1987 Silver: ‘Double Dragon’ Past and Present With ‘Double Dragon Neon’ Producer Sean Velasco

Looking back at the list of titles that graced 8-bit consoles (and PCs) in 1987, you find that’s it’s a veritable parade of first entries in what would in time go on to either greatly influence gaming or spawn literally dozens of sequels between them. This is the year that modern video gaming was born, as simple left-to-right platforming was starting to experience previously unseen variations and mutations, while the standard bearers of fighting games and RPGs experienced their genesis. Take a look back at some of these classic titles celebrating their 25th anniversary as part of the 1987 Silver series on MTV Multiplayer.

Double Dragon may not have been the first side-scrolling brawler in arcades and on consoles, but it’s the one most of us think of when it comes to that particular genre. One part Roadhouse, one part The Warriors, the game spawned about a half dozen sequel and tie-in titles (lest we never forget Battletoads and Double Dragon), a cartoon, and a feature film that some of us are  still trying to forget.

And the series is on its way back with a downloadable homage this September from WayForward Technologies, Double Dragon Neon. Curious about the series’ impact on this tongue-in-cheek remake-quel, I asked the game’s director Sean Velasco to give me the skinny on how WayForward and publisher Majesco planned to honor (and send up) 25 years of Double Dragon history.

MTV Multiplayer: Tell us a little about how WayForward got into the Double Dragon business.

Sean Velasco: After completing work on BloodRayne: Betrayal, Majesco (publisher of DDN) brought this idea to us, and we jumped at it immediately! They acquired the license and we went to work. On our end, it was kind of like the Lady of the Lake rising out of the water and presenting us with Excalibur!

Multiplayer: Now, was the idea from the start to do a straight-up remake that morphed into this tongue-in-cheek homage or was that kind of the vision from the start?

Velasco: As soon as we had a chance to do the game, we knew this was the direction we wanted to take it. We played the original games, brainstormed, and watched a healthy amount of Big Trouble in Little China. The development was very freeform and the more over-the-top ideas we had, the better. The important thing was for such a big crazy thing to be cohesive. I think we succeeded fantastically at this; the game is uniformly unhinged!

Multiplayer: Was the focus primarily on the first game, or were you looking to touch on the sequels, cartoon, movie—any of the other Double Dragon-related stuff out there?

Velasco: We looked at everything Double Dragon for this game, including the arcade cabinet art, toys, the TV show, and the film. This was mostly to see what common threads twist through all the media. There is a lot of ridiculous, (and sometimes unintentionally funny) stuff; the main characters have had many different looks and personalities, but they are always bros to the max!

However, we mostly took cues from the games. You’ll see some familiar situations recreated, Easter-egg references, and throwbacks, all presented with a fresh coat of paint. Overall, though, we wanted to make something crazy! Playing Double Dragon Neon is like emptying 3 bags of Skittles into your mouth and just chewing them all up at once.

On a side note, I don’t know of any other planned upcoming Double Dragon media, but I would definitely welcome it; Double Dragon Neon would make an awesome Saturday morning cartoon! No, I take it back, I want this game to be a musical stage production! Just thinking about that makes me weep rainbows.

Multiplayer: Was there any concern about crossing the line between poking gentle fun at the franchise and outright making fun of it?

Velasco: Double Dragon Neon is a fun and funny game, but we take the Double Dragon heritage and gameplay very seriously! The tone of the game is really consistent and we worked incessantly to make sure that it plays better than any previous Double Dragon game. Toss in the new stuff like co-op high fives and our mix tape level-up system, and this is a very modern, complete experience. That said, if you wanted a grimdark Double Dragon, you’re gonna have to keep waiting!

Multiplayer: The series has never been known for a deep story. Still, where did you want to go with Billy and Jimmy in Neon?

Velasco: We wanted to give some personality to Billy and Jimmy, as well as the other characters in the game. The player characters and goons are all quite vocal as you are punching and kicking your way through the game. It’s all reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons from the 80’s, so expect goofy villains, California surf slang, and a carefree tone.

Multiplayer: What are some of the beat-em-ups your team played to get ready to work on Double Dragon Neon?

Velasco: We are huge fans of action and combat games. In addition to playing the original Double Dragon series (especially Double Dragon II for NES and Double Dragon Advance for the GBA ), we looked at a both current and past action and fighting games. Gameplay-wise, the game is most similar to Double Dragon Advance, but is quite evolved. Street Fighter X Tekken came out during development and we played that a lot; our hit box rules, interrupts, and hit stops generally take cues from fighting games. We also are reverent toward the old Konami and Capcom Brawlers, especially TMNT: Turtles in Time and the Dungeons and Dragons brawlers. Lastly, we were all obsessed with Dark Souls during production, but I can’t say what effect that had on the final game!

Multiplayer: What was the WayForward team looking to take from the original in terms of gameplay? What were they looking to evolve?

Velasco: The Double Dragon series has always been about knock-down, drag-out fights. The brawling has been deliberate. There are tons of weapons! Double Dragon has also had a decent amount of platforming, so we sprinkled some running and jumping into the mix.

There are tons of often-dismissed specifics that are important to create a brawler that feels great. For instance, in Double Dragon you face left or right, not up or down. When your character turns, he flips. He literally flips, like his front leg is always the same no matter which way he is facing. We removed all but the most important animation blending from the move set, to keep things snappy. We exaggerated hit boxes where we needed to. Just because the characters are polygonal doesn’t mean you have to have them move in real 3D space! Making games isn’t about recreating reality, it’s all smoke and mirrors! We are making theater here… it’s about the feel.

We took that seed of Double Dragon gameplay, devoted ourselves to preserving the classic feel, and refined it into the system you see in the game. This, not the 80’s sheen, was the true focus of the game.

Multiplayer: How closely were you looking at old assets and art from the previous game or maybe even promotional stuff to make Neon feel authentic? And in prepping for the game, what was one of the oddest or most interesting things you learned about the series?

Velasco: It’s not a secret, but it was interesting to see how Double Dragon was influenced by Enter the Dragon. For instance, the thugs you beat up incessantly, Williams and Roper, are named after Enter the Dragon characters. It was also surprising to see some of the original arcade concept art, which looked almost like Fist of the North Star! Lastly, I was impressed by the fondness with which people remember these games. It made developing Double Dragon Neon both a great privilege and responsibility.

Multiplayer: What’s possibly the most 80’s thing you guys were able to get into the game?

Velasco: You power up your character by listening to amazing, original, 80’s style songs. On a cassette!

Multiplayer: What do you think the lasting legacy of Double Dragon is after all these years?

Velasco: Playing Double Dragon, whether in an arcade or at home, is an experience that many of us share and hold dear. Another theme has been playing together with friends. We hope that Double Dragon Neon brings back those memories, and gives you and a pal an excuse to get together and play a game like you did back in the day. For younger players, we want this game to be the one you reminisce about 15 years from now… as another bunch of young upstarts reinvent it again!

Double Dragon Neon will roundhouse kick its way onto PSN on September 11th, while delivering a wicked axe kick onto XBLA on September 12th for $9.99/800 MSP.

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