Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon gives Batman, Superman the video game treatment with Injustice 2
Games based on DC's Justice League characters reviewed better than recent Hollywood films
In 1992, Ed Boon was one of four people who changed the games industry forever with Mortal Kombat.
The arcade brawler shocked audiences with its realistic (at the time) blood and gore. Along with games like Night Trap, the ensuing moral panic led to the establishment of the industry-standard video games ratings system, better known as the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
"Mortal Kombat had four people working on it. It was a sound guy, two artists and myself. And I was the only programmer," Boon told CBC News.
"Back in the day, I was the voice of a lot of the characters. I was the announcer and I was Scorpion yelling, 'Get over here!'"
With few exceptions, Boon has voiced Scorpion's battle cries in every MK game since.
Mortal Kombat games have sold more than 35 million copies worldwide, but his latest game — Injustice 2, out Tuesday — threatens to leave behind an even bigger pop culture footprint.
40 heroes and villains from DC Comics
It swaps out warrior monks and commandos with 40 heroes and villains from the DC Comics universe like Batman, Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn, who have recently stepped into the spotlight thanks to a wave of Hollywood films and television shows.
"It's exciting, but it's also daunting. There's a thousand decisions to make every week. So I think of myself as steering the Titanic," Boon told CBC News.
"Oh, not the Titanic! It's probably like steering a gigantic steamship," he adds, after reconsidering the reference.
This isn't Boon's first foray with DC's cast of superheroes. Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe pitted characters from both franchises against each other in 2008. It was a surprise hit.
They followed that up with Injustice: Gods Among Us in 2013, which told an alternate, darker story of the heroes usually known as the Justice League.
In that game, Superman becomes an unhinged world dictator after The Joker kills a pregnant Lois Lane. Batman opposes him and various heroes and villains take one or the other's side in a superpowered regime-versus-resistance narrative.
New audiences might be worried at the grim set-up. But Injustice took inspiration from all corners of the DC multimedia universe, from the classic Justice League animated series to the grittier interpretations from Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan's films.
It managed to balance a dark plot with lighter personalities and a decent amount of humour.
Separate from Justice League films
DC's recent film outings have fared less well. Batman V Superman was panned for its dour take on the mythos (Eli Glasner called it "a grim and gritty slog.") The follow-up Suicide Squad attempted to get the alchemical mix of over-the-top violence and irreverent humour that made Marvel's Deadpool a hit, but fell short.
(That didn't stop either film from making hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide.)
Boon has kept the details of Injustice 2's story close to his chest, but stresses his team wasn't pressured to simply produce a video game version of the films or TV shows on The CW.
"We've really tried to carve out our own version of the DC universe," he said.
He embraced DC's Multiverse, where infinite versions of favourite characters can exist, with slightly or wildly different histories.
Creatively, it allows NetherRealm to take inspiration from source material like the comics, TV shows and films while remaining free to tell their own story.
"I think we actually want to keep it a little separate from the movies, because like I said, there are so many representations of these characters. I don't think we want to have any confusion," he said.
Mortal Kombat turns 25
As for Mortal Kombat, 2017 marks the original arcade game's 25th anniversary. But NetherRealm releases a new game approximately every two years, so a new MK game would probably not arrive at least until 2019.
When asked whether he has anything in store to mark the silver anniversary, Boon smiled, but remained tight-lipped about any possible announcements.
"I would be surprised if we never did a Mortal Kombat game again," he said. "I believe we may have some kind of celebration in store that might involve something that you would purchase, that would be a tangible thing to celebrate it."