PAX East 2019

Cuphead Interview: The Truth About Mugman

Cuphead coming to Nintendo Switch is confounding and excellent. I’m lucky to say that both myself and Jarrett Green got to sit down with Tyler Moldenhauer from Studio MDHR to talk about it!

The first thing I asked, mistakenly, was how a Microsoft Product like Cuphead ended up on Nintendo Switch. It was clarified there that Cuphead is a “Microsoft Assisted product,” not necessarily something directly from them. The details of exactly how it went down remains a secret, but Tyler described all three of them coming together—Microsoft, Nintendo, and Studio MDHR—and figuring out if there was a mutual interest in getting Cuphead on Switch. It coincided well with Microsoft trying to put their platform of Xbox Live on other devices and platforms like PC and Switch, so this is just another thing that can reinforce that.

My biggest concern was the incredibly high fidelity of Cuphead, and how well that would translate to Switch. I got to see a bit of it in person, and I’m happy to say Cuphead runs flawlessly on Switch. The game runs at 60 frames per second in 720p on handheld and 1080p when it’s docked. Tyler explained that the majority of the work was on the backend, to reduce the overall gigabyte size. The Switch version has better load times, allows you to choose to play as Mugman, and these little bonus features will be coming to PC and Xbox One on the 18th alongside the Switch release.

Jarrett asked the better question of when, after Cuphead came out, did MDHR realize that they had made something worthwhile, especially pointing out the development was very difficult.

It came in varying degrees. Along the way we got amazing support from fans; the comments, the Reddit, anything on internet forums, we received a ton of love. There was some trepidation, ya know, it was a long time in development… [but] anytime we got interaction with actual people, we felt really good about Cuphead and the game we were developing, but when you go back, back at the computer and just developing the game, we were really insecure… On day one when we launched back in 2017, we pretty much made back enough sales for the development costs… so at that point, we were kind of good, and just the fan outreach since then has been incredible.

We also got into what really matters: Mugman. The Switch version will allow you to pick Mugman to play instead of Cuphead when in single player, like mentioned before. The still animations from before between the levels are now fully animated, along with more sprites like explosions and other incidental things that are totally new animations. Tyler called it “more love here and there”.

When asking what the word on the DLC is, I was assured “the DLC is coming! We’re working really hard that it reaches the quality bar, and we have to take a lot of time on the backend. But it’s coming.” When probing about the DLC a bit more, I did ask about Miss Chalice, who is a new playable character coming to the DLC. I specifically asked about a possible three player mode with Miss Chalice. “No, so… there will not be a three player mode. We tried a three player mode, but it’s basically unplayable… There is so much going on on screen, it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t up to our standard… Also due to some things in the fiction, that may be something that’s not possible…”

Then, the most important question we got to on the show floor of PAX: Cuphead or Mugman?

“I like Cuphead, I’m one of the few that likes Cuphead.” Jarrett correctly interjected here: How do you think this happened? How did Mugman become such a voice for the underdog?

People like the underdog! And they love Mugs! And also I think it’s that Mugman’s name is more fun to say. Also, Cuphead in the beginning is the one that gets Mugman into trouble.

I think it’s safe to say that it’s not like Mugman is just complaining about Cuphead’s troublemaking though, and that thought got this response from Tyler:

So as a guy who gets to write part of the lore… [a] Lore Corner with Cuphead. But I get to say that Mugman’s personality, while on the outside he is more passive than Cuphead is, he actually enjoys going on the adventure with Cuphead.

I pointed out to Tyler that at the time of the interview, Cuphead was #4 on the best sellers list on the Switch eShop. It was already doing so well before it even released. Nintendo has gone out of their way to bring games people specify and say, “Hey that’s something that should be on Switch,” and Cuphead is no exception. I asked how it feels to have this Nintendo audience clamoring to get this on their Switch: “I mean we’ve seen other indie games be really successful on Switch.” I pointed out here that they headlined a Nindies showcase. “ We’re super thankful to them for doing that… I dunno, Nintendo just has a history with video games, and to be able to reach out to that audience is super great.”

Success and Mugman lore aside, Jarrett and I asked about how you even follow up something like Cuphead. With how much work went into the art, the research, the inspiration, how do you do that again?

I mean, we’ve got a lot of ideas, we have an amazing team, and they’re bursting with ideas too, their imagination is just incredible. It becomes more of a collaborative effort. As far as a follow-up… It’s intimidating, there are so many people who really like Cuphead, and we feel a responsibility to make another game that they love. We’re confident, but we set the bar high.

To this I pointed out that there just aren’t really games that look anything close to Cuphead, and if they made another game as carefully animated as Cuphead, I’m sure people would flock to it. “I mean we have some of the greatest animators that I’ve ever met, and that’s not going away, so whatever game comes next, it’ll be 2D animated… Who knows what style it’ll be! But it will be 2D animated because that’s what our [team] is amazing at.”

Cuphead is a delightful, if frustrating game that I adore, and it was fun sitting down with Tyler to talk about it. For more on Cuphead and whatever studio MDHR does, we will no doubt be excitedly discussing it here.