Them’s Fightin’ Herds Interview Part 2 – Upcoming DLC Plans, PS4/Switch Releases Considered
Them’s Fightin’ Herds is launching outside of Early Access on April 30th, so we wanted to find out more about this adorable four-legged fighting game. We go into further details about how a fighting game is developed from an indie team and how Lauren Faust, the creator of the hit show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic got involved with the project! You can check out some story details with Part 1 of our interview!
Chris: Why did you decide to go with an Early Access release and what have been the positives of it?
Aaron: Well, in ways that it’s been a positive, Early Access is really great for getting feedback and iteration on things. Fighting games are incredibly complex systems. And it takes a lot of just play to figure out where the fun is, and where all the bugs are. The first version of Them’s Fightin’ Herds that came out— and you know, early access — it was not as good of a game as it is now, because we’ve had that time to iterate, to figure out what people want and where the balance is. And you can really only get that if you have an Early Access period to have lots of changes happen and people be okay with them. But now, things have gotten pretty stable, and that’s why we feel like we’re ready for the 1.0 release. Everybody’s in a very good place to be, and the balance of the game is very solid right now. Our community Discord server has been invaluable at getting real-time feedback from our players about how they’re playing, what’s good, what’s bad, what we should change, and without that data, the game would not be in the place it is right now.
Chris: What are the negatives?
Aaron: The only thing that we really have is that there’s a stigma for Early Access. There’s a lot of people who won’t play a game at all until it’s no longer in Early Access because they want the freshest experience possible. And that’s perfectly okay. We totally understand that people want to wait until things are done before they experience it for the first time. So you know, that’s perfectly okay. And you know, people get on your case about being in Early Access for too long, but honestly, it’s very common for games to spend two, three years in Early Access before they feel like they’re ready to release. Just to make sure they get everything before they say the game is done.
You only get a couple of chances to really impress people and Early Access is a good way to get early adopters, who are very passionate about the game interested early. And then the, you know, so-called mass market can come in during the second wave when you go into 1.0 and give their thoughts and then, you know, maybe you can do like a Definitive Edition when you’re totally done with things and have that be the final game.
Chris: Has the Coronavirus pandemic affected your timeline at all?
Aaron: It hasn’t affected us because we don’t work in an office. We all work from home. So nothing has changed about the way we’re doing things. The only thing that is really impacted is that we had planned to go to some events later in the year. Combo Breaker was one of them.
(Since the interview was conducted, the fighting game tournament Combo Breaker has been canceled. Aaron and the team at Mane6 are considering ideas, but they won’t have a big tournament before 1.0 ships, due to a lack of bandwidth for the team)
Chris: What is it like to be a Production Director? There must be a lot of juggling involved!
Aaron: It is very complex. Being a production director is a lot like, I mean, it’s herding cats. Everybody’s trying to go off and do their own thing and you just got to make sure everybody’s talking to each other and everybody has what they need. It can be a very complex thing. But you really do need somebody who’s maintaining a bird’s eye view of everything, so that they can anticipate problems before they even occur. And if somebody is blocked by something, you can get them unblocked without them having to worry about anything. So it’s complicated, but it has kind of a nice rhythm and a flow to it because you just sort of, you’re kind of like on-call on response, in case fires erupt. But also you’re making plans and laying tracks so that people have an easier time doing their jobs.
Chris: You’ve gotta stick to that SCRUM, right!?
Aaron: Oh, yeah, we use Favro for project management tracking. And you know, we have dev cycles in which we triage all the tasks we want to work on, we pull them out of the backlog and then we get to work on them. With story mode, we’ve been using a waterfall approach because we have so little time left that it becomes necessary to put the cap on things at some point. This is true for any game project at some point you’ve got to say that-
Chris: Scope, right?
Aaron: Yeah, keep the scope in check. We got to move on because there’s always you know, one more little thing you could put in but you know, there isn’t time for everything.
Chris: What does the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic show creator Lauren Faust add to the Them’s Fightin’ Herds project?
Aaron: So after the team received a cease and desist from Hasbro for Fighting is Magic (a fanmade fighting game based on the My Little Pony series), Lauren Faust had already left the TV show by that point, and she heard what happened. She was following our project from you know, even back before because she pays attention to all that stuff that’s happening in the fandom. And she was always especially impressed with what the devs were doing then; this is before I joined the team, but she liked how in character they were, and how they thought using things from the show.
I mean, anybody can like, you know, give Pinkie Pie a machine gun and make a fighting game out of that. But the fact that we, you know, used parts of their personality and things that they did in the show in their fighting was what stood out to her. And after the cease and desist happened, you know, her heart went out to the team and she wanted to join up and basically save the project. She wanted us to keep working on it because she saw that they had a lot of talent. And she wanted to see that to go places. So since then, Lauren still works with us and she is our Character and Narrative Design Director. She’s responsible for the way the characters look and the way the story works. And that is a very top-level position. She’s a director in pretty much every sense of the word. She doesn’t do as much of the actual boots on the groundwork these days. But when our other artists and writers produce content, we show everything to her. And she has sort of the final say.
Chris: So how did you get the hand-drawn animation to work with the mechanics of a fighting game?
Aaron: Well, a lot of that tech was already built into the Skull Girls Engine that we received from Lab Zero, right. So yeah, that whole story when Lab Zero did their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for Skullgirls Second Encore, one of their stretch goals was to give us the engine for free.
Chris: That’s amazing!
Aaron: Yeah, and they challenged the Brony community to come forward and put the money up to make this happen. And they did. And we got the engine. So, the engine contains all the necessary tech to manage frames and pictures and all that. And the pictures themselves are Raster images that are exported from Flash. So we do all the animation in Flash that we export the frames and then the frames are called from script. That’s getting a little technical, but it’s a lot of images to process, but we’ve got a very good pipeline for it. So it’s actually not as difficult as you might think.
Chris: So how much work goes into creating one character for Them’s Fightin’ Herds?
Aaron: Oh my goodness. A lot! So, you know, first, you need to design the character. What do they look like? How do they play, then you got to code their moves. So you got to make their hitboxes you got to assign the damage values, you’ve got to create the frame data. And then you also have to balance them against every single other character in the game. And when you expand the roster, it gets that much more difficult because now you have one more character that you have to determine the matchup with. And then, after all of that’s done, you need sound effects and you need voice acting and you need special effects. It’s quite an endeavor.
Chris: How expansive do you think the character roster will be over the next few years for Them’s Fightin’ Herds?
Aaron: Well, we just want to keep making the game for as long as we can. And that depends entirely on how much support we get from our publishing partners and from players. So you know, if we can continue to keep the game funded, we can continue making content for it. And that includes not only new characters but all the additional chapters in story mode we want to do, new pixel lobbies (and new content for them). Just anything you can think of, we’ve thought about it already, and we want to add it. As far as the roster itself goes, I think a really good comfortable number for us would be 10. But of course, that all depends on how much support we get. We don’t really have any type of official roadmap for characters past the seventh one. It all depends on how much support we get.
Chris: Will Them’s Fightin’ Herds have microtransactions in the game?
Aaron: Well, first let’s define microtransactions: we’re not planning on doing any type of loot box or gacha system. But there will be DLC, paid DLC. We are very aware of how controversial DLC is in the fighting game and just the gaming community, in general. It’s a careful balance to strike because we want people to get good value for the money that they’re paying. But, we also do need to keep our studio funded. So there has to be a balance thereof, we need to provide products that people will want to buy, that players will feel like they’re getting something good out of that feel special, and we also want to provide ways to unlock certain pieces of content without paying to provide that option.
So for example, we have our shadow palettes DLC pack that we released about a month ago, I think. And that has both a paid DLC and an in-game unlock condition simultaneously. So, if you want to purchase them for the convenience you can, if you want to unlock them the traditional way through completing an in-game challenge, you have that option as well. I can’t promise that all future DLC will work like that. But we will be doing you know, we’d like to do stage packs, other pallet packs, perhaps even lobby cosmetics, but they will remain their own special thing. And we are going to be very careful to make sure that it’s presented. in a way that is conscious of what players want, and isn’t just a cash grab.
Chris: So what platforms are you currently targeting? Is it PC and then console platforms later on?
Aaron: Yes, currently the game is available on Steam for PC (Windows). We are working on a Linux and Mac dedicated build for Steam shortly after 1.0 and then we’re going to start working on consoles; we’d like to be on as many as we can.
Chris: Is there a specific console you’d like to target first for Them’s Fightin’ Herds?
Aaron: Well, we get a lot of demand for the Switch and the PlayStation, so those two are our highest priority. We also want to do Xbox but if we had to pick one, it would probably be PlayStation, but the Switch is definitely very, very close to the PlayStation.
Chris: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Aaron: Uh, well, I do want to let people know that, we know that this game is kind of weird. You know, it’s, it’s got that aesthetic that makes people think of My Little Pony, but we’re definitely doing our own thing. We just want people to try the game, you might not be a fan of the aesthetic. You might not want to continue playing the game past trying it, but we just want people to just give it a try because almost every person who approaches and says, “Oh, what’s this weird animal game?”, when they sit down they go, this is….this is actually like really good. Some people stay with it for a long time. For some people, this is their first fighting game. And they’re some of our top players now. You know, the response is very, like, you know, it’s not for everybody, but we just want people to try it. Because we want you to see that, you know, we’re serious, and we’re trying to be in this fighting game space, and we’re trying to add to the FGC. So just knowing about us and just having tried our game once is enough for us, and we’re going to see how far we can take this
Chris: Thank you for your time!
Aaron: Thank you very much, Chris
Them’s Fightin’ Herds officially releases and gets out of Early Access on April 30th for Windows users on Steam. Mac and Linux will follow, with PS4, Switch, and Xbox releases being considered. Are you going to check out the game? Let us know in the comments below!
Ever since playing Sonic the Hedgehog on the SEGA Mega Drive (that’s right, Americans!), Chris has had a love of the gaming medium. He may write too much about Kingdom Hearts, but he also likes to play first person shooters, platformers, Japanese RPGs, walking experiences, and more! You can check him out on the Active Quest podcast every week with Joseph Yaden and Josh Nichols.