Mortal Kombat's small, innocuous beginnings—a team of four working over eight months—belie just what a juggernaut that game (and subsequent franchise) became. The once Midway-owned property has spawned nine primary fighters on a variety of consoles, spin-off games such as Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and Shaolin Monks, two live-action movies (let's all just forget Annihilation), a live-action TV show (Conquest), an animated series (Defenders of the Realm), a stage show, comic books, and an ongoing web series (Legacy)—plus the requisite apparel, toys, and the like. Years ago, MK became a phenomenon far outside gaming circles alone. Its name has become recognizable enough to be name dropped on sitcoms (Malcolm in the Middle and Married... With Children), found in movies (Christian Slater plays MK4 in Very Bad Things), and used as part of cultural studies (see Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins' book From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games).
That notoriety has come with a price, as its gory Fatalities and gallons of blood have sparked Congressional hearings, endless watchdog reports, and even ties to national tragedies like the Columbine massacre. The first title's violence was instrumental to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Few video games have created as many reverberations in and out of the industry as Mortal Kombat.
Last month marked 20 years since the original game bum-rushed arcades, spearing in millions in quarters from players who were just getting to know these Scorpion and Sub-Zero dudes. In light of this milestone, we chatted with Ed Boon, the game's co-creator alongside John Tobias (who left the team in 1999), about the franchise. Ahead, NetherRealm Studios’ Creative Director talks about the move that first separated MK from Street Fighter II, the ninjas’ origin, the sci-fi game that almost replaced MKII, his best and worst memories associated with the series, and much more.