In the next few hours, I'll get my paws on the much awaited re-visioning of the Mortal Kombat franchise. But before one reads about the upcoming game, it is necessary to get acquainted with the legacy behind a franchise that can be traced back to the roots of PC gaming. Not many gaming franchises go back almost a decade, and Mortal Kombat has weathered the ravages of time wrought upon the gaming industry. It has seen generations of hardware change and, like the gaming equivalent of Madonna, evolved with the times as well. So it's time for a recap of what eventually transpired into the meaner, gorier, Kratos fueled avatar of Mortal Kombat.
After the great videogame bust of 1983, the console game industry was in shambles. And that being the only one of its kind at the time, the game industry as a whole was dying a slow death. A steady decline brought upon by a calculated circumspection, a boring brand of political correctness and, at times, a deliberate lack of innovation entailed by corporatisation of the industry.
This institutional inertia that held back innovation led to the resurgence of a brand of cottage industry - independent game development houses formed by programmers and designers, who were true gamers working out of their basements for the love of the game and not just buoyed by blind corporate greed. Game development houses like id Software and Apogee are what shaped the gaming industry that we know of today and the very hardware that makes it all possible.
The Mortal Kombat franchise was spawned from the same legacy of cottage development houses, with just four people, including a programmer (Ed Boon), two designers (John Tobias and John Vogel) and a sound guy (Dan Forden), creating a legacy that would redefine the crowded fighting genre. The original Mortal Kombat was one of the reasons why videogame classification bodies like Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) were conceived.
I have been a Mortal Kombat nut from the beginning and I remember the first wave of the series - Mortal Kombat and the two sequels with the original storyline - mainly for their gameplay depth and balance, and for the brutal legacy of fatalities, the infernal and extremely gory finishing moves that gave the shivers to the parents, teachers and senators alike. The fluidity and the photorealistic appeal of the digitised sprites based on real actors were in stark contrast to the animated graphics of its rivals.
The series faltered for the first time with Mortal Kombat 4. In its quest to switch over to 3D, the game lost the gameplay depth and the precise balance that made the series what it was. The first big mistake made Ed Boon and company go back to the drawing board and spawn the second wave of consoles exclusive Mortal Kombat titles that focused on gameplay innovations with storylines that deviated from the original mythos. It is here that the series experimented further with 3D, varied fighting styles and adventure spin-offs. That is, until the franchise committed another folly.