You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, the Twilight Zone!
Picture if you will a video game of startling violence, brilliant graphics and compelling storytelling, a video game developed by a mere four people: Ed Boon, John Tobias, John Vogel, and Dan Forden. The game is one of the most influential titles in video game history. It’s name: Mortal Kombat.
The star of the game is a character name Michael Grimm, a Hollywood star from such films as Dragon’s Fist, Dragon’s Fist II, and Sudden Violence. The actor portraying Grimm? Action superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme. You’ve just entered…the Twilight Zone…
It’s hard to picture the Mortal Kombat franchise without Johnny Cage, but it almost happened. When John Tobias first pitched the game to Ed Boon, his boss at Midway, he asked his friend Daniel Pesina to help. Pesina was a martial arts expert who would eventually be used to portray Johnny Cage, Sub Zero, Scorpion, and Reptile. Tobias was hoping to create a game that would be the “bad boy” version of Street Fighter, a darker, grittier version of the wildly successful Capcom game. Rather than Pesina, Tobias pictured a marquee name for the franchise. He wanted Jean-Claude Van Damme.
In the early 90s, JCVD was one of the biggest action stars on the planet. He had starred in films like Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and Dual Impact. In 1992, the year of Mortal Kombat’s release, he would star in Universal Soldier. Tobias wanted him as the face of the game. At one point he even pictured the game being titled, “Van Damme”, believing that the name recognition would draw fans. Instead of Johnny Cage, the game would feature a character named Michael Grimm, to be portrayed by Van Damme. Tobias even had a demo reel made which featured footage of Van Damme placed against a digital background.
Unfortunately for Tobias, Van Damme was not available. Instead of building a game around the Muscles From Brussels, Midway ended up creating Mortal Kombat. Even though he didn’t star in the game, Van Damme still looms. The character of Johnny Cage is a narcissistic action star who never appears without his sunglasses. While Pesina insists that the characters inspiration was Marvel’s Iron Fist, it’s hard to ignore the similarities to JCVD. One of Cage’s signature moves is the groin punch. Cage drops into the splits and punches male opponents square in the crotch, an obvious allusion to Van Damme and the movie Bloodsport.
Somewhat ironically, Van Damme would go on to star in the 1994 movie version of Street Fighter, the very title that Midway was originally trying to compete against when they were pursuing Van Damme for their game.