Why do Mortal Kombat 3 players still insist on keyboard controls 27 years later?

David Craddock, producer of FPS Documentary and the author of previous video game history books such as dungeon hacks and the Stay awhile and listen series about Blizzard, has launched a Kickstarter for a new series of video game history books: Long live Mortal Kombat.

Craddock is compiling interviews with developers who worked on the classic fighting game, as well as fans and competitive players from various points in the series’ life to create a three-part Mortal Kombat narrative story. The first volume, The Fatalities and Fandom of the Arcade Era, is dedicated to the arcade roots of gaming, as well as early efforts to bring Mortal Kombat to home consoles and PCs.

In material from the book provided exclusively for PC Gamer, Craddock delves into the development of Mortal Kombat 3 ports, including the PC version, and the difficulties of development for 1990s Wild West gaming hardware.

Mike “Metroid” Sharif-Riazy, one of the toughest members of the “classic” MK games, modified his joystick to create a keyboard/stick hybrid peripheral. (Image credit: David Craddock)
Long live Mortal Kombat

David Craddock is the author of Long Live Mortal Kombat, as well as books on Diablo, X-COM, and other classic games.

The first snippet covered the development of Mortal Kombat 3, firmly at the height of the series’ popularity and a time when Midway was scrambling to produce “arcade-perfect” ports of Mortal Kombat for all home consoles. The hardware differences were still so great at this point that the porting effort was outsourced to a specialist studio, Sculptured, who had to specifically create each iteration of MK3 from Midway’s arcade codebase. Sculptured’s “crown jewel” of these porting efforts was its DOS and Windows version of Mortal Kombat 3, which lacked the graphical compromises of the SNES and Genesis and the long load times of the PS1.

It’s a little strange from a platform ecosystem point of view in our current era, but during the first few decades of gaming history, arcade technology vastly surpassed anything you could ever have at home.

Craddock also discusses Sculpture’s work on MK3’s first network multiplayer features, the surprising developer behind them, as well as a quirk in their network code that could bring an entire office’s internet to its knees:

Peters credits Oren Peli with the MK3 network code. Peli, who went on to write and direct the horror film Paranormal Activity, programmed the MK3’s multiplayer mode to search for players on a LAN. The problem was that the game pinged—sent a signal to let other computers know it was interested—constantly. “Anybody in your company that did the same thing, those games were there, streaming on their network,” says Peters. “The more people booted it up, the more noise and traffic you got on your network from those workstations saying, ‘I’m here, let’s play.'”

Craddock’s snippets also touch on another topic that might seem strange to today’s PC gamers: the variety and unreliability of PC hardware configurations in the 90s:

One of the biggest problems with PC gaming until the mid-2000s was the lack of standardization in the hardware. There were so many processors, sound cards, graphics chips, display modes, and controllers that a developer’s decision to support one or the other meant you’d either get the best version of an arcade game or one that was barely playable if it worked. . .

Sculptured also had similar issues designing PC controllers for Mortal Kombat 3. Even our ubiquitous mouse and keyboard controls hadn’t yet been defined at the time, and the xinput gamepads we take for granted today didn’t come onto the scene until launch. of Xbox 360 was in 2005. Until then, PC controllers varied in size and quality, and none of them fit perfectly in Mortal Kombat. Craddock writes:

Most PC controllers had two buttons, making them unsuitable for games like MK3 and Super Street Fighter II. Joysticks were more common due to the popularity of flight simulators, but joystick button layouts were designed for these types of games. The Gravis Gamepad, one of the most popular controllers of the 90s, had four buttons, still short of what the MK and Street Fighter titles required.

But there was a perfect option right under Sculptured’s nose: the humble keyboard, no mouse. It makes sense: the keyboards have more than enough buttons to cover the combination and movement options needed, and the ability to remap and customize layouts gives you a similar advantage here as in more familiar PC genres like first-person shooters or real-time strategy games. What’s more, the wide adoption of mechanical keyboards and their input perks have led them to become a favorite for playing Mortal Kombat 3 to this day. Craddock delved into this aspect of the community in the second excerpt:

The strongest benefit of playing a keyboard, particularly on mechanical models, is how they read pressed keys… Mechanical keyboards, many of which are custom-made for gaming, cost more to build and more to buy, but their manufacturers do not use shortcuts. Each key has its own circuit and you can press as many as you like at the same time.

This input quality of mechanical keyboards allows players to easily “dampen” movements, setting up combos and crushing opponents. Craddock highlights several currently active Mortal Kombat 3 players who utilize keyboard controls instead of or in addition to fighting sticks, including Kano Kriminal, Andrey Stefanov, and Mgo Umk, whose MK3 gameplay videos often include an overhead view of your hands on the keyboard, showing this unique playstyle. Seeing the playstyle in action is reminiscent of high-end fighting stick gameplay: the layouts are similar, and Mgo Umk even directly compares the keyboard button mapping to the layout of an arcade board.

Sculptured’s attention to the MK3’s keyboard controls may have been even more perceptive than the lingering love of the competitive community indicates. The 2015 fighting game project, Rising Thunder, focused on keyboard controls and had a lot of potential as an affordable, free fighting game. Radiant Entertainment was later acquired by Riot Games in 2016 and has been developing the League of Legends fighting game currently known as Project L. Rising Thunder’s keyboard-centric gameplay can form a foundation for this experience and also help introduce MOBA fans to the genre.

In just 12 sample pages of the first volume of Long Live Mortal Kombat, Craddock provides a compelling snapshot of a lost gaming moment, as well as a fascinating look at how a development decision like Sculptured’s attention to the MK3’s keyboard controls could reverberate over the years.

It’s a level of attention and care that the history of the hobby deserves, recalling the great development work and enthusiast stories of years gone by. game historian or Digital Foundry Retro. The Long Live Mortal Kombat complete package promises to be something special. the projects Kickstarter Campaign is open to supporters.

Long live Mortal Kombat

Long Live Mortal Kombat will be available in two editions. The Ultimate Edition includes dozens of fan photos, never-before-seen concept art, and a stylized layout. (Image credit: David Craddock)

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