Take a quick look at Treachery in Beatdown City, and you might come away thinking that the Xbox is getting another belt-action brawler: a new Double Dragon perhaps. But look closely, and there’s something else at play. Treachery in Beatdown City is a turn-based take on the retro brawler, and the combo makes our heads ache.
But Treachery in Beatdown City has gathered a hell of a following, having been featured in publications from LA Times to Paste, so the mash-up clearly works. It raises so many questions, in fact, that we jumped from the top-rope to tackle creator Shawn Alexander Allen and ask him a few questions.
Hi, could you please introduce yourself and your role on Treachery in Beatdown City?
I am Shawn Alexander Allen, and I am the lead artist, writer, and designer on Treachery in Beatdown City. I’ve been in and around the games industry for over 22 years now, with my first big games job being at Rockstar Games.
Could you give us a quick rundown of the game?
Treachery in Beatdown City is a dark comedy tactical brawler. President Blake Orama has been kidnapped by Ninja Dragon Terrorists, but before you can rescue him, you have to face the worst people possible in tight, personal fights. TiBC is less a pure beat ‘em up and more a subversion of the genre, one that analyzes why we like to play fighting games of all kinds.
The journey to this release is so unusual! You released originally on Switch and PC in 2020, yet you recently announced a free DLC drop that triples the amount of content – something that is included in the Ultra Remix version we are receiving. How has that journey unfolded?
It’s been a wild ride, because our team used to just primarily be me and Nico the programmer. We worked nights and weekends to get the game done while life just kept passing us by. We have halal carts in the game because that’s what we mostly ate while working on the game. At some point I realized the overarching scope of what I planned just wasn’t possible with our time and resources, which were slim. So we poured our time into launching a very full project that ended on a cliffhanger. We were very proud of the game we launched in 2020, but we left in a promise for more content to come, and I do not go back on my promises.
As we all know the last few years have been tumultuous for everyone, but in that time I was able to make certain business deals happen that put us in a better place for putting out this content. It didn’t hurt that Treachery in Beatdown City was this cult classic that garnered some very positive attention from folks at the LA Times, Gamespot, and Paste.
We scaled up from 2 to 6 people at times all to get the additional content done, and even then it was a lot bigger than we thought. We also went in and retooled a lot of things that we thought could be better about the overall game. So all in all, we’re putting out the very best version of the game, and we’re very happy to be bringing it to Xbox.
At first, we couldn’t imagine belt-action beat’em-ups and turn-based gameplay working together. One is quick and twitchy, the other more ponderous. What made you fuse these two genres?
When we set out to make Treachery in Beatdown City we had a vague idea of making “the best beat ‘em up ever”. The idea was sparked by the re-releases of games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the arcade) and Double Dragon the arcade (as well as GBA releases, like Double Dragon Advance). I also didn’t particularly like the new “indie” beat ‘em ups of the time that much.
As a tiny team of 2, we weren’t finding success in chasing the conventional systems. One day I had a major crisis, thinking that the project was basically dead in the water. But I had a literal shower moment – while showering I thought about decades of game styles, as one typically does, and when I came out I had the idea to make the game have a menu for building combos.
During that shower my mind went to Fallout III, which I loved because of the concept of VATS, using a button to slow down combat and make each shot way more intentional and brutal.
I thought about this 3D turn based fighting/wrestling game from the N64 called Hybrid Heaven. It especially scratched the itch that me and my friends all had as fans of fighting games and RPGs, and had a wildly incomprehensible sci-fi story, also about kidnapping the president.
The new Sherlock Holmes movies had Sherlock planning his moves out and then executing the combos, brutally hurting his opponents in the process. I loved those movies.
Basically everything pointed to it being a wise choice to add the turn based elements to the game, and it worked out quite well, although it took a lot of trial and error to get everything just right. Even the UI went through tons of revisions.
It feels like the biggest challenge is delivering the exhilaration and flow of real combat in turn-based combat. What does Treachery in Beatdown City do to bridge that gap?
Yeah, I agree.
We pulled a lot of references from the Fire Pro Wrestling series, which has some of the most exciting fighting in all of games. Fire Pro has been known to be able to simulate some of the most realistic wrestling match behavior, because of a system for setting up fighters with stat based behavior where it changes based on situations and health levels. So we studied the system and built our enemy behavior system around that. The system included various RNG systems that included percentages around auto counters, dodge changes, and more, which created a certain unpredictability within the usual bounds of “get opponent down in health and win” formula.
The fighting system we built has been described by folks as being like “breathing” or like a real fight, because of the back and forth necessary to win. And, much like Darkest Dungeon, where if you’re low in health and you have to decide to try and heal, or go for the killing blow, which may miss causing an upset, that happens in Treachery in Beatdown City too, except you also have to worry about enemies chasing you down and cornering you.
Something that’s new to the Ultra Remix release are these bigger/splashier moves that make attacking even cooler, and we’re excited to see what people can do with them.
You see screenshots and you immediately expect a Double Dragon or River City. Has it been a challenge communicating what you are doing here?
In short, yes. Honestly getting folks to understand what we’re doing with this mashup has always been a challenge. Even friends and colleagues of mine have heard what I was saying, nodded their heads, and then have been completely taken off guard when they played the game (usually in a good way). It’s very much a game that you just need to play and see if you vibe with it.
We do our best to show the game off in our trailers because honestly like many indie games, the screens are less interesting than the game itself. Retro inspired games just lose something in screens.
But we do want people to get the River City and Double Dragon vibe, because the aesthetics of brawlers are also very important.
I do think there’s a certain rose tinted glasses effect that actually warps people’s perceptions of what beat ‘em ups were vs. what they are now. Beat ‘em ups back in the day didn’t have much juggling, while the current crop all have a major emphasis on it, and the fanbase doesn’t seem to notice, or care.
One of the biggest (but most pleasant) surprises is how Treachery in Beatdown City doesn’t avoid real issues. It hits police corruption, systemic racism and misogyny, among others, head on. Was that determination always there from the start?
Sort of. Despite being progressive, I don’t think I was very well informed politically until I was 30, which was the year I left Rockstar Games and started working on TiBC full time.
One of the first concepts was making a game starring empowered Black and brown characters, mostly because I was looking at the genre and noticed there weren’t many games that featured us. As much as I love beat ‘em ups, it’s been rare that Black folks have been the heroes of many of the games. Sure there’s Adam, and his replacement Skate, but that’s kind of the point, there’s hundreds of beat ‘em ups, and the one Black character on the cover was replaced, even as the roster expanded. (I learned lated that he was replaced because they couldn’t have TWO power characters on the roster, despite one being a wrestler).
We also had this concept of “what if you got to know the enemies you fight” because most beat ‘em ups had a lot of enemies who had no real motivations, who were all defeated in 8 attacks.
So putting all of that together, I started writing in many experiences we had living in the friction heavy city of New York.
Treachery in Beatdown City’s story manages to be both socially progressive and funny as hell. What’s your secret for bringing those two together?
Ha, thank you.
I’d say the road here was a long one, with roots in a lot of 70s/80s comedies, but really took hold with Key and Peele. I have been a fan of theirs since Mad TV, and when they got a show I watched it religiously. They were overt with their sketches and didn’t seem to be afraid to actually say something. While many sketches made it ok to be Black and weird, many others had things like the racist zombies, poked fun at the homogeneity of Black conservatives or had Black guys ambushing a group of whye Civil War reenacters to get them to say the N word (and then robbing them).
When Get Out came out it encouraged me to further push the envelope.
I also spent a lot of time going to comedy shows while trying to understand the craft. A best friend of mine, and my business partner, has been doing comedy for a while, as well as acting, so we were able to discuss what it takes to write jokes.
Back in 2013 I was able to get seats for tapings of Totally Biased, hosted by W. Kamau Bell, and it was an amazing show with a really diverse writing room, and so I was immediately aware of W. Kamau Bell, Hari Kondabolu, Dwayne Kennedy and more.
Wyatt Cenac had the Night Train show in Brooklyn, which was a $5 ticket to see some of the best up and comers of the time, including Michelle Wolf.
There was Aamer Rahman, who had the “reverse racism” joke on youtube which blew up, and then I had the opportunity to see him live and hang out with him in New York.
Basically getting very close to progressive comedy and immersing myself in it helped me write better comedy.
Console isn’t the natural home for turn-based combat. What have the challenges been in bringing Treachery in Beatdown City to a controller?
I disagree on that end, since I’ve been playing Final Fantasy games since the heyday of the SNES. Whether it was Final Fantasy IV/VI, Breath of Fire, Ogre Battle, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG or Secret of Mana/Evermore (which also did the whole turn based/real time mashup) we had so many options, and loved them all for various reasons.
I’d say my BIGGEST challenge has been the fact that the Xbox controller followed the Dreamcast layout and I have had the Nintendo button layout burned into my head for many years before that. Folks who play on Xbox expect the A button to be one place, and that’s thrown off our demos when we demoed with an SNES style USB controller.
Music plays a big part in Treachery in Beatdown City. Who have you brought on board to get the chiptune soundtrack and raps right?
Many years ago when I was looking to find a musician to bring the game to life I stumbled on a chiptune cover of “F- You” by CeeLo Green made by Inverse Phase. I reached out on Twitter, and we started from there. The 2 minute intro was the first song we started with, and just kept on going as the game became more of a game, and less an animation project.
For the rap songs, I have been extremely lucky to meet some amazing artists over the years, who all happened to like video games and agreed to work on songs for the game.
I had this concept of turning Inverse Phase’s tracks into rap beats for a trailer, which was realized by 2 Mello, composer for many games and just awesome producer, who I met at a Gaymer X event. He was working on some stuff for this fighting game Cerebrawl, which had tracks by Open Mike Eagle and Mega Ran as stretch goals. And since I was a huge fan of, and had become friends with Mike, I reached out after a concert and that’s where the first track came from. We also got to do a remix with SHOW YOU SUCK, a rapper who truly showed me the importance of being your best self.
Mega Ran was one of the first people to show off Treachery in Beatdown City on stream, and I had become a big fan of his in recent years as well, so it only made sense when we made a new track to work with him and Mike. We also have another remix coming from AIR CREDITS, the dope group made up of SHOW YOU SUCK and The Hood Internet.
I have some other folks I want to work with, but I’ve been too shy to ask.
Are Bruce, Brad and Lisa based on anybody in particular?
Bruce is inspired by a few folks. I have a lot of Jamaican friends, and I grew up very close with another friend’s family, who was Chinese/Vietnamese. So the concept of a Jamaican American who was obsessed with capoeira, Bruce Lee, and anime was a very real thing, from multiple angles.
Lisa was designed by my ex-wife, and many of the things that happen to her, like drunk women asking to touch her hair or someone brazenly mistaking her for “the help” is all true, so we wanted to flip the script and get revenge against those folks.
Brad is based on my love of grapplers, and my ignorance of Mexican heritage (from when I was 20) that was challenged by a friend of mine from IGN’s forums back in the day.
How much has the community influenced the Ultra Remix inclusions?
One of the most important shows we ever had was EVO 2013, where I had all sorts of fighting game players showing me exactly how exploitable the game was. Getting people to play the game and see them play it has always been super important, but fighting game players just know how to pick a system apart in a special way. And if they rock with it, you know you have something special. We had both of those experiences back in 2013.
In 2022 I was lucky to exhibit at EVO 2022 as well as the SAAM Arcade at the Smithsonian. I wrote all new cutscenes to see how people reacted to the new writing and demoed some of the new enemies we had. It had been years since I saw someone else playing the game, and it revealed a lot that still needed to be fixed regarding UI and clarity, but it was nice to see people laughing at the dialog.
The big difference is because we have a bigger team, I was able to bring back my findings and we’ve been able to do some important UI updates to make the whole game just feel better.
Where does NuChallenger go from here? Is it more Beatdown City, or in another direction entirely?
We’re already working on a few additional titles. Everything we do will have unique ways at looking at combat, but from very different lenses. I’ve hinted a bit at an anime influenced boxing game we’re working on, so I’m very excited to be able to announce that, and the rest of what we’ve got going on.
I feel very lucky to be able to do NuChallenger full time.
And finally, what in your opinion is the best beat ’em-up of all time?
That’s such a hard question.
I have a few favorites, each for very specific reasons.
Double Dragon on the NES. (Close runner up is Mighty Final Fight): Beautiful colors, amazing distillation of graphics. Heavy hits. Great sound. An RPG leveling system that incentivizes mixing up attacks.
The Punisher (arcade): This game is just a heart pounding, juice filled roller coaster starring one of my favorite comic book characters of all time. Has some cool context sensitive attacks.
Turtles in Time (SNES): This was my go to for a long time, I love the ninja turtles, and I have finished the game more times than I can remember. My crowning achievement was finishing it on hard without having to continue. I’ve only done that once in my many playthroughs.
Dragon’s Crown: The best modern pure brawler, that is only held back by its theme (I want an urban brawler like this) and strange depictions of women (aside from the Amazon, who is cool as hell). It has CPU companions, and a really fun fighting system.
The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa.: A kunio-kun style brawler about the existential crisis of growing up. Beautiful art, amazing soundtrack, awesome title cards, and I almost cried when it ended, which is something you don’t usually say about beat ‘em ups.
If you’re like us and now feel a compulsion to play Treachery in Beatdown City, you may not have to wait long. Already available on PC (Steam) and Nintendo Switch, it’s due out on Xbox on 27th April, 2023, and you can be sure that we’ll be donning the leather gloves to deliver a verdict.
For now, huge thanks go out to Shawn for giving us some time in order to find out more about the game.