Greetings My Little Pony and fighting game fans alike! Today we are happy to present an additional video interview from Canterlot Gardens. Fenster is joined by three of the core Mane6 developers — Lucas Ellinghaus (Leedin), Jay Wright, and Nappy — to chat about their upcoming game, Fighting is Magic.
Interview: Fighting is Magic Developers
For a full text transcript, please check behind the cut.
A Note from Bloodwulfe: the notable delay in processing this interview is solely my responsibility, for which I sincerely apologize. Even if Canterlot Gardens may have faded from your memory, I urge you to check it out — it’s hard not to look forward to this extremely polished indie game.
Hello, this is Fenster from the Round Stable, and I’m here with Mane6. Please introduce yourselves!
I’m Leedin, I’m an animator, I help out with design.
I’m Jay, I’m an animator, primarily. I help out with the program and design sometimes.
Nappy, and I do all the programming. Well, all the major programming.
Jay: All the programming, come on!
Nappy: A lot of animation and design.
And we’re here at Canterlot Gardens! As you know, Mane6 has a new build here, and they had a tournament. So let’s start things off! You guys had a tournament going on, were you satisfied with it, were you happy with it, and were you satisfied with the new character Rainbow Dash?
Jay: Lots of Questions!
Leedin: I’d say we were satisfied with it. It was a lot of fun!
Jay: There was a huge delay at the start of the tournament—completely out of our hands, unfortunately. We feel really sorry for that, but once we were going, the tournament was great. It was awesome to see everyone sticking with us, even after the big delay. People not just there for the posters, you know, and everyone getting along, helping out, sharing controllers, helping everyone get set up. It was awesome, everyone pulled through to make it fantastic.
Nappy: A whole, amazing experience having so many people genuinely excited for something you’ve worked on. It’s being streamed, they’re commentating it, this whole event is unreal.
Speaking of the fan reaction, you guys have gotten such a big reaction. Did you guys expect it to get anywhere this big? Cause you guys are the biggest fangame, probably the biggest thing in the fandom right now. I hope you guys aren’t letting it get to your heads! [laughter]
Jay: [laughter] Not at all! You’ve been hanging with us, hopefully you’ve seen it hasn’t gone to our heads.
Leedin: We didn’t expect the type of reaction that we got, especially in the beginning, when we posted out first little tidbit. The Applejack testing on the stage. The reaction was huge, we were blown away. That kind of made it something, it solidified the seriousness of the project. It made us really want to make a fantastic game.
Jay: You know, we’ve got something here. It resonates with so many people, and so many more people than we thought. We love it, it’s incredible, and the doors it’s opened up for us… none of them paid! [laughter] I’m from New Zealand, here in Ohio, hanging out with my mates from Maryland that I’ve been working with the past year and a half. Got flown out here, and it’s awesome, meeting so many people. It’s very cool.
If you remember, one year ago, you had a GamePro magazine feature your game, and other coverage. You’re getting bigger coverage, not just from fans, but also from the show staff and game companies. If you have a message for them, is there anything you want to say to those guys?
Nappy: Well, first of all, thank you for even looking in our general direction! [laughter]
Most fan projects don’t get nearly as big.
Jay: I don’t think we’ll ever stop being humble about it. It’s just awesome. People are waning our autographs! It’s like… what!? [laughter] The game is important, you know, play the game! We try a reasonable fan presence, to hang out in the forums… good forums, at least. Anu, who isn’t here today, he does an incredible job trying to keep with all the emails that we get. We just want to say thanks to everyone who is supporting us, and thanks for sticking with us. We know it’s exciting because it’s a novelty, but we want to keep it exciting because it’s a good game.
Leedin: We want to bring it beyond the whole fan thing and make it a solidified game that stands on its own that anyone can enjoy.
Jay: It might not happen but we had a stream last night. A tournament on Eight Way Run!
Eight Way Run is a professional stream for the fighting game community.
Jay: Jaxell [sp] is an awesome dude, we really like hanging out with him.
Speaking of the fighting game community, how big do you think this game will be once you’re done with it? Do you think this will actually cause a scene?
Jay: No idea. We couldn’t even have predicted this.
Nappy: We could shoot for the skies, but we still have absolutely no idea where it’s going to go.
Jay: The truth is It doesn’t factor in to it because we’re still making the game we wanted to make a year and a half ago. Nothing much has changed in that respect.
Nappy: We wanna make it fun, we wanna make it good. We want to make it nice.
Jay: if it’s good enough, it’ll create its own environment of awesomeness around it, and that’s what we want.
Nappy: There’s honor, they’ll keep it alive.
Leedin: There’s honor in that. Friendship and Honor.
A year ago, you guys were joking about you know, what if this makes it to Evo?
Nappy: I know, right? it was a joke! We gotta stop making this joke; it was making me sad. [laughter] And then Evo happened.
Jay: And then we got on Mister Wizard just like that!
And then maybe next year there could be a tournament?
Jay: I wouldn’t be surprised, honestly they have a lot of tournaments there.
Nappy: A side tournament for sure, that’s something I want to shoot for. I can’t believe I’m saying this!
Jay: Yeah, what are you doing, man!? But the hype is there, clearly, just from today’s tournament. For everyone who stuck around from twelve in the afternoon to eleven at night. Twelve hours, man! How many rounds? Hundreds of rounds. Eighty something people… we had to change double elimination to single elimination, but still. Everyone had a chance to play the game. There’s some casual stuff going today, and everyone was so excited. When the rounds were close, there was cheering from the room.
Everyone was super hyped for the game.
Nappy: It was genuinely awesome.
Jay: It was good to see Rainbow Dash being played too. Maybe too good… [laughter]
Being more specific towards the development of the game, all of you are animators yes?
Jay: Yes, we all are.
I think you guys said before that you look at the show’s animation, try to get ideas from there, and use that as a basis for the attacks in the game. Is there a criteria that you use? What makes you look at a certain thing in the show and say “Hey, that’ll be a good move?”
Jay: We look at the show for the general methods of how they do things. How do they rotate a face, or what does the hair do when you turned around in a shot, or how far it goes down on the body. But most of the stuff we’re doing isn’t in the show in any real form. We just kind of think of the characters and how they act in the show and then go “How would they do a heavy attack? What would be cool? Would they just get down and dirty and do it themselves, would they use an object, what are their powers, like pegasus, unicorn, earth pony?” That’s about it, really. All the references aren’t directly from the show.
Leedin: The character personalities fit in to that.
Some characters have a lot of references, like Pinkie Pie. I think a lot of her moves seem inspired from the show.
Jay: Oh yeah, there’s a couple like that, but we got to exaggerate them.
Nappy: Pinkie Pie has a lot of zany stuff.
Leedin: She’s a zany character, we really wanted to do homage to that character. We wanted to keep it really zany.
Jay: The main one is the charge back-forward cartwheel that she does.
Nappy: Everyone on the planet was saying “That HAS to be in Fighting is Magic.” [Laughter]
Jay: That was something we knew as well.
Nappy: One of my favorites was Pinkie’s foam finger.
Jay: The finger’s cool. That’s not in the show as a move—
Nappy: It’s in the show, it’s not an attack, but she had that.
You’re taking liberties. It is a fighting game about ponies.
Jay: We have to!
Nappy: We have to. It helps to display the characters and make them feel as if they’re within universe.
Jay: Speaking of animation, something we run into with the physical makeup of a pony makes things really hard. You can’t punch, really. Applejack can’t punch; she can’t stand up and punch. But that’s why Rainbow Dash is really fun. She’s got wings, so we figured “Look, let’s give her a pose, so she can do that.” She’s got her arms free at all times. Well, arms, that’s the thing, they’re legs. But she treats them like arms. There’s a problem with that because in Street Fighter you’ve got these huge powerful characters and it carries with shoulders.
Nappy: They’re scrunchy. They’ve got these marshmallowy limbs.
Jay: So we have these big ideas, like “Oh, that massive punch, we want to get power in there.” And we try it, and it just doesn’t work, because there’s no movement, no shoulders. We have to do a lot of spins or something, and RD does lots of spins.
Nappy: It’s very cartoony, and it all works out. There’s a lot of attention to detail. Maybe too much. [laughter]
Jay: I look at all the video, and it’s like “There’s three frames there nobody’s ever going to see, and it took me half a day.” But it’s pretty fun.
Speaking of characters like Rainbow Dash and specific challenges in animation, certain characters seem hard to adapt. You guys talk about how hard it is for Fluttershy and trying to work something for her. It seems for Rarity you guys have been going through a bunch of changes. What makes it easier or harder to adapt a character?
Leedin: Applejack and Rainbow Dash always made sense as close range fighters. But you also have zoners. So we do have a space for those types of characters, turtles or zoners. Like Rarity or Fluttershy, who doesn’t really fight in the show. Fluttershy did have a kind of wild side in the show as well, which really helped us develop what her fighting style would incorporate.
Jay: You gotta remember we started this what-way through season one? Medium way through?
Season one ended in the beginning of May . I think this started in late May.
Jay: We might have just hit the tail end of it.
Which is the first time Fluttershy did go crazy.
Jay: That’s right, so a lot of it was like “We didn’t want to do one-off references too much.” The writers obviously feel there’s something they want to do with it. Fluttershy had a couple of gauging confidence moments in season 2, and Pinkie hinted that she was a little unstable. I guess when it comes to Rarity, and whether it’s harder to make a character to adapt… Applejack and Rainbow Dash, it’s pretty obvious what they’re going to do. They’re both aggressive, they both get in there. They don’t need to hang back.
Does it touch on personalities, do you think?
Jay: Definitely. Otherwise we wouldn’t have different ponies at all. We definitely make it feel like Applejack doesn’t shy away. There’s nothing that pushes you away other than the buck, but that really hurts them. Cause she bucks apples, obviously. Then we thought “Well, how do we get people close?” So we pulled the rope. Rainbow Dash had to get people close. Who cares? You get to them; you’re the projectile.
For Rarity, we went through a few changes, especially from our initial draft.
Different magic system, you’ve changed her super…
Jay: Yep, exactly. Just because some of those things just don’t work out.
Leedin: On paper it sounds okay, you put it in and it goes eeh.
Nappy: She’s a type of zoner that controls the entire screen. That kind of thing can easily break a character or make it not as fun or engaging to play.
Jay: Then if you take away her powers to control the entire screen, it becomes too complicated. It takes nine buttons to do the same thing.
Nappy: I think we’ve finally reached…
Leedin: The Perfect Zone.
Nappy: Yeah, the perfect zone for the zoner.
Jay: Close, we still got a couple moves to go.
Leedin: There’s still a couple things we’re gonna touch up on, and new things we’ve got under ropes. [sic]
For some people who may not know, these guys talk a lot about Fighter Maker, and having issues. Can you touch upon what makes things difficult for development?
Nappy: One of my favorite sayings about the engine is that we’re trying to build a mech out of a cardboard box. We’re using really simple shapes that this program provides from 2002. Really old fighting games, and trying to make a fresh experience that it wasn’t really intended for. Because of that we run into problems pretty much every step of the way. Overcoming it is a lot of fun, it requires you to be creative, and I like that.
Jay: Definitely a lot of problem solving involved. It is fun, also we wouldn’t have a game without it. We literally can’t write a single character in the engine in terms of programming. that’s how light the programming is.
Leedin: We have logic, people, not actual coders.
Jay: A lot of ANDs and ORs and a limited amount of variables. But it sort of helped keep us grounded as well. Because if ideas are really big, it’d be great to put them in, but if we really want them, and we can figure out a way, then we have to work for them. Its’ really satisfying to have them work, when nobody’s ever done them before in the engine.
Nappy: Even simple things like having Rainbow Dash turn around when she passes a character, that required hours of work. Then I had to turn all of the aerial attacks around, and all the stuff like that.
Jay: So you’d think if you had a character here and they jumped over, this one would turn around, because this one does? But it doesn’t. It keeps going that way, because it doesn’t reset what direction you’re facing until you land.
Nappy: We can’t even begin to talk about having Pinkie able to eat her own objects. That was a huge problem that Leed had to hop in on.
It’s the reason why you guys are dealing with this engine.
Leedin: Teamwork that comes to life.
Nappy: Even the simplest of things can have the most amazingly complicated solutions that people will never, ever know about.
Jay: It’s also kind of our only option. We’ve got Mugen, but they’re very similar.
Nappy: Up until recently you didn’t have an online client.
Leedin: A viable online client. Mugen has something…
Jay: But we’d have similar problems with that too. You can get in and tinker, but that’s the only difference.
Nappy: One of the main things when we started was we wanted anyone to play each other, no matter where they are. Without online, there wouldn’t be any motivation.
That was a big problem for Ponykart, people were worried about the online for that. They worked something out, so it’s good that you guys considered that from the beginning.
Jay: Multiplayer experience is 99% of a fighting game.
Nappy: It’s always best to go to your local scene and build up there, but some people don’t have that opportunity. It costs money, you need a ride, et cetera.
Jay: Online just removes all those problems.
Because of the limitations of Fighter Maker, some mechanics have changed. The magic system was born probably because I heard you guys couldn’t do react attacks.
Nappy: The engine is extremely inconsistent with keyboards in terms of hitting two buttons at the same time.
Jay: In Street Fighter, you have a fireball or something, quarter-circle forward with one button.
Nappy: If you use two buttons, you can do an EX.
Jay: That’s right, you power it up. Then I think we realized we made a throw, which is a two button throw instead of forward punch. And I couldn’t do them. I’m not a dumb guy, I’m not rolling the keys or anything. I changed the sensitivity and my keyboard just could not do two buttons, just in Fighter Maker. Other programs, same two buttons would work fine. Some weird compatibility issue—it’s an old program—with certain USB keyboards and Fighter Maker. All the PS2 keyboards work fine, it’s the same computer. We figured if it’s one person on our team that couldn’t do it, that might represent.
That saves you a thousand angry emails.
Jay: Yes! That’s ten percent of people that can’t do a throw in our game, that’s horrible! Or they can’t do an EX move, that’s horrible. The difference is that we could have had both in, like quarter circle both buttons, or quarter circle magic button, and someone might have a slight advantage where it’s easier to press two buttons.
Nappy: Fighting games, the inputs themselves, are part of the startup. They’re set that way because of the way the move works, etc. You kind of roll into the fireball, it’s an offensive move. because you’re doing a forward motion, you’re not blocking. Stuff like that is very important. If you just have the strongest throw attack in the game be just one button, you do a Zangief spin. They actually did that before in CvS2, with the C-stick… you can see examples of why moves aren’t just one button. They have these motions for very good reasons, and we designed around that.
Jay: Within the limits of the engine.
Leedin: You have more depth to the skill.
Jay: Because of that, we were just going to have Twilight have a magic spark, and then a super magic spark. Done, easy. Then we couldn’t do that. We thought, “Well, what are we going to do then? A whole other button? Okay, why not? How does that work?” It gives them another resource, and that’s how the magic meter came out. It gave us more customization for each character. We thought, “OK, now they have their supers and their normals, they also have magic.” So we can design complete differences, it’s not just regular moves. Sometimes it’s a whole new thing.
Nappy: Sometimes it’s half of your move set.
Jay: And of course, we get to control how magic refills. It’s not like Super Meter, where your opponent can get hurt. We can do magic however we want. So, you know, Pinkie has a certain number of ammo per round. Done.
Leedin: Which gives even more variety between characters.
Jay: So she’s not using a super meter for it, so you can use it straight away if you want. Or some people will fill up slowly during the match, or you have to do other moves to fill it up. We’ve got control over that too. It makes it more complicated, but it’s given us more options as well to make moves.
Nappy: It’s the extra layer for the more advanced players.
Jay: It was a mistake, a limitation that turned into something we really like. It makes the game unique.
There’s some things that probably aren’t set in stone. You just now added tech rolling to the game. You have certain maxims that may or may not stay. Certain decays you have, like gravity or others that you probably have to work on. can you clarify some things that are still in progress or open to change?
Nappy: The maxims have changed a lot over time. As you play you get a feel of how ridiculous the combos are getting.
Leedin: We want to keep them fun and compact. They can’t be too long or boring for the player who’s getting hit by them.
Nappy: It’s a two player game. You don’t want a player to just hit once and then you watch a movie for three minutes. He accidentally drops it, but you don’t notice because you’re not paying attention, and then he continues with another combo.
Jay: And of course you can’t make the matches last too long, because they’re boring. But you can’t let them be too quick either.
Nappy: I’ve seen this movie before… Combo.
Jay: It’s really hard. That’s when Nappy takes the general feedback from the testers, but of course everyone who plays the game is a tester.
There’s always balancing changes going on for characters.
Leedin: We’re trying to make sure that every character has a viable option to fight every other character, at least in the Mane Six pool at first. So we can start with a strong base. When it comes to balance, it all comes down to options.
What’s your guys’ favorite fighting games to play?
Nappy: I play a little of everything. I have a soft spot for Melty Blood, Skullgirls, Smash Bros. Melee…
Jay: The Skullgirls project has been a huge inspiration. Just because it feels like we know what they’re going through.
Nappy: I respect the developers of that game so much. I love hearing them talk about game design because I feel we have some similar ideas.
They’re really knowledgable on some of the status effects and know really where to hit right, especially in their infinite protection system.
Nappy: They know what they’re doing, but things are holding them back outside of their control, and you can feel their frustration, and it’s really unfortunate.
Jay: we’re kind of lucky because we don’t have that, because we have no financial. There’s no money. We put a lot of time into it, so we’re a bit luckier in that respect. It’s been a huge inspiration. As far as fighting games I like, I like Marvel vs. Capcom 3. It sounds kind of modern and not very cool to say.
Skullgirls is very modern.
Nappy: I thought I would love MvC3, but I don’t have a system.
Jay: I’m not good at fighting games, really, I just enjoy them. And I really like MvC3 just for the excitingness, and how fun it is.
Leedin: I’m more of an RTS or dungeon crawler kind of guy, but the fighting games I really enjoy are the Persona series. Persona is awesome. Recently, Street Fighter Arcade edition, and how balanced it is. I really appreciate good balance.
Nappy: The finals at Evo, all different characters except two Ryus. That is just awesome.
Jay: The top sixteen characters, or something ridiculous. So these people get to play what they want.
There was some trouble at first with Street Fighter 4.
Leedin: Yeah, but they smoothed it out. I also have been playing some Melty Blood recently, so I really like that as well. I like anime fighters, actually.
Jay: There’s huge influence from all of them. Not just in how the moves work, but things like “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a top eight, and at least one of the Mane Six in it, wouldn’t that be great?” We’re in charge of that, really. We have to try to figure that out. Why does that work? Can you pick the person that you like, and not the one that will win? That’d be awesome if people could make that choice and go “I love Rarity, I’m gonna play her,” rather than “I love Rarity, but she sucks.” No one here is saying that [Rarity sucks], so we’re trying.
Just one last question. I know a lot of fan projects that look up to you guys. I know a lot of people say you’re going slow, or taking your time. But you guys have actually done a lot more progress than other fan projects i know. But they all look up to you, cause you guys are so big. I’m curious, do you follow any other fan games or projects that you’d like to give shout outs to?
Leedin: We are going pretty darn slow.
Jay: But that’s okay!
Leedin: Shoutouts to Ponykart, My Little Investigations, Legends of Equestria…All those awesome games, keep doing what they’re doing. Cause it actually brings our motivation levels up too.
Nappy: To see other projects surviving. It’s always sad to see one go, and it happens all the time.
Jay: You have late night talks with your friends, like “Wouldn’t it be cool if we made a game with blah blah blah,” and that’s it. [Laughter] But now it’s getting to the stage where it’s something about the show. We don’t know what it is about My Little Pony that really inspired people to create. I really don’t know what it is, but it’s done it. So many people are doing it so there must be something there.
Jay: It is magic!
Leedin: Oh, oh, it’s magic…
Jay: I’m probably looking forward to Ponykart most.
Nappy: Ponykart, yeah.
Jay: I love the genre, so i can’t wait to see what they’ve done.