Mortal Kombat X interview - a conversation about fatalities

  • Breaking
  • 20/10/2014

Warning: This article contains embedded video that features graphic animated violence

There's not much in the world of videogames more notorious and beloved than the fatalities of Mortal Kombat.

The latest release of the iconic NetherRealm franchise is just months away, and the fatalities are back and bloodier than ever.

Of course it's a deep and full fighting game with a lot more to it that than over-the-top kill animations. But there's something about Mortal Kombat fatalities that have always found a special place in the hearts of many gamers.

Recently I caught up with Mortal Kombat X producer Erin Piepergerdes to find out more about the game - but ended up talking mostly about fatalities.

What makes a good fatality?
When we make new fatalities, we're looking for something to be the ultimate finishing move of our game. We want something that is huge, over-the-top and has a lot of impact. They'll hopefully make our players cringe a little bit, but also laugh. We don't want them to be mean-spirited in any way, which might sound ridiculous when you're talking about a fatality, but it should be fun. We want you to say 'Oh my gosh, that looks painful!' but have fun laughing at the same time.

Cast your mind back to the original Mortal Kombat trilogy - what was your favourite fatality from those games?
There's so many! I'm a fan of some of the classics, I still love Scorpion's fatality where he reveals his skull and shoots flames at his opponent. But if I had to pick one I would have to go with the Sub Zero spine-rip.

In the 2011 reboot, what was your favourite from that?
The Sektor one where he shoots a missile into his opponent and blows them into little pieces, then smaller missiles explode all those smaller pieces. Because it's not enough to explode your victim into four or five chunks, you have to eviscerate those chunks.

When you're having a serious business meeting about fatalities - what is that like?
It's absolutely ridiculous, it's exactly what you would picture in your mind if you think of a brainstorming session where people are trying to come up with fatalities. It starts with our core group of designers we have in the studio. They sit down with [Mortal Kombat co-creator] Ed Boon and start tossing out ideas, but in reality anybody in the studio that has a good idea can throw it into the pool. How many creative ways can you come up with to eviscerate your opponent? There's a lot of really ridiculous ideas that are thrown out there. Once we have a big pool to choose from, we start whittling that down and trying to find the ones that are unique and new and feel fresh. Then we start storyboarding them out - by the way, a fatality drawn out with stick figures is pretty amusing. The ones we like from that, we'll start shooting the motion and animating them. When you come to a day of work like that, coming up with new fatalities, you realise how fun your job can be sometimes.

Have you come up with any fatality ideas that were scrapped because they took things too far?
Yes, there's always ideas that someone comes up with and we think no, even for us, that's a bit too much. We're pretty good at self-censoring ourselves as a team. I'm not going to go into specifics with examples, but in general we want the fatalities to be fun and not mean-spirited. If we think somebody may be offended by a fatality, it's not going to get made.

There are fatalities that are completely fantastical and involve magic, but then there are some that are more realistic and could maybe be done in reality. Do you recognise that distinction?
To me there's not really a difference, it's just whatever is fitting for the character. Some of the characters in our universe have more mystical powers, so their fatalities may involve portals and things like that. So if mind control fits a character, we'll use it in their fatality, whereas other characters are much more 'realistic'. So when they're doing a fatality it makes sense for them to be using knives, blades and things that are a little more real. I don't think of the fatalities as being in different categories, I just think of what is appropriate for each character and their style.

Do you have a favourite fatality from Mortal Kombat X yet?
We've only revealed a handful of them so I have to answer from that pool of eight or so characters. Gosh. I mean I love my boy Sub Zero, but Scorpion's fatality - we're really proud of that. It was one of the first ones we did for the game and I haven't gotten tired of seeing it yet. He blows a big hole in his opponent's chest, you see their heart drop down and he then slices their face off. If you watch closely, there's a lot of detail - the tongue keeps twitching, the brains slide out, the fine details like that help set it apart as a big, huge, awesome moment at the end of a fight.

The X-Ray moves are just as brutal as fatalities and I'm very happy to see those coming back. How has the fan community taken to them?
People have really embraced them.  The more casual players - which I consider myself to be - will wait until their meter is full so they can pull off those X-Rays, it's a good way to have a big cinematic hit in the middle of a match. And just like fatalities they make players cringe when they see them. But the tournament players very rarely use them, they would rather use the meter for other things like enhanced specials or combo breakers. Those are more important to them than saving up the meter and doing the X-Ray. In general, it's been really well-received by our fans and we're proud of them. That's why it's making a return in Mortal Kombat X, obviously in a much bigger presentation than the last Mortal Kombat.

Mortal Kombat X

I love a lot of games that have violence in them and are often controversial as a result. Fatalities and X-Ray moves are about as extreme as videogame violence gets - why is this sort of violence fun to experience in a game?
That's an interesting question. It's something we don't experience in our day-to-day living, it's kind of a fantasy world where you can see these ridiculous, over-the-top moves. I like to think that with Mortal Kombat, it's more popular for its core gameplay [than the violence]. We work really hard to make sure there's a really fun fighting experience in it, beyond that we make sure there's a lot of other features and modes that will attract players who see a wide variety of ways to play the game. Then the over-the-top violence is kind of the icing on the cake. We're obviously known for fatalities, you can't make a Mortal Kombat game without them. But I'd like to think the reason players come back is for the core gameplay as well.

Mortal Kombat X is the franchise's first game to be released on the PS4 and XBONE. What have the advances in hardware brought to the game?
We've got a lot more horsepower that we can use to have a better graphical presentation. We can also pack a lot more on the disc in terms of overall content. Those are obvious advantages. Then under the hood, we've got an engine we've been using for the last few games that we continue to iterate on and push in new directions, to make sure the action is as polished and balanced as it can possibly be. It's always exciting when there's new hardware, it allows us to push games further than we've been able to previously.

What is your favourite thing about Mortal Kombat X?
Something we haven't talked about much yet, but there's a pretty deep story. We always try to tell the history of our characters, why they're fighting, and we've got a pretty cool story going in Mortal Kombat X. We haven't revealed many details, but I think once fans start to see what's going on in this universe and the direction we've taken it since our last game, you're going to be really excited.


Mortal Kombat X is set for release in April 2015.

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