Mortal Kombat Reunion Brings Gamers from All-Over the World to Chicago

It has been a little over 20 years since Mortal Kombat drew in the gamer community.  It was originally developed by Midway Games from Chciago’s north side, now bankrupt, the MK development team was acquired by Warner Brothers, now NetherRealm Studios.  It was over 20 years ago that I met the creators of the game Ed Boon and John Tobias.  I was introduced to them through Daniel Pesina, (Johnny Cage) when they decided they wanted to cast a female martial artist for the ninja roles (Kitana, Meleena and Jade).  The MK II crew consisted mostly of full-time martial artists from Chicago-land:  Carlos Pesina (Raiden), Daniel Pesina (Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Reptile, Johnny Cage) , Phillip Ahn (Shang Tsang) , Ho-Sung Pak (Liu Kang) (Lui Kang), Rich Divizio (Kano), Tony Marquez and myself (Kitana, Meleena & Jade).

MK was groundbreaking.  The vision of Tobias and Boon was dead-on!  They understood how to make real live martial movement capture an audience and turn a kid into a stealth, martial master.  Although it was developed in response to Capcom’s Street Fighter, its digital graphics and basic controls were nothing compared to what MK creators developed on our green-screen set.

Although I have run into many of my martial arts colleagues over the years, it was the first time I was re-united with my training partners from the early 90s in over a decade.  Despite that most of us are still teaching martial arts at our own schools, the reunion hosted by Doc Mack’s Shang Tsung’s International Fight Night Tournament was a long-overdue opportunity to hang out with my MK cast-mates and models from other evolutions of the MK series.

This past weekend we were all summoned to The Galloping Ghost Arcade (GGA) in Brookfield, Illinois owned by Mack, gamer, entrepreneur, digital producer and awesome host.  I walked into the event expecting to sign maybe 20 autograph pictures, let my kids play one of the many vintage arcade games and hit Oak Brook mall for dinner.  Instead I ended up meeting fans from all over the world and US.  For 6 hours I signed autographs - non-stop.  Lines were out the door and down the block.  The GGA was packed with generations of gamers.  The younger ones were accompanied by their parents - who were honestly bigger fans, arriving with their vintage collectibles awaiting signatures.  I was amazed at the items I signed (see photo gallery), Kitana, Meleena action figures I had never seen, game counsels, sticker books, trading cards and more..

The MK reunion gave me a chance to also hang out with a mix of other MK cast members including Lia Montelongo, Sal DiVita, John Parrish, Kerri Ann Hoskins, Brian Glynn and John Vogel.  We spent time speaking with gamers from Luxembourg, Chile and Argentina.  We Facebook video-chatted with several arcades that represented the Latin American MK contingency.

The fans were gracious, patient and waited their turn to take photos, ask questions and get their favorite memorabilia signed.    Gamers gathered to play in a MK tournament that only allowed top players from all over the world and the US.  Only those that were sent custom made scrolls signed by Shang Tsung were permitted to enter the tournament.  GGA Owner Mack, also hosted a Wild Card tournament - gamers played for the last scroll allowing them to compete in the invitational tournament.   The tournament lasted from 11am this past Saturday until Sunday at 2am.  There were only 16 players able to compete in the cabinet tournament (or upright game), the MKX open had 24, the Wildcard had 27 and the invitation had 10 competitors.

After the event, I had a chance to ask Doc Mack questions about his business which offers a flat $15 entrance fee to play over 440 upright arcade games for endless hours.  The GGA is a more cost effective way for kids to play arcade games- no quarters needed.

How long did you have the idea for T Galloping Ghost Arcade?

I wrote the business model for the Galloping Ghost Arcade about 4 and half years before we opened in August of 2010.  We had planned on opening after our game Dark Presence was going to launch, but the opportunity presented itself and we just ran with it!  

Do you have partners?

I had a business partner when we opened but bought him out about a year and a half ago.  It was beneficial to have a partner when we opened, but it made it hard to grow quickly.

How is the production studio doing next door ? 

It's finally back on track and doing excellent!  We had to take a 4 year hiatus from working on our game because of the arcade, which was so difficulty for our team and the fans that are anxiously awaiting the game.  We hope to launch Dark Presence in July of this year and have a US tour planned along with stops in several other arcades in Japan, Turkey and Spain. 

It's really been helpful having the productions side to compliment the arcade business.  Not only do we have great industry friends that can come and make our events even better, but we are able to do so many other things because we know the production side.  Artwork, wood work, streaming, videos, all those elements are done well because of our knowledge of production.

Why do you think MK is so popular after 20 years ?

It was so innovative when it came out, and really stood out from the moment it arrived in arcades.  It stuck with people instantly.  There were so many great characters, and visually, to this day it has such a unique look.  The blood and fatalities drew people in, but it played so smoothly which is what really hooked people.  The new games are simply amazing, but once the new one comes out, you can see the interest in the previous one dwindle.  With the original three games, they have proven that that have an unmatched staying power.

Which games / versions of MK are your fav?

The first three games are easily my favorites (one and two especially).   I really got in to Mortal Kombat (2011) as well and am anxious to put a lot of time into the new Mortal Kombat X (as soon as the arcade work and production works allows).

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