» Jamming With Rhythm is Magic

There have been many pony parodies and crossovers in the past year or so that receive mixed results for their ambition and creativity; ranging from the abundance of fan art to some of the most ambitious videos produced.¬†Somewhere out there you are bound to find at least one of these crosses that will tickle your fancy. But there has been one particular trend in pony parodies for quite some time, but never has it gotten the spotlight it deserves for its genius. It’s the marriage of the candy colored equines who already share the tendency to break into song and dance with one of the most simplistic yet innovative approaches to music game design in recent history; My Little Pony and Rhythm Heaven. Hit the break for a recap at this series of parodies.

Can you feel the Rhythm?

In order to understand the whit behind these mash-ups, one must first understand the roots. Rhythm Heaven is a series of games developed by Nintendo SPD Group 1, previously known for producing the WarioWare series, and published by Nintendo. Like its WarioWare predecessor before it, one of the key points of the game is the usage of a multitude of different microgames to divide up the game experience into something more palatable with simple and transparent mechanics and goals. The main new hook would be the decision to take the microgame approach towards a rhythm game. It’s an idea that seems so innocent in its conception, but if you look beyond you see the makings of one the most approachable rhythm games to date.

Normally there are two big factors that prevent most people from getting into music performance, be it a high school band class or trying to play a rhythm game: their ease of technical proficiency and nature of the performance. Technical Proficiency is a concept that’s easy to understand, the harder it is to perform the less likely it will be for a common person to get into the art, something easily visible in why vocal music is so integral throughout human history, or why certain games like Steel Battalion never really struck a chord with the masses. But nature of performance is a general but surprisingly crucial factor for music training when you go to the basics. Elements such as the length, complexity, and the desired goal of a performance all swirl into an incomprehensible vortex if you were to throw a music newbie into a taste of some of the most technical pieces or even some of the most difficult parts of rhythm games, such as the infamous Guitar Hero song from Dragonforce. Getting down a simple formula that is approachable to the masses can be a magic trick in of itself for Rhythm Games, such as the Simon-Says-With-A-Story approach of Space Channel 5 or Parappa the Rapper, or the free-form goal approach of Electroplankton.

And it’s right there where the novelty of Rhythm Heaven’s approach starts to shine. The microgames allow for shorter songs with simplistic controls and lucid goals, striking that ideal balance of easy to pick up yet hard to master that so many developers strive for.

Rhythm Heaven is far too clever for its own good.

I bet by now, you’re thinking “Well, that’s all well and good, but where do ponies come in?”

March of the Ponies

Genesis of a trend.

Enter MysteryBen27. He’s not new to animating ponies, but his series of DJing ponies was a springboard for his future projects in more ways than one. One of his first videos was “Twilight Sparkle doesn’t know how to DJ”, an innocent enough little joke that highlights the character’s crippling lack of modern adaptation with a Futurama quote to boot. However, what was not expected was a follow up to this video with a completely different approach; “Hey, Rhythm Heaven had a DJ school, maybe I could combine that with Twilight Sparkle?”, surely this thought must have been what crossed his mind, and he ended up doing exactly that. But there is an innate wit lying in this video given it has a story with the previous video and the usage of the fan favorite DJ Pon-3, and it is this wit that makes the video go beyond a simple mash up. The catchy music, fittingly fun animation, and lovable character that combined the creatively simple Rhythm Heaven with the charm of ponies has spawned something completely unique, the trend that followed only goes to prove its success.

Following up the DJ school, MysteryBen27 then released the most popular of the Rhythm Pony videos, Peckish Pony 2. While MysteryBen put in little references in the DJ school video, Peckish Pony delivered ten fold on throwing in details like different pony arms giving Pinkie Pie their appropriate food, and Twilight’s trumpet shenanigans in the background. Combine this detail with one of the most intense yet catchy Rhythm Heaven songs and Pinkie’s under appreciated adorable outfit from Party of One and it’s no wonder why this video became the most popular of its kind. Several months later, MysteryBen concluded with his last Rhythm Pony video, Foal in One, which continued to throw in lots of its own background details as well as play with the characters from the show as Rarity teams up with Fido of the Diamond Dogs. A great Swan Song for MysteryBen27’s videos of this nature, but there is still more ground to cover!

Soon after Peckish Pony 2 was released, more Rhythm Pony videos by others were starting to surface on their own. Glee Club – Chorus Ponies was released not even a month after Peckish Pony 2, but it cemented these concepts together in what is the closest remake of a Rhythm Heaven microgame yet. Just looking at the 3 second intro with Derpy flapping her yap as Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy give her disapproving glances and you already see the effective use of these pony characters into these various musical situations. The Glee Club video remains the simplest of the Rhythm Pony videos, but the simplicity in its character and execution are spot on and earn it a place in one of my favorites of the bunch. The next video released soon after was the parody of Badminton, which holds one of the more unique positions in these videos for altering the game assets from Rhythm Heaven instead of making a video from original assets. Nonetheless, it is effective in accomplishing its mission as long as you don’t mind the ponies having longer ears than normal.

The next video, Applejack’s Interview, was a video that put beloved Applejack in the place of the Wrestler from the Ringside microgame. Unfortunately, that video has since been taken down from YouTube, but it has left quite a mark in its wake. It spawned more interview parodies with different characters, such as the popular Heavy from Team Fortress 2 interview and many more. While the video may be down, it certainly has left quite a mark to ensure that it will not be forgotten for a while.

Next up is Faithful Farmer by BattyBovine. After a relatively long drought in Rhythm Pony videos, BattyBovine took up the torch to release his own take of this trend. I asked him about what made him make this video and he recounted the story for me.

I always had an interest in animation, to the point where I was often reading Preston Blair’s books on the subject for fun. That fell to the wayside for one reason or another, but seeing how great the animation looked in My Little Pony rekindled my interest. I often found myself breaking down episodes and trying to figure out how the character rigs were constructed, how they accomplished certain camera moves, whether they used tweens or frame-by-frame animation for certain things, and so forth. I used what I had learned to build my own Applejack model in Anime Studio Pro and got it working rather well, but I had no idea what I would ever use it for. So once again, the idea dropped out of my head for a while. Then I finally found MysteryBen27’s Peckish Pony video. I liked the idea of doing something relatively simple like that to start with, but didn’t really give it much thought beyond that. But once I finally got around to playing Rhythm Heaven Fever for myself, I discovered the Figure Fighter mini-game. I was suddenly reminded of that short segment from Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000, where Applejack used a “bucking bag” to practice bucking apples. The inspiration hit me so hard it actually hurt a little. I started working on the video that day.

BattyBovine made Rhythm Pony videos make a comeback with a vengence, as his Faithful Farmer remains a faithful recreation of the Figure Fighter game. But he isn’t the only person to come out of the blue with a great Rhythm Pony video; MhHermitaur came out to the scene with one of the best and most unique approaches yet with a recreation of the Seesaw microgame. The artwork and animation as Rainbow Dash soars into sky and slams onto the catapult look stunning in what is a very fun recreation of the catapult scene from Applebuck Season. These videos set the bar high for any future videos, but hopefully people will continue on this trend.

Special mentions go out to the other Rhythm Pony videos, Freeze Frame – De Magickz Frame for being one of the few videos that stars Photo Finish, and Sweet Date which parodies the game Double Date.

Into the Rhythm

While the results come out quite nice, the process can be a troubling thing for some like MysteryBen with his work on Foal in One, or BattyBovine and Faithful Farmer. BattyBovine shared with me some details into his process for making the video.

I was primarily using Faithful Farmer as a learning experience, so I didn’t have much of a plan for what I wanted to do, or how I’d go about it. I decided to start by making the background artwork. The first thing I did was draw about five or six different trees, and copy and layer them in a scene on top of some small hills I drew real quick. Then I did a short test video that simply panned back and forth across the scene to test out how well the 3D layering worked in Anime Studio. Turns out it looked rather good, but took about two hours to render the whole four-second animation. Fortunately I only needed one frame for the background, so no big deal there. But it did start a trend where any time I had an idea to try something new, I’d have to fight the software to force it to do what I wanted. I’m amazed I accomplished anything at all, really.

I followed that up by simply giving Applejack all of the basic motions that she’d need for the video, and layering that onto the background. It worked well enough, and after just one month of on-and-off work, I managed to get the whole video done and edited in Sony Vegas. Any changes I may have need to make to the video could simply be re-rendered and would automatically update the Vegas project. The magic of non-linear editing.

The next step was adding the audio. I ripped the music directly from the game disc so I had a clean version to start with. I wasn’t able to find a way to rip sound effects from the game, so I decided to mix those myself from sound effects I found on freesound.org. After that was all done, I started searching for voice clips to use. Having Rainbow Dash be the announcer in the video seemed to make sense, so I went off to find clips of her saying “one”, “two”, “jab”, and “go go go”. The “go go go” was the easiest part; I took those from the Applebloom training montage in Call Of The Cutie. “Jab” required me to find a clip of Dash saying “Applejack” and replacing the “k” sound with a “b” from elsewhere. It still sounds a bit like “jack” to me though. Anyway, the “one, two” gave me the most trouble. There were many times where she says those lines, but they were either the wrong intonation or were covered with background noise. Eventually I took the word “won” from the end of Fall Weather Friends, and found an acceptable “too” from Return Of Harmony Part 1. There was a bit of background noise on that second one, but I was able to remove some in Audacity, and the rest is pretty much entirely masked by the music. All told, I spend two months finding those clips, partly because I was often ready to give up entirely.

Once the sound effects and voice clips were mixed into the soundtrack, I was technically done. But of course that wasn’t enough for me. Part of what made Peckish Pony so great was all of the stuff happening in the background. I wanted something to make my video more than just a bare-bones parody of a rhythm mini-game. Eventually I decided on the idea to add Applebloom to the bucking bag toward the end, much like the episode the parody was based on. I then decided to add some background ponies toward the end to match with the crowd cheers from the original game. I designed one background pony, added the animations I needed, and then spent an entire day using it as the basis for about thirty more. Then I put them all into a scene together and started to output to video. That’s when my animation software finally threw in the towel. All those layers of ponies used so much of my computer’s memory that it often wasn’t able to render masks properly; irises were just falling off these poor ponies eyes and melting onto their faces. It was horrifying. I eventually solved the problem by lowering the resolution of the video output, but even then it still took a full night to get those animation frames I needed. This also required me to not do so much layering in Anime Studio, and to simply do it in Vegas instead. Because of this, I had to scrap my original plan to have some background ponies doing more unique things. For example, Derpy was originally supposed to be standing behind a tree and bouncing slightly out of sync with everyone else. I also wanted more background ponies to fill out the rest of the background, but there was no way that was happening unless I wanted my CPU to melt.

Finally, after about four months, the video was done. I was so sick of working on it by then that I made a point to get a Perfect medal on the mini-game in Rhythm Heaven Fever just so I’d never ever have to play it again.

And the effort was not wasted! BattyBovine really came through to make something good, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Mihasik made an actual game (alternate link) from the assets BattyBovine made, making everything go full circle! Give it a try if you have the time. BattyBovine had some words to say about how the collaboration came to be.

Many people in the YouTube comments suggested I make it into a Flash game myself. I brushed it off with some joke about how I wasn’t ready to have Nintendo sue me for all I was worth just yet. But only a day after the video was posted to Equestria Daily, a YouTube user named MihasikSan asked if it was okay for him to make a game based on it. I certainly wasn’t going to say no, so I gave him all of the source files I thought he’d need, and let him go to town. I never actually did any developing on it myself, but he came to me at least once a week with an update for me to look at. It certainly felt great that someone appreciated my video enough to actually make a playable game out of it. As far as I know, even MysteryBen’s videos never got their own playable Flash game. Though I must say I think his deserve that kind of treatment a lot more. Where’s my playable Peckish Pony, guys?

And there you have it! Cheers to everyone whose made any one of these great videos, and hopefully this trend will only get bigger and better in the future! 

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