Long Live Mortal Kombat: Round 1 is a deep dive into the first four Mortal Kombat games, the evolution of the Mortal Kombat fandom, and many other stories. There is so much in this book that I won’t be able to describe all of it.
I love David Craddock’s books! They’re always filled with a lot of information, and I learn something I did not know before reading. His books are great resources for people who want to learn more about a period of video game history or a particular series of games.
I thought I knew about Mortal Kombat before I started reading this. However, I learned a lot from this book, and I think it is worth picking up if you’re a fan of Mortal Kombat or if you want to know more about fighting games from the 90s.
Mortal Kombat Development and Actors
The book follows the development of Mortal Kombat I, II, III, Ultimate III, and IV. There are many stories about individuals and events, but Mortal Kombat ties all of them together. It is very interesting to read.
We start with the origins of Mortal Kombat. There is a little history of how Midway came to be and its place in Chicago’s Pinball industry. It is brief because it isn’t the book’s main focus but essential to the story.
I found the filming of the actors to be the most interesting part of this. It was similar to Warren Davis’s book in that way. One of the reasons for this is that Warren Davis was at Midway during this time. He was working on other projects, but Boon and Tobias were using his technology to digitize the actors in the game.
I found the talk about lighting to be particularly interesting. David explains how they found actors, the backgrounds of those actors, and other movies they had been in. How each of the different moves was filmed, and the shooting challenges are also discussed.
One thing I wanted to look up was blue screen technology. While filming the actors for Mortal Kombat, blue screens were used. I wanted to find out when there was a switch to a green screen. This is one of the times I set the book down so I could fall down a rabbit hole.
From what I found, it has to do with the evolution of digital cameras and how green works better than blue. Blue screens are still used in rare cases. I’m sure there is more to it, but that is what I’ve seen.
Back to Mortal Kombat. The game was supposed to be a filler in Midway’s release schedule. However, it turned into something much more than that. The first game had 6-8 months to be completed, which seems like it wasn’t enough time for all they had to do, but they did it in time.
One thing discussed is how the game’s story was built out in the characters. It was something new for an arcade game to do this, and I think it helped Mortal Kombat separate itself from Street Fighter.
I didn’t know where to put this part, so I’ll discuss it here. Online play is something that we take for granted nowadays. Back in the 90s, you didn’t always have access to finding players at any time. David mentions something on the Sega Genesis that I find very interesting.
The Xband modem was an addon that allowed players to play games online in the 90s. It reminds me of the Sega Channel, but that was quite different. There was also a SNES Xband, but David focuses on the Sega version for this book.
These early attempts at bringing video games online are so cool. We hear some stories from the players that used it, and I found it to be extremely interesting. Hearing about it here made me want to go and research the device.
Nowadays, this is a feature you would expect to come with the console. In the 90s, this was little more than a novelty for home consoles. Most of us were limited to the people in our neighborhood.
Reviews and Reactions
For each game in this book, we get reviews and reactions from the gaming press, the arcade players, and retrospective reviews of the games. We hear about the tactics that were discovered when the arcade games were released and how players dig into the game’s code to figure out why those tactics worked.
I liked that David took the time to include all of this. It explains how the games have changed and how the community tried to figure things out. The parts that I found the most interesting were the hacking community. How they took the code of the games and improved on them, and made their versions of the game available to the fighting game community.
It goes hand in hand with the tactics discovered in the arcade games. The hackers and pro players explain why some tactics work. These were things that I didn’t know about when I was playing, and hearing about them and why they work is fascinating.
We’re also told the opinions on some of these tactics. Some of them are seen as being cheap or glitching the game. I can understand where they’re coming from, but I agree with those who say “these tactics are in the game,” which means they are okay to use.
The different collections of Mortal Kombat are also talked about. This also includes the releases on Xbox Live Arcade. Hearing how the community received these collections and re-releases was fun. It was also cool to hear how they brought some players back into the game.
These stories are spread throughout the book. They follow the series’ history and are, at times, my favorite parts of the book. David did a ton of work on this book, and having all of these stories adds a lot to the story of Mortal Kombat.
Actors, Lawsuits, and Recasting
This sounded like an absolute mess, and I’m glad David put it in here. He explains it very well and is very objective. Not taking sides and presenting all of the stories adds a lot to the book.
Specifically, this section concerns all of Dan Pesina’s stories about his involvement with the franchise. He has told several contradictory stories that grossly overstate what he did. The guy was one of the martial artists who was filmed for Mortal Kombat. That is about it.
Over the years, according to what I’ve read, Pesina has claimed that he came up with the moves, lied about the lighting, and claimed that he came up with the idea for the game. None of this is corroborated by the actual creators of the game or the other cast members. I particularly like the story about Pesina giving an interview to a gaming magazine under false pretenses.
Gaming journalism gets a bad rap. Much of the criticism is overblown, but there are valid concerns about how the industry is covered. The April 1994 issue of VideoGames is a spectacular example of gaming journalism at its worst. Pesina gave the magazine an interview about his role in Mortal Kombat, but the magazine didn’t verify anything he said.
The lawsuits that took place over likeness rights were included in this section. I found that to be extremely interesting. On the surface, it sounds like the actors and actresses had a valid complaint about the money they were receiving. However, they had signed contracts, and there was no way to know how big the game would be. They had signed over their likeness rights to be used by Midway.
Of the three lawsuits that David covered. One was “successful,” as the actor was somewhat well-known. It was settled out of court. The other two were thrown out because the participants didn’t have a similar level of public notoriety. There is more to it than that, and I would encourage you to read David’s book or look up the lawsuits over Mortal Kombat 1 & 2.
There are many things that I left out. Like many of the chapters of David’s book, so much information is packed in here that I can’t summarize everything and do it justice.
There is so much more that I could say about this book. There are too many stories to summarize here, and I always feel like I forget something. Even writing about my favorite parts of the book, I feel like there is something that I forgot to put in this post.
While reading this, I wanted to try the various ports of Mortal Kombat. Having only played the console releases of some of the Mortal Kombat games, it was nice to hear about how the different ports compared to the original. I mostly looked at the Game Boy games, but I also went out and collected the other games I was missing.
Reading books like this tends to spark my interest in game collecting. Most of the time, I find the games too expensive. The Mortal Kombat games were thankfully made in such large numbers that it is easy to find them. I gravitate to the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive ports because I have the most memories of playing that system as a kid.
I’m pretty sure David will write another book on Mortal Kombat. He covered the series up to the fourth game and the re-releases of those games. The games on the PS2 and beyond were only touched on by some of the people David interviewed. I’m looking forward to this story being continued.