We had a blast over in Chicago playing a couple of hours of the upcoming Mortal Kombat 11, exploring the fancy Netherrealm Studios office and chatting with the developers and now that we can talk freely about what went on behind closed doors, we have more written goodies for you to enjoy. We sat down with Dominic Cianciolo (Story Director, Netherrealm Studios) for a short interview at the event and talked about the evolution of the franchise.
How has Mortal Kombat evolved with Mortal Kombat 11?
"The biggest thing in terms of the evolution is the presentation of it. Over the past few games that our studio has released, the characters look better than ever, the environments look better than ever and certainly from a performance standpoint, the work our character team has done to improve the expressiveness of the characters and what they can do has just made it that much easier for our fans to get in and emotionally relate to characters in the story. That also allowed us to write things into the story in terms of performance that perhaps we would have passed on before because the characters simply weren't able to do it. But now that we've gone so advanced with this technology, they (the characters) are almost more human than human and we can really do some interesting things with it."
How difficult is it to meet expectations with the Mortal Kombat fans being such a passionate group?
"They absolutely are, for sure. All we can do is our best, you know. We try to innovate because we need to bring novelty to the story and to the overall game. We always want to make sure that fans will experience something fresh and new while at the same time balancing that with the 20 plus years of history we have with Mortal Kombat to make sure that we're honoring our roots."
Why do you think Mortal Kombat focuses more on the single-player experience than most other fighting games?
"You know, I'm not sure why that is but all the data bears out the fact that our single player mode is one of our most popular ways for people to access and experience the game and that's a big reason as to why we spend so much time and energy into making that single player experience as robust as it is."
Where do you draw the limit on how brutal the game can be? Is there a limit at all?
"I think there functionally is a limit. I can't give a specific example off the top of my head but I know we've had conversations where someone has gone "is that too much?" and we've just collectively agreed that "yeah, it's indeed too much" and then they'll dial it back and change it so it works. "
Out of all of the fatalities, which one is your personal favourite throughout the history of Mortal Kombat?
"You know, it's the Johnny Cage outtakes one, it's just killer. All of Johnny's fatalities are just crazy. It's really funny and it came from the combination of the work we all did from setting it up to the work we did with the actors to create the voice acting for that scene. Not only can you hear Johnny's voice and his reactions but you can hear the director and the film crew as well and everyone did such a great job in making it feel like it was a real scenario in a real place. We did a bunch of lines for it too. The guy who plays Johnny is an improv guy himself so we went through a bunch of stuff to give the team as many options as possible to make that scene work."
We know Shaggy from Scooby Doo won't be making an appearance, but are you looking into adding characters from different franchises as guest characters this time around?
Yeah, unfortunately Shaggy's not going to make it, that was a shame but sadly I can't comment on future plans just yet.
How do you juggle a 25-character storyline?
"Very carefully. In the storyline we try to make sure that we give everybody a star turn, if possible. Unfortunately, the nature of our story is, if you look at a graph of how much screen time everybody gets, there's a sliding scale of core stars getting the most and it gradually going down from there. That's where the introduction of our intos feature which started back in Mortal Kombat X, evolved through Injustice and now to MK11 really helps out because it lets us fill out the presence of those characters that don't get a ton of screen time in the story. These introductions lets players learn more about their personalities and why they fight. Also what we've done for individual players, we're continuing what we started in Injustice 2 where those little story vignettes are told in the first person by the person you're playing when you defeat the boss of the game. That allows the story of those characters to become much more meaningful and adds a ton of layers to peel back if you will, off of the onion of who they are."
So a lot of the Mortal Kombat stars are household names even for people who don't play games at this point. Everyone knows who Kitana, Sub-Zero and Scorpion are. What does it feel like to bring those characters to life and to add to them with new story lines?
"You feel a tremendous amount of responsibility because you have this great big history already there and you want to make sure that every new choice you make in regards to where you're pushing them now is true to who they are and not pushing them off in a crazy direction. At the same time you're introducing these new characters and the challenge there is now you have to make them feel as real as a character you've known for 15 to 20 years. Trying to bring all of that together is challenging. It's a fun challenge, but it's definitely a challenge."
The game revolves a lot around the manipulation of time and while on that topic, how long will the story take to play through?
"I can roughly estimate how long the cinematics and everything are but I can't tell you exactly how long the story mode will be." We did however learn from a representative that the story is looking to be around eight hours long.
Speaking of time once again, the time-bending focus of the story is from what we've seen in trailers pitting a lot of characters against themselves from a different timeline, can you tell us more about that?
"So Kronica's mission in the story is rewind time and start all over and part of that process involves her merging the timelines together so that the past meets the present. That merger is what allows us to really explore the characters in an interesting way because when you have a character essentially confronting their past self as they were it allows you to learn more about them. Certainly, in Johnny Cage's case for example, he's a much different guy in his 40's than he was in his 20's and for him to then realise he was that guy and dealing with that whole thing just makes for some really interesting storytelling."
If you were a fighter in Mortal Kombat 11, what would be your fatality?
"Oh my god!" Cianciolo exclaimed and laughed. "Probably something quick and not too painful. For working on a game that's so over the top as it is, I'm a pretty mild-mannered guy."
That last question was asked in both of our two interviews with two very different answers given. Want to read the other one? Our interview with Derek Kirtzic (Senior System Designer, Netherrealm Studios) can be found right here. Mortal Kombat 11 releases on April 23 of this year for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Switch. Haven't read our hands-on preview from the event? You can read it by clickingthis link.