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MK5.ORG Exclusive - Tao Feng Interview with John Tobias

03/06/2003 :: Posted at 11:40 PM by Scott-Howell
With the release of the smash hit videogame Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance behind us, many Midway fans have been wondering what John Tobias -- the other founder of the Mortal Kombat empire -- has been up to.

Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus is Tobias's newest admission into the fighting game genre. Featuring interactive fighting environments, limb damage that can alter game play, and visible player damage; Tao Feng looks to break out of the mold of current fighting games. MK5.ORG staffer Robbie Reilly (DigitalNinja had a chance to catch up with Mr. Tobias and ask him a few questions about about life after Mortal Kombat, his newest fighting endeavor over at Studio Gigante, and his thoughts about the future of fighting games.

Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus will be coming to an Xbox near you on March 18th, 2003.

[Mortal Kombat Online]: Can you give us a little insight as to why you decided to leave Midway, and have you had any contact with Ed Boon or the current MK team since?
[John Tobias]: Leaving Midway was a very difficult decision at the time. I left because I aspired to do other things from a career perspective. I worked as an employee at Midway since I was 19 years old and I learned a lot about games and the industry while I was there. Towards my later years at Midway it became clear that I wanted to try my hand at game development within my own studio- so it really was just a matter of time. Fortunately there were some folks (Dave, Mark, Josh) who shared my vision and together we created Studio Gigante.

I met up with Ed, Steve Beran, Tony Goskie, and Herman Sanchez at the last E3. We hung out and joked about the old days. That was a lot of fun. We all exchange emails and chat on occasion.

Have you played Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance? And if so can you give us your thoughts about how it turned out?
I have played MK:DA. It was great to see all of the original characters back and they held the themes nicely. I think I would have taken the story in a different direction. But overall it worked out fine. It's fun to play and it's good to see that MK still has life in it. My attitude towards MK has always been that it's embedded into American pop culture. That groundwork happened in the early to mid 90s so as long as the games continue to be made the fans will be there to buy them. There's this expectation that MK will die at some point, but I really don't think that's possible. It can not be as popular as it once was but it can always regain that popularity through its nostalgic value and good execution on the product.

Do you have any involvement in making of the next Mortal Kombat Movie?
I have nothing to do with the next Mortal Kombat movie. As a fan I just hope they don't f--k it up any worse than the last one.

Coming from Midway Games and the Mortal Kombat franchise, are their any specific things you have learned from your previous experience with the arcade scene and the fighting game genre that you have brought over into Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus?
The things that we learned were related to questions about why fighting games have taken the direction that they have in recent years. One of the first things we looked at was the round based system that exists in all fighting games. We asked our selves why do games do that and the answer was to suck a quarter out of the player by dictating the length of a round. So we decided that we didn't need that and based our system on the health of the character. A lot of our decisions were made the same way.

Was the move to Xbox-only something you had planned originally when designing Tao Feng? Or had there been any plans to make Tao Feng a multi-platform game?
Immediately after forming Studio Gigante we were approached by Microsoft to do a fighting game for the Xbox. So from its earliest conception, Tao Feng was an Xbox only title.

From past previews, it seems that Tao Feng has a very in depth story line which is not something commonly found amongst fighting games. Do you think a rich storyline and character development will help Tao Feng stand out against current competition?
I think that giving characters a personality and a place to exist within their own universe is always a good thing. I learned that as early as Smash TV and I think our characters were named Red Guy and Blue Guy. But I it's important to at least establish a premise that the player buys off on. From that point much of the story can just be insinuated and the player will fill in the blanks, which is part of the fun. With MK we took that a step further and we're doing that with TF as well.

Do you have any favorites among the current console fighting games? And has there been any other fighting games which has influenced the play mechanics of Tao Feng?
I'm really looking forward to Soul Calibur 2. I think that TF was influenced by the genre as a whole. Our choice in play mechanics was more of a reaction to where fighting games are in general. We tried to get away from the claustrophobic feel by incorporating longer range attacks and running jumps. We wanted our characters to really get around the environments and I think that was the direct opposite of where every other fighting game has gone. So more than anything that influence pointed us in directions to take as opposed to things to emulate.

The characters in Tao Feng have a very distinct Asian look and feel to them, how did you come up with some of the character designs and names?
The Asian themes and influences are something that have been with me since I started watching Hong Kong action movies in my teens. It obviously had a huge influence in what I did with Mortal Kombat and continues to influence me in Tao Feng. The character designs in Tao Feng stem from that same mold but some of them adhere more closely to Chinese mythological themes more so than what I did with MK. The actual look of the costumes was a collaborative process between me and some of the other guys at Gigante. Anyone who's actually read Chinese mythology would be familiar with the naming convention we adapted for some of the characters. It's based on the idea that every being, human or beast, is enforced by descriptive terminology as a part of their name- such as fierce or fiery or iron, etc. We used that convention for the good guys in our story who practice what is known as Neidan or inner alchemy- meaning that their power is built from their inner strengths. The bad guys practice Weidan or outer alchemy- this means that they resort to using elixirs or potions to build there power. That's why the bad guys in our story don't follow the same naming convention. Their names are mostly shallow single word descriptions like Vapor or Exile, etc.

What play mechanics or game elements has Tao Feng brought to the fighting game genre that will help separate it from the competition?
I think the level of interactivity between the players and the backgrounds is something that differentiates us a great deal. That was a difficult balance for us because we didn't want to break the interaction between the players when they were trading blows. I'm satisfied with how it turned out because it opens up a whole new mechanic in forcing the player to be aware of his surroundings. We really wanted the player to feel like he was fighting in an environment as opposed to fighting on a floating platform. I think another big thing for us was the incorporation of our Limb Damage system and also the damage and destruction that occurs in our fights in general. It's fun to see the characters start out pristine and then by the end of the match they're beat to hell with cuts and bruises and torn clothing. It's just eye candy, but it does serve as an indication on how much damage you've taken and you really do miss it if you go back to a game that doesn't have it. I expect that other games will mimic these features in the future.

How long has Tao Feng been in development? And are there any elements you wanted to include into the game which you were not able to add due to time constraints?
After our prototype we started development on the actual game April of 2001 so it's taken us about 22 months. That seems like a long time, but considering that we had the start-up of a company to contend with and literally went from 4 to 25 people over the course it probably wasn't enough. And of course there are a ton of things we would have like to have done. Maybe we'll get a chance with a sequel.

The Mortal Kombat series has always been well known for its obscure secrets and un-lockable characters are their any plans to have similar hidden elements in Tao Feng?
We've got a few secrets.

Online seems to be the next big move for fighting games, do you see Tao Feng or a possible sequel making the leap to online play anytime soon? And if so, are their any online specific features you would like to include?
We have online planned in a big way for a potential Tao Feng sequel. I think with Microsoft and Xbox Live backing us we could really do online some justice for a fighting game. In my opinion, provided we can all get past latency issues, I think all fighting games have to have an online component. This genre was born in the arcades and the loss of the competitive aspect with the demise of the arcade was a huge. Online play can bring that back.

Besides online play, are their any new features or game play elements you see that are going to have a big effect on fighting games in the future?
It's funny. I'll climb on my high horse concerning online play but at the same time I think more attention to the single player component is important as well. That's a definite area of improvement for Tao Feng and probably something that other fighting games will continue to explore.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, once again we would like to wish the Studio Gigante team the best of luck in the future.

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