April 13, 2012 at 4:35 PM ET
One of the games featured at PAX East last weekend was the upcoming portable version of the "Mortal Kombat" reboot for the Vita. Last year's release was celebrated by critics and players alike, for not only successfully reviving a troubled franchise but offering a breath of fresh air for fighting fans.
Hans Lo, senior producer at NetherRealm Studios, said the key ingredient of its success was that the intellectual property was purchased by Warner Bros Interactive.
Midway Games was forced to liquidate assets in 2009, including all of their long-standing staples, including "Mortal Kombat." "Warner Bros was interested in doing a fighting game, but they didn't know the first thing about making one, and they knew it," Lo said.
This admission, and the acknowledgement by Warner Bros that they finally had developers with years of experience creating such games, provided the confidence that the "Mortal Kombat" team (which was rebranded by WB as NetherRealm Studios) desperately needed. But instead of Warner Bros having a completely hands-off approach, as one might expect, it was the exact opposite.
"When they asked us when the new game would be done, we stated a date that we hoped to meet, a timeframe that we had used in past games," said Lo. "But they responded with 'No, seriously; when will the game REALLY be done?' And when we then indicated a more realistic timeframe that would be necessary to get absolutely everything we wanted, they were like, 'Fine … just keep us in the loop.'"
They also offered a vast infrastructure and resources, something that the team had never had. This included the Warner Bros' PR machine that helped craft the marketing campaign that grabbed so much attention last year.
So, why exactly was the reboot so warmly received? "We went back to our roots, back to 2-D, for something easier to grasp," Lo said, a reference to how overly complex fighting games have become for many. But it still earned the experts' seal of approval. "In the latter stages of development, we brought in some tournament fighters to provide us some feedback.
“They gave us that extra piece we needed, to complete the package. Previous to 'Mortal Kombat,' it had never appeared in any of the professional fighting competitions, like at EVO or Major League Gaming, but with their help, all that changed. Getting feedback at such a level was a really good idea, which paid off."
The upcoming Vita port contains everything from the home console version and more. "Response to the Challenge Tower was beyond enthusiastic, which is why it's now twice as big." Every character is also unlocked from the very beginning, and all the downloadable characters are even included.
There are also two new mini games, built specifically for the Vita: Test Your Slice taps into the touchscreen, and Test Your Balance utilizes the accelerometer. But what about augmented reality? A feature that many had been mistakenly interpreted as being part of the package because of a commercial?
"When we released our initial commercial for the Vita, many were confused, assuming that it had AR functionality, which was never part of the package," Lo said. "But after that weekend, one of programmers said ... 'Check out what I just made.' And we realized 'We can do this!'
"It's not part of the main game, but the training mode. We haven't revealed how it's unlocked yet; we'll just everyone else figure that out!"
Matthew Hawkins is an NYC-based game journalist who has also written for EGM, GameSetWatch, Gamasutra, Giant Robot and numerous others. He also self-publishes his own game culture zine, is part of Attract Mode, and co-hosts The Fangamer Podcast. You can keep tabs on him via Twitter, or his personal home-base, FORT90.com.