During EVO 2012, I got a rare opportunity to chat with Ed Boon, co-creator of Mortal Kombat and creative director for Injustice: Gods Among Us. Though NetherRealm Studios’ latest title wasn’t playable at the show, Boon walked me through his vision for the DC-themed fighter, his overall plans for NetherRealm Studios, and some key changes he’s bringing to the fighting game formula.
PlayStation.Blog: It strikes me that Superman looks awfully aggressive in Injustice. His cape is torn, he looks upset. What’s up with Supe?
Ed Boon, Creative Director, NetherRealm Studios: We haven’t released many details on the story…but I can say that it’s very observant of you. Our Superman isn’t quite the same Superman that you grew up with. We definitely want to give a more contemporary, NetherRealms spin to the character, and he plays a big part in the story. People will definitely be surprised by this rendition of Superman. We’ll be revealing more details with Comic-con, PAX, Gamescom, and so forth.
PSB: Superman, for me, has never been a hugely relevant character. He’s too perfect, too infallible…kind of boring! What does it take to make Superman relevant in an era of flawed, neurotic heroes like Batman or Watchmen?
EB: That’s one of the first questions people ask us — you know, “why would I play as anyone but Superman? Can’t he kill anyone instantly?” But there are definitely dimensions that we’re adding to our twist on Superman. There are a lot of interpretations that have happened over the years, and we are definitely giving a more complex Superman for this game.
PSB: In the promotional artwork for the game, Batman looks to be wearing a Kryptonite ring. Is that just me?
EB: Umm…it’s green! Obviously, with Superman being such an extreme character, we have to tap into some of his weaknesses. Every hero has strengths and weaknesses, and that might come into play with Batman’s interactions with Superman.
PSB: Let’s talk about the Story mode and campaign, which worked so well in Mortal Kombat. Is Injustice’s campaign going to build off the concepts in MK?
EB: With every game we do, there are things that worked and things that didn’t. In Mortal Kombat, the Story mode just worked. We didn’t promote the story leading into launch and it ended up surprising people. So we want to continue that tradition and offer a deep, elaborate story experience in Injustice. And with these [DC] characters, who have decades of history behind them, there’s a ton of stuff to draw from. We can’t wait for people to see the Story mode in this game.
PSB: Interactive backgrounds are a huge addition to the gameplay. I’ve heard you say that choosing a stage is now as important as choosing a character…
EB: Yeah. We wanted to shake up the fighting game formula in terms of the environment and how you use it. Different characters use the environment in different ways; that will really affect your strategy when facing certain characters on certain backgrounds. Power characters can pick up a car and throw it, while the more agile Gadget characters might use the car as a springboard.
PSB: And background props can link right into combos, right?
EB: Absolutely, it’s part of the combo system. That’s part of mastering a character — where is he strong, where is he weak? Where should he avoid, where should he maneuver to? Adding new variables to the fighting mechanics allows players to come up with original strategies. We’ll be doing that dramatically in this game.
PSB: If the background props are so integral to the gameplay, will there be a different process for selecting stages?
EB: The stage select will be something you care about now, instead of just mashing the X button. When your opponent gets good at using a particular part of the stage, you’ll learn to avoid it – or go towards it – and that dynamic will hopefully shake up the formula.
PSB: Did NetherRealm arrive at the interactive backgrounds early in the concept for Injustice?
EB: Yeah, it was one of the new staples we wanted to introduce. This game is an interesting balance between appealing to the more mass-market player, who doesn’t get into frame counting and EVO-type stuff, but also catering to fans who really dissect their fighters. We had the same goal with Mortal Kombat, and Mortal Kombat competing at EVO is a validation of that effort. But we want to widen that spectrum even more by grabbing more players while continuing to serve the hardcore fighting community.
PSB: Mortal Kombat had a massive cast of characters. Are you looking to include a similar-sized cast?
EB: Speaking personally, I think there’s a line where the perceived value of adding more characters brings a diminishing return. If you have a cast of 40 characters and go to 50, I don’t know that fans are saying “this game is 20% better!” I think there’s a sweet spot somewhere in the 20s or so. We’ll definitely be releasing with a good number of characters, probably comparable to Mortal Kombat.
But then the magic can come in with DLC characters; with Mortal Kombat, we brought in crazy guests like Freddy Krueger. So we’ll definitely want to introduce unexpected characters [via DLC] to Injustice. That’ll be our strategy. It’s comparable to Mortal Kombat, but being really aggressive with our DLC characters.
PSB: I’m sure many of the major DC Universe characters are spoken for, but will there be room for cult favorites too?
EB: Yeah. In our discussions with DC, we have different categories of characters…guest characters, niche characters. When we spoke with DC, they’d say “we’d love to see this character,” and we’d say, “really? Why?” Everyone has their vote, and we’ll probably serve all those categories in some way.
PSB: Air dashing and wagering both seem to be fresh new concepts for fighters. How do they fit in?
EB: Those are new mechanics aimed at the hardcore guys. Air dashing plays with the concept of jumping in and attacking, though not all characters can do it. And Wagers add more layers to the concept of a Super meter. Mortal Kombat had this Super meter that could enhance a special move, initiate a breaker, or deliver this crazy X-ray move. With Wagering, we’re putting players in moments where we ask them, “how much do you want to bet? How important is this conflict to you?” It adds another variable to shake up the formula.
PSB: Speaking of shaking up the formula, Injustice doesn’t have a Block button! What prompted that change?
EB: Yep, some people are really used to having a Block button [thanks for Mortal Kombat]. But the hold-back-to-block concept isn’t new to fighting games at all. Tekken and Street Fighter have been doing it for years, so it’s something people are used to. We definitely didn’t want to make Injustice just Mortal Kombat with DC-skinned characters. We want this game to have its own identity, its own feel, and its own features. The blocking is part of the separation there.
PSB: Is it nice to take a break from Mortal Kombat? Are you luxuriating in your first chance in years to try something different?
EB: Absolutely, it’s great to do something different. But at the same time, it’s also great to let more anticipation for Mortal Kombat build. Everybody’s kind of wondering how we would follow up Mortal Kombat 9, and for us to deliver that a year or a year-and-a-half later just isn’t the best way to do it. We can launch Injustice as, hopefully, a franchise that can be a series of games. But then we can give that sweet spot for Mortal Kombat to do an insane comeback.
PSB: And I know you believe in making sequels very different, not in putting the focus on constant iteration and refinement over several games. Is that your hope moving forward?
EB: I can tell you with a lot of certainty that, if we did a Mortal Kombat 10, it wouldn’t just be MK9 with more characters and the same features. We would absolutely want to introduce something to make that game feel unique and different.
PSB: You’ve been doing fighting games for so long. Now that you’ve broken out of Mortal Kombat, would you ever go further? Maybe a non-fighting game?
EB: We feel like Injustice is kind of our first step towards that. If it does well, we would like to see our next step be a non-fighting game, maybe something unique in its own right. This is our first step in that direction.