MK vs. DC Universe Interview with Senior Producer, Hans Lo

With the Mortal Kombat series making its next-gen debut later this month we were invited to the bowels of London’s Soho to see how the concept of merging these two famous worlds together is coming together.

We’ll have a hands-on preview of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe shortly, but to kick things off, we sat down for an in-depth chat with Senior Producer, Hans Lo.

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PSU: Let’s get the tricky question out of the way first! The Mortal Kombat series has long been associated with comical hyper-violence. Now that it’s been toned down to appease the DC Universe audience and secure its Teen rating, do you think it will still appeal to hardcore Mortal Kombat fans?

Lo: I think it will still appeal to the Mortal Kombat crowd. We’ve looked at what made previous Mortal Kombat games great and we’ve re-tapped into that and brought those elements back within the gameplay for MK vs. DC Universe.

Our attitude from the very beginning, even though in the US we’re going for a teen rating (13+) and in Europe a 16+ rating, our point was always to push it to the edge, see what we could get away with. We’ve done that.

Not all MK fatalities were blood and gore, some were more comedic. Liu Kang’s fatality, for example, sees him dropping an MK arcade machine on his enemy. It was never meant to be graphically gross or violent, just funny.

PSU: Earlier today we were kicking the living daylights out of each other on the final build of MK vs. DC Universe and we noticed that the gunshot to the head, a fatality that had been reported as being cut-out of the final version, still exists in all its unedited glory. We guess then that the UK and US versions are different?

Lo: There are some differences, but technically the fatalities are the same, it’s just the way that the cameras are angled that differs. It’s the age rating in the two territories. It’s just what we can get away with for each rating. A 13 year old is totally different to a 16 year old, so we have a certain responsibility.

PSU: There were dozens of Mortal Kombat characters and hundreds of DC Universe heroes and villains to choose from, so how did you manage to narrow it down to the final roster of 22?

Lo: There were debates, to put it mildly, over who was going to make the final cut. In the end we wanted the most iconic characters, those who were going to be instantly recognisable from both the DC and MK side. We could have gone over the top by adding dozens of characters, but we felt the majority of people wouldn’t know who the likes of Plastic Man was or what his strengths were. Instead, we sought to find the right balance and the right number of characters. Every character we have, we think, is pretty recognisable.

PSU: Are we likely to see extra characters as downloadable content?

Lo: To be honest, it has crossed the mind of Ed and the team, but right now everybody is tired. All these 24 hour days to get the game out the door and get it to the quality that we wanted has been tough. We’re all going on holiday right now.

The hooks are in there, I won’t lie, but we’ll have to wait and see if the game is well received. If it sells really well then we’d definitely look at doing it. Of course, if we’re to add any more DC characters then we’d have to go and talk to DC itself as we only had a certain roster of characters that we could use. There’s a lot of additional work should we go down that road.

PSU: How have you managed to balance the characters skills to make fighting fair? Surely Superman would be tough enough to take them all on?

Lo: When picking the roster of fighters we had to look at each character’s normal strengths and weaknesses that we know about from their fictional life. We knew what the story was in MK vs. DC Universe, so we then had to look at how it would affect their character, for example, the joker is not much a fighter, but in the story he discovers that he can kick ass because he’s forced to fight to help save the Universe. He still has the same mentality as the joker does and he still pulls pranks, like the boxing glove out of the box, but he’s now more powerful so that he can counteract other character’s fighting skills.

Generally, we’ve fine-tuned the gameplay. We’ve spent weeks and weeks making characters a little stronger or a little weaker, a little faster or a little slower, trying to reach this point.

PSU: How have you managed to balance accessibility for those new to the fighting genre with depth for the hardcore players?

Lo: I’m glad you’ve brought that point up. I like to say that it’s easy to learn, but tough to master. Anybody can pick up the game, pull off a couple of easy combos and do a few special moves, but the more experienced guys can come in and link them together, get their timing down to a tee and do some crazy combos.

The ranked system online will also find people of the same skill. We like to think that the game is built for everybody to enjoy.

PSU: What can we expect from the online component? Are there some creative game modes or will it simply be a 1 vs. 1 straightforward fight to the death?

Lo: It’s pretty much a straightforward fighting game. You have ranked matches, or you can just play with your friends. This game was looked upon by the team as a re-set, starting over and stripping it down to the bare minimum of what makes a fighting game great. We just wanted to focus on the fighting, go back and look at the games we’ve done in the past and see what worked, what didn’t work and build from there.

PSU: We’re really looking forward to seeing how you’ve merged these two worlds together and the story behind how they managed to collide. What can we expect from the story mode? Will there be a branching storyline for each character?

Lo: There are basically two aspects of the story mode. You can choose MK or DC Universe. When you start out you choose which side you want to play as and then each chapter in that story is named after a particular character. It all ties in and you’ll find out along the way why heroes and villains are teaming up together. Essentially, they’ve all got the common goal of trying to save the universe.

When you reach the end, depending on which side you’ve chosen, you’ll witness the same result, but from two different perspectives.

PSU: We’ve heard plenty today about the new Freefall and Klose Kombat mechanic (hands-on preview coming soon!), but there are also some entertaining taunts that you’ve thrown into the mix, right? Can you tell us more?

Lo: Some of the characters have taunts, but not all of them do. Joker is one who does, he jumps around waves his hands and laughs, but the main focus is to keep it as simple as we could. There are more taunts, but I’ll leave you to find out the rest. I can’t give everything away.

PSU: Whilst playing MK vs. DC Universe we noticed that the booming soundtrack and the audio in general, specifically the voice acting, is of cinematic quality. You’ve obviously upped production levels from previous Mortal Kombat games.

Lo: We stepped up the production level and music is part of that. In previous Mortal Kombat games we would have done some of the stuff in-house, but we went out and contracted people to orchestrate the music so that it builds up to a crescendo; elements are very DC-ish.

The actors we used for story mode were all auditioned and DC were involved in the process, so there’s a unique sound to each character. They sound like what you’d expect them to sound like.

The same goes for the motion capture. We had several actors do the motion capture and all went through a rigid auditioning process. When a guy walked in with the joker’s swagger, we knew straight away that he had to play the joker. We had a much larger canvas to work with then previous MK games.

PSU: How did you find the development process? As the first Mortal Kombat game on the next-gen platforms what were the main challenges and rewards you faced?

Lo: Yes, it’s the first MK game on next-gen and one of the cool things working with these platforms was the level detail and character detail we could get. One of things we didn’t show in the demo was the character view mode where you can look at the character model in detail, zoom in real close and actually see the textures of the materials on their bodies. We really pushed the polygons so that we could push to give them smoothness. The tough part is the new tech, it was a learning curve, but luckily we had a lot of great programmers like Mike Boone.

PSU: Did you have a lead platform?

Lo: Yeah, it’s true with any game. We started off with the Xbox 360, but it was a step by step process. We started off in the early stages importing to the PS3, but by the time we got to the end we were developing for both platforms in tandem.

PSU: Have you thought about integrating Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe with PlayStation Home?

Lo: It’s a little early right now. Playstation Home came into development well after we’d started the game, so it’s not something that’s now easy to do. I’m not going to say it will never happen, it may or may not. In theory we could have a whole MK environment that links to other MK games.

PSU: Finally, have you got plans for a new standalone ‘M’ rated MK title?

Lo: We don’t know. There’s definitely a desire within the team to go and do an ‘M’ rated MK game; that’s kind of what we’re known for. Right now though, we just want to sleep. Go out and see if my girlfriend still remembers who I am. Once we’ve recharged our batteries we’ll see what we want to do.

PSU: Thanks for your time.

Prior and following the interview with Hans we had plenty of opportunity to go hands-on with Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Check back for the preview shortly!