Earlier this week we caught up with Hans Lo, senior producer on Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, to chat about violence, 2D fighters and the challenge of collaborating with one of the world's biggest comic-book companies.
VideoGamer.com: Ok, I apologise for starting out with this question, as I'm sure it's one you get asked a lot... but how tricky has it been to aim for a teen rating without losing that unique Mortal Kombat flavour? Has it been very difficult?
Hans Lo: Uh, difficult maybe in the sense that it made us think outside of the box, but the reality was that we've definitely pushed it to the edge. it was never a case of saying, "Oh we're going for a 15 rating or a teem rating, so we don't want any blood or any over the top violence." We went all the way to the edge. We went over, and we brought it back. Wherever it is, this line that everyone keeps talking about, we've actually tried to find it. We've tried to stay as true as possible to the MK franchise.
Videogamer.com: Am I correct in saying that The Joker's awesome joke-gun fatality has been toned down?
HL: That's partly true...
VideoGamer.com: Partly true?
HL: Partly true! You know, for North America we have a Teen rating, and teen really means 13 and above. Thirteen is pretty young, you have to admit. For Europe we have a 15, 16+ rating - so it's a bit different.
VideoGamer.com: So are there different cuts of the game?
HL: I don't know, maybe! I think you might have to go take a look.
VideoGamer.com: Did you have any reservations about the VS idea? Both series have fairly protective fans...
HL: Oh, I think it's totally natural to have those feelings. You have two big fan bases that know what they like, they know what they want, and you don't want to disappoint. So yeah, we were worried about it! But to be honest, the initial reaction you saw online in the forums caught us off guard. Before anyone had even seen what the game looked like, people were saying, "What's going on? These guy are nuts! This will never work!" The thing is we had an idea of what we wanted to do, and the we knew we were going to get a lot of nay-sayers - but the reality is that once we got the game out, once we gave a demo and let people play, a lot of the worries would settle. And that's what has been happening: once we got the game out and people started playing, the feedback totally started turning around. People started saying, "No no no, this is actually cool". Superman is Superman, Batman is Batman, and they do things you'd expect them to do! And Scorpion is Scorpion - he's not just some DC character who looks a bit like Scorpion, he's got all his moves...
At this point the match we've been half-watching comes to an end. The Joker begins to laugh manically, and performs his fatality.
HL: Was that the one you were talking about?
VideoGamer.com: Now that's what I wanted to see!
HL: Maybe that answers your question!
VideoGamer.com: It certainly does! Something else I wanted to ask about was the way characters' costumes get torn up as they fight. I heard that was something that DC took some convincing over... Is that true? Was if hard to get their approval?
HL: DC is protecting their brand, just like we want to protect our brand. I wouldn't say they were like, "There is no way this will happen!", but there was an approval process, and as we came up with our designs and ideas we'd say, "this is what we're thinking, now give us some feedback." We worked together. And they'd come back to us with stuff: "This costume is made in this way, so if you were to do damage then this is what you'd see." So it was a team effort, in that respect.
VideoGamer.com: So does that increased need for discussion change the way the game is made, or is it just another level of brainstorming?
HL: Yeah, there's some brainstorming. When you're working with somebody else on a franchise like this there has to be an approval process, so that adds an additional step you wouldn't otherwise have. Normally we only have ourselves to report to, but of course we now have DC so have to ask, "Is this all-right? Is this something a DC character would do in reality?", and they'll come back with, "That movement looks more like magic, and Batman isn't a magician. He's more of a martial artist, so perhaps there's a way to make him use a kick or a roll to get out of that situation. That would be more believable." So then maybe we see how we can use that to change our original idea, or we throw it out. But he looks like Batman, and he acts like Batman.
VideoGamer.com: And did they have a lot of input with regards to the art direction?
HL: DC definitely gave us a lot of reference material, showing how the characters are portrayed and who they wanted us to follow. One of the cool benefits of that was that every month I got a nice big box of comic books! As you can see, the characters aren't exactly as you'd find them in a comic book, but they're very much styled off of them. When you see The Flash, that's The Flash - no question about it. He's not wearing some costume you've never seen him in before. And on the MK side of things, we have our own style and uniqueness, and I think we're able to maintain that and yet find that balance. So you don't find yourself saying, "Man, it looks kind of bizarre to see Scorpion standing in Metropolis City!"
VideoGamer.com: The Mortal Kombat characters look quite similar to their representation in the first game... although they look a lot better, obviously.
HL: That's part of the technology. As we move forward, there are things we can do that we couldn't do in the past - and the includes these models, and the details and material. One of the cool things we have in this game is a model viewer - these are the actual models used in-game, and you can zoom in and see the actual texture of the cloth on their outfits.
VideoGamer.com: But in terms of the actual designs you've gone for with the MK characters, they look fairly traditional - as opposed to the ones you used in some of the later games.
HL: Definitely! Again, it kind of goes back to the story Some people have been asking about where this fits into the MK storyline... it kinda does and it doesn't! It's an alternate universe, an Elseworlds story if you're going to take the DC side of things, and it takes place in the time frame of MK2 - so that's why the characters have that look. We definitely looked back at previous games and took inspiration from that. Even the gameplay is very much in the 2D fighting style.
VideoGamer.com: That's certainly true! Do you think there will always be a place for 2D fighters?
HL: Oh yeah. We get feedback all the time, and MK2 is still one of people's all-time favourite games. If it wasn't, that would kind of prove that people didn't want a 2D game. And Street Fighter - that's a 2D game and very popular in its own right.
VideoGamer.com: Do you have a favourite game in the series? Mine was always MK2...
HL: For me, I'd say MK2. And the reason I'd say that is that I was at Nintendo at the time, back in the day when they started doing MK games through Acclaim. When they first started talking about it, some of the guys at the company in upper management were like, "What is this Mortal Kombat thing?" So they were like, "Ok, we're going to send you an arcade machine!" So we got an actual MK2 machine and started playing it, and my boss - who is now actually a VP now, over at Nintendo - he'd come by desk and go [stern voice] "Ok, now come with me." "Where are we going?" And then next thing I know it'd be, "Pick a character. We're going to play for a bit". So I'd get to play MK! It was cool, a lot of fun.
VideoGamer.com: Did you have to let him win, or was he up for a fair challenge?
HL: Every once in a while I'd have to let him win. He's the boss - I want to keep my job! I was just a tester back then... I like MK3 as well - or UMK3, I should say - but MK2 was a lot of fun. It was the game that got me into playing MK.
VideoGamer.com: Getting back to this game...What was the thinking behind the Test Your Might and Klose Kombat sections? How did they come about? You mentioned wanting to bring back the old button-mashing thing...
HL: Like I said, it's a twist on something old. But the thing that's different is that instead of just one person, this is something you can do against a buddy - it's an interaction between the two of you. The FreeFall and the the Klose Kombat - that kind of thing would have been a cinematic in the past. And then Ed (Boon) said: "What if we gave control to the players at that point?" We worked on ideas, and in the end that's what we came up with. That was the kind of thing. What have we seen in the past games, and what can we improve upon or innovate?
Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe will punch your face on November 21... if you have a PS3 or an Xbox 360