- “Cuphead” is an indie video game darling, having sold more than 3 million copies since September 2017.
- Studio MDHR, the company behind the game, was originally founded by two brothers with no prior experience in game design.
- For its video series, Levels, Red Bull Gaming talked to the family behind Studio MDHR about how they turned their passion project into an indie smash hit.
“Cuphead” has been the darling of the indie video game world since its release in September 2017; the hand-drawn, home-developed game sold more than 3 million copies in its first year and received countless awards for its unique art, music, and charm.
Behind the indie success story, there’s a close-knit family who was willing to sacrifice their time and careers to complete their passion project: “Cuphead” was created by brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, and Chad’s wife Marija Moldenhauer is a producer and artist for the game.
The brothers founded their own video game company, Studio MDHR, with no formal training in game design and began development on “Cuphead” from their Ontario homes in 2013.
The family talked with Red Bull Gaming about how they turned their dream game into an indie smash hit:
Jared, Marija, and Chan Moldenhauer of Studio MDHR worked on “Cuphead” and coordinated staff from their Ontario homes.
Jared and Chad told Red Bull Gaming they were inspired by the cartoons and video games they grew up on, and wanted to make their own homage to the pillars of their childhood. Though they had no prior training, the pair said the success of indie games like “Super Meat Boy” convinced them that a homemade game was worth the time.
Over the course of seven years of development, Studio MDHR gradually recruited about a dozen employees to complete work on “Cuphead,” coordinating them from the Moldenhauers’ homes in Ontario.
Chad Moldenhauer sketched the earliest designs for “Cuphead” in 2013.
Even as they cared for young children, the Moldenhauers dedicated themselves to creating “Cuphead” from scratch.
Marija left a corporate job to help manage the project, and eventually started helping with the game’s art and animation. Marija and Chad contributed hand-drawn cells for animation while James led the gameplay design.
“Cuphead” embodies the style of 1930s animation, in both art and music.
“Cuphead” is a living homage to 1930s animation, with a big band musical score to match.
The game plays like a mashup of classic titles like “Contra,” “Mega Man,” and “Super Mario World,” with players running and shooting their way through dozens of challenging bosses and stages.
The Moldenhauers say the game has set world records for the most boss battles and boss transformations in the run-and-gun, shoot-’em-up genre.
The animations in “Cuphead” are all drawn and inked by hand. Backgrounds like the one below took about a week to complete.
The video also revealed that “Cuphead” holds a record for the most hand-drawn frames of animation in a video game, with more than 45,000 cells. Caitlin Russell, a background artist and painter for “Cuphead,” said that each background has between seven and 11 layers, and single screens like the one above can take about a week to complete.
“I don’t think we would have been able to put in the hours and effort that we did into it, unless it was purely a labour of love,” Marija Moldenhauer told Red Bull.
“Cuphead’ will get an update with a new playable character in 2019. You can find the game on Xbox, PC, or MacOS.
Studio MDHR isn’t done with “Cuphead” just yet: In 2019, the game will be getting an update called “The Delicious Last Course” that will add a new playable character, Ms. Chalice.
You can find “Cuphead” on Xbox One, PC, or MacOs, and Studio MDHR is promising more games for the future too.