Cuphead is an upcoming indie video game developed by StudioMDHR. It combines the run and gun genre with mechanics from others, including action RPGs. The game has been under development since 2010 and garnered attention at this year’s E3 thanks to its action-packed gameplay and unique visuals –which smack of 1930s cartoons.
Chad Moldenhauer, one of the two brothers behind StudioMDHR, agreed to answer a few questions about Cuphead. In the interview, he discusses how development of the title has progressed, what other games have had an influence during the creative process and why they decided to work on Cuphead in the first place.
You’ll be able to get your hands on Cuphead next year on both PC and Xbox One. If you want any more information about the game then head over to the official site.
What drove you to decide to create Cuphead in the first place?
Ever since we were young little tykes we’ve always daydreamed about making a video game. The only thing we could do, since we had zero knowledge of how a game is made, was to create board games – and damned if we didn’t created a bunch of those in our early years .
As we got older we dabbled in game development, from Net Yaroze all the way to the original Xbox in 2002 (we created a PC to the exact spec of the dev kit). Even back then, we were working on a run-and-gun, so the desire to create this game has always been on our minds.
But the real catalyst [were] two other important indie games. First Jonathan Blow came along with Braid, and we thought, “Hey, only one guy created this game and it’s awesome! But, it’s probably hard to get noticed.” Then Super Meat Boy was announced. Edmund and Tommy talked about the game along the way and it opened our eyes up to the fact that we can actually do this. So we planned and went through a long concept phase in our spare time. We played around with ideas and how stuff would work until it all made sense to us.
What prompted the decision to go in a different direction in terms of the game being non-linear, unlike traditional run-and-gun titles?
The main reasons are that Konami has pretty much nailed down the near-perfect formula for a linear, level based run-and-gun and we have always cherished the boss fights as the defining moments that made these games so special for us. It doesn’t hurt that Gunstar Heroes wasn’t as linear as previous games in the genre.
The non-linearity we’ve incorporated probably comes from modern game design – but we’ve put our own spin on it and we hope it makes people smile!
Just how complex is the gameplay going to be compared to other run-and-gun games?
We are trying to make the control and game feel as minimal and easy to use as possible – but then use all these tools in unique and complex ways. So, it’s as easy to pick up and play as Contra III (control-wise), but will demand more skill to master the complex parts. Here’s an example of a boss that we are still working on:
There is a boss on each side of the screen and their attacks are active based on which one you are facing. The attacks from the boss that you aren’t facing become dormant. Each boss attacks with a unique color, making their patterns easy to identify. The patterns never stop coming from both sides, but the dormant ones are dimmed and can’t hurt you. A series of projectiles that would be moderately challenging become outrageous as certain unavoidable attacks are employed from one side, forcing the player to change direction to nullify those attacks. Keeping both sides in check is maddening in a good way but completely doable.
So how tough can players expect the bosses to be in the game?
Expect them to range from very challenging to extremely challenging. We will have optional modes (like New Game +) that will be an ultimate doomsday challenge…but they won’t be unfair, they will just demand a reaction time of the gods!
Since seeing the response to Cuphead from E3 has it put any additional pressure on you?
We have a running joke: “No matter how good the game is, will it ever live up to the hype that the visuals have generated?”. And the answer is this – We love the visuals of Cuphead and there are a number of people who agree. We also love the gameplay aspects (and regard them higher than the visuals) and we hope there are people who agree!
But, the E3 response has summoned a very small “scope creep demon”. Some things that were thinking of cutting have now made it back in – and it’s making the game better, so we won’t complain!
Being an indie title, how have you found it trying to compete against some of the bigger games for attention?
We didn’t ever think about trying to compete with any games. Our main goal was to create a game that we loved (and loved creating), with the hopes that there will be at least a small group of people who agree with us on our gameplay, visuals, and audio choices. What we didn’t expect was that a larger group of people share the same love of 1930s cartoons and run-and-guns as we do – it’s very humbling and inspiring.
It’s clear that Cuphead has been heavily influenced by vintage cartoons, but what games have inspired the team before and during development?
A lot of games from the past make up the majority of inspiration. It was a time when 90% of the focus was on gameplay only…and that is our favourite type of game. Older games such as Gunstar Heroes, Contra III, Super Mario World, Mega Man X, Thunderforce series, Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga
Some newer titles are: Jamestown, Braid, Hardcorps Uprising, BlazBlue and Street Fighter IV.
The art style you have chosen obviously takes a great deal of effort through having to draw each frame of animation. Has there ever been a point where you felt overwhelmed with the amount of work?
Yes, every time I draw! The paper stacks up very fast and I think part of the overwhelming nature is that you see and feel mountains of drawings as opposed to digital files in a neat digital folder. But even in saying this, it’s not a ‘bad’ overwhelming feeling, it’s more of a “Holy shit, this animation took 30 frames, but it looks really good!”
Do you feel that with such a small team it has been easier to imprint some of your own personality into Cuphead?
For sure, this game will be filled to the brim with our personal touches: everything we’ve wanted to see in this genre plus a bunch of other themes/ideas that we love. We are going into this game without any goals of financial success – we just want to make a great game. I think if you let things like “Will the target audience approve?” or “What worked in the past?” get in the way, you lose all (or most) of the joy that exists in the creation of a game.
Cuphead is going to be console exclusive to Xbox One. How has the relationship been with Microsoft and the ID@Xbox program?
Amazing. I’ve said this before but: they are as perfectly hands-on or hands-off as we need them to be. They are the first ones to ask “Hey, can we help with this, can we offer that”. There is no ‘big corporate feel’ that clouds the process – it’s streamlined, fun and friendly. From our experience, we’d rate it a 10/10.
Have you had a chance to let other people play the game yet to get some feedback?
Yes, but only close friends who give great constructive feedback and aren’t afraid to say “I don’t like this or that”. The overall response has been great, and we hope that spreads over to the people who are eager to play it. Our next major milestone will be a demo that we will be proud to show.
Are you confident you’ll be able to get Cuphead out next year?
Of course! There is nothing in our way and we are expanding the team as we speak.