Mortal Kombat 1 PC DOS Version Comparison

Previous: Introduction, List of versions


In Alpha/Beta game parameters could be configured by starting the game with -s command-line switch. This would present you with a sequence of blue text-mode menus (Figure 1A).

In the Alpha, you can configure the controllers for each player (if one is connected). “Joystick” stands for 2-button, “Gravis Gamepad” for 4-button. The latter worked fine, but the former had one of the directions permanently stuck when I tried it. Keyboard control works well, but you cannot define individual keys. There is also a menu option to choose a sound device, but selecting anything other than ‘no sound’ will exit the game complaining that the driver file is missing. You can copy over the .DRV files from a later version to bypass the error, but sound still does not work, so it’s pointless.

The Virgin Beta has the same menu options, but they are fully functional now. All audio options work – PC speaker, Adlib, Roland, SB, or Roland+SB. You need to specify address/IRQ/DMA for the Sound Blaster if you use that. All controller options also work with no issues, but there is still no way to define the individual keys. Additionally, you can select the difficulty level now. The settings remain permanent until the next time you run the game with -s switch.

In subsequent releases, the configuration interfaces have been enhanced. In the ‘Release Candidate’ there is a separate SETUP.EXE utility which presents a configuration screen (Figure 1B) where you can set controller, audio device, difficulty, and graphical detail. You can also define the individual keys for every player, which could not be done in Alpha/Beta. If you press Esc to exit the setup utility, changes are not saved.

In the official releases, the setup has been integrated into the main game, and is accessed by pressing F10 during attract (demo) mode. The options are largely the same, but it now uses the same font as the rest of the game (Figure 1C). All options take effect immediately and do not require you to exit and restart the game.

The CD version makes one change to the configuration – it takes the audio device setup out of the built-in F10 menu, and delegates it to the external SETSOUND.EXE utility from the Miles audio library (Figure 1D), which has been used in many DOS games from the mid/late-90s.

mk_000  setup_000

mk_001  setsound_000

Figure 1. (A/Top-Left) Beta configuration screens. (B/Top-Right) SETUP.EXE utility. (C/Bottom-Left) In-game F10 setup menu. (D/Bottom-Right) External SETSOUND.EXE.

All the official versions with the F10 setup have a hidden configuration menu that is accessed by typing DIP in capital letters at the setup screen. This brings up a list of 9 switches (0-8), controlling various aspects of the game:

  1. Fatalities
  2. Blood
  3. Music during attract mode
  4. Comic book offer during attract mode
  5. CPU always performs fatality
  6. Free Play (unlimited credits in 1-player mode)
  7. Shadows always flying at ‘The Pit’ stage (only in Virgin and CD versions)
  8. Unknown (probably nothing)
  9. Unknown (probably nothing)

The default values is ‘On’ for 0-2 and ‘Off’ for the rest, which means – blood, fatalities, music during attract mode are enabled, but Free Play is disabled and CPU fatalities / Pit shadows are random. In the earlier versions, where there is no DIP switch menu, these settings are fixed and cannot be changed.


Graphics-wise there are very few changes between the different versions. They are all quite faithful to the Arcade in terms of colors, but with far less detail and a slightly different aspect due to a lower resolution of 320×200 compared to 400×254.

The biggest difference is in the ability to control detail level in some versions. Alpha/Beta had no such setting – graphics were always drawn to full detail. In the RC and first Ultratech version, a “detail” option was added in the setup menu. ‘High’ is the default, full detail, whereas in ‘Low’ mode, a lot of the background details and some of the parallax scrolling layers are omitted, in order to speed up the game on slower PCs (386). In the final Ultratech, Virgin and CD releases, a third detail level was added – ‘Medium’, which is a bit confusing, since there are no visible detail difference between ‘Medium’ and ‘High’. However, ‘High’ tends to increase the framerate, and allow smoother gameplay on faster systems. This may be easier to notice on actual hardware with the monitor synched to exactly 320×200 @70Hz than in an emulator such as DOSBox. Note that only the versions with 3 separate settings have increased framerate on ‘High’. With older versions the ‘High’ behaves like the new ‘Medium’. Additionally, the CD release appears to be slightly smoother than the floppy releases, when high detail is used.

Another difference in in the spelling of Raiden‘s name. In Alpha/Beta it was spelled Raiden like in the original, but since the RC it was changed to Rayden, to avoid infringing on the trademark of an existing PC game called ‘Raiden’. You can see that this was literally hacked in – they didn’t even bother redrawing his energy bar; just drew a small diagonal line between the A and the I to make it look like a Y (Figure 2).


Figure 2. ‘Raiden’ spelling changed to ‘Rayden’

There are a few other minor differences, most of which are probably not easy to notice. The only thing that stood out to me is the way Scorpion’s skull looks during his Fatality pose. In earlier versions, up to and including the first Ultratech release, it looks symmetric and full (Figure 3-L). For whatever reason, intentional or not, in all subsequent versions it looks lopsided as if part of the jaw is missing (Figure 3-R). To me it is an unfortunate regression in the late releases.

Figure 3. Scorpion’s Fatality. Left: old graphics; Right: new graphics

Sound Effects

The Alpha has no sound at all, and in particular, no sound effects. The Virgin Beta introduces sound effects, but compared to the Arcade, many are missing or wrong. For example, a lot of the hit effects are replaced with generic thuds. It does have some voices, and all the announcer effects, such as character names.

Starting from the RC all floppy disk versions up to the latest Virgin-branded release appear to be identical in terms of the available sound effects. My guess is that the effects are stored in SAMPLES.DAT, which is identical between all these versions (the Beta is different). More of the effects are added / fixed, like character screams during ‘Test Your Might’ and Rayden’s battle cry during his Torpedo move / fatality. However, it is still far from complete. Missing are, for example, Rayden’s second battle cry, Scorpions ‘Come Here!’, Liu Kang’s unique screams, Shang Tsung’s laughter, the sound of Shang Tsung’s skull projectiles and many others.

The CD release is the only one which is Arcade-perfect in terms of sound. All of the effects are present. The floppy versions don’t feel bad per se, but once you compare them to the CD version you realize how much has been left out.

Audio Device Support

Starting from the Virgin Beta, all floppy releases support the same set of audio devices:

  • PC Speaker – only primitive sound effects, no music
  • Adlib – FM background music, basic sound effects only (e.g., no digital voice)
  • Sound Blaster – Adlib music + full digital sound effects
  • Roland – MIDI background music, basic sound effects (as short MIDI tunes)
  • Roland + Sound Blaster – Roland Music + full digital sound effects

All floppy versions have bugs in their audio hardware detection routines that apply to Adlib and Sound Blaster (in conjunction with Roland or not). On fast-clocked CPUs the game will often fail to initialize the sound device and display an appropriate message. In Virgin Beta and RC versions this will happen when the game starts, and the game will exit (system may lock up). In the official later releases, this will happen if you set any of these sound devices in the F10 menu. The game will continue working, but will revert to ‘No Sound’.

It is not clear under what terms exactly the audio initialization fails, but it does happen both on real hardware and in DOSBox. Usually it is enough to reduce the clock speed using a slowdown utility, or lower DOSBox’s cycles value. The important thing is that the bug only happens during the configuration of the audio device (the first time you set it, or after switching from a different device). Once the game accepted the configuration, it will have no problem playing through the audio device during all subsequent runs, until you try to set a different one again. Thus, it’s not a super-serious issue, since you only need to go through the slowdown ordeal once, and can resume playing at normal speed later on. Also, it is worth mentioning, that once in a while, detection may pass fine, even on a fast CPU.

The final Ultratech and Virgin releases ship with an updated Sound Blaster driver – SBLASTER.DRV. The newer driver appears to address a possible crash issue with certain sound cards / hardware configurations. However, it introduces a different problem: now in some cases, the game will fail to initialize the digital sound portion, resulting in effects either being missing or corrupted. In rare cases, the game may even crash. Depending on exact system configuration, the new driver may be better, or the old one. More on it is said in the following article.

In the CD version which uses the Miles sound system for audio configuration, all previously used audio drivers are unused. The supported devices list is much longer and includes: SB, SBPro, SB16/AWE, RAP-10, PAS, GUS, WaveJammer, Ensoniq and ESS. I have not tried all these devices, but since the game only uses digital audio (both for sound effects and background music), all of them probably sound almost identical. There are no known audio-related bugs in this version.

Next: Controls, Special Moves, Gameplay


4 thoughts on “Mortal Kombat 1 PC DOS Version Comparison”

  1. If you look closely at the Scorpion and the skeleton, it is noticeable that the developers tried to remove the sprite border.

    1. Thank you for the translation, and for referencing this blog. If you don’t mind, please add a reference in the first part as well, since they are separate forum threads.

      You did a terrific job; I didn’t spot any mistakes and your style is good. 🙂 Great catch about the Arcade resolution. For some reason I assumed it was higher than it is. I will fix it in the write-up.

  2. It seems to me based on the file date that the first US release version was hurried out to get it in stores before Christmas (which they just barely did) only for a few bugs to remain. In Europe, where Virgin handled distribution, they didn’t rush so the bugs were addressed before release, as they were for the second shipment of the US distribution. At least they sent out a patch disk for those who bought the first shipment in the US.

    And although I agree that it would have been cool for the GOG release to allow for the Sound Blaster/Ad-Lib or MIDI versions to be played (Or even the PC speaker just for kicks), I’m just glad it’s readily available, since it’s still the best home port of the original.

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