We’re very excited to launch Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap for Xbox One on Tuesday, April 18! In this blog post I would like to talk a little about the creation of the game.
A bit of background first. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a remake of a cult classic originally released in 1989 on Sega Master System, and then later TurboGrafx-16 and Game Gear. Like many who had the chance to play this game in their childhood, we were amazed by the amount of exploration, the secrets, and the catchy soundtrack! Being big fans, we had a dream: to bring the Wonder Boy license back and create a beautiful, 2017-worthy facelift to this much-loved game. This is how our Parisian studio Lizardcube was formed and we were quickly joined by DotEmu on this project.
In The Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, you play as Wonder Boy (or Wonder Girl!), who early in the game becomes cursed by the Meka Dragon and turned into a half-human half-lizard monstrosity. The only way you can return to your human form is to find the Salamander Cross, which is said to be held by another dragon… However, the curse deepens as you slay more dragons and you end up playing as variety of half-animal characters: Lizard-Man, Mouse-Man, Piranha-Man, Lion-Man, Hawk-Man, each bearing new abilities and allowing you to explore Monster Land.
Our art director Ben Fiquet comes from a background of working on comic books and animated series. So we decided to take advantage of his experience and create the game in a traditional fashion, hand-animating every character frame by frame. This technique is rarely used in video games because it is a lot of work but we feel that it gives a unique cachet to the characters. They are clean and instantly readable, which is essential to the gameplay, while preserving a craft-y and cartoon-y look. Another game using a similar technique is the upcoming Cuphead which adopts a retro-animated look. Here’s an example showing the evolution of Lion-Man running animation:
For the music Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap we also aimed at using traditional techniques. While the original soundtrack used the beeps and bops you would expect from an 8-bit era game, the melodies were particularly catchy and contributed a lot to the popularity of the original series. So, we started from a base of reusing the original melodies by Shinichi Sakamoto, and worked with Michael Geyre to create completely new orchestrations based upon them. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap had variety of environments and surreal transitions where, for example, opening a door in the sky would lead you to the desert, etc., so Michael crafted a soundtrack borrowing from many different genres, ranging from classical to traditional folk from different countries, with bits of tango, jazz, synth pop. It is a pretty crazy soundtrack!
To complete this exploration of our “neo-retro” remaster, I used reverse engineering techniques on the old game cartridge to understand exactly how the original game was created. While we obtained the license to remake the game, so many of its secrets were forgotten even by its original creators! It was necessary for us to make sure the new version would include every one of those secrets, and then more. We studied how the old game stored its secrets, how it simulated its physics and collision behaviors, how it decided on random drops, along with hundreds of other details, and we replicated all of that. Then, we started making changes and tweaks to the game to improve it even further. We made the game smoother and play better across the board, while trying to stay faithful to its original spirit.
We added some cool retro features as well. With the press of a button, you can change from modern graphics to the original 1989 graphics! Ditto with the music and sound effects. You can even mix and match, like playing with modern graphics and retro music. You can change instantly in the middle of gameplay without having to go to a menu, and it’s amazing and fun to compare the difference that three decades have made. Cherry on the top, the game allows players to restore their 1989 save in the form of passwords! We hope some of you guys still have them scribbled in an old notepad somewhere…
All in all, we wanted to restore this classic and ensure it would be enjoyed by a variety of players, from the younger players to those who didn’t have a chance to play the original back in the day and to the core fans of the original. The game feels decidedly retro in the way timeless classics can feel: just right.