Partnership with Xbox, Netflix series, DLC, future projects… the creators of Cuphead deliver

Game news Partnership with Xbox, Netflix series, DLC, future projects… the creators of Cuphead deliver

Would you like a cup of Cuphead again? On the occasion of the release of The Delicious Last Course expansion, we were able to meet the Moldenhauer brothers, namely Jared, co-founder/lead game designer, and Chad, co-founder/art director. Development time, partnership with Microsoft, contrarian ideas, post-Cuphead… we discuss different topics to better understand who MDHR is and where the studio will go in the future.

Interview conditions

The interview took place on June 29, 2022. It took place by videoconference on Teams.

JV: Players can finally play the Cuphead expansion, The Delicious Last Course. The first time we heard about this DLC was in 2018. Why was the development time so long?

The first part of the answer to this question is to not announce a game too soon. Everyone listening? Never announce a game too early! We got started a little too quickly. At some point, we realized that there were certain levels that we really wanted to reach, in terms of animation or music. This was going to take a little longer than expected. And then there were fun things like the pandemic that complicated everything, and other things piled up. Chad Moldenhauer, artistic director of Cuphead

JV: You’ve only released one game since 2017. Does that mean Cuphead is so successful that it manages to sustain the studio on its own?

Yes. I think we’re in the extremely lucky position to have a game that’s successful enough that we can work with a team, develop DLC, and even move forward on side projects. For example, we made a port for the Nintendo Switch, and the PlayStation 4. Chad Moldenhauer, artistic director of Cuphead

Partnership with Xbox, Netflix series, DLC, future projects… the creators of Cuphead deliver

JV: We know the history of Studio MDHR. You’ve worked on Cuphead for a long time on the weekends, you do an E3 where Microsoft shows excerpts from the game, players fall in love with Cuphead, you quit your jobs, you take financial risks, you recruit. In an interview, you say that the means are no longer the same when Microsoft enters the dance. How, in practice, Xbox has helped you.

It was a set of things. First of all, the team at ID at Xbox was amazing, because none of us had any experience in making games or how to market them. Exclusivity with Microsoft gave us enormous means in terms of marketing. Just being there at E3 was a huge thing. There are other things they have helped us with that are under contract. We can easily say that we have been well helped by Microsoft. Chad Moldenhauer, artistic director of Cuphead

We had tried to do small projects and other things before, but never a game of this magnitude. So there was a lot to learn. Having the ID at Xbox team to advise you or even plan things out. We were able to change the game thanks to their support and that of our fans. Without it, we would just keep working in the dark on a little thing that looks like an old cartoon and wondering if anyone would like it. Cuphead was shown at E3 and then it went around the world, it went to Japan, Brazil, Germany. Microsoft showed it in many places, and I thank the whole team because we didn’t have time to travel at all at that time. We should have stopped developing the game and said ‘let’s go to Germany for a week or two’. So it goes far beyond just support and a bit of marketing. It’s almost impossible to imagine that we would have completed a project of this magnitude without this kind of support and ability to build a fanbase. Cuphead Lead Game Designer Jared Moldenhauer

JV: In Los Angeles during E3 2018, Cuphead was everywhere. In the shops around the Convention Center, there were always many soft toys or goodies from the game. Today, there is even a television series on Netflix. How do you explain this Cuphead madness?

I don’t know, I could just say that we are lucky to have the best fans. It made it possible to reach Netflix and to be interested in the possibility of making a series, which allowed us to reach a new audience. You know, we get a ton of emails from people who have never heard of the game saying, “Our kids love watching Cuphead, and these characters are really, really interesting.” And that amuses me. Our characters could have been anything, like tigers with machine guns and tattoos. There was something about the absurdity of a character with a cup and a straw sticking out of his head that drew us in and helped us create a universe to match him, and of course share the absurdity and the aesthetics of the 1930s. It’s just having this great connection with fans that allows us to obtain Funko Pop figures and other merchandise, such as posters or socks. It is something very strange. Cuphead Lead Game Designer Jared Moldenhauer

Partnership with Xbox, Netflix series, DLC, future projects… the creators of Cuphead deliverPartnership with Xbox, Netflix series, DLC, future projects… the creators of Cuphead deliver

JV: What do you think of Microsoft’s way of working with independent studios? Have you noticed any progress? Would you see things to improve?

One of the most remarkable things about working with ID at Xbox is that the team understood that games need time to breathe and there’s no rush. We discussed that we wanted to push the release date of the game and we had the idea to extend it. They really let us play with our own limits and that’s a huge thing, especially for new developers. The fact that they are really open to the idea of ​​creating the best possible product in a given time frame has helped us a lot. Everyone has been great and it’s actually quite the opposite of what you can imagine working with a large company. We felt like we were talking with friends we had known for a long time. Chad Moldenhauer, artistic director of Cuphead

JV: About The Delicious Last Course, are there any things you wanted to improve from the base game? What was your ambition? Did you just want to extend the adventure?

We took Cuphead and pushed him to his limits. We’re trying to get close to what Disney did with Fantasia, take something and take it 10 or 20 steps forward. In the DLC, we pushed the frame count to the point where there was no more RAM on the consoles. We have crazy transitions and not just a change of scene. On top of that, when Kris Maddigan came in to compose the music, he was like, “I have these great ideas where we can take early Hollywood and mix in other musical influences”, which wasn’t not the case for the first game. We wanted to go a little crazier. Kris said, “OK, if I make this kind of music, it’s going to have to double the number of musicians and have a big string section”. We really wanted to push ourselves for this DLC. Chad Moldenhauer, artistic director of Cuphead

That was definitely the goal and everyone was excited to push the boundaries of what we had already created. Why not celebrate what Cuphead was by doing a bit more, including in the OST? Even if it’s just an island, a kind of small piece of the whole Cuphead adventure, it’s ultimately much more excessive in approach than what we had. Today, people know what they can expect from Cuphead. So now we can go one step further than the original game. It doesn’t mean it’s harder, it just means there’s a little more to it. Everything on this island is a natural expansion and progression from the first game, with the folks on the team trying to top what they’ve achieved before. Cuphead Lead Game Designer Jared Moldenhauer

JV: Today, we’re talking about Cloud, Game Pass, NFT, free-to-play with microtransactions. And you, you’re making a game without an online mode, which focuses on boss fights, with a rather difficult challenge, with an artistic direction reminiscent of old cartoons from the 30s. Would you say that MDHR is against the grain?

We could see it like that but it is not intentional. We just do what we love. Chad Moldenhauer, artistic director of Cuphead

There is no goal to be against the grain or to be different from a AAA studio. It’s just something inherent in the fact that if you focus on 2D art directions and 2D games, it’s inherently very different from first-person shooters or open-world adventures of today. today. It feels like it’s there to re-explore the path to add that extra touch or detail to an existing genre. And also to bring something to a new generation of gamers who may not have experienced games like this. I would just say it’s not a conscious effort except for some things like NFTs. People are not interested in doing it! But we still want to launch our own digital currency, cup coins (laughs)! Cuphead Lead Game Designer Jared Moldenhauer

Partnership with Xbox, Netflix series, DLC, future projects… the creators of Cuphead deliver

JV: Now that the DLC is out, do you have any other expansions planned? Will your next game be in the Cuphead universe or do you want to do something completely new?

I’m not going to tell you the exact things we’re working on. I can still say that we are not straying from the Cuphead universe and that there are other genres of games, other audio and visual styles that we have our eye on. There are things that are bubbling here in our studio. Chad Moldenhauer, artistic director of Cuphead

Partnership with Xbox, Netflix series, DLC, future projects… the creators of Cuphead deliverPartnership with Xbox, Netflix series, DLC, future projects… the creators of Cuphead deliver

Cuphead and its extension The Delicious Last Course are available on PC, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

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