One of Retro World Expo 2018‘s big pulls this year was their guest list, which included four actors from the early installments in the Mortal Kombat franchise. Saturday evening, Sal DiVita (Sektor, Nightwolf, Cyrax, and Smoke), Rich Divizio (Kano), Anthony Marquez (Kung Lao), and Daniel Pesina (Johnny Cage, Scorpion, and Sub-Zero), took the stage (in costume!) to reminisce about those early days of the groundbreaking series.
They started close to the beginning when Midway was trying to find a “clone” of the popular Street Fighter that would have its own twist. The twist was digitization or a “compelling fighting game with real digitized characters.” This meant sneaking into the Midway offices at 10:30 every night to record on a video camera borrowed from series creator John Tobias’s father.
Pesina was actually the first actor who had recorded his character’s moves. John Tobias knew he was a fan of kung-fu movies because they had been friends since high school. An appearance in Teenage Mutant Ninjas II: The Secret of the Ooze (along with Divizio and Marquez) didn’t hurt, either.
So, once the four established the basics, they opened the panel up to questions from the audience. Of course, one of the first had to do with the controversy over the game’s violence when it was first released. They described the violence in the games as exaggerated, closer to slapstick or the violence in golden age cartoons. But it was a convenient scapegoat for politicians trying to explain away kids’ behavior, missing the sources: Kano’s heart-grabbing stemming from Indiana Jones, for example, which was not addressed.
They also shared Midway’s official stance on it when they asked Midway what they should tell press if asked: “just ignore it.”
They also spoke extensively on the individuality of characters in the first game. Martial arts styles and behaviors were changed between characters to give a sense of personality. When pallet swaps were suggested as a way of maximizing character options while minimizing memory tolls, it was resisted–but quickly turned into Scorpion and Sub-Zero’s backstory, as this simple swap was justified. It seems much of these now unforgettable elements came out of this riffing; Scorpion’s appearance underneath his mask was cited later as coming from such a riff session.
Technical restrictions also influenced characters’ movements. Everything had to be expressed in eight frames, which led to over-exaggerated movements to compensate. The trouble of matching heights and hitboxes also led to some characters’ iconic gaits and style of movement.
When asked if they were surprised about their characters’ popularity, some did admit that the characters they originally portrayed aren’t the most popular in the series anymore. But they were glad they’re still around, especially since the first Mortal Kombat was rejected at first. Only 200 cabinets were ordered because it was assumed that the games would be arcade flops, hard as it is to believe now.
Another question that came up was if a remaster of the early games would ever be possible. Unfortunately, to save money, film would be recorded over again and again, and all that’s left are around eight hours, some of which can be viewed on YouTube. It was shot on Hi8 video which would make it almost impossible to remaster even if the complete footage was beautiful. Mortal Kombat II was shot directly to hard drive of a now-defunct hardware system, so it can’t even be booted up, so that’s out of the question as well, most likely.
They were asked about their favorite characters, as well. DiVita didn’t have much to say, but Pesina said Johnny Cage was his favorite. Divizio said Kano was his favorite, and his least favorite was Baraka, because it was so uncomfortable to film, thanks to the hot, skintight mask. Marquez, rather than citing a character, announced that he thinks Mortal Kombat II is the greatest game ever, but that he looked the best in Mortal Kombat III.
As time ran out, Divizio took the mic to talk about fatalities. Scorpion’s famous “Get over here” move was originally supposed to be done with a lasso, like a cowboy, which was rejected. Fortunately, there was a rope dart in his bag, a Chinese weapon originally used to pull riders off their horses. This was accepted much more easily!
When asked about how they felt about the new games, the consensus seemed to be that it is cool to see where the technology moves to, but it does lose some personality. Marquez says he does like the new Mortal Kombat game, not least of all because his son did motion capture for it.
There was a quick wrap-up following that, although the audience was brought together quickly for a minute or two more afterward to sing happy birthday to Divizio, who had just celebrated two days before. It is certainly something else to see three Mortal Kombat actors in costume to be singing to an also-costumed colleague! It was a great cap to a casual and informative panel.
Of course, there were still many other events to attend at RWX. You can check out what has already been published here, and keep on checking throughout the week for more panel and event coverage.