The Way of Double Dragon Advance
By Muneki Ebinuma for Game Kommander
Back in 2003, even before Game Kommander posted its feature on what the true version of Super Double Dragon would have been like had it been finished without the time constraints, the now-infamous video game website posted a full-blown commentary by the planner of the newly-released Double Dragon game, Double Dragon Advance. Muneki Ebinuma, the same man responsible for the creation of Super Double Dragon, explained in great detail his experiences during the development of Double Dragon Advance. We are happy to post this translated article of Mr. Ebinuma's experiences, and hope that American (as well as other) Double Dragon fans will gain a deeper understanding of this series and what it took to create and evolve.
The article was originally posted in Japanese on Game Kommander's website. The original Japanese version of the article can be read at:
Special thanks should be given to Game Kommander for granting the Dojo permission to translate and reprint their article.
Game Kommander - http://www.ne.jp/asahi/hzk/kommander/
Prologue about Muneki Ebinuma (aka Ebinuma Lee)
Ebinuma was the planner of "Double Dragon Advance" for the Game Boy Advance. Employed by Technos Japan in 1991, Ebinuma directed "Super Double Dragon" for the SNES. Afterwards, he worked on the arcade game "Shadow Force" as a fight choreographer, on the Japanese Super Famicom game "Hybrid Wrestler" as an assistant director and on the Neo-Geo version of "Double Dragon" as a planner and fight choreographer, among other products. After Technos' closure, Ebinuma worked as an assistant director on a few arcade and PlayStation games. Ebinuma is also an experienced member of a movie stunt team, having worked as an alternate motion capture actor for the character of Jann Lee in the Xbox game "Dead or Alive 3," as well as a motion capture actor in the Xbox version of "Ninja Gaiden." Ebinuma worked for Million Corp as a contract employee for the production of “Double Dragon Advance.”
I became enamored with the "Double Dragon" series after reading the developer's commentary included with the "Original Sound of Double Dragon" soundtrack album released in 1988, so I went to seek employment at Technos. I entered the industry to work on a series I was very fond of, yet the two "Double Dragon" games I worked on (the SNES and Neo-Geo games) both turned out to be disappointments that deeply tainted the franchise.
When I was called into the "Double Dragon Advance" project, I was only given 32 MB to work with, which is the smallest size of a Game Boy Advance cartridge available to developers (this was done to sell the game in North America for a low price). Since we couldn't change the cartridge size if we wanted to, the scope of our project was limited to how much we could program into the game, much to our regret. 32 MB is the size of most puzzle games for the GBA. After that is the standard 64 MB used in more typical GBA games, and then there's the largest size, 256 MB, which is the size I truly wanted to use for this game. I envy those developers that get the chance to use that size.
32 MB was not enough for this project and I ended up cutting down more than half of the planned material I prepared for the game. Despite everything, we put enough content in the game for its size and we may have even used up all the cartridge space.
We managed to complete development with no problems and we were satisfied with the quality of the finished product. We were constantly revising the game till we became satisfied with the quality despite the small size and limited time we were given. I was very impressed and deeply moved when I played the released version of the game and I think anyone who picks up and plays the game will fall in love with it.
I was commissioned to work on this project after speaking with Kunio Taki (the former Technos president) around the end of 2002. I agreed to work on this project, not only to make up for my "disappointment" with "Super Double Dragon" (having released the game unfinished), but also to bring back the old "charm" of the first four "Double Dragon" games.
The NES version of the original game is no longer sold in stores and I have yet to see a "Double Dragon" machine in the retro sections of Japanese arcades. I did not want "Double Dragon" to remain a thing of the past. I wanted to pass on the name to gamers who grew up without having played the arcade or NES games, as well as gamers who did grow up with the series and had fond memories. Because of that, we gave priority to the key aspects that made Technos’ games great.
Although we had several requests, such as putting in "Street Fighter II"-style special moves or making the game more like "Final Fight," I wanted to stick as close as possible to the original premise of "Double Dragon," which is set in a world of unrefined violence, so I rejected suggestions that strayed too far from the original concept. My superiors, Mr. Taki and Mr. Mitsuhiro Yoshida (who was in charge of "River City Ransom") understood where I was going and defended my position.
After that, it was important to figure how to combine the "fighting system" of the first four games in the series into one. In retrospect, this is the only aspect of the game I would like to mend.
For the player's character, we wanted to reproduce the mood of the arcade version of "Double Dragon." The main characters' hairstyles were drawn in the same "regent" style of the arcade game at first, but they ended up looking too much like bad guys themselves and made the mood a bit too "80s"-like. We redrew the characters, using the hairstyles from "Super Double Dragon," but with shorter hair to make them look more youthful.
Since this is a revival, we wanted to reproduce the old Technos' "arcade feel," so we started with the traditional "left and right punch" combo. The reaction given by the enemy after being hit on their respective left or right side was important to reproduce as well. Previous ports of the game did not attempt to reproduce this detail due to hardware limitations and there were not that many games that managed to reproduce the cinematic technique of the "left and right punch" combo that became a Technos tradition. After that, we tried to reproduce the pose where it shows your character walking with his back turned towards the screen. We then drew several strange animation frames for the "hair grabbing knee kick," doing several redraws until we got it right.
I always hated the "jump kick" pose from the arcade "Double Dragon." I gave the sprite designer a photograph of Bruce Lee delivering a jump kick to Abdul-Jabbar from my favorite movie, "The Game of Death," for reference to what I wanted the jump kick to look like. I laughed out loud when I saw the final jump-kick animation. I was very glad it turned out like that.
I also disliked the way the character’s “roundhouse kick” looked when performed on a stunned enemy in the arcade version. Being a self-proclaimed “kicking geek” myself, I wanted a more stylish animation, and we ended up with one that ends with the character’s back turned towards the screen and his arms open.
We drew two versions of the “Bruce Lee-style” fighting stance: one showing the character from the front and the other on his backside. We drew them so we could pose Billy and Jimmy standing back to back with one character facing to the left and the other to the right. I thought they ended up looking really cool, like the Japanese superheroes “Kamen Rider 1 and 2.”
The “sit-on punch” was taken from the arcade game “Renegade” and the NES version of “Double Dragon.” The “running punch” was also from “Renegade.” The “stomping” technique was a move we took from the arcade game “The Combatribes.” We wanted to include something from every Technos beat-’em-up made in order to honor the tradition of the old ways.
And finally, I wanted to include the three great special techniques (the “Hyper Knee,” the “Hyper Uppercut” and the “Cyclone Kick”) from the NES version of “Double Dragon II” since the beginning of the project, but I was unsatisfied with the input method in the NES game, so I began thinking of a new way to perform these techniques and that’s when I came up with adding a “kneeling” function to the controls. Now that I think about it, we added quite a bit of bold, new features and I’m pleased with how it turned out.
To replace the “hair grabbing” technique in the arcade version, we did several hand drawings of various holding positions and decided to go for a “head lock” in the Game Boy Advance version, which looked very similar and had several patterns.
Those who remember the first two arcade games will be surprise to learn that you can now put Abobo and Linda in a head grab, as well as Burnov and Chin, which wasn’t possible in those games. It was a subtle improvement I wanted to make from the old games. Of course, we also wanted to add more original features too.
This article is a copyright of Game Kommander. Permission was granted specifically to the Double Dragon Dojo to reprint the article. Reprinting the article without permission from Game Kommander is prohibited.