Mortal Kombat 11 developer details Towers of Time mode, how gear works, and hints at secret characters

At the Mortal Kombat 11 reveal event on January 17, the world got its first in-depth look at how the latest installment of the venerable fighting game franchise will look and play. I had a chance to go hands-on with the game's Towers of Time mode at the game's Los Angeles reveal event. Afterwards, I sat down with Paulo Garcia, Advanced Designer on MK11, to get some of my questions answered.

The following interview has been edited for clarity.

GameCrate: The Towers of Time mode seems to be modeled a lot on the Multiverse mode of Injustice 2. Is that correct?

Paulo Garcia: Probably on the more fundamentals, but there's a lot more there. The idea is always to do more than we've done in previous games. What we could have improved on, we try to add it in the next game. So we'll have some similarities, like there will be towers that show up at different times. Some of the new things there, I don't know if you saw, but some of the towers had question marks on the corners. There will be consumables you can get that will let you summon a tower. So you can be playing something else, and you'll get something that will let you summon a Tower as a reward, but it will be a one-shot thing. So you have to plan out when you want to do it.

There will be timed ones, there will be special ones, there will be holidays. There's also something new, where there's going to be a character progression tower. And that tower will let you pick any one of the characters. And it will have an evolving difficulty tower based off of that character, and that will have character-specific rewards. So instead of waiting for a tower to come around on a schedule based on a character, you can now just play that specific character tower that will let you focus on rewards for that character. But then you can jump around to whoever you want, and it has a progression system. So that's like its own sort of mode that has a lot of replay. If somebody wants they can go and max it out for all the characters, and it will take a long time.

GC: So that's a mode aimed at the single-player experience. What else do you have in the game that's aimed at the solo player?

PG: There's stuff in the demo, the first zone where there's all the single-player stuff, there's a fourth option that's all question marks now, that we'll be announcing soon. So we still have a lot of big gameplay moments coming for the single player. The story, we'll have new stuff with that that we haven't had, like there were some branches that we've had in previous games, and we're trying to expand on that. To let players pick their characters where it's possible, instead of forcing them to use characters. So there will some choice involved in the story that will change the outcome.

And in general we're going to do things to make online more friendly. So there will be some sort of beginner areas, some stuff that we haven't done. And we're always trying to add more progression to things, where you always feel like you're doing stuff and you're moving along. You're always evolving and getting more stuff, and that will encourage people to try other modes.

GC: So you can unlock cosmetics, you unlock different moves, you unlock augments, things like that. A big question with Injustice 2 was how that translated into online play, like stuff that actually improved your stats. What's the relationship between the stuff you unlock and how powerful your character is in Mortal Kombat 11?

PG: So the special moves, you don't actually unlock them. They're all there at the start. So you get to just set your character variation the way you want. But when you play in competitive mode or tournament mode there will be a pre-set set of moves that's just the moves themselves from that bucket. But all the cosmetics themselves, those all fully function. So you can make your character look the way you want, but when in competitive mode you'll play with pre-set variations that we've defined. But then players who want to play Towers stuff, they can sort of mix and match.

And a lot of the augments, instead of the gear having stats itself, you put in augments where they themselves will have stats. That way you're not stuck with, if you've got gear that has good stats, and then sometimes you want it to look different, but it would have worse stats, this will let you move it around so you can make your character look the way you want. So we're trying to separate the cosmetics and the gameplay stuff as much as we can.

GC: I noticed there was an augment that made it so you take less damage from super moves. So you would assign that to a piece of gear, but then you would be able to move it later?

PG: Yeah. There will be costs to things. I don't know if you noticed, the gear slots in the augments actually had different icons. So there's different types for different ones. And you can re-roll those icons once you get the gear. When you first get a piece of gear it's not leveled up. And when you're wearing it, it actually levels up, and that unlocks those augment slots. And the total will vary depending on the piece, but then we can re-roll it to be different colors. And it will cost you some amount of currency to re-roll, and it's all in-game currency.

GC: So can we expect the in-game currency and monetization to work similarly to Injustice 2, or is it different?

PG: For the in-game currency it will be straight stuff you earn in-game and then spend in game, there will be no actual MTX monetization.

GC: Okay so there's none of that?

PG: No, any of that stuff we'll...we try to make that stuff be separate from gameplay as much as we can. We try to make it so it's never pay-to-win and it's never pay-to-progress. It's just those extra cosmetics as far as like gear and characters. We try to make it where the gameplay stuff is the stuff you play and earn and use it like that.

GC: I noticed that there seemed to be a couple of different ways to trigger an X-Ray attack, it's not just related to super moves anymore. Can you talk about that?

PG: Those are the crushing blows. There's a bunch of special moves, and it's different per character, that will have a crushing blow requirement, and those are sort of like in-round Brutalities. So they'll have something specific to the move like, if this move hits the guy while he's trying to block high and it hits him low, it'll trigger the crushing blow version of it. And those are things that can only happen once per match, so you sort of have to plan out the way for it come out, because they have big outcomes. They'll either be a lot of damage or things that let you continue a combo, and stuff like that. So it's part of your gameplay strategy to know your crushing blow requirements, and your opponent's, and then what's going on with the match.

GC: We have an offense and a defense meter now. How do you fill those up?

PG: They'll just fill up over time, at a rate that's dependent on what you did. So if it's a move that's really strong, it will fill up slower once you use it, and if it's something that's not as strong then it will fill up quicker. But the idea is to make it so that you play the game and you don't really have to look at it until you need it. We're trying to make it so you can just play and do moves at your own pace, and those are more of the constratints, so you can't spam moves and things like that. But it just fills up over time depending on what you did.

GC: Okay. And what sorts of things can you spend those meters on?

PG: The offensive one, the main thing is to amplify moves, or to change the move to either do an additional attack or have different properties. There's some things that cost offensive and defensive meter. Like if you're getting up, you do a get-up attack, that actually costs both offensive and defensive meter. Same thing with a flawless block attack, those cost both offense and defense, because they're sort of like both.

And then there's some character-specific things, like Geras has a time-stop move, and that takes offensive meter just to use it. So some of that varies per character, but it's generally things where stuff you do that's passive is defensive meter and stuff that's directly on offense is the offensive meter.

GC: Is the game going to be built with gamepads in mind, or arcade sticks?

PG: We always try to make our game where it works on everything, but generally it's usually gamepad-centric, just because of the way the kids have grown. It's something where arcade sticks seems to be getting less and less frequently used as, you know, people from arcades are getting old, and there's always new kids. A lot of the best players you see in esports, they're young kids with gamepads. And their reflexes and speed, it's so much faster than what we were ten years ago. Same thing with sports, where the players themselves have gotten a lot faster and have adapted to things. But we try to make the game where it will function with everything in mind.

GC: Are there stance changes in this game?

PG: It will be character specific. Like one of Sonya's things is similar to a stance thing. I believe Skarlet also has one. So that will be something you can mix and match with your variations. So it will be a part of the variation will be based off stance.

GC: So it would actually have gameplay effects? It wouldn't just be aesthetic?

PG: The stance switch itself would just be aesthetic.

GC: How about combos? Are there still dialed strings in the game?

PG: Generally the core thing of moves is to make it so the combos are shorter, so there aren't as many things that will pop up or let you continue, but then it's to make those combos do more damage. We're trying to make the pace of the match be a lot quicker, a lot up-close. The camera itself does that where the characters are really big on-screen. We're trying to make it where the action is short, where you're not stuck with these really long combos. But the combos still really hurt when you do them. And there's still a lot of combos there, and we have ways to get out of them and stuff. But generally to make it a lot more back-and-forth, as opposed to one player for five seconds.

GC: So you mentioned ways to get out of combos. You're paying attention to infinite combos - what kind of measures are in place to prevent those?

PG: We usually do it on a move-by-move basis. A lot of our moves will have it so this move can only be done once in a combo, and stuff like that. So that's generally how we try to prevent infinites. But then it's just stuff where you can situationally use your defensive meter to jump out of the air when you're getting hit, and you've just got to choose when to do that. So you've got to know the other person's combo and what he's going to do, but the other person can also see what you're going to do and try to hit you with something to do you damage when you're falling.

GC: How about juggling? Are there any significant changes to that in this game?

PG: Not in general, but just things are heavier, so that juggles will be less. And things do more damage. But there will still be juggles, and it's still the MK style. It's almost trying to go back to MK2 and 3 style instead of the big long combos.

GC: In some of the official gameplay footage it looked like characters were maybe bleeding out, when they were close to death? What was that about?

PG: That was probably the crushing blows. There are ones where like, Skarlet will actually stab the guy when you're up close to him, and that one actually has a bleed effect afterwards. So those are specific to those moves, and those are things where you have to know what each crushing blow does.

GC: Are there any secret characters that you'll be able to unlock?

PG: There will be secret characters, sure.

GC: We talked about character variations, and variations seem like a big thing. So when you create your own variation it seems like there are a lot of different parts that go into it. Can you just run us through what you're doing when you're creating a variation, what are you selecting?

PG: You can name your variation, you can change your icon. And you can unlock a ton of those. You can change the character's base skin, and those will vary completely. Like you can have the character without a shirt, or wearing a different color shirt with a jacket, or a big coat. And then there's the gear slots on top of those skins, and those will work with any of the skins. And you can change your intro and your victory cinematics, and those will be things you also earn and unlock. I believe there are also some Brutalities that you can equip, to get you more Brutalities than normal. And then there's pre-set moves, and you can either choose your pre-set or mix and match.

GC: What sorts of things do you earn as you complete a Tower in the Towers of Time mode?

PG: It's mainly stuff to go to customizing your character. You can be unlocking different icons, things for the different gear slots, skins are big ones but those are rarer because there are less skins, but there will be a lot more gear pieces. And then entires and victories are things you can also unlock.

GC: What are you most excited about that's new in Mortal Kombat 11?

PG: Probably just the general gameplay where we try to make things where it's a lot more moment to moment, and up close, and just seeing how it all plays out. We generally try to make our games where they're fun to just play. It's fun to hit buttons and do stuff. So we're excited to get it into people's hands.

Mortal Kombat 11 will release on April 23, 2019. For more, read our analysis of the fighting mechanics as we understand them so far.