Kombat makes its next gen debut. The game is one of the few Unreal Engine 3 titles to venture to next gen.