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Speculation: Future of Non-Playable Characters In Doubt?
05/18/2016 07:41 AM :: Posted at 07:41 AM EST by Mick-Lucifer

The future of non-playable character cameos in the Mortal Kombat series may be in doubt as the impact of persistent fan outcry within NetherRealm Studios comes to light.

Mortal Kombat X Sound Designer Brian Chard has been sharing his unique perspective with inquisitive fans, revealing aggressive interest in inaccessible fighters may have had a negative effect on the powers that be: "... [You] should know that those who complained about NPCs pretty much convinced Ed not to have em in future games."

When asked to clarify which types of NPC he believed are in danger, Chard pointed to in-game opponents and story mode cut scene cameos: "The impression I got was both, when it comes to potential roster chars (i.e., Outworld Soldier #2 is still safe)."

Both types of non-playable character drew significant attention from fans who've been trained to expect post-release additions through downloadable content channels. Remarkably, decisions relating to DLC have been largely disconnected from in-game appearances - an otherwise natural method for building anticipation for subsequent releases. Of the eight DLC characters, only one of each NPC type was included: Tanya, who appeared as an NPC opponent, and Bo' Rai Cho - a minor player in story FMVs.

Far from condemning his colleagues, Chard questions the quality of discourse from fans quick to attack the developer studio: "I think it's stupider of people who complained about them not being playable and called us lazy." With regards to characters who appear in NPC fights, he explains: "Just so everyone understands: It's a long way from fightable to playable." Characters who appear as NPCs may otherwise have missed out all together. On fan desire, Chard adds: "... it shows us how well received the original game was, which is nice."

"Lazy" has become an unfairly frequent catchall phrase for fans dissatisfied with perceived inconsistencies in the NetherRealm and Warner Brothers' approach. The substitution of personal preference in place of legitimate critique often downplays the work of artists and developers contributing to the marathon of a finished product. Malicious attacks and demands through social media - among the most egregious examples of fan ignorance.

Of course, no game is immune from criticism, and NPC kombatants have played an awkward role in the life of Mortal Kombat X. Invasion Mode appeared to suffer for the absence of existing and new character assets [read more]. Expectations for a character like Fujin: as much a consequence of the decision to reboot the series in 2011, as his consolation appearance in story mode sequences. Mortal Kombat X draws considerable inspiration from 1997's Mortal Kombat 4 - which introduced the character in a playable capacity.

Decisions not to follow the internal logic of game modes to their fullest extent - a recipe for disappointment to be anticipated and measured by various departments and the Creative Head. "As story gets started & other depts & WB state their prefs, it slowly evolves. In the end it's Ed [Boon]'s call," explains Brian Chard.

Even within this development process, not everyone can see eye to eye. Chard elaborated on the story mode inclusion of Rain - a compromise that could've left the popularly requested fighter completely absent: "Can't please em all. Story team wanted Rain on roster. Made him fightable, folks just complained."

On the reason the cult favourite character was overlooked: "... I get the feeling Ed thinks of him as a joke char. Guess no one argued hard enough to keep him." As noted for the artist's passing, Rain owes his origins, at least in part, to a Prince pun. With 2006's Armageddon, the character was drastically redesigned, reintroduced as an Edenian demi god in an intriguing development. Rain returned in this capacity as DLC in Mortal Kombat (2011) with an updated moveset.


Rain appearing as an Order Realm Invasion Boss five months after release.

Removing NPCs from future games will help diminish the distraction of fans' mistaken expectations, but developers will first have to weather the storm of another reduction in series mythology. With the 2011 reboot, the games have already stepped back from the depth of their storytelling, and arguably damaged the cache of their twenty year canon. Putting the proverbial genie back in the bottle - always challenging.

Removing hotly desired characters from view also won't completely quash their popularity, or address competition from spin-off media developed by Warner Brothers. The tangentially related Mortal Kombat X comic book published by DC Comics saw many fans titillated by its ability to tell more stories with typically neglected characters. This pressure seems unlikely to be alleviated any time soon.

Mortal Kombat X succeeded in introducing a compelling new generation of characters, but it remains to be seen if this will be a compliment to the long running series - or a self-made hindrance. Moving twenty-five years into the future poses significant questions about an eventual MKX follow-up, and the wisdom of resisting expansions of potentially successful existing mythology. It may also point to the influence of Warner Brothers, whose tie-in DC Comics use these time increments to generate plausibly relevant content. Chard notes: "We were told to set the flashbacks more [at] typical increments (5,10,20 yrs) even if it made them less accurate."


Tie-in stories by DC Comics feature unused characters like Reiko appearing in allotted backstory windows.

Brian Chard has since left his role at NetherRealm Studios, announcing his departure in March. He is now Sound Designer at Chicago based Jackbox Games. Asked if he would be interested in a return to NetherRealm in the future he comments, "Some things would have to change [before] I'd even consider it." Chard joined the team during production on Mortal Kombat: Deception for Midway Games.

[Related Article: MKX DLC: Unpacking Kombat Pack 2 Characters]

Will you be disappointed if non-playable characters disappear from future Mortal Kombat installments? Has this changed your opinion on NetherRealm Studios' next project? We want to know your thoughts! Register to share your opinions on the forum! Support the kommunity by liking and sharing stories like this via @MK_Online and Facebook.



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