Them's Fightin' Herds
|Them's Fightin' Herds|
Them's Fightin' Herds is an upcoming indie fighting game developed by Mane6 and published by Humble Bundle, featuring all-female cartoon ungulates fighting each other to find a champion worthy of gaining a magical key that will protect their world from predators. An early access version was released on February 22, 2018 for Microsoft Windows, with both the full version and macOS and Linux versions planned for 2018.
The title is the spiritual successor to a game initially developed under the title of Fighting Is Magic, as an unofficial fan project starring the main pony characters of the television series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. After receiving a cease and desist letter from Hasbro for infringing their intellectual property rights, the development team discarded the original premise, game engine, and art assets, and began development on Them's Fightin' Herds as an original work with new characters. Lauren Faust, who had developed the characters for Friendship Is Magic, stepped in to create new characters for the game. The development team, Mane6, consisted of nine volunteers who were fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
The game attracted the attention of the Evolution Championship Series due to its atypical gameplay for the fighting genre, which features playable four-legged non-humanoid characters. The game successfully completed obtaining funding through Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign.
A separate effort created by fans not associated with the Mane6 team released their Fighting Is Magic: Tribute Edition of the original Mane6 My Little Pony-inspired game in early 2014. These games were made from various beta assets of the original which Mane6 developed in the first two years, and were later leaked by other parties.
Gameplay and plot
Them's Fightin' Herds is a fighting game based on sapient four-legged hoofed creatures from the world of Fœnum, which is being threatened by the return of carnivorous beasts known as the Predators. The Predators were locked away in a separate realm, but they have found a way to escape it. To put an end to the threat, selected champions of the various Fœnum races are chosen as "Key Seekers" by their tribes to find the key that will lock the Predators away again. The Key Seekers must face each other in friendly competition to determine which one will be the Key Keeper who will face the champion of the Predators.
The game uses a four-button fighting system: a button each for light, medium, heavy, and magic attacks, and includes staple fighting game maneuvers such as launchers, pushblocks, and cross-ups. There are six playable characters—Arizona the cow (voiced by Tara Strong), Velvet the reindeer (Tia Ballard), Paprika the alpaca (Marieve Herington), Oleander the unicorn (Alexa Kahn) who can summon a demonic being known as "Fred" (Keith Ferguson), Pom the sheep (Allie Moreno) and Tianhuo the longma (Kay Bess)—each with different fighting move sets and unique movement options such as flight, short hops, double jumps, or air dashes, and a seventh boss character. Jessica Gee voices the game's announcer. A seventh playable character, a yet-to-be-named goat, will also be available following the game's launch, due to the crowd funding campaign reaching its stretch goals. The game supports both local and online multiplayer via a near-isometric pixel art lobby system. Players who also own BlazBlue: Central Fiction, Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 or Skullgirls on Steam will unlock special lobby avatars inspired by characters from those games.
My Little Pony: Fighting Is Magic
Development and gameplay
The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic series, while aimed at young girls and their parents, has drawn a large number of adult fans from 15-35, typically male, who are often referred to as "bronies". These fans were drawn in by the creativity of Lauren Faust and her team, who wrote the show to appeal across generations. The show's characters, Flash animations, adventure-themed stories, and occasional pop cultural references are considered other draws for the older audience.
Many members of the brony fandom are technology-savvy, a common activity in the fandom being the creation of images of the show's ponies, parodying other commercial works including video games. Fighting Is Magic grew out of a set of images for a hypothetical "Marevel vs. Clopcom" game, parodying the Marvel vs. Capcom fighting game series, created by Anukan, who would later become one of the Mane6 developers. Anukan didn't expect anything to come from these images, but found that at discussion boards, fans were postulating how the various pony characters would translate into fighting games; such as what sorts of moves that they would use. One of these users, Nappy, recognized the potential in realizing a complete game, and began the formation of Mane6, including Anukan, Jay Wright, Lucas Ellinghaus, James Workman, and Prominence.
The team decided on using the Fighter Maker 2D game engine, despite having no prior experience with the software. After getting in the basics of having characters hit one another, they discovered that they could get the engine to include wall bounces - the rebounding of a character from walls at the edges of the screen - which according to Ellinghaus, show "the potential for both the game and the team." Much of the development work was spent in trying to achieve certain effects within the Fighter Maker engine, referred to by the team as "taming" the engine.
The game was initially developed as a three button-based fighter, allowing to remain simple to be picked up by players but still offering a variety of combinations of moves, while limiting the amount of animations for the various moves for all characters. The three buttons were designed to mimic the light, medium, and heavy attacks of the Marvel vs. Capcom series. However, the development team also wanted to include an EX system like the one in Street Fighter IV where pressing two attack buttons at the same time executes a special move. Within the initial game engine, Fighter Maker, the game would only register two simultaneous button presses if they were within the same processing time frame, which would hinder gameplay. To work around this, the team designed a fourth button, (a "magic" button as described by Mane6), used to have the character remain still while doing a specific activity that would build up an EX meter, such as Twilight Sparkle reading a book. With a full EX meter, the player would then be able to execute special moves with any of the other three buttons.
Mane6 focused initial efforts to build up the six main characters from the show as the initial fighters, but have stated that an expanded roster of up to seventeen characters will be in their planned final version. The game was to be downloadable and free to play, with local and online multiplayer modes as well as a story mode. Character-specific moves were to be present in-game. The individual move sets for each character are based not only on how they are represented in the show, but also considering other characters in fighting games to fill out their fighting style. Twilight Sparkle, in the show, is a unicorn with powerful magic abilities, which the Mane6 matched with Akuma from the Street Fighter series, while Rainbow Dash, an aggressive pegasus, was compared with Magneto's playstay in the Marvel vs. Capcom series. Fluttershy, a timid character within the show, does not fight directly, but instead her animal companions fight for her, creating a playstyle similar to Eddie from Guilty Gear XX or Phoenix Wright in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. In another case, Pinkie Pie, a hyperactive pony who is shown to have some fourth wall reality-warping powers in the show, allowed the team to experiment with a wide range of haphazard moves. They had designed one move where Pinkie would use her "party cannon" to launch a present at the opponent, and then she would then pop out of the present at close range. As they were developing the game, Persona 4 Arena was released, in which the character of Kuma/Teddie had a similar move. They realized they were thinking along the same lines as the professional developers and continues to work more of Pinkie's moves based on Teddie's moveset. While these other characters helped to inspire additional moves, the Mane6 team made sure to stay true to the characterization on the show and not introduce moves that would be outside of this, such as Fluttershy herself making an aggressive attack.
After each character's move set was tested and refined based on testing feedback, the team then began to animate each character, first by creating Flash-based animations and then transforming this to sprites needed for Fighter Maker. The team noted that the pony shape of the characters proved an additional challenge both visually and for the engine. With most fighting games, players can easily identify heads, arms, and legs, and know where to watch for attacks, but the same was not true for the ponies. They proceeded to add effects like sparks on the attacking character and opponent responses to help players to recognize attacks. In terms of the engine, the hitboxes for the ponies were more horizontal than vertical as would be the case with humanoid fighter characters, and they had to work around this in the engine to accurately model attacks. Additionally the more horizontal shapes of the characters limited how of the fighting stage space they could use; they overcame this within the game by using a 3/4ths view of the characters that shortened their on-screen lengths giving them more space to work with.
The team had released early pre-alpha gameplay footage as they added the main six characters to the game. Though the team had expected the game to be popular within the brony community, the game has been noticed by other fighting game players through these videos. The team was invited to demonstrate their game at the July 2012 Evolution Championship Series by one of its founders, Joey "MrWizard" Cuellar, as part of other indie fighting games. For the 2013 Evolution series, the game was one of seventeen nominees for the "Player's Choice" slot in the main competition.
Though the game is an unlicensed work of Hasbro's My Little Pony franchise, the Mane6 team did not receive any cease and desist notices from the company until February 8, 2013. Like much of the rest of the Internet phenomenon surrounding Friendship is Magic, Hasbro had been mostly tolerant; allowing episodes of the show along with parodies and mashups of the works to be redistributed freely across the Internet. This helped to create a participatory culture that has drawn a broader audience to the show, even going as far as to say they have no intentions of ever filing takedown notices as they see this as "Free Advertising and spreading". The Mane6 had taken no monetary donations for their work and planned to keep the game as a free release. Further, while a fighting game, they did not show any characters getting wounded, or show any signs of blood, as to keep with the generally nonviolent theme of the show. The Mane6 have stated that even if the project is shut down, they have learned much from the effort to apply towards their next project with original characters, which they are already planning.
Cease and desist from Hasbro
An unfinished version of the game was leaked to 4chan's /mlp/ board on August 2, 2012. Mane6 responded by terminating their QA program and pushing the project into a closed development cycle. In February 2013, shortly after the 2013 EVO voting selection, Hasbro's lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to the Mane6 team; This was only a few weeks before they had expected to be completed with the initial version of their game. They obeyed the cease and desist letter, halting all production and removing all assets from their website, while Mane6 attempted to enter legal negotiations with Hasbro. Artist Elosande resigned from the team. The team also sought legal advice to fight the cease and desist but were told it would be an expensive battle. Mane6 were unable to come to agreements with Hasbro and have since started to redo the game using new artwork assets. They have subsequently named the new game to simply Fighting Is Magic. On February 28, 2014, a post on the fandom news site, Equestria Daily, announced the release of a "finished" version of the game. Using a combination of the Mane6 team's unfinished build and fan-made contributions, this version features all main six characters of the television show as playable, as well as new stages and multiplayer capability. Now known as "Fighting is Magic: Tribute Edition", the game is now openly available for download and play.
Them's Fightin' Herds
With no legal option to continue to use the My Little Pony characters, the Mane6 team opted to keep most of their work to date and reworked the game with new art assets, retaining the theme of four-legged creatures. Faust herself supported the fan effort, understanding the "irony" of a fighting game based on a show about friendship, but appreciated that "the original version of the game was that they made the Ponies fight in character" without resorting to typical fighter elements like weapons, and praising the animations that the team has already built. On hearing of the cease and desist, Faust contacted the team, offering to provide some of her time to create new characters for their game, and her official involvement with the project was announced at the end of February. The team accepted her offer; developer Jay Wright noted that "you can't copyright Lauren's distinctive style", and that while the game will still be unique, it will likely still carry the spirit of My Little Pony. According to Faust, she was happy to provide "my little part to help Mane6 finish up this game in a way that stays true to the spirit of the original - but in a way that can freely be shared". Faust also helped to develop the story and setting for the game. She noted that the common story concept for fighting games, where the characters would be fighting to be the champions of a tourney, was overused, and instead designed one around where the individual characters have already been determined to be champions from their individual tribes, and now are fighting each other for the key, each believing it is their destiny to obtain and use the key against the Predators.
The characters in the game will remain four-legged as with the My Little Pony version, which Mane6 developer Francisco Copado believes is a first for a fighting game. Silhouette teaser images released by the Mane6 team showed a trio of four-legged non-pony characters as preliminary designs for the new game, while as of April 2013, three additional characters are still in development.
The Mane6 also gained contributions from Lab Zero Games, developers of Skullgirls. Lab Zero had developed a fighting game engine, named Z-Engine, from scratch for their own title. Lab Zero used an Indiegogo crowd-sourcing effort to gain development funds, and having readily cleared their initial target of $150,000 and with additional stretch goals of new characters and content for their game, included a $725,000 target that would allow Mane6 to use and distribute the Z-Engine for free as part of their new game, and challenged the brony community to help towards that via online donation. The goal was met on the final day of the funding campaign, which was on March 27, 2013. The Z-engine allowed the Mane 6 team to expand beyond the limitations of Fighter Maker, thought they kept some of the conventions learned from working with Fighter Maker, such as the use of 3/4rd views to reduce the horizontal lengths of the four-legged characters.
In August 2015, the Mane6 revealed the revamped title, Them's Fightin' Herds, and announced that they would be starting an Indiegogo campaign starting on September 21, 2015, seeking to raise US$436,000 to complete the game. The funding was successful with a final funding amount of US$586,346, meeting the stretch goals to offer the game on OS X and Linux computers alongside Microsoft Windows, and the introduction of a seventh playable character, a goat, and stages and stories based on that character. The developers have stated that they would like to eventually bring the game to home consoles as well.
By early February 2018, the Mane6 affirmed the game's release on February 22, 2018. They had gained support from Humble Bundle for publishing; in turn, Humble Bundle had reached out to publishers of other fighting game developers to bring themed assets into Them's Fightin' Herds, including Guilty Gear Xrd, BlazBlue: Central Fiction, and Skullgirls.
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