It’s a spry platformer that offers up a lethal take on something as generic and commonplace as a waterproof canopy.
While previewing the game’s first couple of hours, we got a chance to speak to doinksoft, the team behind Gato Roboto, the physical only release of Demon Throttle, and now Gunbrella about how they conceptualised a weaponised brolly, how they had to scale their grand ideas back, and how they’re finally going steady with their parent company, Devolver Digital. The studio’s co-founder and developer on Gunbrella, Cullen Dwyer, was on-hand to asnswer our burning questions.
How did the “Gunbrella” come about as a concept?
Cullen Dwyer: I always forget if the word “Gunbrella” or the idea of a gun-umbrella came first. They definitely came within minutes of each other. It’s something you say to your fellow designers and they immediately know what to do next.
Did it become competitive brainstorming all of the badass ways to utilise an umbrella in this hard-boiled setting?
CD: From the beginning, we tried to make as many context-sensitive basic movements you could do with the umbrella and general player movement. Joseph [Bourgeois] prototyped what are basically the controls you have now years ago at the beginning of the project. Of course, we polished it and tweaked it and any time we got to a new area, we invented new props and ways to interact with it, like ziplines and hooks and wind drafts.
There seems to have been a real focus on swift movement, how important was it to make sure this world was fun to get around?
CD: That was definitely the core pillar of the game. I recently played a very early build of the game just to see how far we’ve come, and was surprised that the movement and test levels were still fun, even that long ago! Most of the levels, including towns, are designed to be fun to move around in. The real challenge comes from making those playgrounds feel like real spaces.
This game seems to have the lot going on—cults, scrap bandits, a parasol-wielding hit squad all within a “noir punk” setting. Did it ever feel like too much to balance?
CD: Yes! There was a time when all of the ideas we had for the world and the story seemed kinda chaotic and it was overwhelming to manage. There’s a lot going on in this game. I think that we managed to wrangle up all of the parts and tie them together nicely, with themes you wouldn’t think to be related supporting and enhancing one another.
Where did you look for inspiration, beside your own dark hearts, for the Lovecraftian horrors in Gunbrella’s world?
CD: Most of the bosses in the game are a class of enemies we call “abominations” which, in lore, have a lot of conflicting theories describing where they come from. There are environmentalist angles, corporate greed angles, religious and supernatural angles to defining them. We embraced the in-game townsfolk’s half-understandings of them. Of course, we each know the canon origins of these monsters, but I think we all might slightly disagree with each other on it. I guess it’s the result of us collaborating to create gnarly and scary manifestations and never truly being able to understand what one another finds horrific.
Having done “Metroidvania” so well previously, was the shift away from that purely due to wanting a new challenge creatively?
CD: It was partly that. We never want to tread the exact same ground. It’s very stimulating and rewarding to try new things. The practical reason is that we didn’t want to limit the player’s moveset from the beginning, which makes it hard to design metroidvania-style progression. Like, I already have the double jump and can glide across like three maps. So rather than take away core moves, we give the player them all at the beginning, which means we gate the world through story, keys, and bosses instead.
Is there any one thing you learned from Gato Roboto that helped inform Gunbrella’s direction?
CD: Plenty! We learned a lot about level design and enemy design. We built up a wealth of technical tools and tricks that we were able to further develop and adjust for Gunbrella, but I won’t bore you with that. I think in regards to player feedback, we were surprised how much people liked the short length of Gato Roboto. That made it easier for us to feel okay with cutting back the scope of Gunbrella so that it could be released this decade. Also, I adore the Gato Roboto speedrunning community, so I think some of the branching paths decisions had speedrun routing in mind, if only a bit subconsciously.
Adjacent to the main quest are these little side endeavours you can pursue if you choose to. Although I don’t expect Gunbrella has deep morality systems, but can we seek out different outcomes to these little distractions?
CD: There is no “morality” system, necessarily. Some decisions have a lot of weight, and some are just a bit of player expression flair. There are some inconsequential touches, like a character remembering that you insulted them when you return much later in the game, as well as some with very big consequences, like what happens later down the line if a particular character is dead?
Do you think you’ll gauge interest after launch for things like Xbox and PlayStation ports, or even a physical release through Special Reserve?
CD: We don’t have any current plans for other platforms, but depending on interest we’ll always consider it. I’d love to do a physical release, I’m a big fan of instruction manuals in particular, so…
You guys were acquired fully by Devolver Digital this year, has that had much bearing on proceedings or is it business as usual?
CD: It’s business as usual, except that we have more resources at our disposal and can focus more on creating games than on managing a small company. We’ve been really close friends with Devolver ever since we first teamed up for Gato Roboto, and now we’re finally dating and are proud to be Devolver’s girlfriend.
Oh la la, thanks for your time.
Gunbrella is set to launch later this year for PC and Nintendo Switch.