Don’t you hate when it’s raining outside, you want to keep dry, but you’re worried that the cultists that have taken over your small town might accost you while you’re out for a walk? The fine folks over at Doinksoft have clearly been in that exact bind before, if their newest game Gunbrella is anything to go by. Thanks to Devolver Digital, I recently had a chance to chat with Gunbrella’s Gameplay Director, Cullen Dwyer, about the action platformer’s inspirations, previous iterations and what everyday object we could weaponise next.
WellPlayed: Not content with just keeping its user dry, the titular tool is somewhat of a Swiss Army Umbrella, used as a weapon, a shield, and a tool for traversal. The Gunbrella is extremely versatile, but were there any fun and/or interesting mechanics that were left on the cutting room floor?
Cullen Dwyer: Oh, definitely. The first thing we came up with was the core moveset for the Gunbrella. So before we fully developed the world, we workshopped a bunch of other complementary mechanics, some of which take form in the final game, some of which were cut altogether. We originally tried making a bullet modification system where you could apply different attributes to bullets (like fire or electricity), but that was fighting against the action. Like, does it matter if an enemy dies in one shotgun blast or in half of one shotgun blast? Nah. We consolidated a lot of these ideas into the alternative ammo types. You used to have to throw grenades, now you launch them out of the Gunbrella. Why not?
WP: Going from a cute little cat in a powerful mech suit to a woodsman-turned-gunslinger who wields a weaponized umbrella, you have a knack for introducing players to unconventional protagonists. From a visual design standpoint, what were the standout inspirations that informed the noir-punk aesthetic of Gunbrella?
CD: We settled on a colour palette really early, which I think informed a lot of the browns and reds in the game. Around the time of conception, Britt Brady–our creative director–was watching Peaky Blinders, which I’m sure nudged the character and setting design. The “noir-punk” thing didn’t really arise until we figured out the narrative structure and designed the prototype of the quest journal, which got us thinking “murder mystery, investigation, etc.” Then that supplied more tone to the art direction, which in turn informed narrative design, in a cycle, forever.
WP: From abducted mayors and mysterious cults to otherworldly abominations, the story and setting of Gunbrella seem to play around with a few Lovecraftian themes. What were your points of inspiration for Gunbrella’s story?
CD: The story. Well, there are a few cameo dystopian novel references in the game, like the obvious Orwell town, but even the subsequent town, Allendale, is a reference to There Will Come Soft Rains by Bradbury. We all kinda butted heads concerning the direction to take the story. One of us wanted a story of family and revenge, one of us one about corporate villainy and environmental dread, one about how much cops suck. At the end of the day, there are a lot of clever ways to tie all of those themes together, and I think we found one of them. The cosmic horrors are the glue.
WP: Speaking of cosmic horror, in previous interviews, you’ve mentioned that early concepts for Gunbrella had more of a focus on horror and it even featured survival elements. Did you ever attempt to incorporate any of those original concepts into the finished game, and is a straight horror experience something that you would like to revisit with a new game in the future?
CD: Yeah! We tried to incorporate them. That’s what we meant by early concepts, was early drafts. We generally don’t do a lot of “on-paper” prototyping. We like to hop in and get our hands dirty with playable prototypes. I think a good deal of the horror elements made it in. The survival elements were too much in contrast with the speed and action of the game to feel right, so… I guess a little bit of them made it in, but you mostly feel it on the Hard difficulty mode. As far as the future goes, I really love horror–games, movies, books–but I think it’s a really difficult genre to tackle. Like, it takes a lot to be truly scary! And props to the developers who are able to nail it. I can’t say, “no, we won’t make a horror game”, but I also can’t say we have any plans to do one just yet.
Well, that’s not exactly what you want to hear from a man standing near a pile of meat
WP: Your previous game, Gato Roboto, shares several similarities with Gunbrella, though it leans more into the Metroidvania genre. Was there ever a time when Gunbrella was going to follow suit and feature Metroidvania elements, and what went into the choice to steer away from that gameplay loop?
CD: From the start, we wanted to avoid doing another Metroidvania, mostly because it’s refreshing to try new things! Similarly, that’s why we steered away from the cuteness of Gato Roboto. In Gunbrella, the core moveset already includes a double jump, a glide, a dash, a block… You can fly like three screen-widths. So gating via item progression didn’t make sense for it. Instead, we focused on gating via bosses and quests and story moments. It just kinda fell into place that way.
WP: Obviously, you saw great gameplay potential in the humble umbrella, but if you had to choose another everyday accessory for your protagonist to wield, what would it be, and what ability would it come standard with? Like a walking stick that breaks apart into nun chucks, for instance.
CD: Oh! How about Gunchucks? Like, I don’t know about you, but nunchaku is an everyday accessory for us here at Doinksoft. But, like, what if they were guns? That one’s on us. Take it to the bank.
The titular tool is a versatile one
WP: Properties under the Devolver Digital umbrella (or should I say, Gunbrella, I’m sorry) tend to pop up in other Devolver-published games, such as Jacket from Hotline Miami appearing in Heave Ho and Fall Guys. Now that Doinksoft has been acquired by Devolver, which other character in Devolver’s catalogue would you most like to see visit the world of Gunbrella?
DC: Piku from Pikuniku but rendered like the abominations, or you take the Omnibus instead of the train.
WP: With environmentalist undertones and subtle warnings on corporate greed and exploitation, Gunbrella carries with it a number of messages and meanings. How important is it to you, as a team, to inspire conversation and thought in your audience through your art form, and what challenges come with incorporating your own beliefs into a product that’s to be enjoyed by a wide range of people?
DC: I can’t market to someone a political ideology, but I can hope the themes that are important to me resonate with the audience. I think games are an interesting space to explore intent and beliefs, but on the other hand, people will take from the game what they want to take. I mean, the themes are pretty clear cut… If somebody plays Gunbrella and gets to the end and thinks, “Corporate exploitation is good, the environment is fine, and cops are my sweet little friends”, then I’m not sure if I’ve failed as an artist or they have failed as an audience.
I think the themes are largely applicable to almost anyone who would play it. They aren’t even really that controversial. A thing that the story does pretty well is tie all of those themes together, so I hope that players who find one value important might incidentally connect with the others, where they might not have otherwise.
WP: Thank you so much for your time.
Late last year, I went hands-on with Gunbrella, so now that you’re in the brolly-blasting mood, head on over to our preview and give that a read.
Gunbrella is set to release on Switch and PC in 2023. If you’re looking forward to Gunbrella, you can download and play a free demo of the game on Steam right now.