Double Dragon The Movie: Inside Not Out

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I have never watched the entire Double Dragon film from 1994, the infamously bad video game “adaption,” until recently. I say adaption as the movie has nothing to do with the game – a game I remember playing in the arcades. Since the film is terrible, it probably makes the game look better.

Many things that make the film bad – the acting, the effects, the script. But one of the strangest things is that the movie has an enormous amount of “plot” that has nothing to do with the game. Does a film about “two guys beat up a gang to rescue someone” need a post-apocalyptic LA, gang politics, magical amulets, and the like? It’s a story where everything is grafted on.

None of this worked, as you may guess.

I started thinking about how others might approach a property like Double Dragon’s beat-them up. I was thinking specifically about some Hong Kong b-movies studios, indie studios, and the like. The plot was a significant problem of the movie, so how might someone with a fresher, “punkier” sense make such a movie?

The original game has no plot except “beat people up until you save the victim.”  Some versions add a few simple elements – the martial arts the heroes practice, their enemies (The Black Warriors), being in a post-war New York, and the heroes’ hope to save their kidnapped mutual love interest. Not a lot to go on, right?

So let me ask, what if you ran with this paltry lore instead of piling on extra elements. Don’t add things on, but go deeper into what you have from the limited lore. Indulge me for a moment.

First, two brothers practicing a strange martial art and with a potential romantic rivalry? With the right actors, that’s a core dynamic right there! We have two talented martial artists with a great burden – and a petty rivalry eating away at them? How do they evolve and grow as they battle their way through post-war New York? There’s a story!

Now lets’ take the Inevitable Kidnapped Interest, Marian. Rescue-the-girl tropes are sexist and overdone, so let’s shake it up. Marian let herself be kidnapped to infiltrate the Black Guardians, all arranged by the heroes’ master. Only the master got himself killed before he let them in on his plan to take down the Guardians. Now Marian has to pull a Die Hard from the inside to help the two occasionally bickering heroes defeat the bad guys and get her the hell out.

So we’ve got a Martial Arts Die Hard with arguing brothers? What about the setting?

We’ve got post-war (indeed post-nuke) New York. So let’s toss in some politics, just not the egregious ones of the film. Several martial arts groups have worked to bring the city back, and some of the gangs would be up for it – except the Black Guardians want to rule. So our heroes have a chance to unite the gangs to fight for the city, and battling the Black Guardians can do it. That was their master’s plan all along . . .

There you go, you’ve got a film. There’s an epic journey across a devastated New York, with the city’s future on the line.  Two likable badasses with a weak spot for arguing, trying to save the city and their love interest while fulfilling their masters’ last wish. A put-upon and clever female lead operating from the inside, trying to corral her would-be rescuers. Gang politics as an excuse for epic fights – and of course, it must end in all the gangs attacking the Black Guardians in a kind of Helm’s Deep of epic action.

You didn’t have to add on tons of unrelated stuff. Just extrapolate and go deeper with what you have. It’s still two guys battling to rescue a girl in a post-War gang-infested New York. You add some depth to make it mean more.

Less isn’t always more. But a few things with depth can make a movie or book or whatever far better than many elements with no depth.

Steven Savage

Character Creation Is The Whole Game

(This column is posted at,, and Steve’s Tumblr)


OK everyone, here’s an amazing little game – the character creation engine is the game. So raise stats, unlock choices, play character – and this guy is looking for contributors/help!  So go on, try it then ask him how you can make it awesomer!

– Steve

“Will It Be Good” Is The Wrong Question To Ask About “No Man’s Sky”

I’m looking forward to No Man’s Sky, a video game of space exploration.  If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a game a few years in development that promises exploration of a giantic, procedurally-generated galaxy. It sounds like it’s going to hit a lot of my sweet spots with exploration, mystery, procedural generation, and visuals off of a prog rock album cover.  If you’re not up to speed on it, this reddit archive is helpful.

As the game promises a lot, comes from a small team, and has had it’s share of delays, there’s obvious skepticism out there in the world of gaming – at least to judge by the threads, discussions, and so forth that I see.. The question comes again and again – will No Man’s Sky be any good?

That’s actually the wrong question.

Clearly, the game has a lot put into it. Interviews with the developers and demonstrations show a serious dedication to the project. There are videos discussing the procedural generation that seem to show that, yes, this giant universe can be made. The idea of wedding modern graphics and procedural generation together to make huge, infinite worlds doesn’t sounds particularly outrageous.  Getting it to work sounds at least probable, and we’ve seen demos constantly that suggest it’s going to work.

From what I’ve seen of the game, I expect No Man’s Sky’s going to deliver pretty much what’s promised – a change to run around an enormous setting, find stuff, build equipment, and explore cool things.

The real question is not “will it be good” – it’s “is it going to be what people want?”  Any team this public, any team making these promises, would be foolish to screw this up.  The question people should ask is really is this a game you’re going to enjoy.

From what I can tell No Man’s Sky involves:

  1. Traveling in space.
  2. In space you may encounter places to trade and enemies to fight, if you want.
  3. If you choose to fight, you affect how factions regard you, and may be able to call for help in fights..
  4. You travel to procedurally generated solar systems.
  5. You land on planets which are procedurally generated.
  6. On the planets you find resources, catalog things, upload data, and maybe find odd and interesting stuff.
  7. There are probably some other secrets and things you can do to have impacts.
  8. Build new equipment with resources, and go back to #1.
  9. This takes place in a sort-of-shared setting that happens to be enormous.

To me this sounds great. It sounds like a game I’ll put a lot of hours into, and then play more casually, now and then finding a new planet to wonder at before moving on.  This is something I easily see me playing for 3-9 months in total because it pushes all my buttons.  This and Starbound will probably occupy my gaming space for 2016 and parts of 2017.

But it’s also cleary not a game for everyone. You don’t build homes or colonies worlds, you don’t lead fleets or create super-customized ships. There’s the simplest factional system. It’s a game about a journey, and it has both classic space game elements while lacking others.

I think there’s reason to have confidence in the developers, but when the game hits I expect we’ll see people both enthralled and disappointed with No Man’s Sky.  The game is going to not be for everyone, and that seems to be due to a deliberate choice about development. However with all the hype, I think there are people who are interested in the game due to hype, not if they’d actually enjoy it or only because they’ve projected expectations onto it.

Once it launches in June 2016, I want to watch the public and reviewer reactions.  Me, I’ll be exploring space.

  • Steve