Its Monday. I’m horrendously dehydrated and hungover. I got next to zero sleep last night. Why, you ask? Well, mainly because of all the drinking – but also because all I could think about is was Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon.
Before you ask a silly question like, “Dom, why on earth would you stay up all night thinking of Ed Boon?”, let me answer it for you – its because Ed is also burning the midnight oil somewhere plotting on how to revive the Def Jam fighting game series at NetherRealm Studios.
How do I know this? How could I be so certain? Strap on your tinfoil hats, boys and girls – we’re going in.
Level 1: The Idea
Last week, Ed Boon – creative director at NetherRealm studios and the co-creator of Mortal Kombat – posted a tweet. He asked a very simple question.
The internet responding with a resounding, decisive answer, with just over 61,000 people replying ‘Def Jam’. The response was so overwhelming, that Def Jam ended up trending on Twitter, and Boon even received a few sample pieces of artwork for a new Def Jam title from graphic artist extraordinaire Bosslogic.
So as you can probably tell, more than a few people were excited about this. The official Def Jam twitter account hasn’t made any remarks on these tweets, but they’ve also been next to useless in providing any new info or hints about anything related to a Def Jam game… Even though they’ve teased a potential comeback for the franchise multiple times.
This announcement never happened, by the way. So with nobody else to rely on, Ed Boon has to know that he’s got to take matters into his own hands… But how?
Level 2: The Background
Lets talk about the potential stakeholders here. At the highest level we have WB Interactive Entertainment (owner of NetherRealm Studios), and Electronic Arts (presumable current owner of the Def Jam license). There’s also Def Jam themselves, AKI (now syn Sophia) – the people behind Vendetta and Fight For NY‘s engines, and – for the sake of the story – Josh Holmes, director of both aforementioned titles. Lastly, we’ve got Kevin Liles – formed president of Def Jam.
Josh left EA after Fight For NY, but was instrumental in getting the Def Jam games as we know them created. In an interview with IGN, Josh talks about the creation of both titles, and how he and his team’s passion for streetball culture, hip-hop, and all the sounds and sights that came with them, were the driving factor behind their pitch. He had just come hot off the heels of creating NBA Street and NFL Street, and wanted to give that same visual treatment to a fighting game. The Def Jam-related part of the interview starts around the 11-minute mark.
While Josh didn’t actually expect the pitch (or the game) to be successful (he admits the idea of rappers wrestling each other was insane) EA loved it. It turns out Kevin Liles at Def Jam (an avid gamer) was chomping at the bit to make a Def Jam fighting game already. Conversations ensued, and Josh and his team were assigned to work with the folks at AKI in Japan, who were already working on the framework of a wrestling game that would eventually become Def Jam: Vendetta. AKI later rebranded to syn Sophia, and has focused almost exclusively on rhythm and music games since that rebranding.
We’re licensing all these songs to the game company — how come we’re not making games?Kevin Liles, former president of Def Jam. The Secret History Of ‘Def Jam Vendetta,’ The First Hip-Hop Video Game (OkayPlayer)
Back to Kevin Liles for a minute. According to Josh Holmes and Liles himself, he was instrumental in building the “world” of the first two Def Jam games, and believed in the project from the beginning. This is a stark contrast to Kudo Tsunoda from EA Chicago, director of Def Jam: Icon (which stunk), who apparently thought that “wrestling and rap didn’t go together“. Liles actually has a cameo in Def Jam: Icon, and is killed off in the beginning of the game. Kind of a weird, upsetting, but fitting metaphor for what ended up happening to this license.
Level 3: The Possibilities
So with AKI presumably out of the picture, this new Def Jam title is going to need an engine. How about Unreal Engine 3, the engine that the Injustice series and the latest three Mortal Kombat titles are built upon?
As you might be aware, Ed Boon’s studio – NetherRealm Studios – is owned by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. WB doesn’t own the rights to the Def Jam gaming franchise, however… EA does. Kevin Liles said in an interview that Def Jam “still own[s] the name”, likely referring to the Def Jam license, but my money is on EA still owning the rights to the game franchise itself.
Attaining the rights to a franchise from Electronic Arts, no matter the size, cannot be an easy task, but EA and WB have collaborated before.
I know what you’re thinking. Not a whole lot of winners on this list (I thought the LOTR movie games were fucking awesome, personally). However, this was a VERY different era for both houses, and Warner Bros. now owns a handful of awesome studios like Avalanche, Rocksteady, Monolith, and yes – NetherRealm – who could easily handle a project of this scale.
Also, EA has lost franchise rights in the past, and presumably much bigger ones than Def Jam. They just recently lost their exclusivity deal with Star Wars, and their ownership of the rights to the Lord of the Rings license expired back in 2009. Guess who picked up those rights shortly after, and delivered us two of the best games that have ever come from that license?
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
Level 4: The Tinfoil
Here’s where we go from the tip of the iceberg, to the dark ocean floor depths. All we can do from here is speculate, and hope for the best.
I can see a variety of scenarios happening here.
WB acquires the rights to the Def Jam series, Ed Boon partners with Josh Holmes and Kevin Liles to reboot the franchise.
Def Jam’s CEO (as far as I can tell) was Paul Rosenberg as of last year, and I don’t know his history or interest in gaming. Former president Kevin Liles said “we have a lot of say in whatever gets done” regarding the production of a Def Jam videogame, so someone’s going to need to be involved.
The most realistic scenario I can think of is WB acquiring the Def Jam franchise rights, handing the project to Ed Boon and NetherRealm, and then having Josh Holmes come back aboard to help direct the project. Hell, lets toss Kevin Liles back in here as well as an Executive Producer too.
I actually tweeted out this take earlier this morning, and guess who tossed a ‘like’ on it just moments later?
EA buys WB, tasks NetherRealm with creating a new Def Jam Game.
Last year, EA expressed interest in acquiring Warner Bros. interactive, saying that they were “more interested than ever” in purchasing the shop from AT&T, who was looking to offload WB to help alleviate some of its $154 billion debt.
This is definitely the longest shot, because I don’t think EA would buy WB and IMMEDIATELY have a new Def Jam title be their first endeavor… But it could happen.
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Universal Music Group owns Def Jam, which is one of the ‘big three’ recording labels – along with Warner Music. Would that make a transaction between Def Jam, EA, and Warner Bros. impossible? I’m not sure, because I went to college for a major that has literally never helped me in life.
I think at the very least, we’ll eventually get a “remix” of Def Jam: Fight For NY, but my biggest fear is that a sequel is never attempted again. I wish I didn’t even type that into this blog, but now that I have this fear on my heart, you must share the burden with me.
Any way you slice it, a new Def Jam project would be a colossal undertaking, starting with the roster alone. Even the PSP port of Def Jam: Fight For NY had 68 playable characters, which is bigger than the post-DLC rosters of Mortal Kombat 11 and Injustice 2 combined.
But with tons of fans clamoring for a new game, and legends in the hip-hop world like my good friend Ice-T advocating for its return… I think we’ve got a real shot at seeing a new Def Jam title in the near future, and I think Ed Boon’s gonna be the guy to make it a reality.