Gaming

‘Cult of the Lamb’ art director reveals how to make a sinister game cute

“Maybe we’re just monsters.”

Massive Monster

Massive Monster

Cult of the Lamb is probably the cutest game you’ll ever play about sacrificing your friends to an eldritch god. But it could have looked a lot cuter (and had fewer sacrifices).

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As art director James Pearmain tells Inverse, Cult of the Lamb’s origins are more cartoony than creepy.

One early iteration of Cult of the Lamb had you building your community on the back of a flying behemoth.

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The style of this early draft is closer to Massive Monster’s earlier game, The Adventure Pals. Pearmain says the art went this direction mostly because it’s the style Massive Monster is familiar with.

Some characters in the final game even reach back to The Adventure Pals for inspiration.

But Cult of the Lamb was never going to be another Adventure Pals. “Early on, we decided we wanted a juxtaposition in the gameplay as well as the art,” Pearmain says.

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The intention was always to marry roguelike gameplay and community building, and a sunny aesthetic with dark undertones.

“A lot of people were put off by The Adventure Pals’ Saturday morning cartoon vibe, so we wanted to get away from the kid’s game thing,” Pearmain says.

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Massive Monster also experimented with a more demonic style — still cute, but with its sinister edge emphasized — for a version of the game tentatively called Make Hell.

Massive Monster

The game was filled with demonic and more human-like creatures before Massive Monster found the right balance of horror and coziness with animals.

Cute critters became an aesthetic throughline that let Massive Monster explore some extremely dark territory without being too upsetting.

“You’re actually doing quite horrible things, but because it’s wrapped up in this carefree aesthetic, you never feel too bad,” Pearmain says. “Maybe some people do. Maybe we’re just monsters and everyone else is appalled by it.”

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Early enemies were likewise swept away for more “natural” designs that blend recognizable animals with occult symbols.

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Another important decision was turning away from themes of gods and demons toward cults and letting that aesthetic drive everything in the game, from runes carved on trees to the look of your base.

Massive Monster

Massive Monster

The team studied both real and fictional cults, along with horror films in general. The sunny pastoral horror of Midsommar was a particularly strong influence.

“It all happens in the daytime with these flowing robes and flowers everywhere. It’s quite pretty, and then suddenly there are these horrible moments.”

James Pearmain

Massive Monster

Massive Monster

Cult of the Lamb’s demonic origins are still felt in the Bishops of the Old Faith, whose designs were inspired by Pearmain’s love of metal music.

When it came time to finally show the game after two years of development, the Massive Monster team wasn’t quite sure how players would react to its more controversial elements.

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Overt references to specific religions mostly gave way to a more original set of occult symbols. “We wanted to make our own world and our own mythology,” Pearmain says.

“Crucifixes and pentagrams — that kind of imagery evokes a certain emotion, particularly as a Westerner. We were a bit wary of whether that would upset anyone.”

James Pearmain

Cult of the Lamb is a success, but Pearmain says he’d change a few early decisions if he still could, like the Lamb’s animation rig. “I’ve learned so much in the animation software since setting that skeleton up. I’d love to go back but I can’t redo 300 animations at this stage.”

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When you defeat a miniboss, it becomes a new follower type. That came late in development, and Pearmain says he’d have made each miniboss more distinct if it had been planned earlier.

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Pearmain points to the Bishops’ transformations and Rituals at your temple as some of his favorite moments in the game.

“I was really happy with those. We thought, how can we pump as much into these short moments to blow the players’ hair back? ”

James Pearmain

Massive Monster

Massive Monster

Clearly it worked, as Pearmain has seen the fan art Cult of the Lamb’s inspired (“Careful, there’s some saucy stuff out there”) along with at least two Lamb tattoos.

Thanks to the game’s success, Massive Monster will likely get a chance to iron out some imperfections and add more of what works, like extra quests, followers, and bosses. “I love this game and I want to keep working on it,” Pearmain says

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Cult of the Lamb is outnow on PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, and PC.

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