Before the game’s big reveal at Gamescom Opening Night Live, we got to have a chat with Massive Monster, the Melbourne and UK-based developer behind the new Devolver Digital title Cult of the Lamb.
Before we get to our chat with the team’s Creative Director for the title, Julian Winton, here’s that announcement trailer again.
Just like Death’s Door juxtaposed its Ghibli-like aesthetic with its crushing difficulty, Cult of the Lamb seemingly does the same with clashing ideas of adorable woodland critters and dark occultism. Where’d that idea spring from?
After The Adventure Pals, we wanted to make something a bit more mature, as a lot of people thought it was a game made for kids. So this time, I wanted to make something that still had a lot of cute personalities, as that’s all I can draw, but with this darker side to it, so we could create a more serious tone with more depth which is how we somehow ended up in occult cultism.
This however wasn’t our first idea, the game has evolved a few iterations going from a game about being on a flying whale scouting out locations and building a base, to a game about running hell, then to a game about being a god that has to eat his worshippers. We got to the final iteration of running a cult through my love of horror films and wanting to put more of a focus on looking after your followers and making that a core pillar of the game as that’s what we connected to the most.
Describe the combat in Cult of the Lamb for us, it looks to us like it might, similar to Death’s Door which captured the spirit of classic Legend of Zelda games while adding contemporary flairs. It looks like our Lamb can use all kinds of weapons, even going so far as to summon a bit of Eldritch aid in the form of tentacles?
When we started work on Cult of the Lamb there were already a lot of top-down games that focussed on shooting so we wanted to explore something different. We loved close combat games that emphasised the importance of timing and watching your enemy for your moment to strike. Games like Hollow Knight do a fantastic job at keeping things very simple, but in so doing create an experience that feels very deep. That is what we’ve tried to capture with Cult of the Lamb.
There is a strong emphasis on timing your blows before dodging away to safety. We have a mixture of close combat as well as bullet hell enemies to keep things fresh and exciting and you’ll have access to a number of weapons you can unlock as you progress through the game. You can also find mysterious Tarot Cards on your journey which grant you a random boost or ability for that run. These often change the way you engage in combat and keep each run feeling fresh and unique.
Finally, you will be able to cast ‘Curses’ in combat. These Curses range from projectiles that become explosive if a skillful player can time their launch correctly, powerful walls of flame, and devastating Eldritch tentacles that burst out of the earth destroying everything in their path.
Tell us about the core loop in Cult of the Lamb. I understand it’s a dungeon-crawling action game at heart, with settlement-building which we’ll get to, but what can players expect moment-to-moment?
The game is divided up into dungeon-crawling and colony management, it’s basically two games in one!
At the core of the game are the followers. While exploring the world, you’ll find new followers to bring home and join your cult, who then will worship you as their righteous leader. Through their devotion, you will grow in strength and unlock new things to build, and by giving sermons and performing rituals you will learn new abilities while teaching them what to believe. They will also work jobs in the base such as farming or cooking. But this comes at a cost, you’ll need to keep them happy, fed, and alive which requires resources that are found during the dungeon-crawling.
We have spent a lot of time iterating on the game to make sure each part of the loop feeds nicely into each other. So moment-to-moment the player always has something to do. Whether it is gathering food for their hungry followers, performing a daily sermon, or buying new decorations from the various shopkeepers that can be discovered across the game’s world.
It seems like the thing that’ll set Cult of the Lamb apart, in a gameplay sense, will be in the settlement-building I mentioned. I get big Midsommar vibes as it seems to seamlessly wade from peaceful, workaday life to unrelenting Pagan horror. Did you draw inspiration from films like Midsommar, or even The Wicker Man, in fleshing out this world?
Midsommer was definitely an inspiration for this game, our programmer Jay still refuses to watch it as he is too scared of horror films. Personally, I am a big fan!
Films such as Midsommer, Hereditary, Eyes Wide Shut, The Ritual, The Wicker Man, and so on, have been good inspirations and as well as animated shows like Over The Garden Wall for finding tone between creepy and cute. I love the mystery and depth that is found in a lot of these themes of occultism or cults. The deeper you delve into them the more dark secrets you find.
And how does this settlement aid you on your quest?
Your quest is to free a dark mysterious entity that has brought you back from the dead. To do this you’ll need to start a cult in his name and destroy the non-believers who imprisoned him. Your followers will be your strength by performing rituals with them you grow stronger and can take on harder combat challenges and new abilities.
It seems you’re able to gather followers through your deeds and preaching. Is there any way to lose them?
The followers are very needy, if you don’t feed them they will die. If you don’t clean up their mess, they’ll get sick. If you exploit them too much they may dissent or even start a coup against you. Being a cult leader isn’t as easy as you would think!
Obviously, with the team split between Melbourne and the United Kingdom, you’re probably no strangers to work-from-home and dealing with the pandemic. Has it been difficult at all acclimating to that from a work sense, and has it impacted Cult of the Lamb at all?
It was definitely a more difficult process early on as we tried figuring out how to even make this a fun game that involves a lot of iteration and communication. But now things are in place it’s a bit easy to just crack on with it.
The nice thing about it is that it means there is always someone awake at Massive Monster to take a call or a meeting whatever the time may be. While it’s difficult during the design phase, during production it can be really inspiring as we wake up to work that’s been done overnight. The sun never sets on the Monster!
You recently moved to Melbourne from Sydney, while receiving a grant from Film Victoria along the way. Firstly, congratulations on that, and how much did that help in being able to realise your vision for the game?
Thank you, Melbourne is great! So is free money, so thanks Film Victoria. They provide a great opportunity to craft the marketing for your game as you start by selling the idea and vision to them. We pitched a small amount to get the game to a vertical slice we could use to pitch to publishers and ended up with our dream publisher Devolver Digital.
I’m not sure we would have got there without the extra funding to make our pitch deck shine.
With Gamescom Opening Night Live becoming the fixture it is for video game reveals, how great is it to be able to show off your game on a platform like that?
It’s amazing! We couldn’t think of a better place to announce it. Unfortunately, it airs at, like, four o’clock in the morning Australian time!
There are some games you look at and think ‘that’s a Devolver Digital title’. Whether it’s the unique premise, the art direction, or the mood, what about Cult of the Lamb makes it a fit for Devolver?
When we were trying to figure out what the heck this game was going to be, I tried to start from a marketing approach. Thinking about where this game would belong. I always had in my mind that it would be a good game for Devolver Digital mainly because they would be down for satanic rituals.
We’ve heard they like to do blood offerings before releasing a new title and it seems to have worked so far. They push their personality in their games and aren’t afraid to do something weird which is what we are all about.