One of the best signs of stability web original content can ask for is a second season for a successful series — it’s proof that not only is there an audience for these shows, but that the model is sustainable enough to generate more episodes. 2013 has been surprisingly full of examples, and here comes Mortal Kombat Legacy to roundhouse-kick this trend for the Machinima audience.
The origins of Legacy begin back in 2009, when director Kevin Tancharoen created an independent web short under the Mortal Kombat name, with a high level cast and production value good enough to get the attention of Warner Bros (s TWC) and get a first season made.
That first season was distributed by Machinima, and has racked up nearly 70 million views on YouTube (s GOOG) since its launch, including nearly 20 million on the first episode alone. So the second season, which premieres today again on Machinima’s primary channel, might almost seem inevitable.
Tancharoen and his team, however, had a bit more time to work on this one. While only having about four months to launch into production on Season 1, for Season 2 he was given much more time to prep. “Fights are designed better this season because we were able to shot list the fight by every move,” he said in a phone interview. “And the writers had more time to carve out an overarching narrative. Season 1 was more anthology-driven — this season, characters have a linear narrative.”
Another interesting change from Season 1 to Season 2 is a nearly-complete cast turn-over: “That was the nature of schedules — we can’t ask people to leave their ABC (S DIS) TV shows,” Tancharoen said. In addition, the first season was shot in Vancouver, and the second season had no budget to fly people down to Los Angeles.
This isn’t to say the level of star power has declined — while Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan do not reprise their roles, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa takes on the role of Shang Tsung (who he played in the original 1990s feature films), and Starship Troopers star Casper Van Diem inherits the role of Johnny Cage (Tancharoen described him as “phenomenal”).
With regards to the plotline for Season 2, Tancharoen wouldn’t say if the narrative would focus on the classic Kombat format of a martial arts tournament. “You get backed into a structure when you say it’s about a tournament — I didn’t want to do that version because we’ve seen that,” he said.
So for this season, “we’re trying to find balance between a tournament and a war story,” he added. In addition, Tancharoen wanted to keep his options open for Season 3, the possibility of which was first hinted at at this year’s Comic-Con.
Beyond the series, Tancharoen is also currently at work on a feature film adaptation of Kombat, though the two projects are technically separate. “They kind of cross-pollinate in my brain,” he said, “But while Legacy is telling a tournament story, the movie is a completely other storyline. It’s the writers who keep me in check.”
Tancharoen’s original take on Legacy was notable for how it took iconic elements of the game and cast them in a realistic context; the second season, by all appearances, seems to take that even further. To watch the Season 2 trailer, you might not even recognize Legacy as a video game adaptation; with the exception of one line of dialogue, there are barely any recognizable elements from the game present. This, according to Tancharoen, is by design.
“We’re trying to break the stereotype that video game adaptations are winks and nods — we really wanted to break the mold,” he said, pointing to upcoming game adaptations, such as the Michael Fassbender-starring Assassin’s Creed as a sign that the genre in general is getting taken more seriously.
Meanwhile, the fans seem pretty happy. According to Tancharoen, the biggest criticism he’s received on Legacy is over character wardrobe. “I wouldn’t predict fanboys would be upset over costumes, but there you go,” he said.