Mighty Fight Federation is an upcoming arena fighter inspired by both other arena fighters and one-on-one fighting games alike. Its combat system is intended to be accessible, as well as scale up to competitive play. Playable characters include a set of insane original characters, alongside familiar characters from other games, like ToeJam and Earl, and Yooka and Laylee.
I recently had a chance to sit down with the game’s co-creator, Julian Spillane, to discuss its inspirations, some of its defining features, post-launch plans, and more.
Me: What inspired you to create Mighty Fight Federation?
Spillane: It’s kind of a funny story. We’re huge fans of Power Stone and arena fighters, obviously, but the game didn’t really start life as an arena fighter. I was playing around on my Sega Saturn and I was walking down memory lane with this particular Bomberman iteration called Bomberman Fight. It was never in North America, but I was one of those guys who, like, bought import disks.
It was a particularly interesting type of Bomberman because it was really 3D arena-based, but the characters had health bars instead of, you know, just one bomb, you’re out. So I got the inspiration to play around and start making up this prototype about, like, “what if it was an arena combat game where you killed each other with bombs and exploding projectiles?”
So Orie and I—Orie Falconer, who is our designer—we sat down and we started working on this prototype. The more we refined it, the more we realized “well, we’re just making a fighting game, so let’s just go where our roots are and go into where our passions are and kind of look at what was missing from games like Power Stone and Ehrgeiz and those kinds of games, and refine it from there.”
But yeah, it’s funny that it started from a completely different prototype idea, but, the more we just kept coming back to it and refining it, the more we just realized we had to go whole hog and make a fighting game.
Was it an active choice to move away from the projectile format, then?
I would say it became an active choice because, at some point, we had to make the decision, but it started off a lot more subtly than that, I think. We started making revisions to hitboxes. We started realizing “well, what if people had some neutrals, some non-projectile-based attacks or non-bomb based attacks? What about that?” And then, at some point, we were sitting down and we realized “okay, we’re now veering very close into making a fighting game. Do we want to commit to that level of balance and that level of design minutiae that are required for making a viable fighting game?” We realized [that] yeah, that’s what we wanted to do.
So we kind of had to make that conscious decision, but it was a bit of a realization that dawned on us where we were going, direction-wise.
I noticed when I was playing that there are a multitude of ways that you can launch opponents. Was it an active choice to make it so that you have to launch your opponents, chase them down, then launch them again?
Yes, completely. In addition to being big fans of arena fighters, Orie and I are both really big fans of hyper fighters, like Marvel vs. Capcom, the X-Men Vs. series, and the idea of scooping an opponent up and doing aerial combos, wall bounces, ground bounces, that kind of thing, is just a super appealing aspect to the speed and mobility of a hyper fighter. So we really wanted to bring that into the 3D realm and see what we could do to use the full 3D space of the arenas as ways to keep your opponent bouncing and juggling.
Some of that came out of the fun of our prototype, where we had wall bounces in from the very beginning. We didn’t have a lot of, like, scoops or launchers or ground bounces. We really started with that wall bounce mechanic and, seeing how fun it was to launch someone into a wall and then catch them on the way back, we went “okay, let’s really focus on this movement-based juggling system.”
What inspired the character designs and overall aesthetic?
Kind of just all over the place, a little bit. Initially, we didn’t really have a “universe.” We knew that we wanted it to be fairly tongue in cheek and we knew that we wanted to take a play on the whole Marvel Beyonder concept or the, you know, “cosmic entity brings fighters in to fight with each other for his own amusement.” We wanted to take kind of a strange spin on it.
So we came up with this idea of having a hellhound, but I think we were just riffing and we went “wouldn’t it be hilarious if he was a gym bro and if he had the attitude of Hulk Hogan with a bit of Randy Savage thrown in?” We kind of laughed about it and one of our concept artists did an initial pass and we just laughed so hard and thought that would be pretty awesome.
So a lot of our characters kind of emerged organically that way. A lot of them are pastiches, so, like, Billy Strikefist is obviously a pastiche on traditional 16-, 32-bit arcade beat-’em-up characters. Very much a little bit of Mike Haggar with a bit of Final Fight: Streetwise thrown in there. Just kind of poking fun at it, but also, like, lovingly.
In terms of their design, does the influence of other types of beat-’em-ups and fighting games also factor in?
Yeah, actually, quite a bit. So we were trying to find ways [to], like, “how could we create the essence of a side-scrolling beat-’em-up character? How could we take that essence and bring them into a full 3D arena game?”
So, you know, for Strikefist, let’s have him throw crates and throw pickups. Let’s have him really be focused on closing the distance between fighters because we know that beat-’em-up characters work best when they’re right up close and personal.
So let’s give [them] the tools to have combat that throws back to the kind of game that they’re from. Some of our other characters, obviously, just are less directly inspired by other media and, those, we kind of just need to come up with the archetype that we wanted to fill in the gaps.
So, for example, Stingray. We knew we wanted a really trap-based character and somebody who can zone in interesting ways. We knew we kind of wanted someone who laid mines, who could throw projectiles that didn’t move terribly quickly, but were kind of irritating and forcing players to move around them. So we kind of came up with a heavy weapons character around that and, then, we said “well, heavy weapons is kind of boring and done to death, so why don’t we make him a pastiche on a Rob Liefeld Image Comics character from the early ‘90s and make him so grimdark and self-serious, but just ludicrous when you kind of take a step back and look at him?”
We either approached it from a character design and then [filled] in the gaps with moves or we came up with an archetype that we felt the game was missing and we built a character around that. It kind of alternated.
So each of the characters really is built to their own personality, then.
Yes, exactly, and that’s kind of how we approached the entire development of this game. It’s probably the most ad-hoc game I’ve ever worked on, where we built the system and, then, once we had the system, we started filling in the gaps with content and we went “okay, wouldn’t it be cool if?” It was a lot of, like, “let’s throw as many ideas at the wall and, if there’s something we like, let’s run with that.” It wasn’t as rigidly planned as a lot of the other games [that] I’ve worked on in my career, which is kind of nice. We were able to be a lot more flexible and creative with what we were doing.
How did the addition of characters like ToeJam and Earl and Yooka and Laylee come to pass?
Well, we knew that we wanted to bring some guests into the game because it’s a good promotional tool for both parties, but also, we wanted to bring characters into the game that we’re fans of. ToeJam and Earl was an idea we had right around when Back in the Groove was announced or was at least being talked about a lot in its development. We thought “wouldn’t it be great that the ToeJam and Earl characters really haven’t existed in 3D since ToeJam and Earl 3 for the original Xbox?”
So I just reached out to Greg Johnson over at Humanature. We met a couple of times at the Game Developers Conference in previous years. He got back to me and was really enthusiastic about the idea. We pitched the concept of them playing as kind of a tag in-based character that we ended up implementing in the game. Him and his team there were all for it and we just kind of ran with it.
Similarly, with Yooka and Laylee, I happened to know their narrative designer at the time, who’s now a full game designer, Daley Johnson. I’d known her through just various industry things. I just reached out to her and said, like, “hey Daley. I know this is kind of out there, but would you be interested in us putting Yooka and Laylee in Mighty Fight?” We started riffing on concepts and ideas with them and everyone was really excited, so we ran with it from there.
How are Yooka and Laylee going to play?
We actually have them mostly implemented now and they’re the fastest characters in the game by far. Yooka and Laylee play as one character, unlike ToeJam and Earl, which [are tag-based characters]. Very exceedingly mobile. So Yooka and Laylee have a kind of spin dash move that allows them to close the gap really quickly. You can use Yooka’s tongue strikes from various differences to bring either you to the opponent or bring the opponent to you. So lots of quick grab setups, quick juggles. Really heavy emphasis on aggressive forward bounces, as opposed to quick, upward scoops.
You really have to bait them out and punish them. They’re very punishable on whiffs, but also just very, very, very up front and aggressive. By and large the fastest characters we have on the roster.
We also gave them a little, fun mechanic. It’s kind of useless in AI matches, but it’s great in multiplayer matches. It allows them to camouflage themselves with a semi-opto camo move, not dissimilar to what Reptile can do in [Mortal Kombat X]. It’s a lot of fun.
So they’re going to be a lot more skill-based due to being able to bounce enemies, grab them with the tongue, and then bounce them again.
Yeah. They’re going to be very technical. I think [that] technical players will feel rewarded by playing as them because of just the sheer volume of follow-up opportunities they have and just really quick, reaction-type attacks.
Are there plans to add more characters post-launch?
Yeah. We’re actually talking to a bunch of developers, right now, on some pretty cool IPs. I can’t talk about them yet, but we’re hoping to land at least one of them. And then we’ve also got plans for original characters that we want to add post-launch, as well.
We’re still trying to figure out what our strategy with that is going to be, in terms of how we release them. Are we just going to add them to the base game? Will there be a Fighters Pass-type thing? We’re not sure yet. It really just depends on how many characters we end up coming up with over the next few months.
But it’s definitely there and we’re definitely trying to continue our plan of partnering with games and properties that resonate with us. We don’t want to put a partnership in the game if it’s something that isn’t exciting to us. I don’t necessarily want to design moves for a character that I’m not personally super stoked to play as. So, for us, we’re seeking out very strategic ones that kind of get us excited.
I also saw that you have to connect to a server when you start up the game. Are there plans for online tournaments and other such features?
You can play offline, which still, right now, allows you to do direct lobbies and will allow you to do [unintelligible] lobby generation. The server is for doing, yeah, tournament tracking, ranked mode tracking—so we’re going to be adding a ranked mode, where players can, you know, standard stuff. They can go up through various ranked levels, [which will] make for better matchmaking. So we’re adding that and that’s kind of going to be dependent on the backend.
We’re also looking into ways we can do in-game tournament support across the platforms. This also allows us to—hopefully, pending approval from the console partners—do cross-play and preserve your progress across platforms.
Do you feel that this style of arena fighter is underutilized?
Definitely. We saw an opportunity here, but also, we’re big fans of the genre and there just hasn’t been a lot there. Last Fight was good. I really enjoyed Last Fight, especially as “I want more Power Stone.” Last Fight kind of delivers on that exact feeling. Combat Core was interesting to me, but it didn’t really hook me the way I wanted. Outside of that, there really aren’t a lot of arena fighters out there. I guess, in a way, you could consider Gang Beasts, but it’s more of a party game. There’s not really a lot of skill-based gameplay to it.
So yeah, we kind of just wanted to fill the gap that we saw in the kinds of games that we wanted to play anyways, right? “Make the game you want to play,” as they say.
Do you feel that the arena fighter subgenre is a good midway point between accessibility and the depth of a fighting game?
Yes. I mean, that was our entire ethos when we were designing this. We wanted it to be pick-up-and-playable by people who don’t play competitive fighting games and they can at least have some fun, but we also wanted it to be tournament-viable and viable for people who understand fighting game fundamentals.
It’s a very unique thing about fighting games is that, regardless of what systems and mechanics fighting games use, so long as the game was developed with the very basic principles and fundamentals of fighting games in mind, a lot of those skills are transferable. It’s why you get people like SonicFox, who can be a champion across four different games with completely different mechanics. We kind of took that approach here, as well.
I think a lot more games could stand to better balance the competitive-casual scales, but, again, there’s a game for everybody and this game might end up being too competitive or too mechanically dense for people who don’t want that kind of experience and that’s fine. But I just know that there isn’t that alternative on the market in arena fighters, so we want to be that alternative.
Mighty Fight Federation is available on Steam Early Access for $39.99.