The fans who became developers share the surprising story of Fighting Is Magic, a My Little Pony-inspired fighting game.
This game should not exist. The concept is just too absurd: ponies, in a fighting game? And not just any ponies, but cartoon ponies whose sole purpose is looking cute and teaching viewers about cooperation and friendship? Making them fight is a blatant contradiction that completely undermines the spirit of the show. It must be the work of an overactive fan base with too much free time.
Perhaps there is some truth to those sentiments. But the crazy thing is that against all odds, reason, and expectation, the game does exist. Fighting Is Magic, an independently developed fighting game inspired by the cartoon series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, is the real deal, and through the sheer determination of its development team, it is getting better every day.
It is also an easy game to pass up if you, like me, are distracted by the all-pony cast. I remember walking the floor at last year's Evolution Championship Series and spying Fighting Is Magic for the first time. Through my facial expressions alone, you could have charted my reactions all the way from "What!?" to "They can't be serious." But I was wrong. MANE6, the team behind Fighting Is Magic, was very serious: about ponies, and about building a quality game.
Pinkie Pie (left) readies her party cannon to counter Rainbow Dash's (right) hoof dive.
A few months later, after a second (and more open-minded) viewing, it all clicked. Each fighter had her own distinct fighting style. The animations were smooth and full of personality. And…did that pony just bust out an off-the-ground combo? In one and a half years, MANE6 has managed to execute a level of quality far exceeding any reasonable expectations.
Of course, reaching that level has not been easy. This was a group of fans first, and creators second. Between them they had precious little experience developing a game of any sort. Add in the fact that some of them were balancing full-time jobs, and all of them were paying for this out of pocket, and it becomes a wonder this game made it past a week. How did they do it, and what can this most unlikely of fighting games tell us about the genre? That story begins with a few silly pictures.
Well, technically, it begins with the cartoon. In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic series, six talking ponies work together to discover the true meaning of friendship. They sing, throw parties, and explore the peaceful, pony-filled countryside of Ponyville. With their bright smiles, and brighter attitudes, the last thing you would expect is for these ponies to start throwing punches. However, it seems that fighting, much like friendship, holds a little magic of its own.
That magic manifested as some mock screens, shown above, for Marevel vs. Clopcom (get it?), the forerunner to Fighting Is Magic. According to their creator and future MANE6 team member, Anukan, "I never intended those screenshots to be taken seriously. I invested a total of 15 minutes and 16 seconds between getting the idea of making them from a comment on Ponibooru to the actual first execution. I look back at the horrible, tutti-frutti combo of a GUI I made for that and wonder who spiked my punch."
"When we started messing with physics and making things bounce off walls," recalled Nappy, "that's when my face exploded." If MANE6 could manipulate the engine to bounce a pony off a wall, they could take on the world.These images, along with several others, were posted to the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic image board, Ponychan, in a thread discussing the finer points of fighting ponies. For a select few, the idea became more than just a passing joke. One user in particular--Nappy--recognized the potential in this idea and in the creativity of the pony community. His determination to see Fighting Is Magic realized would be instrumental in the formation of MANE6.
During the summer of 2011, the group's six founding members met for the first time on Skype to discuss how two cartoon ponies would beat each other up. Alongside Nappy were Jay Wright, Lucas Ellinghaus, Anukan, James Workman, and Prominence. Together, they had lots of enthusiasm and big ideas, but only an amateur knowledge of game development and the fighting genre. Some had a few game mods and high school projects under their belt, but nothing on the scale of Fighting Is Magic.
They also had zero knowledge of their chosen game engine: 2D Fighter Maker 2002. Therefore, the first two weeks of development were spent reading tutorials (which were scarce) and experimenting. It was slow, methodical work, but gradually the pieces began to fall into place. One pony could slap another, and some health would go away. This was a good start, and it demonstrated that MANE6 could--at the very least--make a really boring fighting game. The challenge then became making it a good game, and that began with wall bounces.
"When we started messing with physics and making things bounce off of walls," recalled Nappy, "that's when my face exploded." If MANE6 could manipulate the engine to bounce a pony off a wall, they could take on the world. Fighting Is Magic could become more than just an imitation fighting game; it could actually be fun. "Having wall bounces really showed us the potential for both the game and the team," Ellinghaus said. "It was a very exciting time."
In the whirlwind weeks between the start of development and the release of the first trailer, Fighting Is Magic went through dozens of changes, revisions, and overhauls. The rigid limitations of the 2D Fighter Maker 2002 engine gave the young team plenty of headaches, but ultimately those restrictions--and their solutions--shaped the game into the smooth 2D fighter it is today.