This has been a big year for Studio MDHR and its mascot, Cuphead. The platform shooter that took players back into a bygone era of animation is celebrating its fifth year. Its fifth year also turned out to be the biggest to date for the character. Cuphead finally got its first and only DLC expansion with The Delicious Last Course and also made his animated premiere in Netflix's The Cuphead Show. On top of all of that, the folks at iam8bit worked with Studio MDHR to put together a special Cuphead Collector's Edition that compiles the original game, the DLC, and some fun physical goodies.
Putting the Cuphead Collector's Edition together was no easy feat. Shacknews recently had a chance to get in touch with Studio MDHR to learn about what went into this special collection. We also got to reflect on five years of the mischievous drink container and what's beyond the horizon for this beloved character.
Shacknews: When did you first begin putting the Cuphead Collector's Edition together?
Maja Moldenhauer, Studio Director and Inking Supervisor: As with many of the things we do here at Studio MDHR, there's a "short version" and a "long version" to a question like this! In terms of core planning, ideation, and concept work, we began working with the team at iam8bit on the Collector's Edition several months before the launch of The Delicious Last Course, close to the beginning of 2022.
However, so many of the things that are in this edition of the game are the result of years worth of internal discussions, casual conversations, and general "what if" scenarios surrounding the kinds of things we might want to see in a premium physical edition of the game. We've been open with our community for a long time that we wanted to ensure the retail version of the game contained the full Cuphead experience, and would launch after the release of The Delicious Last Course. Almost by osmosis, so many of the things we did during that development period ended up sinking into the back of our minds and influencing the creative process when it began in earnest.
For example, our longtime love of physical materials and vintage animation styles eventually led us to expand our in-game physical maquette work into our game marketing, working with teams like Screen Novelties and Stop Motion Department on trailers filled with puppetry and stop-motion. So when it came time to choose a centerpiece for the Collector's Edition, a Cuphead puppet felt like the perfect fit! The Cuphead Collector's Edition is really emblematic of this kind of process – where we like to take time to marinate on the things we love and find special so we can think of ways to embody them in the work we make!
Shacknews: What's the marionette in the Collector's Edition made of? What steps were taken to capture the character's features?
Chad Moldenhauer, Studio MDHR Co-founder and Art Director: One of the special things about the marionette in the Collector's Edition is that it's not only an homage to the kinds of toys you might see in the 1930s, but in many ways is a toy that could have come from the era. The artisans at Rici Marionettes in Prague were immediately in tune with our desire to really go all-in on something that felt hand-crafted in the same era Cuphead was inspired by, and poured themselves into a design made largely of fabrics, wood, and string. The result is that each marionette really does feel completely unique in a lot of fun, subtle ways – much like toys in the pre-assembly-line era would!
In terms of capturing Cuphead's features, we worked with the team at Screen Novelties in Los Angeles to establish a design for the puppet that is very similar to the version of Cuphead you see in the game trailers they worked on – purposefully a little far afield of the “on-model” version of Cuphead in an off-kilter way that many of the earliest branded toys were.
Shacknews: You also included a hand-crank music box. What can you tell me about this? What song does it play and how were you able to craft this?
Jared Moldenhauer, Studio MDHR Co-founder and Design Director: We're big fans of our secrets here at MDHR, so you'll have to forgive me for saying that we don't want to spoil what song players will hear when they crank the music box! However, what I can say is this: we worked with our amazing composer Krisofter Maddigan to select a tune we think Cuphead fans will find instantly recognizable, and Kris even went as far as to create a custom simplification of the tune that would be suited to play back with the more limited range of notes and chords available on a music box.
Shacknews: What else can you tell me about what you were able to include in the Collector's Edition?
Chad Moldenhauer: We really wanted the Collector's Edition for the game to feel like a look back at the influences which helped shape Cuphead, as well as some of our favorite parts of the Cuphead experience since launch. A great example of this is the collectible outer sleeve for the game box, which uses a unique paper stock designed to have a leather-like quality to it as well as foil blocking for our characters and borders. This pays homage to one of our first physical products with iam8bit – the Deluxe 4xLP vinyl soundtrack for Cuphead.
Meanwhile, the outer box for the contents themselves is a theatre stage which uses primary source watercolor paintings from our "Sally Stageplay" boss level in the game, alongside brand new art, to create a stage for the marionette. One of my personal favorite parts of the Collector's Edition is our hand-drawn Inkwell Isles map, which contains (no exaggeration) hundreds of references to characters and moments from both the original game and our expansion!
Shacknews: What's the process in putting together a vinyl soundtrack? What makes Cuphead's vinyl soundtracks, both the 2xLP and the DLC record, particularly special?
Maja Moldenhauer: Like so many parts of game development, bringing a vinyl soundtrack together is a collaborative process. On our end, we work closely with our composer Kris to hone in on which tracks from the game we'd like to include on a vinyl, and then send those tracks for mastering and preparation. In some cases, this involves choosing new solos that feel suited to a unique vinyl listening experience or rearranging existing tracks to conform to the space limitations of the format.
From a materials perspective, we're also very particular about ensuring our soundtracks feel faithful to the era they're inspired by. For us, this means taking an active hand in illustrating the cover and gatefold art and working with the team at iam8bit to source unique paper stock. Similarly to the way we wanted to challenge ourselves to go above and beyond for The Delicious Last Course, we also worked to ensure its vinyl felt special for fans, including real family recipes and a custom illustrated poster by guest artist Shawn Dickinson!
Shacknews: Thinking about the Delicious Last Course soundtrack, what particular tracks stood out to the team? Did you have any favorites?
Jared Moldenhauer: That's a question more difficult than any Cuphead boss! Something we did differently with The Delicious Last Course was to ensure Kris was involved in the evolution of each level's theme right from the beginning, so that each song on the soundtrack could be composed with the level's cartoon narrative in mind. This is similar to the way things worked on classic animated feature films, as they transitioned to an era where music was composed to picture.
The result is a soundtrack we couldn't be more proud of, with so many distinct tunes! Some favorites among the team include tracks like High-Noon Hoopla, Bootlegger Boogie, A Recipe for Ms. Chalice, and Baking the Wondertart!
Shacknews: Cuphead is celebrating its fifth anniversary. Fresh off the Delicious Last Course and the release of the Collector's Edition and vinyl soundtrack, is there anything else Studio MDHR has planned to celebrate the occasion?
Maja Moldenhauer: After such a whirlwind year with the release of both The Delicious Last Course and The Cuphead Show!, we're thrilled to end things off with our Cuphead Physical Edition as well as the coming vinyl & Collector's Edition. We don't have any additional plans to announce for other celebrations!
Shacknews: Lastly, five years later, what's next for Cuphead and for Studio MDHR?
Chad Moldenhauer: It's a huge understatement to say that five years ago, we never could've expected Cuphead to reach the audience it has. Like a ton of other game developers, we were just hoping that the game did well enough to get us to our next project. We're so floored that so many people have embraced our little animated adventure, and feel lucky to have spent the last five years shepherding it along and seeing it grow in new and exciting ways.
While we don't have anything to announce right now about what comes next, I can say for sure that we plan to keep pouring ourselves into working with traditional methods in projects that pay homage to the eras of gaming that we love.
Cuphead, along with this year's Delicious Last Course DLC, is available now on PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch. Both the Cuphead Collector's Edition and the 2xLP vinyl sets for both Cuphead and The Delicious Last Course are available now on iam8bit. The Cuphead Show is streaming now on Netflix.