The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

A Kombatant Returns to the Arena

mortal kombat 9 box art

All right, I’m going to explode unless I get this out first. What was wrong with High Punch and Low Punch? Why did they get replaced with Front Punch and Back Punch? What was so wrong about the way you had it? You want to be technically accurate or something? In Mortal Kombat, of all things?

So I bought Mortal Kombat (2011) (a.k.a. Mortal Kombat 9, a.k.a. Mortal Kombat: The Komplete Edition, a.k.a the reboot cause our continuity makes as much sense as a plate of spaghetti). And it’s always a crapshoot whether A) the game will work on PC and B) if the game will work with my hoggled controller. As with most things I buy, it was on a severe discount (thanks to it being five years old). Even the newest edition — Mortal Kombat X — has finished releasing all of its DLC.

But I have fond memories of Mortal Kombat days, so I picked it up. I should explain that I played exclusively during the digitization era. I mean it — I even owned “MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero”. It was always blocky photographed sprites dancing around, doing impossible moves, and generally looking unpolished. Once Mortal Kombat 4 came around, I got out of it. Not BECAUSE MK4 was in 3-D, but I was just maturing away. I did own MK4, but I didn’t play it nearly as much as MK2 or MK3. Also, I should mention that I am terrible at the game. Sure, I know the moves, but I always had to play on “Very Easy” and enter the cheat code to give me more continues (and often those wouldn’t be enough). So that’s me — on my SNES, playing an old & busted concept designed to suck quarters away.

That’s right, I played this game. I owned it. I beat it. And I liked it, goddammit.

Now I boot up the new hotness. To my surprise there’s no one new, but everything has been MASSIVELY upgraded. The cubist, badly animated sprites have been replaced with fully three-dimensional entities (though it’s still a two-dimensional game — good for us old fogeys who can’t adjust to new things). These entities move smoothly, have expressions, don’t look like puppet/dolls, and take damage.

Yes, whereas the original MKs had to make players gush out more blood (or oil) than a human body can possibly hold in great splotches, this version shows how you’ve turned into Rocky at the end of all the Rocky movies — combined. Yeah, they show exposed bones and removed organs, but like I said, MK was never about realism. And the x-ray moves are proof positive — you can get stabbed with an ice sword through the chest during a fight, and you can keep going like nothing happened. It’s like a mid-fight fatality.

And here’s my question: why did they change the button combinations for the moves? Scorpion’s spear used to be Back, Back, Low Punch. Now it’s Back, Forward, Front Punch. Sub-Zero’s slide isn’t Block + Low Punch + Low Kick + Back anymore. It’s Back, Forward, Back Punch. Most of the moves are like that — two directions and a button. It’s the combos where things can get tricky. Nonetheless, why punish us veterans? Now I’ve got to learn a whole new list of moves, even though all the characters are old.

One of the new characters, a female ninja, appears to be made of blood.

There are no new arenas either (unless you count DLC), but I don’t mind so much. The upgrades make up for it. It’s like playing MK1, 2, and 3 at the same time. It’s like Mortal Kombat: Special Edition. To wit, the first time I fought Kintaro I was verifiably scared. That four-armed tiger monster was most difficult enemy I’ve ever faced in a video game. I wish I knew how many hours I spent trying to get passed him — if he didn’t punch me across the screen, he was shooting fireballs or grabbing me or jumping up and down on my bones.

So it’s kinda fun being put into cryosleep at MK3 and waking up now, seeing a reboot of some old favorites. And I didn’t have to go through all that Deadly Alliance, Armageddon nonsense that dulled my senses. It’s not too difficult and it’s plenty of fun for both the nostalgic and the newbies.

And yet, they all still have the same silhouette

Why Video Game Movies Keep Failing

pixels movie poster

Why do video game movies keep failing? Look at this list: Not one cracks through the “fresh” barrier. Not one above 50%. Not one broke $400 million. Yet, they keep on coming.

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is the highest grossing of them all and it had fuck all to do with the video game. Not to mention white-washing several characters. It was the John Carter of its time (which was actually at about the same time, directed by Jerry Bruckheimer, he of “The Lone Ranger” and “G-Force”, the movie about spy hamsters). “Resident Evil” movies have had some success, but they’re full of tedious action and zero plot. Only fans of the video game series keep the movie series going and no one with a newspaper to write for is going to praise a movie full of zombies, CG, and girls flipping around with guns.

More known is the fact that video game movies are some of the worst every screened – “Alone in the Dark”, “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation”, “House of the Dead”, “BloodRayne”, “Street Fighter”. By money and reviews “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” is the best that has been offered. Why does this keep happening?

I’ll tell you why. Because the producers and directors keep twisting them into things they’re not.

“Resident Evil” is not an action-horror game. It’s an atmospheric setting of terror inspired by the films of George A. Romero. It’s full of jump scares, camera angles that hide stuff, and lots of dread. There are no matrix jumps or rogue AIs.

“Mortal Kombat” is not a buddy movie about three strangers becoming friends as they discover the innocent place they were going harbors a dark secret (that’s Harry Potter). It’s a martial arts movie like “Enter the Dragon” combined with violence like “The Running Man”. It’s not PG-13.

“Super Mario Bros.” is not… whatever that movie was about. “Super Mario Bros.” the video game is about… well, I’m not sure about that either. But it should never have been a movie. It’s too trippy, doesn’t have a story, doesn’t have character relationships, and the only reason producers made it is because they’re the most recognizable mascots.

“Silent Hill” is about being lost in a misty town where satanic shit’s going on and disfigured monsters want to kill you and you have to figure out why. That’s why I like the Silent Hill movie. Even though it used different characters and a different plot, it stayed true to the spirit of the material. And that’s the key.

You aren’t going to be able to perfectly translate a video game into a movie — not even a cinematic one like Parasite Eve or Vagrant Story or God of War or Deus Ex. The mediums just don’t line up. But we’re not asking for a perfect translation from game to screen. We’re asking for respect of the source material.

There is no reason there can’t be a good video game movie. It just hasn’t happened yet. Because these directors and producers don’t care. They see some franchise that the kids like and slap it on whatever screenplay was shoved under their bathroom stall yesterday. But as time goes on, people who did grow up with these characters, who know what it felt like to play the game, will be able to put that same feeling into the movie.

Featured Fan Fiction: The Complete Set

fan fiction demotivation

Well, I’ve finished my Featured Fan Fiction series, so here’s the complete set. If you need more to whet your appetite, try looking at the authors and stories I’ve favorited on FanFiction.net. There’s more there than what I’ve featured, and it’s all worth a look.

Featured Fan Fiction: Ashes of the Phoenix (Mortal Kombat / Tekken)

the pit ii 2 mortal kombat moon

I saved the best for last. This is not just my favorite fan fiction, this is one of my favorite stories of all time.

I love it so much that I dedicated a portion of my free time in college compiling, typesetting, and forming a print version of it for my own personal bookshelf. And this wasn’t just doing a straight print command from the browser. I wanted a nicely formatted and professional looking edition (for a three-ring binder). This was not easy. I was using Microsoft Word 95 for Christ’s sake. And I didn’t know a thing about macros then.

Think about that, for those of you who used Office for anything other than churning out a three page paper. This entailed sectionalizing each page, monkeying with the margins, altering each little space, customizing headers, dealing with multiple fonts, and repeated screw-ups when I made a global change and accidentally overwrote something. This is a 600-page document! With table of contents, title page, and appendices at the end. When it was finally done, I put it in a white binder with the image you see above.

And you know what?  I never cracked it open.

Well, I’d already read it. And it was in a large binder — not exactly convenient to tote around. And you know, when I glanced at it a few years later, I realized I’d made the font too small to be comfortable, in my effort to conserve paper and space. I later used Lulu to make a real print edition and this took just about as much work. But at least I had my experience on my side.

Why? Why go through all this? How could I, for any other reason, than that I love this story so much. It takes place after the emperor Shao Kahn has invaded the Earth Realm. Everyone stands frozen in time as their souls are sucked out one by one. Only a handful of people survive — chosen heroes by the good guys — but Kahn’s extermination squads of centaurs and mutants are hunting them one by one. The heroes must survive long enough, both from the extermination squads and themselves, to get to Sanctuary, a protected area on Native American grounds.  There, they can safely plan the counterattack and unite. Or will they?!

That’s the set-up and fantastic as it is, the characters are even more so. The main one is Lei Wulong — an international cop fighting alcoholism (which is not a big help when trying to survive an apocalypse). He’s a character in Tekken and about as perfectly formed as he can be. Also in play is Jun Kazama, a gentle healer. Then there’s Liu Kang, the main hero of Mortal Kombat. What’s interesting about him is that he’s not sympathetic, not friendly, and not even in the serious Bruce Lee kind of way. He’s an asshole, and he’s supposed to be one of the heroes.

That’s on the good guy side. On the bad guy side is also a stellar sub-plot, the star of whom is Lee Chaolan. Lee is the adopted brother of Kazama Mishima — Tekken’s main bad guy — who’s working for Shao Kahn. He used to be the head honcho of Big Company, but when his brother won the tournament, he got knocked down.  And it’s interesting to see the characterization of a man who was once so high up, now taking orders and beatings.

But if I go on about characters, I’ll be here all day. There are so many of them, from Tekken and Mortal Kombat and some games in-between, like Killer Instinct and Soul Calibur. All the greats are here, but they’re so different, and yet so the same, and yet so awesome. There are giant martial arts battles, sorcery, betrayal, danger, romance, and action. There are fantastic plot twists only a man like Victar is capable of.  The story goes from survival to character study to detective story to courtroom drama to epic frickin’ battle with dragons and ninjas to war movie.

The fun part about this fan fiction is seeing all the little easter eggs, the little character tweaks, the different situations. In the games, all you ever see of Reptile and Kabal is  beating people up and shooting energy balls out their fingers. You don’t imagine Sub-Zero would be a scientist, but he is, and it works. You don’t imagine Stryker as a mute PTSD survivor or Nighwolf as a computer programmer/shaman, but it works. It’s the same reason they keep making video game movies — because every so often you see some little glint of the game you loved so much brought to real life, and you smile.

Every page is full of that. When I first opened this story, I knew all about Mortal Kombat 3, but I knew nothing about Tekken. I mean zero. I knew the game existed, but that was about it. This was a serious disadvantage, because the backdrop is from Mortal Kombat 3, but the characters and plot lean more toward Tekken. And this means I miss out on the existing character relationships. But this story is like Lord of the Rings or Les Miserables. So while the characters do have some connections with others, they are their own. Obviously, in the game, you don’t see Lei Wulong with a bottle of brandy, and you don’t see Liu Kang with a temper. What I’m saying is you don’t need to know about MK or Tekken to enjoy the story.

And it’s truly a beautiful story. On par with Patrick Rothfuss, Neil Gaiman, and George R. R. Martin. You should be reading it right now. I wish I knew what Victar was doing these days. I hope he’s still writing. Maybe he’s really Joss Whedon and Victar is his beard. Stranger things have happened.

Victar’s MK Fan Fictions
Victar’s Fanfic Archive

Featured Fan Fiction: The Coming of Winter (Mortal Kombat)

sub-zero mortal kombat

The first on our list is “The Coming of Winter” by Victar. I don’t even know the dude’s real name (assuming he is a dude), but he is, and so far still is, my favorite fan fiction author. He wrote my all time favorite, “Ashes of the Phoenix” which you’ll hear more about soon. I encountered Victar’s work during my Mortal Kombat phase, and was just getting into the World Wide Web. This was when web WebCrawler, AltaVista, and Yahoo were the top searching sites, and Google was just a gleam in someone’s eye. I found MK fan sites, and with them, MK fan fiction. There wasn’t much, so it was easy to consume quickly. The best were those written by Victar.

He was able to make gritty environments, hardcore characters with differing personalities, and intriguing plots that went way beyond the Mortal Kombat universe. And that’s what fan fiction should do–take the existing universe and characters and raise it up to a higher level than the medium they exist in ever could. You can’t have stories like this in a street-fighting game. Those games focus on junky blurbs to give the players something to ground on. That’s why we rely on authors like this.

But you want to hear about the story. “The Coming of Winter” takes place after MK1, after the death of Sub-Zero (the first) in the MK1 tournament. The story alternates between his quest to escape the Underworld/Netherealm/Hell and the story of his life in the Lin Kuei, as told in flashbacks, up to his death. We see his brutal discovery of his power, his rise to the leader of the Lin Kuei, and his experience at the Mortal Kombat tournament. Granted, most elements in the story are now negated by MK mythos (Scorpion’s role, Noob Saibot’s origins), because this was written around the time MK3 came out.

Victar was the progenitor on my quest to become a capital-A author. His writing was tight, full of action and intrigue. The story never ceases, never slows down. It’s always moving forward to something, and it’s full of great crossovers and easter eggs that reward you for paying attention, if you were into video games. It never strays from the Mortal Kombat style, like other fan fictions that try to make an adventure into a romance. Don’t let the fan fiction tag fool you. This is the best thing you’ll read all day.

Victar’s MK Fan Fictions
Victar’s Fanfic Archive

Video Game Memories #10: Mortal Kombat II

mortal kombat 2 snes box cover

So now we graduate from the elementary years to middle school and early high school (1993-1999). They say the “golden age” for science fiction is 13. This means that people who are interested in science fiction for life, got interested at the age of 13. I’m going to go one step further and say that ANYTHING you were interested in, from thirteen to oh, say, sixteen or so, is what you’re interested in for life. I still listen to Garbage, The Wallflowers, and Metallica with same love I did back then. I read the same books. And whenever I play one of these video games, the sense of nostalgia is overwhelming. Let’s examine some of the the things I got interested in at this age.

Mortal Kombat II (1992)

To let a list of video games go without mentioning anything Mortal Kombat would be wrong. This game had a tremendous influence in my early middle school years. There’s so much to talk about, I barely know where to start.

mortal kombat 2 snes screenshot pit raiden jax

Well, we can say that my interest in Mortal Kombat started long before I owned Mortal Kombat II. I remember seeing the original in the arcades, a large group of people surrounding the cabinet. Before MK there was Street Fighter, which looked cartoony and Japanese. Mortal Kombat looked like a video. Actual people, actual fighting. And the fatalities! There’s nothing better than the uber-violence and humiliation of not only trouncing your opponent, but pulling out his still beating heart. That was a big deal back then.

I scoured my Nintendo Power magazines for information about the game, but I never did end up getting MK1 for my SNES. Maybe I was turned off by the censorship that Nintendo imposed (sweat? Come on guys), and I registered my disgust by not buying it. But the storyline fascinated me – a martial arts tournament taking place on an ancient island. Ninjas with freezing powers. A thief with a metal plate in his face. And let’s not forget “The Pit”. But before we move on with the game itself, we must talk about Mortal Komkat.

mortal kombat 2 snes screenshot forest liu kang kung lao

Like most middle schoolers, I got teased a lot. I was the weird kid. Not the quiet one, not the fat one, not the nerdy one. I was the type of kid who would spin himself around to make himself dizzy. The one who didn’t know how to act socially, so he ended up speaking awkwardly based on the knowledge he gained from TV. So mostly I ended up sounding like a Klingon android ninja. I was the kid who didn’t fit in with anyone, even the people who didn’t fit in. So one day, in Health class, this big guy’s joking around at me, making fun of me jocular-style, as most others do. It irritates me. So I get inspired to pull out my notebook and start drawing him impaled in The Pit, while a cat version of Reptile (the green ninja) stands triumphant.

Some background: I was always a drawer. I drew all the time. When I was too young to be in elementary school, I illustrated stories, and then narrated to my dad what I wanted him to write. After that I drew pictures of video game levels that I’d beaten – Super Mario 2, TMNT2, and so on. I also duplicated Peanuts and Garfield comics. Cats were my “thing” in high school. I don’t want to really get into it, it’s too painful and embarrassing, but let’s just say I got a reputation on it, partially because of things like this. It still haunts me to this day.

mortal kombat 2 snes screenshot baraka kung lao tower

Anyway, Mortal Komkat grew and grew. There were more kids, and more fatalities. I eventually ran out of kids and started using generic humans versus ninja cats doing creative fatalities, things like “Mack Truck-tality” and “Axe-tality”, until I had quite a collection. Then summer came. And for a middle schooler with no friends there’s not much to do except stay up late, watch Star Trek re-runs, and listen to Loveline. So as those were going on, I started compiling Mortal Komkat into something more serious. I made a images like the video game’s attract mode, including bios for each character, and I colored them all with colored pencils (my black one was a stub near the end). I thought it was pretty funny. At one time I was going to put the drawings online, but now they sit in a shoebox, perhaps one day to be opened up by my offspring.

Of course, when you’re drawing these things, you need resource material to make it accurate. For years I had a select pile of Nintendo Powers, FAQs, and instruction manuals by my bed for reference. Tiny little screenshots that I often misinterpreted. I had much the same set-up for Mortal Komkat’s follow-ups – Katter Instinct and Donkat Kong Country. These I composed in years without a Mortal Kombat release. I went on to make MKII and MK3. This was in addition to the Mega Man and Legend of Zelda media by my bed when writing Gatecrash.

mortal kombat 2 snes screenshot jax kung lao portal

That seems like a good segue to Mortal Kombat the fan fiction, and what could be called the start of my serious writing career. I can remember the exact moment it happened too. I was in the shower, thinking about Mortal Kombat, when I imagined a scene where Johnny Cage and Liu Kang are on the island, and Johnny barges into Liu Kang’s dorm, concerned about the strangeness of the tournament – the presence of ninjas, the death matches, the feeling he got from his first Shadow Kick. You can see it in the story, if you’ve ever read it (see side bar). I’ve had some flashes like this before, but never had the motivation to write it down, maybe because I was too lazy. But at the time, I was a big fan of MK and disappointed how there was so little fan fiction for it. There was plenty for Star Trek, which I devoured (I must have downloaded every single piece posted on AOL), but no Mortal Kombat. And I thought, well, if there’s no MK fan fiction to read, then I’m just going to have to write it myself.

So I did, and that’s how the first Mortal Kombat story was born. It was a long’un. Longer than anything I’d ever written before. I was amazed I could write this much, but I had to cover seven character’s origins, and their fights, and each character had to do their fatality at some point. It felt like a novel, but it was only 40,000 words long. My goal was to make each scene at least a page long. It took 12 revisions (I had to revise until the draft was mark free), and I don’t even know how much time. It’s not like I had a release date, or even a semblance of the proper procedure how to write.

mortal kombat 2 snes screenshot dragon liu kang johnny cage kombat zone

The hardest part was not duplicating the storyline of the MK movie, which I failed miserably at. Damn, did I love that movie though. It was the first movie I saw alone in the theater (who would go with me?) The soundtrack was also awesome. I got pumped every time I heard Techno Syndrome 7″ Mix (the MK theme). Every week I scoured the TV guide, waiting for MK to come out on HBO, but it never did. I never considered just buying the video because my family did nothing but tape movies off television. We had more than 150 tapes near the end. Eventually I got sick of it and just bought the video for myself.

I posted my Mortal Kombat story to the AOL boards, but it received little response and few downloads. Guess fans are more interested in bitmap ninja recolors than literature. That didn’t stop me though, because inspiration struck again. I eventually wrote a finished draft of Mortal Kombat II: The Competition Mission, but it was clunky and boring. I had to force scenes to get at least one fatality per character, and there are 12 main characters, plus supporting cast. And I had to get everything to fit with not only the story, but Mortal Kombat 3, and I had to make sure they all got even screen time. And the plot had to make sense. And I had to avoid rehashing the same plot of MK1. And I had to have characters that hated each other interact. I got bored and frustrated with it when I got inspired to write Quake: Player Entered the Game, but that’s another entry.

mortal kombat 2 snes screenshot kintaro

Of course, when you’re writing fan fiction, you need source material. The funny thing was, for the longest time, I never knew Sub-Zero’s ending. I never knew what his deal was. So I scoured FAQs and guides, trying to find out what it was, but by that time MKII had come out, and the focus was all on that. No MK1 FAQs described the endings for the characters. I finally found it by beating the game as Sub-Zero on a friend’s SNES.

All throughout this, I haven’t talked much about MKII the game. Of course, I played the game obsessively, to the point where I had every fatality and every move memorized. I didn’t consider it complete until I finished with every character and successfully did every fatality, including Johnny Cage’s Triple Decappercut. Of course, the AI sucks so I had to play on Very Easy and cheat with the “30 credits” code all the time, or I’d never finish the game. For some reason the opponents get super smart at a certain point, and Kintaro was near impossible for me. I don’t know how anyone beat this game on any other level. I made no claims to being good at fighting games. Mortal Kombat is the only one I ever owned, just for its atmosphere.

mortal kombat 2 snes screenshot pit raiden jax

Eventually, the quality of the games turned crappy, as we all remember, with MK3, UMK3, MKT, and MKM: Sub-Zero as obvious cash cows. The last game I got was MK4, and the whole thing seemed ‘meh’. The jump to 3D was insignificant. There were fewer fatalities, minimal storyline. Mortal Kombat was nerfed, and I wasn’t even interested in writing it anymore. It was time to move on.

But as you can see, a little piece of the fantastic journey, the martial arts action, the blend of old world mysticism and modern times will always have an influence on me.