The fans who became developers share the surprising story of Fighting Is Magic, a My Little Pony-inspired fighting game.
First, there was the matter of buttons. A two-button layout, a la Nintendo's Super Smash Bros., would be easy for people to grasp, but it didn't offer enough variation for the characters. A six-button configuration would have plenty of variation, but it could be too intimidating for non-fighting fans. Plus, the additional moves that would need to be designed and animated would create a mountain of extra work. This was, after all, a game MANE6 wanted to finish.
"We are catering to the fighting game community and the pony community at the same time," noted Ellinghaus. "These are traditionally two very separate communities, so we needed to find a balance that helps ease in new players while still having depth."
To that end, the team decided on a three-button system. Taking inspiration from Capcom's Vs. series, they knew they wanted chain-style combos in the game, so using a light, medium, and heavy attack layout was an easy conclusion. However, this layout revealed a serious problem.
"We also wanted a standard EX system," explained Nappy, referring to the mechanic seen in such games as Street Fighter IV where a character can execute an enhanced special move by inputting the command with two attack buttons instead of one. "But the engine had issues with certain input hardware configurations and would not detect simultaneous inputs unless they happened on the exact same frame." This made EX attacks extremely difficult to perform, so the team needed to find a work-around.
That search resulted in a fourth button: the magic button. And no, the magic button does not pull a rabbit out of a hat or do any nonsense using scarves. It simply condenses two button presses into a single input. At least, that's how it started, before it grew from a mere fix for hardware limitations into a tool for expanding the roster's fighting style.
"[The magic button] let us focus on what makes a character special," Nappy explained. "For instance, Twilight Sparkle likes to read; it's what she's known for. So pressing the magic button makes her read a book, which then refills her special meter because she is learning spells. She can then use that knowledge to unleash more-powerful attacks."
By the team's own admission, they are not "programming" the 2D Fighter Maker 2002 engine so much as "taming" it. There are rules that simply cannot be broken, but they sure can get bent and twisted in some interesting ways. However, even with the engine's limitations, MANE6 is grateful for the tools they have. "If we had started from scratch with our own engine, we would not nearly have the product we have now," admitted Wright. "We would be paralyzed by choice. Working in this engine has been a terrific problem-solving exercise for the team."
"It forces us to think laterally in that we have to create solutions that are not straightforward," said Anukan. For instance, the team wanted to make stages larger to discourage corner-carry combos, but the engine wouldn't allow it. So, instead, they gave characters the ability to roll after getting knocked down to help them escape the corner. "Sometimes we tame the engine, and sometimes it tames us."
MANE6's endless problem solving finally paid off with the release of the first Fighting Is Magic trailer. Uploaded to YouTube on June 19, 2011, the video was met with an overwhelmingly positive reaction, as described by its creators. It has since earned more than 900,000 views, and while some viewers simply "don't get it" or think the team is wasting its talents (a notably backhanded compliment), the trailer is considered MANE6's first major "hype milestone."
"The pony aspect has been overtaken by the drive to make this a good fighting game. We have been overwhelmed by the validation from different areas of the fighting community."The fan response far outstripped the team's more conservative predictions. At best, they thought a small trickle of fans from within the pony community would take notice. What they got was a tidal wave--and not just from within the fandom. "We realized what we had in our hands and thought, 'Uh-oh, we really need to do this well,'" said Anukan. "[Fighting Is Magic] needed to be more than just fighting with ponies; it needed to be a competent fighting game that just happens to have ponies."
"To be honest, the pony aspect has been overtaken by the drive to make this a good fighting game," Wright said. "We have been overwhelmed by the validation from different areas of the fighting game community. It has been pretty amazing."
Part of that validation came from an unlikely benefactor who helped thrust Fighting Is Magic into the cold, calculating eyes of the fighting game community at the Evolution Championship Series, the world's premier fighting game tournament.