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IGN64 Interview: MK Special Forces
IGN64 talks with Special Forces' project leader John Tobias about the action adventure/fighter.
- February 04, 1999

Midway's John Tobias is no stranger to the Mortal Kombat franchise. The programmer, alongside MK designer Ed Boon, has overseen the creation of nearly every incarnation of the bloody fighting series. Last year Tobias split off from Boon to work on the first ever home-console exclusive MK game, MK Mythologies: Sub Zero. Now Tobias and team are hard at work on the next installment of the franchise. Called Mortal Kombat: Special Forces, this time around players will find themselves controlling their favorite mortal fighters in a whole new genre: action-adventure. It's in 3D and it plays like Tomb Raider meets Mortal Kombat. IGN64 sat down and talked with Tobias about the road to Special Forces and what he hopes the game will ultimately deliver. Here's the scoop:

IGN64: With Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub Zero, you branched the MK series into an entirely new genre. The game sold very well and yet, it was slammed by critics. Were you happy with the game?

Tobias: You know what, I think I was happy to the extent that we finished it on schedule! That particular game was sort of a first for us. The team that I worked with is pretty much the same team that I'm working with on Special Forces. MK Mythologies was our first time together, my first game away from Ed Boon, so there was a lot that we had to learn. You know, creating a new engine and doing a home game for the first time was a big step for us. We were used to working on our coin-op hardware and such. So you know, like I say, I was happy that we managed to get it out on time. I think the game had its problems. I do think that gamers who played Mortal Kombat and were familiar with it and familiar with a lot of the moves, probably enjoyed the game. Somebody who didn't play Mortal Kombat that much or at all -- they weren't going to walk up to that game and be converted. So in that sense I don't think we did as well as we were hoping. But the game sold well and we have our fan-base. People that know how to play Mortal Kombat really well probably didn't struggle at all with the game and then, on the other hand, people who don't like Mortal Kombat or people that have never played it were not going to have an easy time at all.

IGN64: How does MK: Special Forces compare to past MK incarnations? Is it more story-based a la MK Mythologies or is it a fighter?

Tobias: It's not much like Mythologies, which was in essence a side-scroller. The pacing of Mythologies was more based on throwing enemies at the player. And there were real simple exploration elements; you know, find a key here, pick it up and go find the door that it opens. Special Forces is a little bit different in that, because you are actually traversing in a true 3D environment, we can sort of slow the pacing down a bit. We don't have to constantly throw enemies at the player. MK Mythologies was set up so it was a trial and error thing you try something, you die, you go back and try something else. This one isn't based around this at all. It's different in that sense. There is still a large exploration element, there is still a large fighting element to the game, quite obviously because it's a Mortal Kombat title. I'd say right now we're about 40-50% exploration and the rest is fighting. Of course, that can change a lot as we're real early in development. Who knows what its going to end up as?

IGN64: Exactly what genre would you classify Special Forces under?

Tobias: It's a third person action-adventure, other than that I don't know. It has similarities to Tomb Raider in its actual exploration and such but it's not really like Tomb Raider. Our camera setup is more like a Zelda or a Mario.

IGN64: MK4 had the feel of a 2D fighting game set in 3D fighting arenas. What made you decide to go for full 3D this time around? Were you influenced by the success of Tomb Raider or Zelda, for example?

Tobias: Yeah, obviously those games are successful. In a Mortal Kombat game the players want to see their characters performing and doing all the various things that the characters do. Actually, with Sub Zero our original plan was to go for a third person game, but our team was really small, motion capture was something we were just getting into and our schedule was really tight. There was just no way, especially with a team that had never worked together. This time around, you know, we've been through the ringer; we've done games on these systems already so we had a real base to work from and we were much bolder in the approach. I think because of that this game is looking great and it's playing great.

IGN64: How will fighting be handled in the game? Do you bump into characters and the game switches to a quasi-MK4 mode, or is it more real-time based like, say, Fighting Force?

Tobias: No not at all. It stays 3D. The way we're handling it right now is that you basically lock down on a character once you hit him and you don't have to aim at an enemy if anyone is in your striking vicinity -- a player's character will react. So if a guys behind you, you'll do a spinning back-kick and if you continue on with the combat you will be attacking that particular enemy. There are a few enemies you will face at a time. You know, it's kind of like in the movies. A lot of Kung Fu movies do this, where there are all these guys surrounding the hero and the hero is beating the hell out of one guy and the others are just standing around watching. It's based around that and it's kind of fun to watch because it does work well and obviously we cant have everyone just ganging up on you.

IGN64: Will there be a combo system of sorts?

Tobias: Yeah, we're working on it. I'm not going to say it's similar to Mortal Kombat because it kind of isn't. We're kicking around ideas to make everything really intuitive and very easy for a first time player to walk up, grab the pad and just be able to run around. We want players to be able to fight real easy and, at the same time, we're trying to give it some depth as well. It's a tough thing to balance. However, we are still in early development and right now I think it's working great. Our plan is ease of use. I think that with MK Myhthologies we sort of chained ourselves to the Mortal Kombat system. We wanted to stay true to the MK franchise and in doing so, that gave birth to our turn button [Sub-Zero turned around via a button] being there. But with Special Forces, it's kind of not necessary. We're freeing ourselves of that a little bit and I think in doing that we're keeping it so that people who are familiar with Mortal Kombat will recognize the control.

IGN64: Apart from their fighting moves, what kind of actions will the characters be able to perform?

Tobias: Travelling-wise there is a whole myriad of jumps that you can do -- real acrobatic jumps and such. There is also the standard climbing crates and stuff. The motion in this game is going to be one of the things that is really going to stand out. We've learned a lot from the guys working on MK4 and Blitz and some of the other things. Our method of doing motion capture has really evolved. Because of that Special Forces is looking fantastic. There are a lot of great console games out there and you can tell the ones that are key-framed and you can tell the ones that are motion captured. Sometimes it's good going one way and sometimes it's good going the other, but our game is looking great. I think the motion capture is real fluid.

IGN64: Are you planning to implement weapons as well? What kinds?

Tobias: Yeah, with the game being based on Special Forces and Jax and Sonya there is a military element to it. They have hand-guns and machine guns.

IGN64: The MK fighters are known for their huge lineup of fighters. What made you pick Sonya and Jax as protagonists for Special Forces?

Tobias: You know what, I had a few different ideas with different characters and different paths that the story was going to take. I think this time around we didn't want to base it on one character, but instead we thought it would be nice if you could pick between a couple. We thought it would be nice to select between a male and a female so Jax and Sonya were the first to come to mind. And because of their military background it enables us to sort of get away from some of the Mortal Kombat themes. The story starts out as semi-realistic military style game and it's mission based. As the story evolves there are more supernatural events that are sort of typical of Mortal Kombat. It's actually kind of a nice flow that's working out real good. Our environments are very varied. You start off in an urban type environment it slowly gets more and more exotic looking like locations people are used to seeing in Mortal Kombat games. It's kind of a cool progression with the story. You start off in a very realistic world and things slowly getcooler. We've made a real conscious effort on that progression.

IGN64: What other MK characters will appear in the game?

Tobias: Kano is their main enemy. He does bad things and they chase after him basically. He has a gang that he belongs to called the Black Dragons that we haven't really met yet, so we are creating a slew of new characters. And then there is a host of other characters that you're familiar with -- Raiden and a few other guys.

IGN64: Are they going to help illustrate the story line? Maybe real-time cut-scenes?

Tobias: Well, our story this time around is being handled with real-time graphics using existing models from the game rather than streaming the video [PlayStation version]. The primary reason for that is that on Mythologies the N64 had sort of ghost shots and the Playstation had the real nice streaming video. For the players on the Nintendo that wasn't the way to go so this time around we are going to be doing it real-time so this way the cut-scenes are real nice.

IGN64: Will there be a multiplayer mode, or is it strictly a one-player game?

Tobias: Right now it's straight single player action. We'd like to do a split-screen kind of a thing, but polygon count-wise were reaching the top, so we're probably going to stick with the single player.

IGN64: Are you planning to use the 4MB Expansion Pak?

Tobias: We're planning on it. A high-resolution mode is most likely one thing we are going to do with that.

IGN64: Can we expect traditional "MK violence"?

Tobias: Obviously it's a Mortal Kombat so you can expect a lot of blood splattering. For example, one thing we have right now is, if you hit a guy blood sprays out and hits the wall and drips down. It looks really nice.

IGN64: What about in-game fatalities?

Tobias: Yes, but fatalities will probably only be able to be performed against certain bosses or maybe all bosses, but not against the average grunt.

IGN64: What platforms is the game coming to?

Tobias: Playstation and Nintendo so far. We don't have anyone working on the Dreamcast yet. We're putting out a version of MK4 for Dreamcast that's going to look great.

IGN64: How Complete would you say the game is?

Tobias: Oh, we are way early on it. We're currently about 30% complete.

IGN64: At what pace does the game move? Similar to Tomb Raider, or is it more action-oriented?

Tobias: It's not as slow paced as Tomb Raider. In Tomb Raider you do a lot of wandering around with no one near you and with Special Forces there is always somebody. If it's not an enemy it's just a civilian just cruising by. We're trying to populate the worlds in that sense so it doesn't feel like it's just you. In one of the segments of the game you're in this little town in the desert in North-Western China and it's populated. It has civilians and bad guys cruising around. The civilians kind of dumbly wander around and some of them are at the fruit stands just going about their business. What's funny is that you can walk up to a civilian and you can slug 'em, which is really mean because they're not hurting you or anything. They put they're hands up as if to say 'Please don't hit me again.' It's kind of sad to see it happen to some little guy just pushing his cart but it's also kind of funny in a way.

IGN64: Finally, what is the difference between the PlayStation and N64 versions of Special Forces?

Tobias: This time around, really not much. The Nintendo version will choreograph all the cut-scenes just like the PlayStation. The Nintendo version may have the edge in terms of graphic quality just because its perspective correction and things like that really cleans up the game. At the same time, with the PlayStation we have the ability to stream audio for the cut-scenes. That said, we're working on the compression for the audio so we can still play audio on the Nintendo. But like I said Nintendo really has the edge with the quality of the graphics.

Interview by Matt Casamassina and Arun Devidas

Gamepro Magazine Interview with John Tobias

It's A Myth-tery - John Tobias on the new Mythologies game

Gamepro: How is work progressing on the new MK Mythologies game?

John Tobias: Actually, we just started working on it. We want to try a few different things with this game.

GP: Will it be much different from Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero?

JT: Although that first game was a lot of fun, we want to try a whole new approach. The new Mythologies will be filled with MK features like great fighting and great artwork. However, I can't get into the specific gameplay features.

GP: Can you give us any specifics?

JT: I can't tell you much, except the working title is Mortal Kombat: Special Forces. We're thinking of dropping the Mythologies brand name because the new title is such a different game, story-wise, it's a preqeul. You'll aslo be able to play as more than one character this time. Jax, Sonya, and Kano will figure in the plot.

GP: When should we expect MK: Special Forces?

JT: We won't be able to show anything at E3 [in late May], but we'll definitely show something at the show in '99/

GP: Are you doing anything with Mortal Kombat 5?

JT: I'm probably working on the same things that I did on MK4 [basic art concepts and character design], but MK5 is so early there's really nothing to talk about yet.

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