Enlarge /. Admit it, you've always wondered if Goku could beat Ronald McDonald in a fight.
The question: "Who would win in a fight?" is the root of many heated debates in pop culture history. It's exciting to discuss how to pit characters from different traits and different media against each other. And when it comes to letting fans act out those arguments, there are few better options than fighting games.
Even within a genre known for crossover character melding, there's a two-decade-old game that comes first when it comes to pitting a variety of characters against each other. This program is MUGEN, derived from the Japanese word for "infinite," which is a fitting name for a program that gives players almost unlimited potential to create new fighting games and characters.
MUGEN started life just before the turn of the century as a PC-based, side-scrolling shoot-em-up title created by a small company called Elecbyte. The team originally experimented with developing an engine to handle the rigors of so-called shmup games, but found that it just wasn't what they'd hoped for. Taking inspiration from a PC Korean Street Fighter 2 hack known as SFIBM, Elecbyte decided to change course from a shooter to a 2D fighting game engine.
The first public MS-DOS beta version of MUGEN was released on July 27, 1999. However, this early version differed from most fighting games in that it featured the only "official" character, Kung Fu Man, and a single level. Everything else, from extra characters to cover images, would have to be provided by the users themselves, mostly via files shared across Internet communities. For the first time, fans of fighting games were not only allowed to create their own fighters and matchups.
Building a community to build games
While you don't need any programming knowledge to create a MUGEN character, the process can still be time consuming, especially when creating your custom artwork. Over the years fighter creation software like the 2005 Fighter Factory has popped up to make this process easier. These third-party programs allow developers to import either their own hand-drawn sprites or images taken from existing sprite-based games (making good use of the various sprite sheets that have littered the Internet since the late 1990s). With the art in hand, Fighter Factory allows users to tweak values, line up the sprites for animation, and make sure everything feels right before exporting the generated files to create fully animated MUGEN characters.
Players also looked into the core logic and gameplay of MUGEN. In the early years, the AI was pretty straightforward for MUGEN's computer-controlled opponents, much like a new player just randomly typing different commands with no coherent strategy. In the decades since the game was launched, the community has delved deeper into the program's potential, programming more robust and complex behaviors for the AI, and leading to far more exciting and difficult matches with the computer.
Even when working with existing characters, creating MUGEN fighters can be a lot of work.
Fans will need to create custom sprites for a variety of moves required for each character.
Hyper DBZ pushes the MUGEN engine to its limits
Not a surprising result.
As MUGEN became more stable and word of mouth spread, the game communities continued to expand, bringing creators and gamers together over the Internet. Many programmers and artists interested in the game gathered in the Mugen Fighters Guild, a forum that continues to this day.
Creating high profile and professional fighters in MUGEN takes a lot of effort and time, and these communities have proven instrumental in facilitating these projects. Hyper Dragonball Z is a particularly polished example of a MUGEN project filled with expertly crafted custom sprites and stages that faithfully capture the show's characters and struggles. What started as an April Fool's joke by three makers is now in its fifth version with 20+ characters and tons of custom code.
Iced, one of the developers of Hyper DBZ and an administrator at MugenGuild, said that "Games like HDBZ and The Black Heart (another popular MUGEN fan project) push the envelope of the engine itself … at the same time, you can download some of the original character one Child who was made in MSPaint and took them two days to make, and that's also important because the kid who created a random MSPaint character can get a taste of pixel art and keep working on it, maybe someday his own full game. "
At this point, MUGEN developers spend a lot of time struggling with old technologies, fixing bugs, and bypassing the limitations of an aging engine that no longer receives official updates. For example, one of the standout features of HDBZ, the extravagant finisher cut scenes, was not originally intended to be part of MUGEN.
"Broke and bent"
"We broke and bent the throwing system to make this possible. We changed the original toolset to code short throws to do things like Goku at his Genkidama or Frieza summon his army to hit the enemy before he throws a giant death ball and put it out, "he said. "These types of coding moves are quite complex and sometimes we break them or they come out unexpectedly so they take a lot of work … We had a lot of problems making sure other characters couldn't break out of these." "
Felipe Xavier de Freitas (aka FXFreitas), the main sprite artist on the Mega Man X: Fighting Arena fan project, explained how difficult it can be to build a MUGEN character. "The most complex (aspect) in my opinion is that almost every piece of content in the game has to be created from scratch," he said. The Source Game is a 2D shooting platform game so we need to convert everything into a fighting game style, creating custom sprites, finding good references, or even creating our own play style for some characters and dealing with the engine's limitations. "
Even using characters from existing games doesn't save a lot of effort sometimes, Xavier said. For example, the Mega Man X4 character Iris has a limited number of "official" sprites that can be drawn from the original game. In order to fill in the animations for the unique moves and attacks of a standard fighting game character, a project artist must create additional sprites from scratch.
It is not an easy process to ensure that these new assets match the art style of the original sprites and can flow smoothly into and out of pre-existing sprites. Even with a character like Zero, who has a large number of official sprites, the MUGEN developers place great emphasis on creating brand new moves and sprites that are unique to their project.