Friday, September 25, 2015

Of Kombat woes.

So, say you're a really established video game developer, but you know you don't have time to do everything, so you try to find other studios to help you get product out the door faster. You have to pick partners that understand what you want, and can deliver the product in a way that your fans expect. Sometimes the partners work alongside the developer, like Dimps with Capcom during the Street Fighter IV series. Sometimes you have to hand off most of the responsibility to the partner, like Capcom letting Ninja Theory make a version of Devil May Cry in an effort to reboot the series. In other cases, like the Call of Duty series, there are a stable of developers all working on different games in the series concurrently so that the release schedule can go smoothly. Activision had started out with just Infinity Ward working on projects, then added Treyarch, and then added Sledgehammer Games, along with a whole bunch of other secondary partners. And sometimes, you just get a second developer just to help out with certain facets of the game that they're particularly good at like letting them work on character models or artwork while you're busy working on the story and the game engine. Kazuma Kaneko of Atlus has a long history of doing work for Capcom and Konami just because he's good at character design.

Alternately, some developers are happy to never give release dates because they would prefer to ship a game, as Id software's John Carmack famously proclaims, "When it's done".

Knowing the variety of scenarios that have worked out for the gaming industry, and knowing some of more spectacular failures of the industry, unforeseen stuff will still happen. It's not like people are planning to fail (unless, you're like, Uwe Boll) but at a certain point you would think that you would know what was going on. The current round of mishaps are in the fighting game arena.

Mortal Kombat X is Netherrealm Studio's second chance at a second good game. Back when Ed Boon and the gang worked for Midway, Mortal Kombat was a standout fighting game for a really big reason - it wasn't Street Fighter II. Many of the other fighting games out at the time were too much like Street Fighter II, although not good enough to be any sort of a threat. Midway took a different approach with different controls, different stylistic influences, a different graphical style, and a more menacing tone.When Midway came out with Mortal Kombat II, it was better in so many ways that made it the definitive version. Even after many lukewarm and overdone versions of Mortal Kombat and lackluster spinoff games, this was still the team that stayed together after Midway became part of Warner Brothers since they were doing a lot of the arcade games for Midway and a fair number of console ports.

The progression of the games amounted to this - after the success of II, they made Mortal Kombat III and two revisions referred to as Ultimate and Trilogy, where all three games continuing their basic strategy of filming/photographic actors in costume and using that to build a series of 2D sprites which were then animated. Typical of fighting games of the time, the rosters increased to include more and more characters.

When fighting games like Namco's Tekken (1994) and Soul Edge (1995) came out with 3D character models and backgrounds, Midway followed suit with Mortal Kombat 4(1997), and its Dreamcast version with an updated roster, Mortal Kombat Gold(1998). Mortal Kombat 4 was the last arcade iteration, but not the last Mortal Kombat with 3D gameplay.

The home console games that followed, Deadly Alliance(2002), Deception(2004), and Armageddon(2006), all had increasingly complex levels of 3D interaction and movement, and multiple fighting styles for each character. While I found the storyline interesting, and they added extensive story mode content in the games, I never found them as fun to play as the earlier games. By the time I got to Armageddon, I was really missing my Nintendo 64 version of MK4.

When they jumped to the next generation of consoles (PS3/Xbox360), instead of releasing the same game over again, they took a detour into the superhero genre and made MK vs DC Universe(2008). It did allow for some interesting mechanics that made it more fun than some of the other 3D games, but the 3D nature of the game did still make some things oddly difficult. This was a stepping stone for two things - one, it got them working with the Unreal Engine which helped them streamline some of their development, and two, it got them to rethink what they could do with the characters in a new game environment. Influenced by Street Fighter's return on the scene, using 3d character models in a fighting arena constrained to 2D, the new reboot simply named Mortal Kombat (2011) was able to make the game both more playable and visually appealing. It had finally made a game on par with the early games.

When Mortal Kombat X was announced, scheduled for an April 2015 release, it was a great opportunity to take all of the things that they got right in the 2011 release and refine them. In essence, it was a second chance to make a game as great as Mortal Kombat II. Having announced the game for both the PS3/XBox 360 machines as well as PC and PS4/Xbox One, it could have been a very large release reaching the widest possible audience.

Except it wasn't.

The PS4 and XBoxOne versions released on time, with Netherrealm at the helm. High Voltage Software was in charge of the PC version, along with the XBox 360 and PS3 ports. The PC version released on time, with a few hiccups in the first day or two having to do with how the game loaded in Steam, and the XBox 360 and PS3 versions were pushed back to "Summer 2015".

And then they were pushed back again to fall or possibly the end of the year.

And then, when everybody in the southeast was busy worrying about the track of Tropical Storm Erika, Warner Brothers Interactive quietly pulled the plug on the PS3 and XBox360 versions. Not a big press release, just a quiet little message on their community page.

So, I wandered down to Gamestop, and took the path of least resistance and got some store credit for what I put down on the preorder. Part of me wanted to get the PS4 version but somehow get Warner Brothers to cough up a way to redeem Goro that I lost out on by the failure of my PS3 preorder, but they've already released a lot of other DLC characters and I'm now inclined to just wait and see if they release another disk later with everything on it. I've already realized that if I want to play Tekken 7 or Street Fighter V I will have to move on to the next system, and I think I even knew that back in April when I thought that I was going to be able to get MKX for PS3.  At this point, I'm in no hurry to catch back up with Mortal Kombat, and I know that my kids actually enjoy Tekken and Street Fighter and I could actually play those with them.

Next time (hopefully soon) I will talk about Street Fighter V, and the exciting things that Capcom is doing right with the game.

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