Finish Him! Two epic words that cemented the work of Ed Boon, John Tobias and the rest of the team behind Williams’ Mortal Kombat in pop culture lore forever. However, thanks to a plethora of gore and fatalities that provided unparalleled fun—and controversy, the game was nearly taken off of store shelves before it became iconic.
Mortal Kombat isn’t all about blood and guts though. A fantastical adventure with unique characters, it was a wild fighting game that gave birth to a new era of visual prowess in the medium. Characters didn’t have to look like cartoons anymore. And they certainly didn’t have to be tiny. Simply put, if you grew up playing games the likes of Adventure, Haunted House or even Super Mario Bros. in the ’80s, the humongous size of the characters alone in Mortal Kombat was enough to get you excited. In the end, the team told the world they were ready to get big—or go home.
In Mortal Kombat, everything just came together perfectly. Although the blood and guts get all the attention, the attention to visual realism, plot and gameplay innovation is just as important as the vicious fighting that takes place. On its own merits, it’s a classic that gobbled up quarters in arcades and sold millions of copies on home consoles. Spawning dozens of sequels, spin-offs, comics and films, it’s easily one of the most successful fighting game franchises of all- time.
Boon and Tobias’ road to the series was far from straight- ahead, however. Although they both had an affinity for pop culture, this was a time when pitching a one-on-one fighting game was a rarity. Games like Mortal Kombat didn’t exist. Prior to Mortal Kombat, Tobias was known for his work on the Smash TV series with Mark Turmell. Boon, on the other hand, was creating pinball games.
“I was 19 when I was hired at Williams/Bally/Midway straight out of art school, but I had worked professionally for a couple of years as a comic book illustrator,” Tobias said. “Fortunately, I was a video game junky and arcade rat growing up, so I knew what I liked and what I thought I could provide. I saw some success with Smash TV, but it took a few years before we achieved the success that we did with Mortal Kombat. At that age, I don’t know that many people are ready for that kind of success, but the work involved was so intense that it kept me grounded in the reality of production.”
Although in his twenties when Mortal Kombat hit the arcades, Tobias was far from a stranger in the industry. Already working with a great the likes of Turmell, Tobias got to rub shoulders with other greats as well. As a result, Tobias sees his time on Smash TV as a pivotal one in the development of his career.
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