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Why Mortal Kombat's Ed Boon Thinks Game Development Is Much Harder Today

The "Mortal Kombat" franchise turns 30 this year, so it's the perfect time to look back on its history. Tech YouTuber Brian Tong interviewed Ed Boon, the co-founder of the "Mortal Kombat" series, in celebration of the series' anniversary and revealed a surprising fact about the game's development. Boon highlighted "memory constraints" as one of the team's most significant pain points in the past and present.

"We have really complex, high-resolution character models, so they fill up that space quick," he told Tong. He then mentioned the most recent game's story mode, which features hyperrealistic renderings of the characters in fully animated sequences. This means Boon and his team aren't just trying to fit a game within a specific file size range but a movie too. "We have full-motion video — two hours of video — that has to be crammed on there. It is still a constant negotiation [with] the memory gods," he said.

Even the improved memory on next-gen consoles wasn't enough to lighten the load, and the team at NetherRealm Studios had to find unique ways to overcome these potential barriers. Here's how Boon and his team managed memory for "Mortal Kombat" over the years.

Managing memory in Mortal Kombat

Brian Tong mentioned memory constraints earlier in the interview, talking about the first "Mortal Kombat." There weren't any CD-ROMs or hard drives in old-school arcade cabinets, just EPROM chips. Each chip had a set memory limit, so each decision was balanced against how many EPROM chips it would take to ship the final product — as more EPROM chips meant an increased production cost and, inevitably, raising the game's price. 

Ed Boon recalled regularly haggling over memory during production. One outcome was the seven frames they used to develop different idle animations for both Scorpion and Sub-Zero – something still fondly remembered by the "Mortal Kombat" creator today.

"Make it fit in this box. You don't have unlimited space for your ideas," Boon said, recalling the rules about their EPROM chips. "So it was [just] ideas that could fit in the box."

Developers often found ways to reuse animations if they wanted to fit in something new. Scorpion's teleport, for example, might seem like a completely different move, but it reuses frames from his aerial punch. Boon admitted that there was "quite a bit of reusing frames and images."

Memory constraints remain a big pain point in "Mortal Kombat," even 30 years later. It's something Boon and his team have always had to navigate, but it's something that fan might not have ever realized without the co-creator saying it out loud.