Interview: Behind the Scenes with League of Fighters Dev Instaburst

By on August 29, 2013 at 10:07 am

In July, a group of hobbyist game developers called Instaburst released a trailer for League of Fighters, their League of Legends-inspired fighting game — and surprisingly enough, League of Legends developer Riot Games didn’t shut it down, meaning the game is going ahead as planned and tentatively shooting for an early 2014 release. I spoke with Instaburst co-founders David Wu and Alan Bunney about their backgrounds, fighting game inspirations, and upcoming dev plans.


Patrick Miller: Tell me a bit about your team; who are you, how’d you meet, and how’d you decide to make League of Fighters?

David Wu: Team Instaburst started out with 2 members, David “Mashumaro” Wu (me) and Alan “SamuraiPanda” Bunney. We pretty much do all the programming and design, as well as organizing the full team. We have the vision for what League of Fighters will become, and so the final word comes down to us. With the recent surge in members, the team currently consists of talented volunteers from all over the world including the US, Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, UK, Australia, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Brazil, and many more. We have all come together, over the Internet, united by our passion for League of Legends and fighting games.

Alan Bunney: David and I have known each other for 8 years now. In my sophomore year of college I invited a couple friends over to play some Melee and we needed a 4th player right when David walked by my dorm room, so we invited him to join. Since then we’ve been really close friends, even when David went on to business school and I went to medical school.

DW: While studying for my CPA, I decided that I wanted something more than just crunching numbers for a living so I started exploring a career in video games. I had worked on some educational games but I wanted to make something with more mass appeal. Alan and I had talked about how cool a League of Legends fighting game would be and since my favorite genres are MOBAs and fighters, I just decided to do it. When I realized how feasible it was, I gave Alan a call to join the project.

AB: Of course, we’re not quitting our day jobs yet or anything. Now that we’ve both graduated we actually live pretty busy lives but despite that we’ve somehow managed to gather an incredible, skilled, and passionate team. We started with 2, grew to 6, and exploded to over 63 now. And we’re still getting new members! League of Fighters is just something we started as a pet project and now it’s becoming something far more than we imagined it could be.

PM: Obviously you guys are real big fans of League of Legends, but what’s your fighting game background? Have any of you ever worked on fighting games before (or other games)? Do you have any particular favorite fighting games, or notable players on your team?

DW: I predominately played King of Fighters and Mortal Kombat for the majority of my childhood. I played KOF ’98 to death in Asian arcades, so I’d say that’s my favorite fighting game. It wasn’t until college that I picked up Smash rather seriously. Alan and I played Brawl competitively, and we used to travel to tournaments all over. The biggest tournament I placed in was Apex, and I’ve won a couple tournaments outside the US.

AB: My brother and I were arcade junkies growing up. We used to go straight to the fighters at every arcade and we played anything we could get our hands from Super Puzzle Fighter to Marvel Super Heroes. I grew up obsessing over any fighter I could find. In college I discovered the Michigan Smash scene and started getting into competitive gaming from there. Brawl was my main game for a couple years and I was able to place well in some big tournaments at my peak. I also played other fighters in tournament like SF4, GGXX, Blazblue, and the Japanese TvC, but I was only really worth my salt in TvC with my Viewtiful Joe. Even though I had to quit competitive fighters for medical school, I’ve kept up with the competitive scene as much as possible and play every new game that comes out. Although Marvel and CvS2 were childhood favorites of mine, I don’t think I can say one fighter is my overall favorite. I honestly love them all. Except Touhou fighters. Never clicked with those for some reason.

DW: This is the first fighting game we’ve ever worked on. Alan has an extensive history with fighters and knows a lot of theory behind them, which is why I asked him to join the project. Even though we’re both first timers, we’re putting in an enormous amount of effort to make League of Fighters a good fighting game.

AB: We also have some pros in the FGC who are willing to help play test our game when we’re ready for closed beta. We hope to have plenty of feedback to improve our game, and we’ll be heavily polishing the gameplay based on QA tester feedback and our own experiences before we release. Our goal is to make a fast-paced, accessible game that is not only fun to play but fun to watch as well.

PM: How long were you working on the game before releasing the trailer? Were you worried that all your work would get axed when Riot saw it?

DW: Yes, we were definitely worried about Riot’s response. One of the reasons we released a trailer with our game still in pre-alpha is because [the My Little Pony tribute game] Fighting is Magic was shut down by Hasbro. We didn’t want to meet the same fate so we figured we’d announce it early just to find out what their answer would be. Alan and I had been working on the game alone for 5 months before recruiting an animator, a background artist, a splash artist, and a colorist. Then 6 months later we released the trailer. 11 months would have been a lot of time gone to waste, but it isn’t as bad as losing a few years.

PM: Tell me a bit about how Riot got in touch with you. Did they find you, or did you look for a company rep to seek out approval in advance? What, exactly, does your arrangement with them look like?

AB: We tried to contact them before the trailer came out but we were emailing the wrong Riot sources. Someone brought their “3rd party relations” email address to our attention the night our trailer first came out and we immediately shot the link to them. Wasn’t long after that we got into contact with some of their community managers to talk about our game.

We’ve had a few Skype talks with some Riot community managers and their official stance is that they’ll “Wait and see” if they have to take action but so far they haven’t seen anything they’d want to stop yet. We’d like to keep it that way. We’re charting new territory to them and there are a lot of things we never thought about that they have to consider when it comes to our game’s existence. We just hope that if we stay along the current course, Riot won’t see a reason to stop the project.

PM: What are you using to build the game? Are you using any off-the-shelf tech or middleware (Unity, Game Maker, etc.) or are you writing the engine yourself?

DW: After a lot of deliberation, I went with Fighter Maker 2nd to make League of Fighters. I considered writing an engine myself or using middleware like Unity but it would have taken so much longer to get to where we are now, since I’m not a programmer by trade and Alan has no experience programming at all. I found FM2K versatile enough to do what we wanted while still able to make games that feel professional, like Vanguard Princess.

Unfortunately, there are also lots of limitations we wish we didn’t have like the 4:3 screen size, 640×480 resolution, the lack of GGPO support (even though it has online), and storage limitations that prevent us from being as creative as we could be. But we’re trying to make all of the art in our game at a high quality so if we ever get the chance to switch to an engine without those limitations the game would still look awesome in HD.

PM: Which fighting games are you looking at for inspiration? Which games resemble your ideal final product the most?

AB: Ha, this is probably the hardest question for me to answer. Like I said earlier, I like a lot of different fighters and that is definitely coming out in my design. At the moment the game is playing more like a combo oriented KOF with OTGs, wallbounces, and groundbounces. Originally, we had 4 unique styles of knockbacks, canceling, and combo systems (Marvel, KOF, SF4, Anime) and we’d design a champion to use one of those styles, almost like a groove system they were locked on. Annie’s trailer build was designed with the anime playstyle. As we’ve developed, though, we’ve come to enjoy the KOF style more than the others because the engine is a bit clunky when it comes to air combat, so we’re moving towards a style that fits more naturally with FM2K. We have our own spin on the KOF formula, though, so League of Fighters will feel pretty unique. Of course, it still may change in the future as we continue to polish and work on the basic game systems so we’ll see what the final product looks like.

PM: How’s the process of adapting LoL MOBA characters into fighting game characters? Are some characters proving to be easier adaptations than others? Are you looking at any existing fighting game characters as inspiration for specific League champions?

AB: Adapting champions is a lot of fun! When we design a champion, one of the first steps is to make a list of inspirations we’ve used for them. We take our inspirations from a variety of different games that we feel best reflects their in-game kit. Here is one of these lists: Inspirations – EX Kyo (KOF13), Zero (UMvC3), Hakumen (Blazblue)

Tons of champions were screaming to be made into fighters and had a seamless transition while other characters required a bit more artistic license to fit. Some characters you’d think are simple to drop into a fighting game aren’t as straightforward. For example, we’ve gotten a lot of requests for Riven, because she was originally inspired by Marth, so people think she’d easy to translate over. How would her specials work into a fighter? Sure, a rekka for Broken Wings, but how would it interact with her passive? Can her Ki Burst be more interesting than just an explosion around her, and how would it change with her ultimate? Would you sacrifice one of her 3 specials to give her a dash? Granted it’s more complicated than that since they need to fit into our system, but you get the idea.

PM: Are you designing the game to be mostly playable with a stick/pad, or keyboard? Have you figured out which platforms you plan to ship on yet? What kind of timeline are you looking at for major development milestones? How far along are you, anyway?

DW: We use the keyboard when programming, but tend to use all 3 when playtesting, because we want it to feel good no matter what you’re playing on. That is one of the main reasons we’re working on putting in an advanced control scheme alongside the simple control scheme, so it feels better on the stick. FM2K only has support for the PC, which is something we’re okay with because most League of Legends fans have a PC.

It’s hard to make major development milestones in a volunteer team where everyone is working in their free time for fun. We prefer small milestones for each artist to meet one at a time. Right now we have quite a few characters in different stages of production because every artist has their own speed. If our team continues the same pace they’ve been making, we’re on track to be ready for a closed beta with 3-4 characters at the end of the year.

AB: We’ll definitely be taking a page out of the playbook from companies like Valve and Blizzard. This game isn’t coming out until it feels good. We won’t hesitate to delay it if we feel like the game will benefit. Even though we plan on releasing new characters and balance patches regularly after release, we want the initial game to be fun enough that if you never patch or download a new champion, League of Fighters will still be a fighting game worth playing.