Mortal Kombat is iconic, and not just for its violence, ridiculously over-the-top finishing moves, or colorful cast of vicious murderers. The series helped diversify the fledgling fighting game genre back when it was first released, brought gaming to the forefront of pop culture, and changed how the entire video game industry operated back in the ‘90s.
That being said, Mortal Kombat isn’t all courtrooms and controversy. From the very beginning, the series has been known for its seemingly endless list of secrets, pranks and Easter eggs, along with one of the strangest development cycles ever documented. The franchise is known for not taking itself very seriously, and that goofy sense of humor doesn’t end with the games themselves.
After nearly twenty-five years on the market, there’s a surprising amount of history behind those primitive digitized sprites and absolutely absurd Fatalities – here are 15 Things You Never Knew About Mortal Kombat.
15. The original Mortal Kombat team was ridiculously small
Nowadays, even the smallest video game development teams are made up of dozens of different people, all working on different parts of a project simultaneously – but that wasn’t always the case. Back in the early days of gaming, entire projects were programmed, animated and tested by just a few people… and Mortal Kombat was no different.
Programmer Ed Boon and artist John Tobias are credited with the creation of Mortal Kombat – otherwise, the rest of the original Mortal Kombat team was comprised of just one other artist and a sound designer (John Vogel and Dan Forden respectively).
And, amazingly, that’s it: the entirety of the original Mortal Kombat arcade game was developed by just four people total. Granted, as the game was ported to other systems, more and more people were brought in to help – but the very first version of the game was built by only a few (incredibly dedicated) people.
14. The game was originally supposed to be a movie adaptation
It’s hard to imagine Mortal Kombat without its iconic cast of characters – but, for a time, Mortal Kombat was a very different game.
Originally, the development team was in talks to create a video game adaptation of the film Universal Soldier, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. The game would use digitized versions of the film’s cast, and was touted as a more traditional action game. Part-way through development, however, the deal fell through – reportedly due to Van Damme’s cramped schedule – and the Universal Soldier angle was dropped from the game entirely.
That’s not to say that the Universal Soldier deal was a complete loss: Johnny Cage, one of the franchise’s most popular characters, was clearly inspired by Van Damme. Cage even wears the same outfit that Van Damme sported in the film Bloodsport – and the character’s cocky, arrogant attitude is likely a playful jab at his real-life inspiration.
13. There was a Mortal Kombat cartoon for kids
Mortal Kombat has, from the very beginning, focused on violence and gore. To be fair, it’s always been presented in a ridiculous manner, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks any of the Mortal Kombat material is suitable for children.
That didn’t stop Threshold Entertainment from producing Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, a cartoon series targeted at kids. Following the success of both Mortal Kombat 3 and the first feature film, the franchise was more popular than ever – and, for many, the announcement of a TV series was more of an inevitability than anything.
If only the show had been worth watching: aside from the terrible writing and animation, Defenders of the Realm had little to do with Mortal Kombat. Bad catch-phrases and recycled action replaced Fatalities and actual characterization… and, unsurprisingly, the series only lasted a single season before it was cancelled.
12. The inspirations behind the Mortal Kombat cast
The characters of Mortal Kombat are typically the first thing that anyone sees, and one of the reasons why the series is still so popular today – but how did Midway even come up with the idea for their characters?
Movies tend to be a huge source of inspiration for games, and Mortal Kombat is a prime example. Given the immense popularity of action films during the late ‘80s and ‘90s, it makes sense that a few references would find their way into Mortal Kombat. Namely, Raiden was based on a villain from the Kurt Russel action flick Big Trouble in Little China, while Kano’s metal-plated face was based directly on the T-800′s appearance in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
One of the more interesting origin stories comes from purely technical limitations: Scorpion and Sub-Zero started out as multi-colored copies simply due to hardware and memory limits at the time. Creating entirely new sprites would have taken up too much storage space, meaning that two of the most iconic characters in video game history had to start off as near-identical clones of one another.
11. The story behind the franchise’s bizarre character names
Have you ever wondered where some of the characters in Mortal Kombat get their names? Scoprion and Sub-Zero are easy enough to figure out, but what about characters like Noob Saibot, Ermac or Rain?
The first is easy enough to figure out – if you happen to know the names of the series’ creators. Ed Boon and John Tobias are known as the fathers of Mortal Kombat, so it makes sense that they’d want to sneak their names in somehow… even if it went in backwards.
Ermac’s name, on the other hand, came from a misunderstanding. In Mortal Kombat II, a listing for ‘ermac’ (short for ‘error macros’) could be found in the game’s menus. Between the jokingly-titled ‘Kano Transformations’ option on the same screen and several forged photos of a red ninja, fans believed that this ‘ermac’ was another hidden character. That wasn’t actually the case, but the rumor made its way back to Midway, and the red-clad ninja Ermac joined the roster in Mortal Kombat 3.
10. Rain’s bizarre (and fake) first appearance
The idea that the Mortal Kombat games would ever feature an on-the-nose reference to the Artist Formally Known as Prince is strange enough on its own, but the reason why Rain even popped up on players’ radars is even stranger.
There are plenty of examples of the Mortal Kombat team playing pranks on its fans – just look at the ‘Kano Transformations’ menu option in Mortal Kombat II. So, when it came time to put a splash screen together for Mortal Kombat 3, the developers thought that it was high time to introduce another brightly-colored ninja.
In the original version of Mortal Kombat 3, a purple ninja can be seen briefly on the game’s opening video – the only problem is that said ninja doesn’t actually exist in the game. Rain started off his career as a red herring, and successfully inspired legions of fans to go looking for a ninja that wasn’t there. In the end, Rain wouldn’t actually make his debut until the updated Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 launched later that same year.
9. It took one character nearly twenty years to make her debut
As the past few entries have shown, making a Mortal Kombat character isn’t always easy. For instance, Skarlet made her official debut as part of Mortal Kombat 9′s first batch of downloadable content – and, with the ability to control blood as a weapon, she made a seriously strong first impression. That being said, she almost didn’t make it into the game: for well over a decade, she was nothing but fan speculation.
Much like Ermac, Skarlet was originally rumored to be a red-colored palette swap of Kitana – and, much like Ermac, her appearance in Mortal Kombat II was nothing but a ruse. However, while Ermac went onto join the main roster, Skarlet never graduated beyond a rumor.
8. Jack Thompson’s failed Mortal Kombat lawsuit
The violence depicted in Mortal Kombat was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. Unsurprisingly, many politicians tried to make a name for themselves by latching onto the debate over video game gore – and Jack Thompson was one of the most notorious. For years, gamers knew Thompson as the man who would blame anything and everything on video games. It didn’t matter if his argument made actually sense or not – if Thompson could blame violence on a game, he would.
As such, it was only a matter of time before Thompson crossed paths with the team behind Mortal Kombat, though it wasn’t how most gamers were expecting: Thompson tried to sue the team for using his likeness without authorization, as he supposedly made an appearance in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon.
Then again, if Thompson had actually done his research, he’d have known that his ‘appearance’ in the game was simply due to the combination of a fan and the game’s character creation mode. Midway, on the other hand, looked into the matter – and promptly ignored Thompson’s numerous cease-and-desist letters.
7. Mortal Kombat’s strange connection to Street Fighter
If there’s one fighting game series that’s more influential than Mortal Kombat, it’s Capcom’s Street Fighter. The original arcade release of Street Fighter II basically created the modern-day fighting game genre, and Capcom revitalized the same genre it helped create with the 2008 release of Street Fighter IV.
And, while it’s highly unlikely that fans will ever see any sort of official crossover between the two mega-franchises, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter have crossed paths before – it’s just in a way that most fans wouldn’t expect.
Jamieson Price may not be a household name, but he plays an important role in both Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter: he’s the announcer! Price took over for Capcom’s series with Super Street Fighter IV, and has worked on both Mortal Kombat 9 and X in a number of different roes. Sure, it’s not necessarily as big as Sub-Zero crossing paths with M. Bison, but it’s a start!
6. Mortal Kombat II‘s hidden game-within-a-game
There’s nothing quite like having a marathon gaming session with a friend. The feeling of playing a game into the wee hours of the morning is something that few other hobbies could ever hope to replicate – and, for what it’s worth, Mortal Kombat II celebrated those ridiculously long gaming sessions with a hidden Easter egg.
In the arcade version of Mortal Kombat II, playing through 250 separate Versus matches in a single session will result in the game being temporarily replaced with Pong. Yes, the simple table-tennis game from the late ‘70s – though the version present in Mortal Kombat II features new sound effects, including the infamous Toasty!! chant (more on that later).
That might not seem like much, but the requirements to trigger the Pong Easter egg are harder to reach than it sounds. Full games of Mortal Kombat II can last up to five minutes each, meaning that hitting 250 matches can take anywhere from 12 to 20 hours. Just to play a game of Pong!
5. The origins of Toasty!!
One of the strangest things that can happen during a Mortal Kombat match is the Toasty!! – a short animation featuring a still photo of sound designer Dan Forden shouting “Toasty!” It’s about as goofy as the series gets, and its origins can be traced back all the way to the first game’s development period.
Originating as an in-joke between the development team, ‘Toasty!’ made its way into the original Mortal Kombat as an Easter egg. From there, it became a hit with fans, and continued to appear throughout all subsequent Mortal Kombat games. The actual requirements for triggering the joke tend to vary, but the Toasty!! graphic tends to pop up after a certain damage threshold has been hit.
On top of all that, there have been a few different variations over the years. The most infamous is featured in Mortal Kombat 4, in which the standard Toasty!! chant was replaced by Toasty 3D!!, while two additional variants appeared in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3.
4. The long list of Mortal Kombat finishing moves
Everybody knows what a Fatality is – the gruesome, character-specific finishing moves are one of the reasons why Mortal Kombat is such a massive franchise today. As was to be expected, subsequent sequels introduced new kinds of finishing moves: for instance, Mortal Kombat II introduced the hilarious ‘Friendship’ finishers, while Mortal Kombat 3 debuted the ridiculously awesome ‘Animalities’.
Of course, after more than two decades, the list of different finishing moves has gotten pretty long. As of this writing, there are fourteen separate ways that players can dispose of their opponents: from the forgettable ‘Heroic Brutality’ of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe to the absurd Hari Kari suicide kills of Mortal Kombat: Deception, NetherRealm Studios has given fans plenty of options when it comes to ending a match.
However, the best may be Mortal Kombat X‘s ‘Quitality’ – having an opponent leave an online match early is never fun, but watching their heads comically explode into a shower of red jello certainly helps.
3. A rumored finishing move became a reality
Speaking of finishing moves, the iconic Animalities were never a part of the original plan. That may sound ridiculous, especially considering that the beastly finishers were a huge part of Mortal Kombat 3 – but, were it not for a fan rumor, Animalities may have never come to be.
The rumor in question surfaced sometime after the release Mortal Kombat II. According to fans, there was a special kind of finishing move that would see the game’s different characters transforming into all sorts of wild animal. It’s assumed that the rumor gained traction due to one of Lui Kang’s Fatalities (in which the fighter transforms into a dragon), but there were never any such finishing moves present in Mortal Kombat II.
However, the idea of an animal-based, character-specific Fatality made its way to the development team at Midway. Apparently, the idea stuck – two years later, Animalities made their official debut in Mortal Kombat 3.
2. Scorpion holds a Guinness World Record
Alright, it might not be Scorpion per se, but the Mortal Kombat series is no stranger to the Guinness Book of World Records…and it should come as no surprise that a few of Mortal Kombat’s World Records have something to do with the controversy surrounding the game.
The records for Earliest game to trigger the set-up of a software ratings board and Earliest video game poster to be censored both belong to Midway’s classic brawler…but those are far from the only records that Mortal Kombat has set. Largest promotional campaign for a fighting video game, Earliest one-on-one fighting game to use digitized sprites and Most numbered entries in a fighting game series are just a few of the other records that the series holds.
As for Scorpion, Mortal Kombat creator Ed Boon voiced the character from the original game’s release back in 1991 through the 2011 reboot – earning Boon the World Record for longest-serving videogame voice actor at twenty years. It’s pretty impressive, especially considering that Boon isn’t a formal actor.
1. Mortal Kombat created the modern-day ratings system
Violence in video games is nothing new. Ever since Pac-Man started gobbling up ghosts, combat has been an intrinsic part of many games, just like it’s an intrinsic part of action movies and television.
That being said, the original Mortal Kombat was on an entirely different level than any game before it. The pixelated finishing moves may have been over-the-top, but they depicted gore and violence that had been seldom seen in gaming – and, with the franchise reaching such ridiculous levels of popularity, it was only a matter of time before someone got upset.
In response to the outcry of concerned parents around the country, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board was founded. Much like the MPAA for films, the ESRB created a series of ratings that were designed to show parents and consumers which games were appropriate for specific age groups. And, while Midway’s fighting game isn’t the only game that’s cited as a catalyst for the ESRB, there’s no denying that Mortal Kombat had a huge impact on how games are rated today.