Mortal Kombat X – Interview with Hans Lo

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The last time I saw and played Mortal Kombat X was back in August at Gamescom. Then we had a great little sneak peek and play with new character Cassie Cage, the daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade. Last week, more was announced as the story mode revealed multiple characters in a story set 25 years after the events of 2011’s Mortal Kombat. We sent Sean down to London to chat with Hans Lo, Senior Producer of the series form NetherRealm Studios, and asked why they’ve decided to leap in to the future…

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I think it was part of the creative freedom [of the series]. It was part of discussion within the group, everyone was talking about next-gen hardware, next-gen this, next-gen that, and it kind of stuck in our head: “Next-Gen… Next-Gen…” So we started making up next-gen characters and obviously if we do that we have to ask how far in the future do we want to go? A few years? A lot of years? A hundred years? So we kind of played around with that, tried to figure out what would be the most compelling story around that idea. In the end we said 25 years, you’ve got a bunch of young kids who think they know everything and have the out-to-conquer-the-world mentality. But it’s not so far out in the future that the original warriors aren’t going to be these decrepit old guys saying “Back in may day we used to do an uppercut”, we didn’t want any of that. So it seemed the best way, the easiest way to keep the iconic characters around whilst introducing new characters.

With the new generation and new characters, are you hoping that a lot of people that haven’t played the game for a while that now have these newer consoles will look at this and go “oooh I used to like that!”

I think that’s always a plus. We do have classic characters for the hardcore fans who really like those characters, but at the same time we wanted to do something fresh and new and that’s something we always do. Looking back, what have we done in the past, what works with mobile, what can we build upon, what can we improve upon. So adding a new set of characters seemed like the right thing to do, bring a bit of fresh air to the story.

But of course they keep their roots in the previous iterations of the story. Are the characters move sets of dictated by their backgrounds?

They’re influenced; they’re not to the point where they’re completely cloned. It’s not “I’ve seen Johnny Cage do this and it’s exactly the same move” it’s more like it’s themed and flavoured. But at the same time they’re going that have their own unique moves. It’s not going to be a literal – half the move sets for Cassie come from Johnny and the other from Sonya. It’s more like there’s two or three here that are reminiscent but the move set is wholly unique to her. We definitely want to make each character stand out. Creating characters that have personalities of their own and have moves that match with those personalities.

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Moving on to the game, everything’s there that the hardcore MK fans like, from new executions, new locations, etc. How do you bring the new stuff in to the game and the story so it compliments each other?

Obviously the characters is part of it and some of the environments are introduced in the story. But then at the same time we’ve done a couple of stories now in our games and one of the thing’s we’ve learned is that chapters based on characters seem to work really well. One is that it gives you a chance to learn about the characters back story and it gives you world experience with who they are, where they come from and what their personalities are like. The second it also gives you a chance to play characters that you normally wouldn’t have picked on your own. It exposes you to the different characters and different abilities those characters have. What we’ve also done this time around is add the interactive cinematic experience which means as you’re playing through the game, watching the story, there’s going to be times where you’ll have to get involved, act and guide the story and personalise it a bit to how you want to play the game.

When playing through the first chapter I caught on too late and missed a few buttons, but it didn’t ruin my gameplay or reset me to an earlier point. The game leads you in the same point in the story so the cinematic interactivity didn’t impact the result. I asked why?

We don’t want to penalize you for missing these things either but if you want to go back and play again and say “ok so I’m going to fail this one but pass this one just to see how it plays out.

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The characters in Mortal Kombat X will have three different styles of play. Before a match you can select what kind of style you want  to play, whether you’re a blockbuster move kind of person, a movement blocker, and so on. The game adapts the style and moves to how you play based on your choice. Is this just for the single player vs modes against the AI/People and online or is there more?

You’ll be exposed to some of it in the story. It’s not going to be a situation where you get to a fight and you can choose what you want because it fits best. But outside of the story you’ll be able to choose what best fits you, against the computer or friends. At that point you can decide which variation is best for you, that’ll match your style of play.

This year sees the introduction of the Living Towers. The towers, formerly the challenge tower, will update regularly as to what matches are available on either an hourly, daily or weekly basis. So you’re doing these challenge themed events that will be different each time randomised and planned. Why have you decided to invigorate that area of the game?

Well this is the evolution of our challenge tower that you’ve seen in the previous games. That was a very big tower, very long and while we got a lot of great feedback from people enjoying it, we found out a lot of people couldn’t make it all the way through, some people found it was a little intimidating. So we thought maybe we’d do these smaller towers and to keep them fresh we’ll make them living towers so they update with challenges from time to time like the hourly ones will be very quick easy challenges, the daily ones will be a little longer and take a little more work and the weekly event ones will be more difficult. No one is required to do these but if they want to they can and if they want to come back a little later there’ll be a new challenge for them.

The biggest thing, with mobile coming as well, is the faction system. The games kind of interweave the impact on each other. Tell us a little bit how you decided to make that interconnectivity part of Mortal Kombat X.

Well we wanted to make it more social and that’s kind of what the driving force behind the whole faction idea was. The idea of being part of a group. Because people like to be part of a group, contributing to part of it. So that’s the attitude we had when creating the factions. You can contribute however you want to contribute. If you want to play mobile and achieve points that way. If you want to play online matches, you can achieve points that way. If you want to play offline on console, you can achieve points that way. Contribute how you want, play how you want. The fact that mobile opens up more combat that you can play anywhere, anytime, you’re no longer restricted to “Oh I’ve got to be home at four so I can play the game” but more “… I’ve got some time to kill.” Take out your mobile device, kick back and play. It’s all tied to your WB Play ID so as long as you’re using the same ID on whatever device, the points will all add to your faction.

And you’ll be able unlock characters and bonuses on both the console and mobile versions of the game this way?

You’ll get these challenges that pop up from time to time and you’ll unlock the character if you complete them. It’s a way to keep rewarding the players and engage them.

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Mortal Kombat X – Preview

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One of the first things I did when I started writing about games was I did a review of Mortal Kombat, the release from 2011. So naturally I was very excited to get my hands on the new Mortal Kombat X and see how exactly the next generation power has managed to add to the already smooth and visually opulent violence.

In truth, it adds quite a bit. The level of detail and the smoothness of the frame rate is making this one of the most fluid fighting games to date. Not just in its own genre but fighting across the board. The solid 60fps (a phrase I am sure to have worn out by the time I’m done covering Gamescom) makes not only the motion of the characters incredibly smooth but also completely unaffected by the particle effects from attacks. Sub Zero freezing will give you no lag.

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Speaking of Sub Zero, the gameplay has changed a little bit. Nothing has changed in a huge way but enough in a freshening way. There are three subclasses to the character you pick. Each one of them has something that adds a buff to some of your moves and attacks, or resistance to the oppositions attacks with defence rebuffs. These variations add another element to the game that makes you think a little differently about how you approach a fight. Scorpion, for example has a demon that he can summon to grab them from the ground in one variation. Another can set himself on fire so that his opponent will also catch fire and the final one will have swords to slice with. These traits are on every character and not only add the tactical element, but also some kick ass new moves.

When it comes to new, there will be new characters. Without spoiling any story, and the lore of the Mortal Kombat universe is being expanded quite nicely with this, 25 years has passed since the last instalment. This means that some familiar faces may be gone but legacies remain. Such as Cassie Cage, the daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya, and Kotal Kahn, a man who has profited from the conflicts by taking over the Outworld. Don’t fear though as roster DLC will be coming.

The environments where you play the game have also expanded too with the brand new Jungle area (thanks to Kotal Kahn) but the expansion is not just in the choice. The environments are all very smooth with excellent depth in the animations. But it also is immersive and has breakable areas and places that can be used for attacks and defence. Not just the branches of trees or rocks, but the style of the environment can also aid certain players attacks. I got some great freezing action in with Sub Zero in these areas.

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Of course you haven’t heard me say anything about the violence and the excellent X-Ray system from the last game. Well it’s here, it’s back and it’s expanded. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it and it certainly wets the appetite for the old ‘ultra violence’, as A Clockwork Orange’s Alex would call it. The three tier power bar mechanic is back and it is smooth and deliciously gory. Some new X-Ray animations have been added, no small part in thanks to the new characters. But the animations are bone crunchingly, spine crackingly vile, repulsive, bloody and impossibly painful… Excellent.

This also means the fatalities are given the next generation treatment too and live up to the face slicing promise that you’d expect (there’s a hint there). The game is coming out on all consoles, so you don’t need to upgrade to enjoy the continuation of the new Mortal Kombat lore. However I would certainly say you are missing out on the smoothest 2.5D fighting game I’ve ever laid my hands on and until later in the week, it was definitely the best looking fighting game regardless of style (more on that in WWE2K15).

The release date is, predictably, 2015 and will definitely be worth waiting for. It has the potential to go unchallenged in its genre for quite a while as well in the next generation market so if you’re a die hard fan waiting for Tekken or a next generation Street Fighter, then you might want to explore this first.

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