The iconic fighting franchise Mortal Kombat is back with a brand-new instalment simply titled Mortal Kombat 1. This reboot marks a fresh start for the series, as NetherRealm Studios aims to captivate new audiences while also rewarding longtime fans. While at Summer Game Fest Play Days, CGMagazine got to talk to Senior Systems Designer Derek Kirtzic to give some behind-the-scenes insight into the development of Mortal Kombat 1.
From the excitement fans felt when the new trailer dropped to the new look and systems players will get to experience in this instalment, the interview gives a sneak peek into the creative process behind rebooting one of gaming’s most celebrated franchises over 30 years later in Mortal Kombat 1.
Your team must be thrilled by the incredibly positive reception to Mortal Kombat 1. How has it felt since the launch of the trailer?
Derek Kirtzic: Seeing the excitement and hype for this game really gives us energy. It’s just such validation for what we’ve been working on for the last four years, trying to keep things quiet until now. The reactions from our trailer reveal at Summer Game Fest, with the roof blowing off when people saw it, was one of the best feelings ever.
We love watching reaction videos and seeing the response from influencers—it really makes us feel great about the content we’re creating and pouring our hearts into. The community’s enthusiasm and passion for Mortal Kombat is contagious. It motivates us to keep striving to exceed expectations and deliver an experience that lives up to the hype. We’re putting everything we have into this game, so the positive reception so far means the world.
When you decided to reboot the Mortal Kombat series in this new way, were you ever concerned that audiences might not embrace your approach? Or were you confident that there were many fresh narratives and styles you could explore within the franchise?
Derek Kirtzic: I don’t think there was any hesitation in following up the story after MK11 — Liu Kang became the fire god at the end, so we have to continue that narrative. Otherwise, what was the point of MK11‘s conclusion? This new timeline gives us an exciting ability to revisit familiar elements that fans have known for 30 years but put a fresh new spin on them.
So we aren’t completely changing the wheel, we’re embracing a brighter future moving forward. Restarting the timeline allows us to try bold new things with mechanics too, like the all-new Kameo system—something we’ve never done before. This full refresh by creating Liu Kang’s new era gives us a clean slate to build on that MK11 finale in innovative ways while still keeping the core of what fans love about Mortal Kombat.
You mentioned Mortal Kombat 11, and now we’re discussing the new game, simply titled Mortal Kombat 1. What was the significance of going back to number 1 for the title?
Derek Kirtzic: We’re calling it Mortal Kombat 1 to signify going back to the very beginning since this is the first game in Liu Kang’s new timeline. We want to clearly establish upfront that this is a fresh start and a new beginning.
It’s really exciting because you also see some throwback stages like the Living Forest—before, in previous timelines, it was dark with screaming trees, but now in Liu Kang’s era, everything has a bright new look, like the faces on the trees. It tells the story through a different lens.
“Restarting the timeline allows us to try bold new things with mechanics too, like the all-new Kameo system—something we’ve never done before.”
So slapping that #1 on there connects it to the inaugural Mortal Kombat but also makes it clear this is a totally reimagined take on the classic world and characters Liu Kang has created. Just saying it’s, MK1 lets fans know we’re going all the way back to the origins of the series in a bold new way.
For people who may be new to the series, what have you done in the game to make it accessible to new and old players?
Derek Kirtzic: I think the main goal with this being Mortal Kombat 1 is to signify a brand-new era—you’re starting fresh in Liu Kang’s new timeline. So it’s okay if you haven’t played the previous games because we’re establishing a new protector of Earthrealm as Fire God Liu Kang, a younger Raiden, with a different storyline. You can jump into this chapter without necessarily knowing all the others.
And for longtime fans who have been with us since the beginning, there’s still plenty of nostalgia too. Hopefully, if we get new players, it will encourage them to go back and explore the past chapters in this epic saga, like when you read a great new book and want to check out the prequels.
By treating this as a fresh start while keeping those classic elements, we aim to welcome new fans while also rewarding OG players who want to see the reimagined new era Liu Kang has created with familiar faces and places. Either way, you’re getting a complete experience with Mortal Kombat 1.
The new game reimagines the classic Mortal Kombat characters with very different, fresh looks. Were you ever concerned about straying too far from the iconic appearances audiences have known for these fighters over the past 30 years?
Derek Kirtzic: We really change up the character looks and designs from game to game but always keep the core of what makes them iconic—the masks, palettes, colours, and abilities. We didn’t take away Scorpion’s spear or Sub-Zero‘s ice moves. We just evolved some things. This is probably one of the few times in 30 years Scorpion has had a rope spear versus his signature chain spear—even little details like that.
And like every game, we make sure to keep their trademark moves you expect, but the combos and playstyles are never identical. Each game needs to feel fresh, not just like a repeat. I think people will be receptive to the refresh we’ve given the classics like Scorpion and Sub-Zero in MK1 while retaining their essence.
Mortal Kombat 1 features Kameos. What inspired the idea to include this new feature?
Derek Kirtzic: From a gameplay perspective, we just thought the new Kameo assist system would be really cool and innovative to try—it’s something we’ve never done before. We’ve had tag teams in previous games, but the Kameo assists are almost a simpler take on that concept. You’re just bringing in a new utility for your main character rather than learning multiple fighters.
“We’re calling it Mortal Kombat 1 to signify going back to the very beginning since this is the first game in Liu Kang’s new timeline.”
It also really taps into nostalgia, letting you see classic characters from previous timelines with some new moves. Kano feels very classic with his eye laser and knife throw, but Sub-Zero’s Kameo plays differently than you’d expect. I’m sure we’ll see more of that soon. We showed Kung Lao’s Kameo doing his signature spin in the trailer too.
So it allows us to leverage nostalgic elements but gives players the freedom to build their own playstyle combining their preferred main with Kameos they want. It keeps things fresh while still celebrating MK’s legacy through the Kameo system.
To clarify about the Kameo fight interactions for those of us not skilled at Mortal Kombat—is it possible to mess up the timing or interrupt these Kameos? Are there opportunities for the player to “fail” these Kameo fight moments, or will they always play out in an awesome way?
Derek Kirtzic: The Kameo assists can be interrupted if hit by an attack or projectile. So if I throw out a projectile, and it hits your Kameo character, your main character will flash red as a visual indicator that the Kameo got interrupted.
You can actually use them as “sponges” at times, too—if someone’s throwing a bunch of projectiles, you can call out your Kameo to absorb some hits and give you an opening. But they aren’t just going to do their move automatically; they can be disrupted if your opponent reacts quickly. There’s definite counterplay around the Kameo system.
As you continue to reveal more content and details post-launch, are there any aspects that you’re concerned fans may not be as receptive to, or are you feeling confident and excited about all the new material you’ll be rolling out?
Derek Kirtzic: We’re really excited about everything, especially the aerial combat. As a lifelong fan who grew up playing MK in arcades, I finally get paid to work on the game I’ve loved since childhood! I’ve always enjoyed the franchise, and having aerial combat back, plus the freedom to creatively combine combos, Kameo assists, and juggling opponents between ground and air—the possibilities for players to craft their own signature fight style is outstanding.
In the current build, Sub-Zero is my personal favourite—he’s simple to pick up and great for aerial juggles. I love the Sub-Zero and Sonya combination for how I like to play without blocking much, just constant pressure. But my all-time favourite character is Mileena, hands down! So I can’t wait to get my hands on her. There’s so much to be excited about in MK1 for competitive and casual players alike with the new gameplay systems and roster.
I love how gross the game sounds. It really resonated in the trailer and as I played.
Derek Kirtzic: Yeah, the audio is pretty gross sounding! The funniest part is it’s probably just simple foley effects like noodles being stirred in a bowl or lettuce being crunched. That’s the magic of sound design—taking mundane sounds and making them feel visceral and over-the-top. As an MK fan, I love how exaggerated and almost cartoonish the audio gets with stuff like this. The team has always done an amazing job capturing the wacky violence that makes Mortal Kombat special through creative audio work.
It sounds fantastic.
Derek Kirtzic: Oh, the audio sounds amazing—the team always knocks it out of the park. When I was younger, my friends and I used to play just by the audio sometimes, turning off the TV because the sound cues are so distinct you can tell exactly what moves and combos land just through the surround sound effects.
The distinct audio feedback on hits and chains in MK has always been top-notch, and clearly, that excellent sound design is continuing here. As a lifelong fan, those crunchy and visceral combat sound effects transport me right back to my childhood playing MK with friends. The audio team perfectly captures the hard-hitting feel that makes Mortal Kombat so satisfying.
“As a lifelong fan, those crunchy and visceral combat sound effects transport me right back to my childhood playing MK with friends.”
It was a blast to work on. The audio team is just so talented and experienced—guys like Dan and Rich have been with Mortal Kombat forever. They know this franchise inside and out.
Their work always impresses me with how perfectly it captures the violent, hard-hitting feel that Mortal Kombat is known for. The way they enhance the gameplay through sound and make every crushing blow feel impactful never gets old. We’re lucky to have such an amazing veteran audio team that bleeds Mortal Kombat, bringing these fights to life.
What did it feel like to become part of this team after loving the game up to this point?
Derek Kirtzic: Well, I’ve been with the team for over 15 years now.
A little while, then. (laughs)
Derek Kirtzic: I actually started in QA. One of my good friends, Ivan, had gotten a job there and knew how much I loved Mortal Kombat and was really good at the games. He said, “Hey, you should apply for QA here!” And I absolutely jumped at the chance. From that day on, I was determined to do anything I could to stay involved with Mortal Kombat and keep working on the series I’ve loved since childhood.
It’s a dream come true getting to help shape the franchise I grew up obsessed with. I feel incredibly lucky to have started in QA and worked my way up to the dev team. My inner MK superfan still can’t believe I get paid to work on Mortal Kombat!