The run-and-gun indie game Cuphead took 2017 by storm with a massive opening two week success, selling over one million copies.
Susan, from the EloTalk writing team was able to sit down with one of the game’s programmers, Kezia Adamo. In this exclusive interview, Adamo shares her experiences in the video game industry, game development challenges, and Studio MDHR.
S: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us about Cuphead. So take me back to the beginning, how did you get into programming for video games?
K: I ended up going to college for game development. I was in a marketing program prior and wasn’t enjoying it at all. I came to the conclusion that I wanted my career to be more fulfilling creatively, and game development seemed to be the answer. Before that, my programming experience was super limited to basic HTML/CSS. I also played around with RPG Maker and Gamemaker a little bit. I was originally going to enter the industry as an illustrator, but I ended up enjoying programming far more.
S: Did you take it at Algonquin? How long was the course? (Algonquin is a local college in Ottawa, Ontario.)
S: After doing the course, how did you find out about Canadian indie development companies? Did the school have a list of places to start, or did you have to find that out on your own?
K: I did get a four-month contract after graduation for a mobile company, but other than that it was mostly seeking out companies on my own through networking. I got the Cuphead job through Tony Coculuzzi, Cuphead‘s lead developer at the time, as I knew him through an indie game development meetup in Ottawa (Dirty Rectangle) showing off indie game projects. Studio MDHR was looking for junior developers to help out and Tony reached out [to me].
S: How much downtime was it from working with the mobile company to getting a position with Cuphead?
K: Around four months. Which, considering how difficult the game development industry is to break into, is pretty lucky.
S: What do you mean? Is it that there aren’t a lot of opportunities here, or that the industry is highly competitive?
K: Unfortunately, here in Ottawa there aren’t a lot of opportunities. A lot of people have to move to Montreal or Toronto to find work. This is also something they [the teachers] warn you about on the first day of taking the game development program. The industry itself is very competitive on top of that.
S: How long had Studio MDHR been working on Cuphead before its launch in September?
K: The Moldenhauer brothers wanted to make a game for a long time but development didn’t start until 2010. Back then, it was just a small side project with only eight bosses planned. Eventually, the game was shown at E3 2014 and the reception was so huge, they decided to expand the scope and hire on a full team. I was brought onboard at the end of 2015.
S: That shows their dedication to the game. So what were some of the challenges Studio MDHR had to go through to get the game to market?
K: Obviously, that isn’t my expertise but I don’t think there were too many challenges as people were very excited and intrigued by the 1930s traditional animation style. That made the game stand out more than anything. But we wanted to make sure the gameplay still had a lot of substance and that people would stick around for that.
S: I didn’t realize the style would be so popular. So, were you expecting the success that you received?
K: I think we all expected the game to do reasonably well, but I’m not sure if anyone expected as much as one million sales in two weeks! We’re all ecstatic that people are enjoying Cuphead this much and that the hard work paid off!
S: Earlier today I read an article on IGN about a sequel to the game. Are you excited, and is there anything you can say about that?
K: I’m very excited for the future of Studio MDHR. There isn’t much I can say on the subject as everything is still under wraps, but we’re going to keep making games. Definitely stay tuned!
S: Does this mean you will continue to work with Studio MDHR?
K: Yes! Working on Cuphead was extremely rewarding and the entire Studio MDHR team is fantastic. I can’t wait to see what new projects we embark on.
S: So, I know that many companies operate in the United States, making it difficult to get into the gaming industry as a Canadian. You were fortunate, but how can aspiring programmers, especially in Canada, find companies they can apply to?
K: The best thing you can do is network and showcase your own projects. Show that you’re capable of the work required and that you’re a good person to collaborate with. Also, be willing to move if you don’t live in a major city. It’s tough and may take a while but don’t give up!
Kezia lives in Ottawa, ON and can be found on Twitter. During the course of this interview, she mentioned meeting Tony Coculuzzi at Dirty Rectangles, an indie development expo located in Ottawa. For more information about Studio MDHR, check out their Twitter and website. The IGN article where they talked about Cuphead with the Moldenhauer brothers can be found here.
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