One of the most exciting announcements during Microsoft’s E3 press conference was not how Halo 5 would reshape the FPS genre, nor how Forza 6 would bring 500+ cars to drool over. And it definitely was not the new $150 Xbox Elite Controller. No other title took my breath away more than the indie game Cuphead.
Cuphead is the brainchild of brothers Jared and Chad Moldenhauer, which they call “a love letter to two of our favorite things in the world: 1930s animation and the action platform games of the 1980 & 1990s”.
The game has been in development for quite a while, actually—it was first teased in October 2013. The title has come a long way since it original debut. In a press released the same day the game made its ‘second’ debut at E3, the team at Studio MDHR stated:
We know we said that Cuphead would be out in 2015 and now we’re saying that Cuphead will be out in 2016. We’re sorry. But this Cuphead isn’t that Cuphead. This Cuphead is so much better. With Microsoft helping us out, we are able to push the art further, refine the mechanics more, and deliver the Cuphead game we’ve always dreamed of. In development, time is our greatest asset, and pushing the release to 2016 allows us to make for the best game possible
On the last day of E3, right before the show closed its doors, I bumped into the creative minds behind the indie title that charmed thousands, if not millions of gamers around the world. While Jared was suffering from a sore throat, Chad was willing and more than ready to answer some questions on behalf of his brother and the rest of the team. Multiple accolades adorned their booth and I couldn’t help but congratulate Chad and ask him how he felt about the reception the game has gotten so far.
As soon as I finished my question, Chad was handed another ‘Best-Of-The-Show’ award. As he proceeded to hand it over to Jared, he told me they never expected that kind of reception. What once started as a dream of two brothers trying to honor two forgotten arts has now enchanted the whole world. He continued that they wanted to create something unique—a game in the same vein of Gunstar Heroes, Metal Slug and the Contra series amongst many others.
They wanted to make a game with the same level of difficulty as the ones they grew up playing, but decided to tone down the difficulty a bit by offering unlimited lives and letting players keep their weapons. Despite the changes, the game isn’t a walk in the park; during the whole show only a handful of players were able to beat one of the most difficult boss fights (Captain Silver comes into mind) available in the demo.
“You’re still including a hardcore mode, right?” I asked.
“Oh, definitely” Chad replied before adding “The one thing we regret about not having in the demo is the scoring system and the stats menu that would rank the players according to their performance.”
One of the aspect that sets Cuphead apart from the rest of the games Microsoft showcased in their booth is the unique look of the game. Wondering who was the one who came up with the hand-drawn graphics, I decided to ask Chad about the design of the characters and to my surprise the man behind the art was present in the showfloor. It turns out it was Chad himself the one responsible for most of the original assets of the game. Serving as the art director of the studio, he along a small group of talented artists and animators have been providing life to the hand-drawn sketches.
“Our studio is not very big,” he said. Studio MDHR, named after the name that bonds the two brothers, started with Chad and Jared (who now works as the Lead Game Designer). The two of them plus other 12 members form the team behind the game.
Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo mentioned in a post regarding the current state of development studios, how in this day and age teams are able to develop games even when they live in different corners of the world. Studio MDHR is no exception, Chad mentioned how the studio members are spread all over Canada and the US.
Having asked about the people behind the game and its peculiar look; there was one final aspect I needed to inquire about. The latest teaser of the game boasted one of the most delicious pieces of music I’ve heard in any video game trailer, rivaling the track that played during the gameplay trailer for Super Mario 3D World.
“Regarding the music... The trailer at the Xbox conference blasted the whole theater with the most energetic jazzy soundtrack I’ve heard in a video game. Who’s the one responsible for the composition of such an amazing track?”
“That has to be the work of Kristofer Madiggan.” Madiggan is an Ontario based jazz percussionist and a childhood friend of the Moldenhauer brothers, he was given the task to emulate the music of the era that inspired the visuals of the game, but at the same time keeping an upbeat rhythm that would fit the pace of the game. “Right now the music is a mix of midi and live instruments, but we are looking forward to get a jazz orchestra to perform the final tracks for the game”.
As the fool I am for dynamic music, and given that the Microsoft booth was the noisiest one in the showfloor, I asked Chad if there were any tracks that would change depending on what’s happening on the screen. Sadly his response was that for the moment they have no plans of doing that, “our focus is to push for a 2016 release and composing multiple tracks, plus implementing them into the game would take too much time and effort”
Unfortunately, my time talking to Chad ended abruptly. There were still a bunch of questions I wanted to ask him about the development of the game, early concept art and if he could shed more light on the gameplay of the final game (including a couple of concerns that are still bothering me to this day).
Right before the lights went off at the Microsoft booth I managed to sneak in one final question:
“What’s in the future for Studio MDHR? Is there any other animation style you would like to tackle?”
“There’s still a lot of work to do in Cuphead and right now we are not focusing on anything else. Me and my brother have a lot of ideas we want to work on, but right now our priority is to meet the 2016 deadline...”
Before adding “ ...1980s Anime”
Cuphead is coming out in 1936 (plus 80 years) on Xbox One and PC
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