Ed Boon responds to the NRS animation discourse online

Within the dynamic realm of interactive gaming, NetherRealm Studios (NRS) stands as a source of both excitement and contention, with discussions spanning visual aesthetics and kinetic animations. Since the debuts of Injustice 2 and Mortal Kombat 11, the studio’s visual evolution has been nothing short of remarkable. An evolution that becomes most apparent in the refined portrayal of character facial models, enhancing both their visual appeal and their ability to authentically render the intricacies of Black skin across various lighting conditions. However, in the midst of this progress, one aspect remains a challenge—the attack animations—an ongoing Achilles’ heel within the domain of NRS games.

A catalyst for this ongoing dialogue is SugarPunch, a YouTube channel that has undertaken a comprehensive analysis of the attack animations within Mortal Kombat X. These critiques, candidly delivered, have reverberated across digital platforms, serving as a cornerstone for those seeking to articulate their reservations regarding the animation dynamics prevalent in NRS titles.

In the midst of this animated discourse, Ed Boon, a pivotal figure within NRS, recently lent his perspective on the matter during an interview with IGN, coinciding with the release of Mortal Kombat 1. However, Boon’s response, while providing a glimpse into his personal insights, did not wholly quell the curiosity:

IGN Interview: And then final question: Animations are something that people talk a lot about when it comes to Mortal Kombat – A lot of criticisms about certain attack animations. Do you have any comments with regards to some of those criticisms and why they are prevalent on Twitter?

Ed Boon (EB): I don’t know. Certainly there’s different animation styles that different games have. I think one of the things is our characters, I believe are the most photorealistic. And Street Fighter has beautiful characters, but they’re probably dialed a little bit more towards kind of the anime a little bit type of exaggeration and stuff like that. We’re always going for exact anatomically correct characters. And sometimes just seeing our characters doing these kind of five frame attacks and crazy things like that, there’s a bit of a disconnect that we can’t quite get away with it as well as a game that has more anime characters. I think that’s a factor to it. [IGN, 2023]

Within the gaming community, comprising an overwhelming majority of around 95%, formal animation expertise is a rarity. However, this absence does not deter those well-versed in animation from articulating their reservations about NRS animations. The absence of technical credentials does not negate the capacity to recognize when something appears off. Just as an untrained ear detects musical dissonance, this discernment extends to the realm of animation. Amid this backdrop, a plethora of exceptional animations serves as points of reference for comparison. Yet, the overarching question remains: Could NRS’ stylistic inclinations be responsible for these perceived shortcomings? The notion of photorealism alone falls short as an explanation when contrasted against other developers who navigate a similar stylistic landscape, circumventing analogous animation hurdles.

From my vantage point, the so-called “inferior animations” scarcely register amidst the chaos of battle. Their integration appears seamless, maintaining the flow of action without causing notable disruption. However, the inherent subjectivity allows for diverse viewpoints. For some, these animations, marked by their rawness, might indeed hinder immersion. Boon’s response, it seems, has kindled a spectrum of interpretation rather than forging a unified consensus.

As the narrative surrounding NRS continues to unfold, the intricacies of attack animations remain an ongoing interplay between the technical complexities of execution and the artistic choices that shape them. Time will reveal whether NRS can orchestrate their gameplay to harmonize seamlessly with the symphonic mastery evident in the visual portrayal of their characters.

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