[Retrospective] Flawless Victory: 'Mortal Kombat' Still Hitting Fatalities 30 Years Later - Bloody Disgusting

2022-10-16 12:01:30 By : Mr. Allen Bao

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Before Mortal Kombat hit arcades 30 years ago, the arcade was dominated by Street Fighter II, and rightfully so. Capcom’s fighter had rejuvenated the arcade scene, and multiple developers were looking to cash in with their own creations, no matter how much they ripped off Street Fighter II‘s concept. Midway was one company, which had tasked Mortal Kombat creators Ed Boon and John Tobias with creating a fighting game that would rival Street Fighter II. A few digitized actors, a swapping of letters, and a Fatality or two later, and the duo had done just that.

Fighting game stories aren’t exactly deep, and Mortal Kombat‘s story is no exception. The game takes place in Earthrealm, where a martial arts tournament is held on Shang Tsung’s Island. Shang Tsung was banished to Earthrealm 500 years ago and, with the help of the four-armed Shokan warrior Goro, is able to seize control of the Mortal Kombat tournament in an attempt to conquer the realm. For 500 years straight, Goro has been undefeated in the tournament, having won nine consecutive tournaments. Should Goro win again, Shao Kahn, the Emperor of Outworld, will be allowed to take Earthrealm. In order to prevent this, seven warriors compete to challenge Goro for the title.

The road for Mortal Kombat reaching the arcade was a long one. Without going into the minute details, Midway had tasked Boon and Tobias with creating a fighting game in 1991. Initially, the idea for the game was a fighting game similar to Data East’s Karate Champ, which then morphed into an arcade adaptation of the Jean Claude Van Damme movie Universal Soldier, with plans to have Van Damme starring in the game. However, that plan was scrapped once the deal with Van Damme fell through, though Boon and Tobias kept a Van Damme tribute in what was eventually Mortal Kombat in the form of Johnny Cage (complete with the Bloodsport split punch).

During development, the team had difficulty in coming up with a name for their burgeoning fighter. Accounts differ as to how they arrived at Mortal Kombat, but according to Boon, for six months during development “nobody could come up with a name nobody didn’t hate.” Eventually, someone had written down “combat” on the drawing board for names in Boon’s office,  writing a K over the C “just to be kind of weird.” Pinball designer Steve Ritchie was sitting in Boon’s office, saw the word “Kombat” and said to him, “Why don’t you name it ‘Mortal Kombat‘?”, which according to Boon, “just stuck.” John Tobias remembers it differently, saying that the name “came about during the trademark process in naming the game. We really liked Mortal Combat as a name, but it couldn’t get past legal.”

As for the game’s violence, this initially wasn’t supposed to be the bloody affair we all know and love, but progressed as development went on. The concept of Fatalities came about from the “dizzied” mechanic in earlier fighting games. While Boon despised the mechanic (which is in Street Fighter II), he did admit that the free hit was a fun idea when your opponent was dizzied. Eventually, Boon and Tobias decided to incorporate a variation of the dizzied mechanic by having it occur at the end of the fight, after the outcome had already been decided.

Separating Mortal Kombat from its competitors was its graphics. Obviously, the buckets of blood were one thing, but the use of digitized fighters was the bigger contrast. Midway had previously used the technique of taking footage of live actors and rotoscoping it before in other titles such as in Terminator 2: The Arcade Game, but with Mortal Kombat, it took the technique to the next level. The result felt far more realistic that Street Fighter II’s sprites.

Mortal Kombat not only felt different than Street Fighter II, it also played differently. Rather than holding back on the joystick to block, the team decided to implement a block button as a form of offensive blocking. And while neither game officially recognized combos, MK did allow for players to juggle their opponents for extra hits. A string of successive punches could batter your opponent before they were knocked backwards. Plus, Mortal Kombat’s iconic uppercut just looked and felt so cool. It didn’t need you performing a specific joystick motion, which meant anyone could use it. Of course, the geyser of blood that shot out of your opponent before they came crashing down to the ground was the exclamation point.

Yes, Mortal Kombat wore its gore on its bloody sleeves. Shockingly realistic for the time, it’s actually now almost comical how blood just squirts out of fighters whenever a big hit lands. That comedy changes quite quickly when it came to the fatalities, which quickly became the game’s selling point. Sub-Zero’s spine rip was brutal, and probably the most memorable of the bunch, alongside Scorpion’s iconic hellfire, which is a series mainstay. Kano’s heart rip echoed that scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but was no less cool to see. Regardless of who you chose as your fighter, you knew in the back of your mind that pulling off a Fatality would be rewarding for everyone involved, from your opponent to the people watching you duke it out.

Obviously, this gore and violence didn’t sit well with parents, and in particular, politicians. The 1993 US Senate hearings on video game violence had Mortal Kombat in its crosshairs, alongside two other titles that were deemed too violent for children in Night Trap and Lethal Enforcers. Aside from Sega and Nintendo taking potshots at each other (and the usual general ignorance when it comes to these topics), the hearings led to the industry-led creation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which remains in place to this day.

Mortal Kombat continued to ride the wave of popularity once the home ports were announced. Midway had partnered with Acclaim for the ports, which came up with the concept of “Mortal Monday”, complete with the iconic commercial. After their verbal jousting during the Senate hearings, Nintendo and Sega each had their own version of the game. The Super Nintendo version was developed by Sculptured Software, while the Genesis version was developed by Probe. While the SNES version definitely looked and sounded closer to the arcade than the Genesis version, the controls were laggy, and most notably, the blood from the arcade had been changed to “sweat”. The Fatalities were also neutered, making what was so special about Mortal Kombat a complete joke. Meanwhile, the Genesis version allowed players to input a code that would restore the blood and Fatalities, making it the far more desirable option, despite the downgrade in the audio and visual department.

From there, Mortal Kombat‘s popularity only grew across a variety of mediums: toys, comics, a cartoon, a live-action tour (seriously), a soundtrack album by The Immortals featuring the iconic “Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)”, and a collectible card game all spawned at various points. It all culminated in Paul Anderson’s 1995 film adaptation, which is still regarded as one of the best videogame-to-film adaptations, and the $122 million gross at the box office on a $20 million budget certainly helped. Of course, it also helped that Midway had released Mortal Kombat II into arcades in late 1993, but that’s another story.

It’d be easy to say that Mortal Kombat was in the right place at the right time, riding on Street Fighter II‘s popularity. But 30 years later, after 14 entries and spinoffs, continued merchandise, several films and devoted fans, Mortal Kombat the franchise has carved out a significant chunk in the history of video games as well as popular culture, and has remained popular all this time. Obviously, the series has had its ups and downs, but it still endures. Going back and playing the original Mortal Kombat today seems quaint when compared to its more modern sequels, but the thrill of uppercutting your opponent into The Pit or pulling off a Fatality after a hard-fought victory never ceases to entertain.

Writer/Artist/Gamer from the Great White North. I try not to be boring.

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Welcome back to DEAD Time! Just in time for spooky season, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej, also known as the Ghoul Boys. Ryan and Shane started out on Buzzfeed Unsolved: Supernatural and Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime, where they explored reportedly haunted locations and also shared the history behind some of the most gruesome and terrifying true crime stories.

After leaving Buzzfeed, Ryan and Shane, along with their good friend Steven Lim, created Watcher, a production company and YouTube channel where they tell creepy stories on Are You Scared, along with a variety of other shows that are fun, entertaining, and even educational. Even with all the great content on Watcher, the Ghoul Boys really wanted to get back into ghost hunting. Much to the delight of their devoted fanbase, they premiered their new show Ghost Files on September 23rd. In their first episode, they used advanced technology and covered every inch of the famously haunted Waverly Hills Sanatorium, and it was compelling and hilarious. Ryan and Shane are the perfect ghost hunting team—Nothing scares Shane, and he doesn’t believe in ghosts. Ryan, on the other hand, believes in ghosts and things that go bump in the night, and is determined to find evidence to prove the existence of something paranormal.

Ahead of the premiere of Ghost Files, I had a fun chat with Ryan and Shane about whether or not they believe in ghosts, some of their more chilling ghost hunting experiences, and their new show, which is bigger and better than anything they’ve done before. They may not agree on ghosts, but I did discover they both love horror movies. Read on to find out what we talked about and make sure you check out Ghost Files on Watcher!

Bloody Disgusting: You hosted seven seasons of Buzzfeed Unsolved: Supernatural together and then, along with Steven Lim, you launched the production company Watcher, where you produce shows like Are You Scared, Too Many Spirits, and your new show Ghost Files. How did the two of you first meet and what do you enjoy most about working together all these years later?

Ryan Bergara: We basically were sat next to each other as interns at Buzzfeed and we really didn’t interact very much that first six months. The way it worked back then, we were focused on our work, and I didn’t really see Shane that much, but we would talk movies now and then. About a year later, we did a series called Test Friends, where we tried health and beauty and fitness trends. That was an interesting experience because neither of us are super gung-ho about any of that stuff. We figured out we had a good working rapport and that just developed into a natural friendship. When Buzzfeed Unsolved came around, I hosted it with Brent Bennett first, who was a person I carpooled to work with. Somewhere down the line, Brent decided he didn’t want to do the show anymore because he was not a fan of the spooky topics [laughs] and not a fan of horror, so Shane was just the next natural person I could think of. That’s pretty much it. Did I miss anything, Shane?

Shane Madej: That feels pretty comprehensive. That’s the tale as it is often told. It was all very casual when Ryan asked me to do the series. He just sort of turned in his chair and mentioned that Brent was leaving the show and asked if I wanted to fill in. He said it might be a commitment, but I didn’t realize it would alter the course of my career.

RB: It was very unceremonious how it all happened.

SM: As far as the second part of your question about our favorite things about each other, Ryan is just sort of on my same wavelength when it comes to being an easygoing, very creative person. I didn’t mean to compliment myself [laughs].

RB: [laughter] My favorite thing about Ryan is he’s an easygoing guy [laughs].

SM: He’s a genius, just like myself [laughs]. I’ve seen other people travel with shows and it can be kind of a slog. The hours that we put in for ghost hunting are pretty brutal because you’re going to a location at sundown and then shooting until three or four in the morning. I’m hard pressed to think of any instances where people have lost their cool or gotten cranky. Ryan, and the crew we work with, have always been so upbeat and cheery. It’s really essential to what we do, so it’s good vibes and I appreciate that.

RB: Thank you, man! I would have to echo that as well. I think the one thing I’ve grown to appreciate over time in working with Shane is that he does approach things with an easygoing point of view. I think in the entertainment business it’s easy for people to have a point of view and then kind of use that as an excuse to be a dictator or not a pleasant person to be around. Shane is one of the few that I’ve worked with who has always been able to get his point of view across and communicate that he’s passionate and cares about something and also be just a really nice guy, a nice Midwestern guy.

BD: One of my favorite things about you two is your dynamic and the way you play off each other and some of your differences. I love that Shane basically believes in nothing as far as the paranormal is concerned, and Ryan pretty much believes in everything. Shane, have you experienced anything during the past several years of ghost hunting that really scared you and made you reconsider your beliefs about the supernatural?

SM: People ask me that a lot and the answer is, “No.” [laughs] It’s fun because at this point, I pretty much patently don’t believe in ghosts. I never really have and my experiences in these haunted places has not changed it. There is certainly stuff that has happened that I was like, “Yeah if you believe in ghosts, you might think that’s a ghost and that’s spooky to you. Fine.” Or we might hear a noise where I’m like, “Sure, I don’t have a good explanation for what that noise could be. It could be a number of things. I personally don’t believe it’s a ghost.” But I’m rooting for Ryan to really get something on camera one of these days because we’re friends. I don’t want him to feel like his life has been squandered.

RB: That’s really sweet of you. He really doesn’t believe which honestly is sometimes infuriating just because I personally feel like we have gotten enough evidence, between this show and Buzzfeed Unsolved, to warrant someone believing. I don’t see how you could not believe at this point. He’s a stubborn guy. He walks around and his head is in a different atmosphere, so I get it. I haven’t looked at the data but at this point, maybe tall people just don’t believe in ghosts [laughs].

SM: I want to chime in and say that to Ryan’s credit, he doesn’t believe in everything. He is a little bit discerning when it comes to certain things. Orbs, I think Ryan, you can admit are probably just particles of dust caught in the light.

RB: Yeah, I’ve never seen an orb that convinced me that it was a juicy spirit floating around. I’ve always thought that it’s most likely a bug or dust. That’s just my thing. I am open to pretty much everything, but there is a level of discernment that comes into whether or not it’s paranormal or not. The reason we don’t have a boatload of evidence in our shows is because I don’t want to put anything out there that isn’t worthwhile or possibly a ghost, or possibly paranormal. I don’t want to put iffy evidence up there just for the sake of it. I hope that over time that’s earned some sort of trust with audience and some good faith. But, coming into this Ghost Files season, we did catch a fair amount of stuff that I feel pretty damn good about. I guess we have more tools now and we’re a little bit more seasoned as investigators, but I’m very pleased with what we’ve got so far for this season.

BD: I agree with you about orbs and Ryan, I’m also pulling for you to see something!

BD: Ryan, what is the most frightening experience you’ve had so far ghost hunting, and what is the scariest location you’ve investigated? What would you do if you encountered something like a full body apparition, and what do you think Shane would do in that situation?

RB: The scariest thing I’ve encountered has to be one of the solos I’ve been on. There’s been a couple of the seasons that have really pushed me to the edge. In this show, we’re now doing 20 minutes alone, meaning everyone leaves the building and we’re the only ones left. For every 20 minutes I spend doing them, they’ve got to take off 20 weeks of my life. The anxiety level that I go through walking through some of these places is just awful and they don’t get easier. There are certainly some locations that are worse than others. Waverly Hills by myself was truly a nightmare. There’s another place that I won’t name because you’ll have to wait and see it, but I actually had to kind of retreat within myself to get through it. I knew that if I approached it with a let’s just see what happens kind of attitude, I probably would have had a heart attack and I didn’t want to die on camera. So, I just went into a quiet place inside myself as I was walking around. It felt like I completely disassociated.

As far as a specific experience, in the Sorrel-Weed House, when we were doing Buzzfeed Unsolved, I did see this guy walking in front of us. The crew said it was a security guard or someone who had gotten into the perimeter by going over the gate which was pretty tall. But I saw a guy walk; he walked into a room and the room had no exits, other than the way he walked in. There was a brick wall, and he was just gone. My first inclination was not to be like, “Oh, that’s a ghoul. That’s a certified ghost right there.” My first thought was, “Hey, how did that guy get into our locked set?” Like how did this person get in there? And I walked into the room where he was supposed to be and I was like, “Oh, shit. Did I just see a ghost?” [laughs]

That was kind of one of the more thrilling things I’ve seen. In terms of that experience, I was both thrilled and scared as hell. I’ve always wondered what would happen if I saw a ghost, but in that case, it was kind of tough, because it wasn’t like I was seeing it and processing it in real time that I was looking at a ghost. I was like, “Hey, that was just a guy.” I went to go investigate and it wasn’t a guy, so I didn’t feel like it was a ghost just chilling in a jail cell like when I was looking for one. So, I don’t know what I would do. I might freeze; there’s a possibility that I might run; maybe I would pass out; I don’t know. Shane, honestly, I think he would laugh. He’s fully jokerfied at this moment in time. He would laugh.

SM: I do think if I saw an actual ghost, I would be delighted. I don’t know that I would feel in peril at all because these things can barely flick a switch or move a tube of toothpaste. So, I’m not that concerned about them inflicting physical harm. I would probably laugh and be like, “Whoa, this is really going to catch a lot of views on YouTube.

BD: This question is for each of you—What haunted location would you love to investigate that you haven’t been able to go to yet, and why?

RB: Oh yeah, there’s so many. The ones that come to mind are like The Stanley Hotel. I would love to go there. Hotels have always been pretty tough to investigate just because you would have to rent out the entire hotel in order to get rid of the possibility of whatever you’re hearing or seeing might be another hotel guest. So, something like The Stanley Hotel—I can’t even imagine how much it would be to rent out that entire place. I guess there’s a place I would want to investigate, I mean it would be horrible, but those catacombs in Paris would be awful. Some of these places I’m like, “Oh, that would be awful. Let’s go there.” Maybe that Poveglia Island would be pretty rough. That would be awful. The original Exorcist house in St. Louis would be a nightmare. Probably the Conjuring 2 house in London and the house in Connecticut. There’s a bunch of them. We’ll be here all day if I start listing off all the ones I’d like to go to [laughs].

BD: Shane, is there a haunted location that you would like to investigate?

SM: I mean, there’s a ton. One of things that we never got to do much on Buzzfeed Unsolved was explore place outside of the U.S. Even within the U.S., I’m sure there’s a lot of corners of the country that we haven’t been to yet. For me, it’s really just an opportunity to travel and go to places that crumbling and decrepit. So, you do a little light ghost hunting, but the real weird treat for us on these shoots is that because we can only shoot from sunset to 2 or 3 am, we spend an entire day kind of sight-seeing together. Which is maybe another reason why our crew tends to get along so well, because we’re all just sort of travel buddies. I can’t think of anything off hand. We’ve seen some of the most horrifying places in the U.S. and continue to do that on this season of Ghost Files. I never in a million years would have thought that we would be on Alcatraz after hours alone [laughs]. It’s been kind of crazy. We also went to Hull House in Chicago, where Jane Addams did a lot of her work back in the day. I went to Jane Addams Junior High School, and she was sort of revered locally as this historic figure. So, it was really cool to be able to explore that. I’m always in it for the history more than the ghosts. It’s just very neat to sort of observe these locations very privately under the guise of hunting for ghosts, which I do not believe in.

BD: I’m really looking forward to your new show Ghost Files! Can you give me some idea of what we can expect, as far as the investigations and what’s different about this show, and how did the two of you decide you wanted to start ghost hunting again and do this show?

RB: To be honest, as far as ghost hunting, when we ended Buzzfeed Unsolved, we never really thought that was going to be our last go at ghost hunting. We always knew we were going to do another version of it. We did that show for six years and there’s naturally things that you think you can improve upon. I always thought I’d like to do it a little different if we got the chance to do it again. And when we did get the chance to do it again and we made Watcher, I was like, “Oh, great! We can actually make that show that I’ve always had cooking in the back of my mind.” We’re spending more time at the locations and using more of the tech that I’ve always wanted to use in the investigations. Being able to spend time alone completely, like one at a time in each of these locations, I also thought could be something that was really interesting. On Buzzfeed Unsolved, really, we would spend time alone in one room, like the big bad room in that location.

In Ghost Files, it’s the entire place, which is horrifying. Like walking around Alcatraz by myself was crazy. In the moment, I didn’t feel like, “Wow, this such an honor.” I felt like, “Get me out of here! I’m going to piss my pants.” But after being able to digest everything, I was like, “Wow, that was a crazy, cool opportunity!” I just didn’t think that I would ever have that opportunity. Other than that, investigation stuff aside, I just thought it would be really cool to play with a different aesthetic and to bring some cinematic elements to the show that we hadn’t been able to do elsewhere. So, just the style of it is going to be a little bit different as well. And we also just took a different approach into how we break the locations down, so that we could really do our best to just get as much evidence as possible.

SM: There’s also a lot of detail and attention paid to the layout of the places, which we didn’t always get into before. That was one of things we always thought would be better to communicate. Part of the thrill of these shows is putting yourself in there and feeling what it’s like to walk around these places. We kind of go in depth about the layout and show the blueprints of them and where we are and where our static cams are. So, you get a better feel for the places in general.

RB: That’s true because like in Buzzfeed Unsolved, and we do this in Ghost Files as well—a lot of that is history focused and we do breakdown the history of the building, and just the feel of the place. I think in this show, by breaking down the building, like holistically, it kind of feels like we’re talking about the building like a living entity. Like there might be a reason this building had so many horrible things happen inside of it, because we’re talking about the building almost like it’s a character. So, that was really cool, too.

BD: Earlier, Ryan was telling me he just saw Barbarian and how much he loved it. I heard that you’re both big horror fans.

BD: If you could each only pick one movie, what would you say is your favorite horror movie, and why?

RB: Oh, that’s so tough! It switches, but gun to my head, I’d probably say the original Halloween by John Carpenter. It’s the perfect horror movie in my opinion. I know it’s a little bit slower if you were to show it to somebody from this generation or a younger person. But I feel like the dread that you feel is pretty unmatched. Shane and I were actually talking about this recently. I think one of the reasons why it scared me so much as a kid was the fact that it was one of the movies to really set the horror film in the environment of just the average suburban neighborhood where things like that aren’t supposed to happen. The fact that this person could just come in and murder people in their homes made you kind of feel like you were unsafe in your own home, which is a really horrifying thing to think about when you’re a kid. You know how people were scared to go into the ocean when they saw Jaws, you can’t not live in your house [laughs]. So, I was thinking that Michael Myers was going knock down my door like the Kool-Aid man and stab me to death. Also, the music in that movie is so goddamn cool. There’s just a vibe to that whole movie.

SM: Outside of ghosts and sports, Ryan and I mostly share the same opinions about stuff. Halloween is also my favorite horror movie. Obviously, I was born after it came out, but it’s one of those movies that I feel like when you’re in grade school, you hear about it. It was a movie that had an aura to it before I ever even saw it. The first time I saw it, I was probably about ten, and I was like, “This is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. This is incredible.” It’s a perfect movie. I will love John Carpenter until I die.

RB: And also, one of the greatest screen moments of all time is at the end when he gets up in the background is pretty amazing. I guess saying that Halloween is your favorite horror movie is kind of like the pumpkin spice latte opinion [laughs].

SM: But who cares? It’s a perfect movie. But if you want something avant-garde, I’ll say I watched Possession recently and I thought that was really good. But that’s weird, freaky stuff. It’s not something that I’m going to watch every year to psych myself up for spooky season like I do with Halloween.

BD: I’m surprised you both picked the same movie!

SM: Yeah, we love it. That’s why we’re friends!

RB: [laughs]. That’s true.

SM: You should always have friends who share your exact same opinions. That’s what friendship is. I’ll hear no other words on the matter.

BD: Maybe some other time we can have a chat just about horror movies.

SM: Oh, we’d love to!

New episodes of “Ghost Files” air Fridays at 12pm PT on Watcher.

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