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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Video Game Memories #10: Mortal Kombat II

So now we graduate from the elementary years to middle school and early high school (1993-1999). They say the "golden age" for science fiction is 13. This means that people who are interested in science fiction for life, got interested at the age of 13. I'm going to go one step further and say that ANYTHING you were interested in, from thirteen to oh, say, sixteen or so, is what you're interested in for life. I still listen to Garbage, The Wallflowers, and Metallica with same love I did back then. I read the same books. And whenever I play one of these video games, the sense of nostalgia is overwhelming. Let's examine some of the the things I got interested in at this age.



To let a list of video games go without mentioning anything Mortal Kombat would be wrong. This game had a tremendous influence in my early middle school years. There's so much to talk about, I barely know where to start.


Well, we can say that my interest in Mortal Kombat started long before I owned Mortal Kombat II. I remember seeing the original in the arcades, a large group of people surrounding the cabinet. Before MK there was Street Fighter, which looked cartoony and Japanese. Mortal Kombat looked like a video. Actual people, actual fighting. And the fatalities! There's nothing better than the uber-violence and humiliation of not only trouncing your opponent, but pulling out his still beating heart. That was a big deal back then.

I scoured my Nintendo Power magazines for information about the game, but I never did end up getting MK1 for my SNES. Maybe I was turned off by the censorship that Nintendo imposed (sweat? Come on guys), and I registered my disgust by not buying it. But the storyline fascinated me - a martial arts tournament taking place on an ancient island. Ninjas with freezing powers. A thief with a metal plate in his face. And let's not forget "The Pit". But before we move on with the game itself, we must talk about Mortal Komkat.


Like most middle schoolers, I got teased a lot. I was the weird kid. Not the quiet one, not the fat one, not the nerdy one. I was the type of kid who would spin himself around to make himself dizzy. The one who didn't know how to act socially, so he ended up speaking awkwardly based on the knowledge he gained from TV. So mostly I ended up sounding like a Klingon android ninja. I was the kid who didn't fit in with anyone, even the people who didn't fit in. So one day, in Health class, this big guy's joking around at me, making fun of me jocular-style, as most others do. It irritates me. So I get inspired to pull out my notebook and start drawing him impaled in The Pit, while a cat version of Reptile (the green ninja) stands triumphant.

Some background: I was always a drawer. I drew all the time. When I was too young to be in elementary school, I illustrated stories, and then narrated to my dad what I wanted him to write. After that I drew pictures of video game levels that I'd beaten - Super Mario 2, TMNT2, and so on. I also duplicated Peanuts and Garfield comics. Cats were my "thing" in high school. I don't want to really get into it, it's too painful and embarrassing, but let's just say I got a reputation on it, partially because of things like this. It still haunts me to this day.


Anyway, Mortal Komkat grew and grew. There were more kids, and more fatalities. I eventually ran out of kids and started using generic humans versus ninja cats doing creative fatalities, things like "Mack Truck-tality" and "Axe-tality", until I had quite a collection. Then summer came. And for a middle schooler with no friends there's not much to do except stay up late, watch Star Trek re-runs, and listen to Loveline. So as those were going on, I started compiling Mortal Komkat into something more serious. I made a images like the video game's attract mode, including bios for each character, and I colored them all with colored pencils (my black one was a stub near the end). I thought it was pretty funny. At one time I was going to put the drawings online, but now they sit in a shoebox, perhaps one day to be opened up by my offspring.

Of course, when you're drawing these things, you need resource material to make it accurate. For years I had a select pile of Nintendo Powers, FAQs, and instruction manuals by my bed for reference. Tiny little screenshots that I often misinterpreted. I had much the same set-up for Mortal Komkat's follow-ups - Katter Instinct and Donkat Kong Country. These I composed in years without a Mortal Kombat release. I went on to make MKII and MK3. This was in addition to the Mega Man and Legend of Zelda media by my bed when writing Gatecrash.


That seems like a good segue to Mortal Kombat the fan fiction, and what could be called the start of my serious writing career. I can remember the exact moment it happened too. I was in the shower, thinking about Mortal Kombat, when I imagined a scene where Johnny Cage and Liu Kang are on the island, and Johnny barges into Liu Kang's dorm, concerned about the strangeness of the tournament - the presence of ninjas, the death matches, the feeling he got from his first Shadow Kick. You can see it in the story, if you've ever read it (see side bar). I've had some flashes like this before, but never had the motivation to write it down, maybe because I was too lazy. But at the time, I was a big fan of MK and disappointed how there was so little fan fiction for it. There was plenty for Star Trek, which I devoured (I must have downloaded every single piece posted on AOL), but no Mortal Kombat. And I thought, well, if there's no MK fan fiction to read, then I'm just going to have to write it myself.

So I did, and that's how the first Mortal Kombat story was born. It was a long'un. Longer than anything I'd ever written before. I was amazed I could write this much, but I had to cover seven character's origins, and their fights, and each character had to do their fatality at some point. It felt like a novel, but it was only 40,000 words long. My goal was to make each scene at least a page long. It took 12 revisions (I had to revise until the draft was mark free), and I don't even know how much time. It's not like I had a release date, or even a semblance of the proper procedure how to write.


The hardest part was not duplicating the storyline of the MK movie, which I failed miserably at. Damn, did I love that movie though. It was the first movie I saw alone in the theater (who would go with me?) The soundtrack was also awesome. I got pumped every time I heard Techno Syndrome 7" Mix (the MK theme). Every week I scoured the TV guide, waiting for MK to come out on HBO, but it never did. I never considered just buying the video because my family did nothing but tape movies off television. We had more than 150 tapes near the end. Eventually I got sick of it and just bought the video for myself.

I posted my Mortal Kombat story to the AOL boards, but it received little response and few downloads. Guess fans are more interested in bitmap ninja recolors than literature. That didn't stop me though, because inspiration struck again. I eventually wrote a finished draft of Mortal Kombat II: The Competition Mission, but it was clunky and boring. I had to force scenes to get at least one fatality per character, and there are 12 main characters, plus supporting cast. And I had to get everything to fit with not only the story, but Mortal Kombat 3, and I had to make sure they all got even screen time. And the plot had to make sense. And I had to avoid rehashing the same plot of MK1. And I had to have characters that hated each other interact. I got bored and frustrated with it when I got inspired to write Quake: Player Entered the Game, but that's another entry.


Of course, when you're writing fan fiction, you need source material. The funny thing was, for the longest time, I never knew Sub-Zero's ending. I never knew what his deal was. So I scoured FAQs and guides, trying to find out what it was, but by that time MKII had come out, and the focus was all on that. No MK1 FAQs described the endings for the characters. I finally found it by beating the game as Sub-Zero on a friend's SNES.

All throughout this, I haven't talked much about MKII the game. Of course, I played the game obsessively, to the point where I had every fatality and every move memorized. I didn't consider it complete until I finished with every character and successfully did every fatality, including Johnny Cage's Triple Decappercut. Of course, the AI sucks so I had to play on Very Easy and cheat with the "30 credits" code all the time, or I'd never finish the game. For some reason the opponents get super smart at a certain point, and Kintaro was near impossible for me. I don't know how anyone beat this game on any other level. I made no claims to being good at fighting games. Mortal Kombat is the only one I ever owned, just for its atmosphere.


Eventually, the quality of the games turned crappy, as we all remember, with MK3, UMK3, MKT, and MKM:Sub-Zero as obvious cash cows. The last game I got was MK4, and the whole thing seemed 'meh'. The jump to 3D was insignificant. There were fewer fatalities, minimal storyline. Mortal Kombat was nerfed, and I wasn't even interested in writing it anymore. It was time to move on.

But as you can see, a little piece of the fantastic journey, the martial arts action, the blend of old world mysticism and modern times will always have an influence on me.
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