Indeed, Jake and Ryan Neal have taken the time to speak to Us ahead of their work in Weplay Esports' Dragon Temple.
For well over five years the twin brothers Jake "Ketchup" and Ryan "Mustard" Neal have blessed the NetherRealm Studios competitive community with their silky smooth voices. So it is a no-brainer to get a hold of the pair ahead of the first offline event in months for the Mortal Kombat 11 community. WePlay Esports' Dragon Temple. The pair of brits will be commentating the matches from their homes and will join the other six talents in the group and playoff stages of the event.
So join us, in talking with this amazing pair about their views on MK11's past, present, and future.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity – Originally conducted on December 4th, 2020.
Sebastian Quintanilla: NetherRealm Studios has been at the helm of the MK franchise for quite a few years now. What are your feelings about how it has evolved?
Ryan "Mustard" Neal: The thing about evolution in the game is more about the player than it is the game because the thing about NetherRealm games compared to almost every other fighting game out there is that they allow themselves to change. Other Fighthings games are adamant about keeping their core the same. They change things here and there as a new game comes out. When it comes to Mortal Kombat, it tends to be pretty new every time. MK 9 was different from Mortal Kombat X, which is different from MK 11, like the three main Mortal Kombat games that exist in the kind of NetherRealm era, from 2011 onwards. They don't play like each other at all, they have some things in common. But when it comes to the small details, like movement, or combos, or whatever, it does change.
So when it comes to the competitive evolution, it's more about how efficient a player can be at picking up a game early and coming to grips with all the changes. There have been players out there that they get on with one game, but not so much the next. And there are players out there that have been at a top-level in every single one although that's quite rare.
But the single major element that has improved over each iteration is the Online play. Modern NetherRealm games are good enough to have major online-only tournaments. Which has certainly helped at this moment in time. And top-level players offline have still been able to be top-level players online.
Jake "Ketchup" Neal: I will add to that just with my two cents where I feel like the main point of the evolution of NRS fighting games has been experimentation. Is like ketchup said, where new games will come out and they will be completely different from the last because now there have never really been afraid to think outside the box whether it's new characters being introduced, new mechanics, alterations to existing mechanics. Just looking at MK X, 9, and 11 you can see how they change a lot of things, from the pacing to entirely new and old mechanics. Pretty much all of which help raise the skill ceiling of the game. That change and experimentation mean the players have to be able to roll with it as well, which is definitely what we see with the higher level of Mortal Kombat players.
SQ: Information plays a huge role in Fighting games. So in your eyes, how good is Mortal Kombat at delivering that information to the players?
Ryan: When it comes to modern NetherRealm games, we're in a very fortunate time where there's plenty of tools, and a lot of it is in the game already. Back in the day, you had to buy strategy guides for things like frame data. That was fine back then, but now with how quickly updates can come in. Having live frame information in the training mode is such a valuable tool.
Jake: The more information the better. But it also comes into that point of evolution, right, where this is the first NRS game that has had a live frame data counter. But it's far from the first MK game to have frame data accessible to you. Previously, it's been in the move list, you have to highlight moves, and it will tell you what they are. But, you know, sometimes that information might be incorrect, or there'll be a patch, and it will change it. And then you've kind of got to compare old lists to new lists, whereas the frame data counter and MK 11 is it's live, it's on your screen, it does it in real-time. So you can check the nitty-gritty of what these moves do and what they're capable of.
SQ: Speaking of Updates. Do you think this latest update has the potential to shake the meta even a little ahead of Weplay Esport's Dragon Temple event later this week?
Jake: 1,000%, pokes are the biggest change that I feel like is not getting talked about anywhere near enough in this patch. So the big thing about Dragon Temple. And the reason I think this is going to be such a big change is offline play. The Dragon Temple is the first offline competition that's taking place in person for Mortal Kombat since Final Combat in spring of this year. For the last seven months, at least, we have seen players need to adapt to an online style. The netcode of MK 11 is very good. But it is not identical to offline play. There can be a few frames here and there that make a big difference.
Dealing with pokes, in general, is different online to offline. Without going into too much detail crouching jabs now have longer recovery when they hit or longer recovery when they miss. And that has generally looked quite ugly from a gameplay standpoint and has gradually gotten better and better through the game's life to the point that now I think that one change is going to help the game competitively a lot. And we will not see that change be as much of a difference in the online space. The Offline is gonna look a lot cleaner. I'm very excited to see the top-level players that can put that change to best use will be able to demonstrate that and I'm very excited to see it.
Ryan: The change to the game I am most looking forward to are tournament variations, which we've had for a year and a half, but now you can build your variations. Some players have taken a tournament variation, and they've taken out one move that they don't use, and they just swap it for something they will use. And then some players have gotten almost like mad scientist mode on all kinds of moves and all kinds of combinations that people aren't ready for. You have to adapt on the fly to this, it's not just getting used to new characters. It's getting used to characters you think you know how to fight against, and now they're bringing forward these different combinations that you have never played against before.
SQ: Kustom variants for tournaments certainly are going to bring interesting ideas to the table. But how do you feel the competitive community is currently responding to it?
Ryan: The thing about custom variations and community, I am surprised that the reception has been so almost overwhelmingly. The community's positivity is something I didn't expect to see in excess. Mostly because right before the update a lot of people saw Customs just as a fun what-if sort of thing. If you're a competitive player, you're probably not going to look at any moves or custom builds because it's irrelevant information to you, or it was until recently.
With this new change, I think a lot of people that know the ins and out of their mains will have the chance to build something that works for them. Some people might think that it will give rise to so-called perfect variants but in reality, those perfect variants already existed more or less, and now there is a chance for new exciting variants to grow.
Jake: I think the general reception was positive for customs. And I was also surprised to see that because we know what communities can be like online. They sometimes fear what they don't know and don't understand. So if they haven't seen something, it's very common for people to be very pessimistic and think, no, it's different, I don't like it, it's gonna make things worse, etc. Which for custom it was understandable. There all these moves that people haven't seen. But the reason I think has been received so well and people aren't as worried anymore is because they happened a year and a half into the game's life.
Every character has improved, we haven't seen that many changes in the tier lists because of that. We're already very familiar with what characters can do so it hasn't been as much of a night and day change. There'll be some characters that will have variations that are much stronger on paper than other characters might get in terms of how many moves they can use or what it does for them. So all in all, I think it's been a really good chance. And I'm happy to see it.
SQ: By the way, since we are talking about changes, How is the new Xbox and PlayStation treating you both?
Ryan: I've been enjoying a fair bit of the PS5 right now. This is the first time that we've been able to kind of get into the next-gen systems right as they come out. The two of us have gone in the past for one Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, etc. We picked one for a couple of years, at least before we consider getting the other. So it has been nice to experience the same game of Mortal Kombat 11 at the same time on different systems at a time where we could even cross-play. Fortunately, MK 11 has got well-functioning cross-play. So Jake's on PS5, and I'm on Xbox, we can still stream together and play sets and hit people up in our sub discord or Twitter or whatever and just be like, Hey I'm in this cross-play room, Just join it and challenge and we'll play a few games.
Jake: And it doesn't matter what console you are on, well except for PC and switch, you can cross-play. Also, on the PS five, you can have multiple versions of the same game installed for backward compatibility reasons. So I have the PS4 version and the ps5 version both installed at the same time on PS5. So if I want the game to look amazing and be pretty I can load up the PS5 version. If I'm just grinding and I just want instant load times I can go for the PS4 version.
SQ: You both have about a decade worth of experience casting events now. Mortal Kombat and others too. Can you give more insights into what your work is like for those looking from the outside?
Jake: For me, a big part of the process is being able to put myself in the shoes of the players. I think especially in fighting games, and I say this as a fan of all sorts of Esports both ketchup and myself, we've worked with plenty of other games over the years, commentated on all sorts of genres, and we do ourselves enjoy watching esports. I feel like in fighting games is very hard to commentate. There is a reason most commentators are former high-level players. In a way, you need to be able to understand what it means to compete among them to translate what you see to the audience.
It's also a lot of listening to feedback, from both players, newcomers, and veterans of the community. always adjusting as we keep growing. Plus we are brothers. We are each other's biggest critics We always have been, and it's the way we like it because we are honest with each other and we're also each other's biggest supporters as well it goes hand in hand.
Ryan: Another thing that always springs up when talking about commentators is whether or not you need to be great at the game to commentate it. And that's always something that I've firmly believed is not the case, you can be a good commentator that hasn't played a game at like the absolute highest level or competed or been in a tournament or whatever the case might be. I think it's important that you have the fundamentals, so you can digest what is happening and then present it correctly. I think that's what's important.
As cheesy as it sounds. You are a storyteller. You need to be able to tell people what to look for what to see in those players on stage. And as long as you can do that job, well, doesn't matter if you played against that player or if you could beat that player or not, who cares? Like it's completely irrelevant information, as far as I'm concerned. There are skills to being a good commentator without having to be an ex pro-level player. It helps immensely for sure, but it's not the end all be all.
SQ: While we are on the topic, can we get a quick snap of what your setup looks like?
Jake: For sure! here you go.
For Ketchup and Mustard, having the opportunity to participate in the first offline event in so many months. Even if it has to be done from their home setups, is clear before and after in this time of global isolation. Fighting games thrive in their offline environment. The emotions, the passion, the skill truly show themselves when pitched face to face. And the Dragon Temple might be the last chance to do so in 2020.
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