Treachery In Beatdown City Will Rearrange The Face Of Modern Brawlers

Treachery In Beatdown City
(Photo: Kickstarter) (Art: Diana Santiago)

Treachery In Beatdown City caught my eye at IndieCade East 2014. Based on look alone I assumed the game to be another entry in the storied history of go-right-and-button-mash brawlers I'd grown up with in the 80s and 90s. Visions of Bad Dudes and Double Dragon jumped in my head as I watched the vibrant sprites of Beatdown City jab, grapple and defeat their digital foes. But after playing the game, and talking with creator Shawn A Allen, I discovered there's more to Treachery In Beatdown City than meets the freshly-blackened eye.

"We try to make something that's truly interesting. You see a lot of brawlers these days, Castle Crashers, etc. They're cool but I feel like they're missing the point," Allen said. "I wanted to make a game that I felt moved the genre forward and was all about variety."

The huge leap forward being attempted by Treachery in Beatdown City is the concept of a tactical brawler. Gone are the mindless button-mashing tactics of yesteryear and, instead, Allen has created a turn-based combat system that captures the spirit of the brawler but with a more deliberate and thoughtful gameplay. Players need to manage a stamina bar that dictates both offense and defense. So if you throw everything you have at a foe and don't KO him outright you won't have any gas in the tank to mount a defense and open yourself up to more damage. Like other turn-based combat systems there are lots of options and nuanced buffs like bleeds, stuns, etc. Your opponents aren't ignorant thugs either, and Allen explained that a simple AI system can add a lot of depth to the experience.

"All the enemies have health-based behaviors. They have different throw counters and different moves and they feel like a character that is thinking even though it's very simple behavioral shifts. Like, 'if you go down below this health you will start attacking more fiercely,' " he said. "So then it becomes about creating a psychology so that it feels like you're playing against something that isn't just there to get punched."


But while many turn-based combat games take place in lofty pseudo-Asian fantasy worlds, Treachery in Beatdown City is set in Allen's stylized version of New York City. He's not making a mindless brawler, and he's not telling a mindless story, either. He's got strong opinions on diversity and culture and he's not shy about putting them in his game.

"Is there social commentary in the game? Absolutely. Just look at the main three characters. We wanted to have a woman who was not the stereotypically 'weak' character. She's also a Puerto Rican woman (designed by my wife who's also a Puerto Rican woman) so it has this interesting feminist lean in that sense, but she is also a minority and that makes it different, too," he said.

The other characters include a brawny wrestler who is technically an illegal Mexican immigrant but has Spanish heritage and whose story asks questions about what it means to be an immigrant, what it means to be considered an illegal person. There's also a Jamaican businessman, fond of Fortune 500 boardrooms and fancy suits with a passion for Asian culture and martial arts. Don't let the graphics fool you, there are no two-dimensional characters in Beatdown City.

"All of our characters have so much depth," he said. "People try to tell you that you have to own your minority's story. But each character is just a person. All the leads are just people."

This treatment isn't confined to just the protagonists, either. Allen said that even the enemies have backstories and drew inspiration for some characters from people he interacts with on the streets of New York everyday.

"I'm from New York so I have this contempt for bar-hopping people, for people who act like punks and demand money even though they're wearing $600 worth of clothes and jewelry. I respect the hustle of guys selling their rap CDs and candy and whatnot but I'm also like 'Get out of my face already.' So I see people like these and I'm like 'I'm gonna put you in my game and people are going to fight you,'" he said. "You pay attention to the person, and the way they look to you, and it's about designing a character that when you look at them you won't like them instead of trying to write them that way."

Beatdown City will make a perfect setting for these characters because Allen has put a lot of local flavor into the level design. During the IndieCade demo I heard him explain to players that one of the backgrounds was based on CBGBs. Another scene showed the ubiquitous "Learn Guitar" flyers plastered everywhere in New York City.

"I try to make the backgrounds have funny things. For example, we have a brand in the game called D-bag Vinyl and it's Kid Robot-inspired. It's inspired by people trying to sell you $200 vinyl figures. So it's just something that people notice. I'm not going to introduce that ever in the story. It's about trying to hide stuff and have people find it both in terms of the gameplay and the social commentary," he said.

Even the mayor of Beatdown City, Mayor Mike Moneybags, is a dig at former billionaire mayor Mike Bloomberg. Allen has no shortage of ambitions for the ideas and the action featured in Treachery in Beatdown City, but the development for the game started out with Allen realizing everything he couldn't do.

"I initially had this idea for a grandiose game. This super-giant, high-res brawler, Guilty Gear looking thing with, like, Street Fighter 4 3D art. I just wanted to make something that looked really cool. Sitting around at a AAA job all the time you get that bug. Then you eventually realize that 'No. There's no way I can do this,'" he said.

After leaving his job at Rockstar and using the severance and unemployment to fund nine months of development Allen was contacted by a friend who worked for Playstation Mobile. They were looking for talented developers to make substantial mobile games not the "throwaways" common on iOS. Allen has been receiving some funding through Sony to develop Treachery in Beatdown City for the PS mobile store, but he also just launched a Kickstarter in the hopes of bringing the game to PC and, hopefully, consoles sometime early next year.

The Kickstarter for Treachery in Beatdown City runs until March 15 so there's still time to donate. And if you want to stay up-to-date on what's new with Treachery in Beatdown City you can follow the official twitter account.

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