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Cuphead: An Interview with the Developers

During Microsoft’s E3 Press Event, there was one game that stood out to me. Cuphead is being created with all the old cartoons of the 1930’s in mind, while the game mechanics hearken back to the classics of the SNES and Genesis. Recently, I reached out to Studio MDHR with a few questions:

== When designing the game, how did you capture the tone of classic cartoons? What sort of technology are you utilizing? ==

The main tech we are using isn’t a tech at all. It’s all traditional hand-drawn and hand-inked animation which is exactly how they animated in the 1930s.

To ensure that the style is very close to the original material, we constantly research tons of cartoons from the era to gain knowledge and study the way key animations were approached. It also lets us add to our ever growing style guide that is filled to the brim with things that we adhere to most of the time—visual aids like: eyes[mad/sad/happy], pupils, blink types, teeth, tongues, hair, hands, feet; animation aids like: turnaround frames, action lines, timing, cycles; and even flaws: missing color in frames, poorly drawn in-between, etc.

After all of that is placed in the game, we have a bunch of post-processing to aid with the visual style we are trying to replicate. Different types of blur, subtle vignettes, dust, scratches, hair, noise and other layers are built on top of each other to produce what you see in the game. We’ve spent a TON of time getting the effects just right—probably two and a half months or more!

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== Judging from the videos, Co-Operative play looks to be a major feature. How are you handling Co-Op? ==

Co-op is a necessary feature for run and guns—this genre was MADE for two players!

We are testing out some team-up moves, but nothing has been implemented yet; we are very picky about fine-tuning and how one thing can affect multiple areas. If we can’t create ideas that complement or add/improve on the gameplay, we’ll drop it.

Two players has a unique give and take: some situations become easier while others can turn instantly chaotic if both players are not in tune. Co-op creates comradery and that in turn creates friendship—so what we are really saying is that Cuphead will create new relationships.

== Cuphead has a subtitle. Does this make Cuphead a planned franchise? ==

If we are lucky enough to work on other games in the future, we are hoping that we get to expand on Cuphead. But that doesn’t mean we are planning for it at all. We are going all out on this first release to the best of our ability and within a timeline that makes sense to us. In our minds, we are treating Cuphead as if it were the only game we’ll ever release.

It would be nice to explore more ideas and increase the Cuphead universe before moving on to a new title, but only “father future” knows if this will occur. We also both still dream of a Sega Master System port too, but all of our focus is on finishing Cuphead (SMS fans keep your fingers crossed!)

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== Will there be any secrets or things to unlock? ==

Yup, yup! We will have things like bosses, weapons, alternative path/shortcuts, NPC dialog, etc. As well, we will have a new game+ (that increases the challenge to a level we are proud of) and we are playing around with the idea of mini-challenges (e.g. defeat Boss 3 without letting him jump over you).

We always found our favorite games had secrets and even other hidden subtleties, so it is a MUST for us to include them in Cuphead. Take Punchout!: there are so many nuances to what seems like a simple game that it can be replayed for many years. It took me a lifetime to figure out first round K.O. strategies, and every replay felt as rewarding as the first time I played it.

== The Xbox 360’s Indie library, while vast wasn’t overly impressive. Do you think this is changing with the Xbox One?==

Accepting that the 360’s indie library wasn’t perfect doesn’t change the fact that some of the best games on the system were indie! With the constant growth and support of the indie scene, the Xbox One will be a great place for indie titles and we couldn’t be happier to be a part of the roster. I could be wrong but, if my memory serves me well, Nostradamus had predicted the perfect indie utopia happening in 2015, so let’s wait and see!

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== There’s been very little shown so far. Are there any plans for more footage or a demo? ==

When we are happy with what we have, we will show more. We are going to show off the parry system soon, and continue to provide additional footage as development presses on. A demo will come too, we aren’t sure how we will handle it initially (press only, or at an event [PAX, etc.]). But once we make decisions on that sort of stuff, we will let everyone know on this newfangled thing called ‘the internet’.

== Alex’s Thoughts ==

All in all, I’m massively excited for Cuphead. Hopefully, the newer consoles make independent developing easier. These days all the big name titles take few risks or stick to a formula they know will make money. Making money is the name of the game, but does the industry move forward when these games flourish? With the recent purchase of my gaming PC, I’ve found myself buying more and more indie games. Not only because they’re cheaper (that does help), but because I see true heart in them. It’s a level of soul that I remember from my days of staring at a lined screen, connected to the game by a wire on my controller.

Indie games are rapidly becoming the best games around. So next time a new Call of Duty comes out, think of how many indie games you could buy instead.