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Cuphead is getting ready to release its big DLC addition, The Delicious Last Course, on June 30. This $8 expansion will add new bosses, weapons, and Miss Chalice, a new playable character that comes with unique abilities, including a double jump.
For fans of Cupheads, it’s plenty to excited for. For GamesBeat, the idea of more Cuphead can feel a bit terrifying. We have, um, something of a history with the original game.
So when I had a chance to play The Delicious Last Course during the Summer Game Fest Play Days event in Los Angeles this past weekend, I was determined to do well and put some respect on GamesBeat’s name.
And I did just that, managing to beat the demo boss — a diabolical ice wizard who could transform into a fridge, a snow monster, and giant snowflake — after trying for a bit less than 15 minutes. Now, I know, this might not seem like the greatest accomplishment in the world, but it still felt great.
My own narcissistic quest for honor aside, it’s easy to see that The Delicious Last Course is gonna serve Cuphead fans well. It’s more of the boss-based animation mayhem that made the original such a big hit. It’s just more, which is exactly what good DLC should offer.
While basking in the glow of my victory, I also had a chance to chat with Maja Moldenhauer, studio director and executive producer at Studio MDHR. I got to ask her about the development of Cuphead’s big DLC, but first I had clumsily ask for recognition.
GamesBeat: Normally I wouldn’t ask this, but because we have a bit of a reputation with Cuphead … you saw me playing the demo. I want you to go on the record and tell people how I did.
Moldenhauer: [laughs] Mike, you did phenomenal, and I enjoyed seeing that knockout.
GamesBeat: Was DLC always in the cards for Cuphead?
Moldenhauer: The genesis of it came after the launch of the game. Like many developers, there are certain things you can’t get because of time, budget, constraints like that. We couldn’t get them into the core game, but we couldn’t let those things go, get them out of our memories and thoughts. One thing being we wanted to make Chalice part of the trio of heroes. Again, we couldn’t get to that in the original game. And then there were homages to the cartoons that we still wanted to pay tribute to. It was just stuff we couldn’t let go.
GamesBeat: Chalice is interesting. I didn’t realize she was dead, I guess, until a bit ago.
Moldenhauer: Yeah, the storyline is that she’s trapped in the astral plane, which is kind of a ghostly universe. She eats this magical cookie that brings her back to life. Sorry, she doesn’t. Mugman or Cuphead eats the cookie, and they swap places. That character goes to the astral plane and Chalice becomes real. The whole story around the DLC is that they’re seeking some magical ingredients so that she can become permanently alive.
GamesBeat: Is that also a gameplay thing? When you beat the DLC, can you play as her without equipping the charm?
Moldenhauer: No, you always need the cookie charm.
GamesBeat: How does it feel now that you have Cuphead as this multimedia franchise? You have the Netflix show, the merchandise. Is it more than you imagined before?
Moldenhauer: Absolutely. Some time has passed, you know, since the original game came out. The Netflix show already dropped season one. But it still doesn’t quite compute for us. This was never even in our thoughts, that this would ever happen. It’s wild. You can’t put it into words.
GamesBeat: There’s a lot in this DLC, a lot of new bosses, the new character. Given the time involved, was there ever a time you thought you could spin it off into Cuphead 2?
Moldenhauer: Content-wise, it probably could have been a stand-alone game. Storyline-wise, it fits better as DLC with the original game. And just given the style of animation, we thought we would group it all together as one chapter. We kind of squashed the idea of a stand-alone pretty quickly.
GamesBeat: Chalice and all these new charms are playable in the base game, right?
Moldenhauer: Yes, exactly. You don’t even have to beat the base game in order to access DLC. You just have to beat a mausoleum. After you beat the mausoleum in world one, a mystery character will appear at a nearby shoreline or dock, and he’ll transport you over to the DLC island.
GamesBeat: What’s the difficulty we’re looking at here? Are you thinking that you could make this more difficult than even the base game, because of the DLC?
Moldenhauer: No, I’d say it’s a natural progression in terms of it being an extension of Inkwell Isle Three. As you play Isle One, the bosses and patterns and health are a bit simpler. Then it progresses. This is probably a natural sequence to happen after the last Inkwell Isle in terms of challenge level.
GamesBeat: After working on the base game, were there any lessons you learned there that you applied to DLC?
Moldenhauer: A lot of it was procedural things, making this more efficient. The number of frames of animation in the DLC, we really pushed and tested ourselves in terms of how far we could take animation in gameplay. There’s a ton of frames in this DLC island. We haven’t done an actual inventory check in terms of how many frames compared to the core game, but I’d say they’re very close in this one isle.
GamesBeat: Is there a point where this stuff almost looks too good for old-style animation?
Moldenhauer: No, that’s a good point. I’d liken the DLC to moving a little bit away from the early Disney era and closer to the Fantasia era. The layers and layers of effects, the sparkles and all that stuff, it’s definitely a bit later, the later years of 2D animation.
GamesBeat: That’s a lofty thing to compare it to!
Moldenhauer: Absolutely. I’d say that’s a goal for us, to get there. That’s the standard we were working toward, in that direction. We’re not there, for sure. We took the time we needed to make sure the quality was there. We weren’t just relying on the laurels of the success of the original game. We really wanted to give fans something new, something inventive, creative, exciting. Not something they’d seen before.
GamesBeat: Another big part of Cuphead is just that aesthetic, the music and everything else. Is that another big part of the DLC?
Moldenhauer: Okay, to put it into perspective, the original game had around I think it was 60 to 65 musicians on that soundtrack. This time around we have more than 110. Recording the soundtrack during COVID proved to be difficult, because of capacity limits in the rooms and things like that, but we did it. Kris Maddigan is the composer again on the soundtrack. He outdid himself, for sure. You’re going to hear influences from rococo to early western movies, but all within the same underlying jazz that we had in the original game.
GamesBeat: I thought it was interesting that the run and gun levels aren’t showing up as much in the DLC. Is that a matter of focusing on what worked best in the original?
Moldenhauer: I’d say it was more that we just wanted to experiment with something new, something we hadn’t shown or talked about yet. We wanted there to be an element of surprise for fans when they get their hands on it. The purpose of the platforming stages is to collect coins, so you have the money to go to the shop. We wanted to experiment with something new in terms of how to make money. It was more of an experimental thing.
GamesBeat: Chalice’s double jump is pretty nice. Is it difficult to go back to Cuphead or Mugman after getting spoiled with that?
Moldenhauer: There’s probably a little curve in terms of rehabilitating the moveset after playing with Chalice for so long. But it clicks back. You get used to it. It’s complementary. There are things, for instance, I don’t particularly play well with Chalice’s dash parry. I much prefer timing my jump. I think it’s just going to cater to different preferences.
GamesBeat: The dash parry is nice, and it’s interesting, but sometimes you find yourself dashing for pink objects when you see them, and you can hit an enemy or projectile by accident.
Moldenhauer: Exactly, exactly.
GamesBeat: How does it feel to be so close to launch?
Moldenhauer: Euphoric. We’re a very small and nimble team. A lot of us are in the weeds. For instance, I inked the game again this time. Stepping out of that and seeing it as a whole is wild. Seeing all the pieces come together. We’re so excited. We’re really excited. We’re probably most excited to see fan reactions.
GamesBeat: The inking process, what is that like?
Moldenhauer: It’s all on paper still. It’s not on celluloid, given the cost versus what it looks like. Animators, they’ll start by concepting something out, a design for a boss. Then they’ll go to key frames, how it’s going to react. Then it gets to in-between. Once that animation set is done it’s passed over to me. I’ll put another layer of animation paper on top. We do a cleanup and ink it. Then that’s what gets scanned in. It does get colored digitally. That’s the first time in the process we use digital.
GamesBeat: How many drawings would you ink in a productive day?
Moldenhauer: It really depends on the boss. I talk a lot about mileage internally, when we do forecasting, in terms of how long a boss is going to take to ink. It all depends on detail. That’s really what mileage is. It could be anywhere from six minutes a frame to about 14 minutes a frame.
GamesBeat: How does it feel to get people here and playing this thing now?
Moldenhauer: It feels amazing. I can’t tell if it’s skewed by what everyone’s been through the past two and a half years, or the fact that we’re finally delivering and shipping this, but it’s beyond what we expected. We’re very proud of it.