It was a Wednesday night, winter of 1987. I remember it vividly. I was 8 years old. Let me tell you, I had been in love before, two years earlier. She was so beautiful and sweet, and more importantly, human. And now, I was in love again, except this time… it was with machine! All cold bolts, motherboard, and intoxicating light… I’d like to say that since I first laid eyes on the seminal Double Dragon arcade machine, I have not had a decent night’s sleep in 25 years. I want to own it. I want to wake up with it next to me; watch it softly bludgeon its foes for an eternity in my room. My devotion to Double Dragon extended past the machine. Want proof? Behold one of my many tributes to the game via comic:
My very own hand-drawn 1987 Double Dragon comics
Double Dragon altered my existence profoundly. It’s why I play video games. PERIOD. So when I heard that the versatile collective genius of developers at WayForward Technologies and Majesco Entertainment was reviving my favorite video game franchise of all time with the brilliant Double Dragon Neon, I wrote love poems anew! One of my heavy-handed prose reached WayForward Studios and so we met up for an interview about the blessed birth of Double Dragon Neon and the resurrection of one of video games greatest franchises.
Geno: It’s 1987, and suddenly there you are standing in front of that singular arcade machine Double Dragon. What was your first initial reaction to the game? It was such a leap forward for me at the time, that I felt the medium had just left horse and buggy travel for sweating speedway cars.
Sean Velasco (DIRECTOR, WayForward): My first Double Dragon experience was playing the original on Sega Master System. The NES version didn’t have co-op, but you could play the SMS version with 2 players! So my next-door neighbor Ryan Peart and I played Double Dragon, Ghostbusters, Shinobi, Zaxxon 3D, and many others. Drinking Ecto Cooler, sitting on the carpet, blowing in cartridges… these early gameplay experiences are what made me fall in love with games in the first place. We were 5 in 1987: the perfect audience!
Watch: Level One (Original Double Dragon Arcade)
Geno: The Double Dragon franchise has changed hands a number of times over the last two decades. It seemed in danger of being lost forever, withering in a vault of some unseen corporation, no one to bid it farewell. Double Dragon Neon will fix this of course. How did Majesco and your team resuscitate the brothers Lee? Were there significant hurdles to get the project green lit? Who was last to hold the rights to Double Dragon?
The original Technos guys still own the rights for Double Dragon under the name “Plophet”. I don’t know the details of who was contacted first, but as we were wrapping BloodRayne: Betrayal, the opportunity arose. Majesco called WayForward and asked, “Would you guys be interested in making a Double Dragon game? If so, we can get the license.” We jumped at it of course! We immediately pitched the “Neon” direction, and here we are!
Watch: Double Dragon Neon Steam Trailer
Geno: What made Double Dragon Neon a priority for Wayforward and Majesco? Is Neon the opening number in a series of new Double Dragon games? Or was it simply a mutual love of the source material. I am hoping you say yes to the first part!
The answer to your first question depends totally on the sales of Double Dragon Neon. We want to make a sequel and have tons of ideas that were left on the cutting room floor, but first we need to know that people are into it!
As far as the source material, we are all reverent toward Double Dragon. We love working with Majesco because we never know what is coming down the pipe next; Double Dragon was a very pleasant surprise. After making the combat-focused BloodRayne, this was a really good fit.
Watch: Relive 80’s NES fever
Geno: Was there a temptation to rewrite the series in terms of say a prequel? Did the staff want to add more flesh to the existing story, add new characters maybe?
We approached this game as a reimagining. It’s an over-the-top, 80’s themed feast of insanity! So we rewrote the story, added many new characters and enemies, and gave Billy and Jimmy some more personality. It has echoes of classic Double Dragon throughout, and the game is really funny!
There are female Karate masters, warlocks, robots, and more. This game takes the series into a more fantastical direction, so we went wild with the designs. We have a new arch-villain, Skullmageddon, who is your stereotypically diabolical, Saturday-morning-cartoon type of bad guy. The story is very light because we are gameplay focused, but what’s there is madness. I still laugh every time I play the game.
Watch: The short-lived 90’s Double Dragon cartoon
Geno: Given that Double Dragon is now 25 years old, you must have had some very opinionated fans running about begging you for everything Double Dragon, Billy Lee’s reanimated corpse perhaps. What was the number one request from fans? What did they want to see? What did they not want to see?
People are extremely vocal about this game! Abobo busting outta the wall tops the list. Then you have the weapons-based combat: beating someone up, taking the bat, and using it against him! Certain moves like the spin kick and the flying knee were also must-haves. Beating up your friend was also a must-have, and this game is full of ways to either help or antagonize one another!
We have controversially not included the ability to grab people by the hair and beat them up; we decided that this would slow the gameplay down too much. Overall we strived to include everything that players loved about the original series; there are tons of references and throwbacks to the original. However, like any game developed by passionate people, our mark is all over the game. We hope that fans embrace this new direction for Double Dragon!
Watch: The original Double Dragon Neon Trailer from 2012
Geno: Have you had any contact with the original Double Dragon arcade team? What do they think of this new coat of paint?
Yoshihisa Kishimoto, the original creator of Double Dragon, has been involved from the beginning, to ensure that the game was up to the standards of the Double Dragon legacy. He read the initial documentation, gave feedback on the character designs, and even helped critique some of our gameplay choices! We were even given access to some early character art from the original games, which was ridiculously cool. Getting his opinion has helped us separate the wheat from the chaff when it came to what was important. I’m honored to have worked with such a legend, and I hope that he and the entire original staff enjoy the completed game. We have the best job in the world!
Watch: Double Dragon 2 NES Commercial
Geno: Double Dragon has arguably one of the most recognizable and influential video game scores in history. What sort of treatment is being made of the soundtrack? It has obviously been redone (and sounds excellent by the way!) How do you hit all the old notes, and still manage to forge a striking personal fingerprint? Who is in the conductor’s chair for this title?
Jake Kaufman is a freaking virtuoso genius and this is among the best soundtracks I have ever heard from him. I’m gonna let him speak for himself!
Jake Kaufman (Composer):Like many on the team, I spent insane amounts of time playing Double Dragon in the arcade and at home. I put its music (with Ninja Gaiden and TMNT2) on a cassette tape, listened to it on the way to school, and picked fights with the Sega kids. Man, it was so good. All of the classic Technos games were just massively influential on me as a composer (read: I steal all my ideas from them constantly.), so it blew my mind to work on this. I’ve long felt that Double Dragon‘s music was clearly inspired by 80s pop and film music to begin with, so I tried to slam together a wide variety of stylistic homages to my own 80s heroes — Michael Jackson, Van Halen, Devo, Harold Faltermeyer — which made it super personal (and ridiculously challenging).
Listen: Composer Jake Kaufman’s brilliantly saturated 1980’s score
Geno: I love that the Lee brothers have finally learned to play air guitar! I always felt they needed a taunt for their unworthy opponents. This is a new thing, how about new moves? I saw all the classic moves, and shed joyful tears. Have you all implemented anything new to the move set? I always thought they needed an air grab!
We have many new moves, yes! First off, you can now dodge, and then counter with super-powerful attacks. This is a little similar to Super Double Dragon’s counterattacks and it adds tremendous depth to the combat.
We added a high-five system to power up co-op play. Basically, you can high five during combat to do extra damage or share your health with your bro. It’s rad as hell because you can initiate it from far away and your characters leap across the screen, high five in the center, and swap places. It’s so awesome!
You now also have a mix tape, which gives you super moves, but you can only have one equipped at a time. So you can pull a bomb out of nowhere, jet across the screen in one motion like a bulldozer, or even summon an awesome-looking dragon to aid you! The mix tape can level up over many games so there is a good amount of replay value, which we thought was sorely lacking in the series.
You can grab a guy out of the air. You can do a big ground finisher to smash foes lying on the ground. You can knee a guy into a wall, and catch him with another move using our expanded air combos. You can bonk two enemies’ heads together.
Finally, brace yourself… we put jump onto its own button!
Listen: Double Dragon Neon – all about the wild
Geno: I see space, stars and ship interiors. Will our duo be fighting in space? Does this particular stage have anything to do with Battletoads and Double Dragon? I am thoroughly impressed!
I don’t want to spoil the settings too much, but the places you go in Double Dragon Neon are really varied. You do go to space, and you can get sucked out of an airlock (kind of like the helicopter level in Double Dragon II). Unfortunately there are no Battletoads… but mobilize the internet and maybe we can get them in for Double Dragon Neon II: The Search for Sensei’s Gold!
Watch: Battletoads and Double Dragon… yes it happened and it was awesome!
Geno: Getting into the mindset for the creation of Neon must have taken a number of rituals. How did you channel 1987 for wisdom? Were weeks of hair bands, pizza parlors and all night sessions of Nintendo the order of the day before the programming began? Any funny stories from development?
You just described our lives, man! We still have our old consoles hooked up. We have a holiday called “Mega May” where we play all the Mega Man games during May. Our design notebooks are hot pink. We use the word radical in every day conversation, and I am currently wearing a Captain EO T-Shirt. We live this stuff!
The development on this game was bonkers. We mostly talked in Wario voices and we thought it was really hilarious, but it was probably just annoying to everyone else at WayForward. Honestly just imagine a huge group of turbo nerds in the same room for an entire year and think about how unintelligible they would be. If I tried to tell you one of those stories, you would look at me weird… just like everyone else!
Listen: The gorgeously muck-covered Double Dragon “Stage 2″ theme
Geno: There are a billion versions of Double Dragon out there today. Nintendo, Mega Drive, Neo Geo, Commodore 64, Zeebo, Gameboy Advance, Gameboy, on and on and on. Which do you feel is the best port of the original Double Dragon arcade?
My favorite Double Dragon games are the SMS Double Dragon, Double Dragon Advance on GBA, and Double Dragon II on NES. As far as the perfect arcade port… there are just so many versions. I’d probably go with the SMS version just because it’s the one I played as a kid!
Watch: One of the million Double Dragon arcade ports in action
Geno: Do you have any final words from the dojo of Majesco and Lee about Neon for our readers?
It’s funny you call it that, because we put up ramen shop-style cloth flaps at the entrance of our Double Dragon workplace, and refer to it as the dojo!
To everyone: We really got into this game and poured our energy into it. Please download Double Dragon Neon, crack open a beer (or soft drink of your choice), and play it with a friend. If you are drunkenly laughing and high-fiving one another a couple hours later, then we succeeded!
Geno: Thanks for making the time for me today, WayForward has certainly done this legendary franchise incredibly proud!
Double Dragon Neon jumps on the Steam-powered train very soon.
Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.