The Treachery in Beatdown City: Ultra Remix DLC builds upon the tactical street fighting of the original game, adding new moves, locations, enemies, and tunes. With the original game having such a precise, challenging turn-based hand-to-hand fighting system, how do you carefully build onto it without breaking the original release?
Game Developer sat down with Shawn Alexander Allen, the lead artist, writer, and designer of Treachery in Beatdown City: Ultra Remix and its base game, to talk about the thoughts that went into adding new combat abilities and enemies so that they built onto the foundation of the main game, their desire to bring new musical artists to video games, and how the US of the last few years would continue to shape the game’s villainous cast and the very real-world darkness of their backgrounds.
Treachery in Beatdown City: Ultra Remix adds new levels, enemies, fighting moves, and more. What brought you back to create more content for Treachery in Beatdown City? What made you want to continue working within this world?
I’ve looked at Treachery in Beatdown City as my own Dante’s Inferno (the book, not the questionable game) for some time. So, we always had more to do and more to say.
When we launched the base game in 2020 it was in a sort of a functionally complete, but spiritually incomplete, state. I was happy with what we got out in 2020, but it only encapsulated part of the vision for the full project. We ended it on a cliffhanger, which was always the plan (to have some cliffhanger-based storytelling), and I knew sort of what I wanted the ending of the full ride to be. I just didn’t 100% know how we were going to get there.
So, I made this promise at the end of the 2020 release—there was a title card when you beat Treachery in Beatdown City that said we were going to give out a free update that continues the story. In hindsight, we should have just been like, yeah that’s how it ends, and we’re gonna do a season 2 if there’s enough interest.
But I stick to my promises. And this was something I really wanted to see through to my own expectations. Thankfully the initial game release was profitable, and we got some investment and could work on it some more.
To wrap it around, I’ve said for years this is my own Divine Comedy, except instead of following up the Inferno with Purgatory and Heaven, you just keep going further down into Hell [laughs].
What challenges come from trying to build onto something you've already created? What interesting benefits came out of re-exploring the world of Treachery in Beatdown City?
In many ways, we had built Treachery in Beatdown City to exist in its own perfect bubble of imperfections—a lot of the game wasn’t really built with a lot of new things in mind, or with outside folks working on it, either. This is often the case with games, but it just became very apparent early on.
For the update, I knew we had to expand the team beyond just me and Nico (Hurakan Works), the solo programmer on the game up until that point, to get everything implemented. This meant getting the four new people of different skilling backgrounds acclimated with the project quickly, which meant that we had to go and do a lot of documentation that just wasn’t present on all the things needed to add enemies/maps/player moves, etc. to the game.
Then there was the art creation side of things, including the many new enemies, maps, and backgrounds I needed to make which was a lot of art and decisions I suddenly had to get done in a short amount of time. In fact, doing all the enemy sprite sheets to get them all ready for the programmers to implement eventually hurt my wrist, and I had to get physical therapy for it.
We also hired folks of different skill levels who had different experiences working remotely, and making sure everyone was on the right schedule, communicating their time, and communicating together was probably one of the bigger challenges.
The benefits of the new team were that things that we always wanted to do, like quality of life updates, had new eyes on them, and things I never thought were possible would get done in very short amounts of time, which I feel made the whole game feel better.
What thoughts went into the new combat moves you added into the game, both for the enemies and the player? How'd you pick out a whole new array of strikes?
This was an interesting journey to go on. When we were done with Treachery in Beatdown City, we already had some moves that just didn’t make the cut for progression reasons, like Brad’s piledriver which was too strong to add to such an early part of the game. It also caused a lockup, so it made it easier to just cut it.
We also had some moves that we just hadn’t figured out what to do with, like this dashing punch that Lisa had, that even as far back as EVO 2013 we saw people using the attack as a way to get around the screen faster and avoid enemies, which was counter to its design, but we liked what we saw, so we retooled it to make that more of something you could do more often, and made it this excellent distance combo starter, which really lead to a lot of cool new combos.
That lead to me realizing I wanted more distance strikes in the game to give players more mobility on screen, and so Brad and Bruce got a running lariat and a jumping flip kick (straight from Eddy Gordo in Tekken).
We just basically wanted to show the flexibility of the fighting while giving players something fun to do. In fact, we gave Bruce some really cool moves to close gaps and just do acrobatics. We added some of those very late in the game.
Then there was the inclusion of new offense and defense options for the player, like a roll for players to avoid a head-on attack, so we needed a counter for that, which meant adding in spinning, and other 360 attacks for enemies (so they could hit a player on either side). This also added a lot of strategy to the game, as you really needed to make sure to learn your enemies and their movesets.
Treachery in Beatdown City featured a precise, tactical, and balanced time-freezing combat system. What challenges come from adding new player and enemy attacks to this kind of system? How do you carefully add moves onto this system to enhance it without making things feel overwhelming?
This was tricky and required some rethinking/refactoring of systems because, as I mentioned, a lot of stuff was built to just get the game finished. But now we suddenly had to open up the systems and had to make sure everything we added jived with the older enemies as well as the new enemies.
Creating this hybrid real-time/turn based system required a lot of checks and balances. Our most frequent bugs were generally around the game keeping track of who should go when. Many times, enemies would interrupt the player when they weren’t supposed to or get confused if a somewhat-complex string of counters and/or counter counters happened. So, we had to make decisions of how to prevent this.
This lead to the game being built in a sorta closed state. Combat had to get locked down to certain decisions, like, if you selected an uppercut or a finisher, the game would prevent you from selecting a move afterwards. This was to prevent the player from wasting resources, but also, we had decided that if any enemy was knocked down during a “turn” then the game would unpause, so we had to mitigate times where enemies would unpause prematurely, and possibly interrupt a player attack while the player was stuck in a combo. But this limited player expression, and with the new distance attacks and other elements of the systems, we needed to revisit the order in which things worked.
This was something that was beneficial to have new eyes on, because one of our new programmers took the lead on doing things that allowed us to open up the system more, so you can do cool combos like uppercut one guy and do a running lariat on another. Or do a high kick knockdown, and then a backflip kick to the enemy behind you. It really made everything more exciting!
You added quite a few new foes into the game with this DLC. What ideas went into creating interesting new enemies to add into the game? How did you use new enemies to expand on the world of Treachery in Beatdown City?
Yeah, we added over double the amount of enemies! Which I don’t know if that was a wise decision, but I kept trying to cut enemies, and every time I did, the list maybe got longer? I’d see a gap in a part of the game and go, ooh, we need an enemy who can do THIS here. In fact, I still have one last enemy that I didn’t add to the game because I promised I’d stop adding them [laughs].
A great deal of the enemies are these amalgams of real-life situations/people that we’ve run into/experienced and some sort of artistic license. But as I say that, there’s also a story to tell. And there’s some…complications in the story where certain enemies just can’t be around anymore.
So, in order to make our enemies, there are a few matrixes that I work on—I design the enemies with tentative attack styles, and with some details about who they are, and what moves would be cool to get in. Then I look at how many of X class type (brawler, sneaky, grappler, etc.) are in the game. Treachery in Beatdown City is very faction-driven, where there’s pools of enemies that make sense for a neighborhood, or a profession, or some other intersection. Then we find the crossover between them, both from a gameplay standpoint (how do they fight together) and from a story/sociological/humor POV. Like, why would a pink-haired NFT selling influencer be hanging out with a Black conservative politician? And why are either of them in the news building? And if the influencer is a sneaky type, and the Black conservative is a support, who needs to also be in the fight?
For enemy design, we look at a lot of fighting game references for characters. We think about what would be a cool moveset to have, we identify characters, simplify movesets, and then go from there. In this update, we added several characters who pull heavily from Tekken movesets, for example. Some who pull from King of Fighters movesets. And some who fight similarly to some real people.
All in all, it’s kind of complex because we keep this edict of making the enemies as diverse as possible, so generally there are no two enemies who are exactly alike, and it’s very rarely that enemies even share movesets.
I also had to realize that this is where the game is supposed to get harder, so we had to take the training wheels off a bit, and just made all the enemies more difficult, more unpredictable, etc.
We also have two boss enemies who are non-violent characters, which took a bit of work to setup, but I’m happy with how they came out. One is a dance battle and the other is a trivia show.
Likewise, you expanded on the city with some new areas. How did you create compelling new areas that felt at home in your game world?
The second and third acts of the game get a lot of visual variety because of how the environments keep changing, which was both cool and challenging to pull off.
I had begun working on Times Square a while ago, but when making the top-down map, I realized we needed to make Times Square a bit wider to sell the space as being much bigger. I designed a lot of brands for billboards in cutscenes and translated those to the top-down maps.
But beyond Times Square, we were going to some new environments, such as buildings, the subway, and other spaces, so we were able to play with what those spaces should look like, which was a big change of pace. That was challenging to do because many environments, like offices, don’t look interesting—it’s not easy to add unique touches to big rows of cubicles. Offices are known for repetition…so we actually didn’t avoid that specifically, and once I found my groove with the art, and to avoid too much repetition, I had some fun with putting random websites on computer screens in the background that keen-eyed players will notice.
In that same overall map, we decided to add a whole late night talk show program for story reasons, complete with a live studio audience. This broke up the monotony of the level even more—going from desks and soda machines to studio seating and a whole set is a great transition. We even have a green room.
As we got into these spaces, I made them a bit more maze-like to avoid just blowing through the space, but also to give a sense that you’re actively being blocked by someone, which I hope folks appreciate.
What thoughts went into adding new story elements onto the game? What new narrative directions did you want to go in? What new stories or themes did you want to explore?
Treachery in Beatdown City is a very personal story to me. I had said some of my piece by the time we launched, and I took quite a while to really figure out what I wanted to do for the DLC. The first part was an intentionally slow build that focused more on individual interactions with other kinda-regular people than the greater “president kidnapped by ninjas” story. Which to me is hilarious, but many players didn’t get why we did that.
The whole “meet me at city hall so we can plan how three ragtag heroes would save the president” impetus for the story was always a red herring. I’m sure many players believed they were going on a journey that would come to a conclusive end, but the joke is we spent those levels focusing on “hell is other people”. The “real” story can’t even begin, because we’re too busy getting stopped by a bunch of idiots.
We even took the factions and enemies you typically see in other games and altered them for comedic effect. The biker gang who kidnapped your girlfriend aren’t the bosses; they’re just a tech company taking advantage of the gig economy to commit petty crimes. The punks and thugs walking the streets are just really annoying people who hang out at bars and have trust funds. Oh, but the cops…yeah they’re always bad.
Many of the themes we were alluding to in the first part (and even in the intro), maybe too subtly, we never got to address. Treachery in Beatdown City has always been about the concepts of “what is a terrorist”, “what does a terrorist look like?”, “what would a coup in the US look like”, “would it just happen in front of us?” and the problems with billionaire-funded media.
This has also gotten more pronounced over the last few years as we’ve seen a bunch of concentrated events, like the insurrection, the general disregard for other people during COVID, the value of private property over human life during protests, etc. I also moved to the suburbs in the US south from New York which has shown me a certain side of “America” that my city-dwelling self never quite saw before. The flag waving, “don’t tread on me” bumper stickers, confederate flags and Trump flags on dilapidated houses sitting next door to overly expensive newly built “luxury” housing subdivisions are still a bit unnerving close to 3 years in.
So, I started there. We had a bunch of new enemies done. We knew we were going to Times Square, to the Moneybags News Network building and to the subway at some point, and I had a bunch of archetypes of characters to get in the game (as well as Kickstarter backers)—and we were off. It took maybe a month or two of VERY intensive writing to pull off the script, which is double the length of the original game’s script.
I have been told by a lot of folks that they enjoyed my writing, including other writers, so I’m hoping folks dig this.
Music is a vital part of the feel of Treachery in Beatdown City. What thoughts went into creating new tunes that would make battles and locations come alive for the player? How did you pick artists and create music that felt right for your new elements?
I’ve worked with Inverse Phase for over a decade, and the music Inverse produces is amazing. To that point, Inverse Phase had made a bunch of work-in-progress tracks, many of which didn’t fit the original vibe, but were just sitting there ready to get worked on.
And even though our dev team had decided to split the game into two+ sections way back in 2015, we never stopped planning the “full” release. So, on top of those WIPs, Inverse Phase had already created a bunch of tracks that were either done or close to it, so finishing those tracks up was important.
The funny thing is, because I had been demoing the game for so long, I threw in a new map track for what would eventually become an Ultra Remix song as the demo map track back in 2017.
Ultra Remix deals with themes like grief, loss, betrayal by the state, and importantly eventual triumph and empowerment of our heroes and the players, so our new tracks reflect those themes. At least a couple of them are very somber, and one map in particular has made me tear up on more than one occasion because it has represented the end of the game’s development for so long. It also was made way back, and Inverse cited the goings-on in Charlottesville around the Unite the Right rally as an inspiration for one track. As in, what it feels like to have somewhere feel very foreign and actively aggressive toward you and your expectations.
Then, after much of the soundtrack was figured out, I realized that the new levels all had new songs, so we went back and made new music for older levels which didn’t have their own tracks. One of the tracks was inspired by my dad’s music, which I found many years after we had already locked down the first set of tracks. My dad was apparently a brilliant musician who played in spots around the East Village/LES, so theming the game’s parallel to that level with something inspired by his music felt appropriate.
Now for our marketing campaigns, I have an ever-growing list of musicians who don’t make game music who I want to work with. It’s sort of a thesis for NuChallenger, to bring in outside artists to make cool art with and for games.
I love that we were able to make rap tracks that pump up the vibe of our very Hip Hop-driven game. We got super lucky with how Open Mike Eagle busted out the “BEATDOWN CITY WE’RE GONNA WHUP YOUR ASS” track with the beat by 2Mello (sampled from tracks by Inverse Phase). So, for Ultra Remix, 2Mello and Open Mike Eagle were a lock, but Mega Ran had done some early streaming of the game when we first launched, so I knew I wanted him on the track. And then I got the AIRCREDITS duo on the track for the REMIX, which I knew would be the launch track for a while. AIRCREDITS are another of my favorite groups out there, and their music is very post apocalyptic, with this song “No Water” actually having a lot of relevance to the ending of the game.
You also made some adjustments to the original game. What drew you to make these changes? How do you feel they enhanced the game or made it closer to what you originally envisioned for it?
As it is when you launch a game, you often just see the flaws. There was just some stuff that fell by the wayside for one reason or another. We also got some feedback, and because the game was finally out and I had put some distance between actively making it and seeing it with somewhat fresh eyes, I was finally able to say, “Ah yes, that makes sense”.
After getting the new team together, there were a bunch of things that needed to get reworked for the sake of getting all of the new stuff in the game. Also, getting a fresh set of eyes on things, a lot of upgrades/changes that would affect quality of life in the game were just much easier to implement.
We also took the game to EVO in 2022 and I was able to watch how people played for the first time in a while, so I took notes of what the friction points were.
And then we did some retooling of the onboarding to make it simpler earlier and let it play out over time instead of throwing a lot at players all at the beginning. We added in a context-sensitive tips feature that I have seen folks make use of since the release, which is awesome.
As a creator, what did it feel like to return to the game and work with its characters, places, and sounds again?
Honestly, it’s been great, but also somewhat difficult. On the one hand, I feel very lucky to have been able to close it out the way we did. But the strain of a 10+ year project just gets to you after some time. We still have some other release announcements, and we’re going to be finalizing Kickstarter rewards. And then I’ll finally be done.
I’m already working on new things, which feels good. I definitely do not recommend working on the same project for this long, as it’s very taxing. But sometimes something is so special to you that you need to, and in those situations, I guess all I can say is it’s a marathon, not a sprint.