Cult of the Lamb’s cutesy horror “just naturally comes back to fun”

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With Cult of the Lamb set to receive its massive, free Relics of the Old Faith update soon, we took some time to sit down with the team behind 2022’s cutesy but sinister roguelike game. PCGamesN spoke to developer Massive Monster’s Jay Armstrong and James Pearmain at WASD 2023 about the upcoming update, the game’s adorably unnerving art style, accessibility tools, and the importance of Twitch streaming to Cult of the Lamb’s success.

Relics of the Old Faith is the first big update for Cult of the Lamb, and it’s going to be free. Armstrong tells us, “We were so blown away by how many people love the game – we’ve never had this before. We’re just so happy and grateful.” The team sees this and the second planned free update, loosely scheduled for later this year, as a way to give back to fans.

“I think it’s really important for us to just make it the best game possible,” Pearmain explains, pointing to other big names in the roguelike genre as inspirations. “We really want to look at games like The Binding of Isaac and Don’t Starve – how the game is now compared to what it was at launch, we want Cult of the Lamb to fit alongside those kinds of games.”

As for what fans can expect from the update, Pearmain promises “harder versions of all the bosses in the game” as well as “a new resource that you can use to spend on a new shopkeeper who can give you rare unlocks.” He describes the new, tougher mode as “sort of a souped-up New Game Plus – instead of just making you fight the exact same enemies, we’ve made them harder.”

It’s not just about the combat, however – Pearmain remarks that a lack of dungeon depth and variety was one of the main criticisms raised about the base game by players, so improving on that was a big priority for the team. “From the very inception of the game the idea was, let’s build a game where we can just keep growing it.”

Twitch streaming was also a big part of the game’s success. Pearmain nods to the concept of streamers letting their viewers join their cult and make decisions, which he says worked really well for the game. However, it was important to the team that the tone of the whole thing leant in a fun direction to avoid things getting overly sinister.

“It could be quite a heavy subject matter,” Armstrong notes, “you can feed [your cult members] to other followers… [but] the DNA of the game is just to have fun. Even though there’s all these terrible things you can do.” As such, the team had to strike a balance between the inherent horror stylings and something a little more light-hearted.

Pearmain explains, “There was a lot of back and forth – we wanted it to be cute, but we didn’t want it to be sickly sweet; and then we wanted it to be horror, but we didn’t want it to be super gross, violent body horror. So it took quite a lot of iterations back and forth to find where those two goalposts were.” As the game’s art director, he notes that “Everything was just too cute, and they kept telling me to make it more and more evil.”

“We knew we didn’t want red blood, because we felt like maybe some people wouldn’t respond very well to that,” Armstrong says. Instead, the game opted for tentacles that grab your villagers and yank them down into the mysterious void below. “I think we couldn’t have done it any other way based on the type of things we make,” he explains, “We kept trying to make it dark, and it just naturally comes back to fun.”

Cult of the Lamb interview - a fox closes its eyes peacefully as a large set of tentacles hold it aloft in a church

There’s plenty more in the works for Cult of the Lamb. Along with the Relics of the Old Faith update is a suite of increased accessibility tools, including high-contrast text mode and dyslexic font settings. Pearmain also mentions that the team is working on options to pause the day/night cycle while in dungeons, and considering ways to allow players to adjust difficulty independently across the combat and base-building sides of the game to better fine-tune their experience.

Are there any plans for increasing the size of the camp area, we ask? “Not with this update,” Pearmain responds, “But it’s definitely something that I think we’d like to do.” However, he emphasises that the team wants to “make sure we don’t expand the world too quickly in a shallow way. Because even [with] what we have now, we could add more depth to that.”

“We’re still open to exploring whatever makes the game more fun,” concludes Armstrong. “It’s been a great problem to have.”

If you’re just getting started, don’t miss our Cult of the Lamb beginner’s guide and tips for fighting all Cult of the Lamb bosses. We’ve also picked out the best indie games on PC, if you’re looking for more smashing smaller releases to keep yourself entertained.

Interview conducted by Nat Smith at WASD 2023.

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