Indie Game Spotlight: Cuphead
Grab a friend and dive into this week’s Indie Game Spotlight with one of Tumblr’s favorites, Cuphead! Cuphead is a run and gun action game with a big focus on boss battles! Playing as brothers (and best pals) Cuphead and Mugman, you travel the colorful Inkwell Isles, taking on massive transforming bosses that often fill the whole screen, and trying to defeat them to collect soul contracts that you need in order to pay back your debt to The Devil. The game, deeply inspired by the Moldenhauer brothers’ love of video games from the ‘80s and ‘90s and classic 1930s cartoons, was created using the authentic techniques of the era—2D hand animation on paper, watercolor painting, and orchestral big-band jazz music!
We spoke with Chad Moldenhauer (Studio MDHR Co-Director and Cuphead Art Director) and Jared Moldenhauer (Studio MDHR Co-Director and Cuphead Lead Designer) about the inspiration for the game, working with family, and their upcoming Netflix show! Read on!
How did the experience of playing co-op games together as kids shape Cuphead?
Chad: I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Cuphead wouldn’t exist without the experiences Jared and I had playing co-op games together growing up. When we started talking seriously about making a game together, we immediately gravitated to our memories of playing tough-as-nails run and gun titles with one another or passing the controller back and forth to beat a particularly hard section in our favorite platformers. These memories solidified for us that we wanted to make a game that paid homage to that kind of shared experience. And then, of course, throughout all of the development, we drew on our love of these games for the art and design of Cuphead—they helped shape everything from attack patterns and boss transformations to easter eggs strewn throughout the game. It’s so gratifying to hear from players about the fun they’ve had playing Cuphead with a friend or family member; to have had a small part in the kinds of memories that fuelled the game’s creation.
Fun fact: the reason the more adventurous and headstrong Cuphead is P1, and the younger, more easygoing Mugman is P2, directly relates to the memories Jared and I have playing co-op games together. As with many older brothers during that era of gaming, I always had (and used!) veto power to ensure that I was player 1, while Jared had to accept his “younger brother” fate as player 2!
How has it been, working with family on the game? Do you have any advice for indie game developers who want to create games with their friends or family?
Chad: It’s hard to give one-size-fits-all advice because everyone’s story is different. In our case, making a game was something we wanted to do from a very early age, and I think the knowledge that we were working on something we both cared deeply about carried us through a lot of the tougher parts of developing the game. It’s especially crucial to make sure you’re going into it with a clear idea of the potential difficulties of working with family or close friends. We love what we do and we feel deeply lucky to be doing it, but sometimes it can be all-consuming. For example, Jared flew in not too long ago to surprise me for my birthday, and somehow work still managed to be a big focus of the trip. It’s definitely the kind of thing that will change the way you think about “family time” and that’s important to know going in!
Since the Nintendo Switch port in April, how has it felt to see the Cuphead community grow?
Jared: We’ve really been blown away by the warm reception and positive feedback for Cuphead from Nintendo Switch players. For Chad and me, the chance to even bring the game to a system made by a company that we grew up so reverent of was really a dream come true. I think we’ve said it before, but we owe so much to early Nintendo classics like Contra on NES and Super Mario World on the SNES.
Watching players connect with the game on a system like the Nintendo Switch, where they can take it on the go and experience it in new ways, has been wonderful. I think the most humbling sentiment of all so far has been hearing some people say that playing Cuphead together has brought back memories of their first gaming experiences with siblings on the NES and SNES. That’s such a full-circle thing to hear, and truly an honor.
Congratulations to the team for getting a Netflix show! How involved is the team in that new project?
Chad: Thank you so much! The idea that Cuphead will now be a cartoon is wild to us, especially since the game is also influenced by the cartoons of the 1930s! We couldn’t have dreamed of anything like this when we started out, and we’re really excited to see the world of the Inkwell Isles through a new lens.
We’ve mostly been working with the team at Netflix to help them get a sense of how we see the characters and the world they live in. With that said, veteran showrunners Dave Wasson and Cosmo Segurson are heading the team, and we’re constantly floored by the group they’ve assembled—from storyboard artists to writers to concept designers. We think fans and newcomers alike will be really impressed when they see what the team at Netflix has been creating.
What has been the most interesting thing to come out of creating Cuphead?
Chad: We’ve been so lucky to have the game reach some people we greatly look up to and admire. From getting the opportunity to work with legendary animator James Baxter at E3 in 2018 to collaborating with Todd McFarlane and his team on the creation of our recent Construction Kit toys, we’ve had some very surreal experiences thanks to Cuphead!
With that said, the most humbling thing has been seeing players connect with the game, and realizing how much support there is out there for 2D hand-animated content. Any time we receive fan art, or a note from a player telling us about a special experience they’ve had with the game, it really solidifies why we do what we do.
Are you itching to know more? Head over to the website to find out where to get the game, as well as its upcoming expansion, The Delicious Last Course, which will include a brand new Isle full of boss challenges, weapons, and charms to earn, as well as a new playable character—Ms. Chalice! It’s due out in 2020 on all platforms on which Cuphead is available.