PAX East 2014: Sega Addicts interviews Treachery in Beatdown City creator Shawn Alexander

Not many people can successfully combine different game genres and make them work well. Nu Challenger is accepting that challenge with their new game Treachery in Beatdown City. I was able to talk to the founder of Nu Challenger, and head designer of the game, Shawn Alexander. It was a very informitive interview, and gives reason to why any brawler fan should jump on Kickstarter right now and support a fresh take on their favorite genre.

NOTE: I apologize for the large amount of background noise. Due to this, you can find a transcript of the entire interview after the jump.

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ScottyMo: So you actually used to work at Rockstar Games, and have had a hand in the Grand Theft Auto series. Obviously, you left at the right time, because no one cares about Grand Theft Auto anymore. Is Treachery in Beatdown City going to fill that void and show people what video games are really about again?

Shawn: It’s kinda funny actually, the last game I worked on was GTA 5 for a little bit. Seeing it blow up, I still feel this interesting ownership over it a little bit, but for me personally this [Beatdown City] is what my life is about. This is what I’ve been wanting to make for a long time, so that’s what I feel most proud of. My triple-A stuff is cool, but I’m really proud of the independent games that I make – the more personal stuff. I could never have as much a hand in that [GTA 5]. I did writing for some of the game, and I did voice, but I’m like 1 out of 1,000 people that made a game.

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ScottyMo: Treachery in Beatdown City combines the brawler genre and turn-based RPG elements: 2 genres of very differing themes with brawlers being fast-paced action oriented and turn-based games being more leisure. What made you decide to combine 2 genres from almost opposite ends of the spectrum?

Shawn: I grew up with Double Dragon, and all those beat em ups, and then I started transitioning into Super Nintendo a bit more with Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy II, Chrono Trigger. And we started working on a brawler, and I wanted to make a lot of moves, and I wanted to do a lot of this stuff, and I played Fallout 3 also fairly recently. I feel that Fallout 3 is a big influence in terms of the fact that it makes shooting really cool because of the turn-based aspect to it. It’s turn-based, but slows it down just enough so that you can do stuff. I just wanna slow it down just enough, so that you can say, “oh i don’t need to remember how to do this 2,000-hit combo.” I can’t play Marvel Vs. Capcom, and you play Final Fight and there are no combos to remember, but there’s no importance on the any of the moves that you do either. The best way to play Final Fight is to jump backwards and tap the button as fast as possible to keep switching left and right to just gain the system. So beat-em-ups have this problem where the combat can be very deep, but they don’t actually ever expect anything of you to take it to a different level. So I was thinking, let’s add something like wrestling to it, and wrestling’s almost turn-based in the fact that you stop, and now you have to do something. Fire Pro Wrestling is very much like that and I thought let’s add that – let’s add depth, but keep it fast-paced too. It’s definitely been an interesting time balancing all of that, and I don’t ever wanna take away the idea that’s it’s a brawler first, because that’s the genre that I grew up with loving the most. I can’t play RPG’s anymore. I play old RPG’s now because I still feel like those are still snappier than new ones in terms of all the cinematic and everything, so would rather play that. I played Final Fantasy IV completely on Vita recently, and I was so happy to play an older RPG that you can hold “A” and go through fights real quick, but that’s the thing – the fighting there isn’t even all that important. So I just wanted to give it a shot. We spent 6 months working on a prototype before we went through trying to build something bigger. I feel like that was important – we had to make sure it was fun before we went on.

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ScottyMo: When gamers see Treachery in Beatdown City in action they are reminded of great Sega classics like Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, or Double Dragon. Was there one brawler that stood out most as inspiration for this game, or did you take a little bit from everything?

Shawn: It was definitely the genre in general but DoubleDragon was my first beat em up game and I took a look at a lot of the aesthetic ideas behind it. Because I wanted to put some limits on myself personally from an artistic standpoint and try to actually emulate that style of character like the “three-pixel eyes.” When I look at my art next to it again it just doesn’t look anything like it, because I realized I looked at it so much that I forgot about it, which is good, but I feel like it takes a lot of skill to be that simple. And it’s not simple, it’s elegance. I look at Street Fighter a lot for my animation. Street Fighter has an amazing way that they do these complicated animations with like 6 frames of animation. And people don’t seem to realize that because it’s so colorful. I’ve been playing a lot of Double Dragon and I never beat it as a kid, I beat as an adult. I’ve played a lot of them now though – a lot of beat-em-up games, a lot of tactics games. I played a lot of Dragon’s Crown. Streets of Rage, I was almost working on a remake of it.

ScottyMo: If you’re talking about the thing I think you are, we might have had that on our website, because a trailer of gameplay emerged.

Shawn: No that was a 3D remake. I did a 2D video. I didn’t like the 3D video, because it just had a bunch of characters standing around doing nothing.

ScottyMo: There was a 3D one and a 2D one. A bunch of stuff randomly popped up with Streets of Rage, and people were like, “Dude Sega get on this, what’s goin’ on?”

Shawn: Yeah what is goin’ on? That’s a good question.

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ScottyMo: More recent brawlers like Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, Castle Crashers and Double Dragon Neon have adopted some RPG traits such as leveling mechanics, character customization, and even item shops. Did any of these aspects in these games make you consider adding more than just a turn-based system to Beatdown City? If so, did you find yourself at a crossroads to keep Beatdown City more of a brawler than an RPG?

Shawn: A little bit. I actually recently just took out “experience.” We have leveling up in that you learn stuff by fighting enemies. Like if you beat this boss, you gain another move. Or if you beat enemies at certain intervals then you gain more moves, but there’s a really good talk by Michael Bro, who makes a lot of really cool rogue-like games, and he was talking about how “experience” makes you more of a sociopath, because you start killing things to grind. And beat-em-ups aren’t about grinding, so I didn’t want that even being an idea in someone’s head, so we keep it very forward progressing. <i> Scott Pilgrim </i> is a great example of a game that actually fails on a lot of beat-em-up principles where certain enemies will block infinitely and the principle of a beat-em-up is to scroll forever. You’re supposed to try to get through this game, so when you get stopped by a dude who blocks on 2 sides against 4 players punching him on all sides and he keeps blocking on both sides, that’s failing the forward progression role of beat-em-ups. So, I actually try to actively avoid anything that’s not helping forward progression, so then we actually tried to take a different side where we added more of a bit of a fighting game thing to it. You’re fighting enemies in more of an arena type thing instead of just making them mo down them. So it’s a lot of different ideas from a lot of different genres, and not really a binary “this is RPG,” because we have status effects in the game that have to be heavily balanced, but I think they add so much because if you kick someone with a light kick MMA style and you essentially give a slow de-buff on them that’s funny right? Because it’s an MMA move doing a fantasy attack and that’s cool because it works out really well on its own and it has it’s own logic. I definitely think about Brawler first, RPG second.

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ScottyMo: The combat system in Beatdown City is slightly reminiscent of the V.A.T.S. fighting system in Fallout 3. Was this a happy accident or did Fallout inspire any portions of Beatdown City?

Shawn: Fallout 3 was my favorite game whatever year it came out – 2008, I think? I got a lot of crap because GTA 4 was not my favorite game that year. I liked GTA 4, that was the first game I worked on, but Fallout 3 was my game – I booted it up so many times just to look at how they teach you things, and I actually recently realized that in my inventory I had “metal fists,” and I actually just ran up to a guy and punched him and I was messing around with one of those really hard enemies and then I died. And I was like, “how is this funny?” I feel like the idea of V.A.T.S. was to making shooting really dope, like that was the only idea behind it. Because it’s a bad shooter, but it’s an amazing shooter. It’s forcing you to wait, right? You have to say, “oh I don’t have 6,000 bullets. I have limited bullets, but I also have to stop because using these now is not good for me,” so it has this tactical element of waiting and then getting your gun and then actually aim – it’s almost like hunting in a hectic FPS fight. It’s a pretty interesting idea. And there was an article from Fallout 2 fans, who thought a first-person-shooter with turn-based elements was going to be a terrible idea. I think that’s funny, because yeah, that’s my game – people think a brawler with turn-based elements is gonna be terrible and then it’s like, “no it’s actually really cool.”

ScottyMo: I think it’s also with that they think of a shooter and they think of non-stop running, you never stop to think what you’re doing, you just shoot everything. But Fallout totally did that, which is kinda what your game does. It doesn’t stop entirely, but just long enough, so that you’re actually paying attention to what you’re doing, so that’s really cool.

Shawn: Yeah, to make it tactical. Yeah, to make you think. I like wrestling games where you have to think, or like fighting games. You have to think in a fighting game, you don’t attack every time because the person might attack you. So you have to always think in these times.

ScottyMo: Button mashing can only get you so far.

Shawn: Yeah I mean I play those games and I try to play them in a very creative way, like beat-em-ups, like The Punisher, where you could just punch everything, but I like to pick up an item and throw it at somebody and then jump and throw a grenade.  and then do a roll and then do all that stuff to make the game fun for me. But these games don’t actually make you play them well usually. I wanna give you a little bit of a reason. You will lose if you don’t play this game well.

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ScottyMo: Why do our presidents keep getting kidnapped in video games? Are they just America’s princesses?

Shawn: Yeah, in movies too. CEOs and Presidents are supposed to be symbols. I always think it’s weird how it was Ronald Reagon who got kidnapped in <i>Bad Dudes</i>, because who would want to save Ronald Reagon – a guy who was part of the country at its worst place? I’m not gonna go save that dude in a suit. That’s why I doing something with a guy who people, even if you hate him, there’s this symbolism behind that, so that’s actually why I brought it back. It wasn’t just like this throw-away idea from <i>Bad Dudes</i>, ha-ha-ha. None of the stuff we do is topical – it’s all like, Ok well Obama is the first president you can buy a t-shirt for. People did buy t-shirts for him, so I think that’s interesting. So including a fictional version of him in the game is just of our times. Obama is a symbol of this time, it’s of a new time. I grew up through all these presidents and yeah I’ll let him get kidnapped, but there’s also a lot of nuance there too. There’s a story, but you don’t really know what’s going on with the story, because it’s all topical, but then it’s like maybe the president’s been replaced with a robot?

Favorite Goosebumps book? Never read em. My daughter does. She likes R L Stine’s Fear Street. She’s 12, but she always thought the Goosebumps were kinda “clown shoes.”

Lady Gaga or Hatsune Miku? Lady Gaga

Favorite SEGA game? Viking Battle for Asgard, and The Club – it’s a mash-up of shooting that you think would be terrible, but it’s amazing, and I love Sega’s arcade efforts. I feel like Streets of Rage, if they had built it for the arcade, that it might have actually been a little better, because it would have had a little more of that bombastic sense because they actually built it for home, where as Final Fight was built for arcades. But all these are built so that when someone sees it, they wanna play that. They actually took out the more crazy things from Streets of Rage, so I think the best Streets of Rage game is actually the one not made by Sega. They took everything and just threw all that shit in there. I love Comix Zone. That was my first one back in the day on Genesis there.

ScottyMo: The question everyone asks when they talk about Comix Zone – Have you beaten that game, or I guess I should say, have you gotten passed the first level?

Shawn: I think I got passed it. I played it so much at a kiosk, and then when I got it on PC, I was like, “Man this game is so hard” But it’s got such a great style. I just think that playing is a joy even if I die every time.

ScottyMo: It’s one of those games that just makes you smile because of the character that it has.

Rad or Gnarly? Rad

Dragula, or Tubthumpin? Dragula

Nicholas Cage or Keanu Reeves? Keanu Reeves, absolutely.

Who would win in a fight? Sonic the Hedgehog or Screech from Saved By the Bell? Sonic, absolutely. As voiced by Jaleel White.

Be sure to support and follow Treachery in Beatdown City at all the follow areas, and thanks again to Shawn for taking the time to speak with me:


Beatdown City’s Twitter

Shawn’s Twitter