Cult of the Lamb is a Dungeon Crawler With a Twist... You’re the Leader of a Cult
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 11:23am 26/08/21 | Comments
Locally grown indie Massive Monster teams up with Devolver Digital to deliver a slice of top down dungeon crawling with the side hustle being the cute and (potentially) ruthless leader of a cult. Or is it the other way around?
Elevator pitch time:
“You know the saying: “Like a lamb to the slaughter”? What if we flipped that on its head, and the cute little lamb who has been led to the slaughter is suddenly all-powerful? Fueled by an unknown entity of darkness at the stroke of death that feasts on, and continually thirsts for, fear and revenge? And then, in keeping with the bovid theme, our freshly daemoned lamb gathers their own flock, further feeding the darkness from whence their power came, with fear and devotion…
“We’ll make it a roguelite with settlement building elements and dungeons, of sorts.”
You’d be right to consider this is how it went down when Aussie studio, Massive Monster, took the idea to both Film Victoria and Devolver Digital. Especially given the polish found with the game’s reveal trailer. But the truth is, like so many indie ventures, it took fleeting ideas, “janky demos” and more than a few years of iteration for Cult of the Lamb to cultivate to where it’s at today, with more still on the horizon as the Melbourne and Singapore-based pair that make up the creative force behind the project, and their own flock of contracted followers, work towards a 2022 release for PC.
“Basically this project came about, maybe, three years ago,” enthuses Julian Wilton, creative director at Massive Monster when asked how they conjured this project. “Jay [Armstrong, director of design] in his spare time had this prototype, and the idea back then was you’re on a flying whale, scouting out locations and fighting dudes…
“I thought it was cool but, you know, [we] couldn’t really sell it very well. So we kind of just iterated on a bunch of things and we must have gone through three different game ideas; you were running a hell at one point and doing this other thing. And then eventually… I’m a big fan of horror films; I was probably watching some cult movies or something and just thought “this would be great in a game” and [started researching] and didn’t really see any cult games out there, so I was, like, “let’s do it!”.
“So we kind of just iterated on a bunch of things and we must have gone through three different game ideas; you were running a hell at one point and doing this other thing. And then eventually… I’m a big fan of horror films; I was probably watching some cult movies or something and just thought 'this would be great in a game'."
“But actually converting that into gameplay has been really difficult,” he says with a laugh. “Fitting [the cult] into the prototype we had just took a lot of iteration. We’ve redesigned the game probably, like, six times. But we have it to where it is now and a lot of the core gameplay has revolved around having these followers that worship you which lets you unlock new stuff, you have to do daily sermons where you can kind of customise your cult, their beliefs and [things] like that. And then we also have rituals as well which give different kinds of buffs and the like to the followers and to the player as well.”
It’s a bit difficult to get a grasp on the game from the two-minute trailer, or the screenshots we coerced Devolver Digital into giving us. Especially because so many concepts fill that short space of time, but it’s here where the two key sides of Cult of the Lamb feel familiar and new. There’s the dungeon crawler where you set out in search of resources and stuff. There's the city builder in the form of a strategic toolset to build a home for your followers. Assign them tasks, fulfil their needs, carry out strange sacrifices, create a fighting pit for them to, well, fight to the death.
As for everything else? Is it a bullet-hell focused roguelite? Or is it a heavy narrative-based roguelike in the vein of Hades? And the settlement side of the game -- is this entirely dynamic and player-driven? How deep does it go? Is it procedural? Is it a classic dungeon crawler?
Or is it all of those things, and a little bit more?
“The game is much less narrative driven than Hades, in that we have a different approach to things,” explains Armstrong. “We do have encounters with more story elements that happen on each run but the combat setup is more like Binding of Isaac where each room has randomised enemy encounters, randomised drops, and things like that. It’s still something we’re working on, the goal is to have four different areas each with different enemies, traps, and mechanics.”
“I guess with the combat side of things, this is where there’s been a lot of iteration and we kind of landed on something kind of like Hollow Knight,” Julian adds. “It’s where a lot of the combat is based a bit more on timing. So you roll around and wait for your perfect hits, get them in and then get into safety. The way it [also works] in terms of ramping up (difficulty), as you get more followers back to your base, you can do these rituals that will make you a bit more powerful -- you can choose to get more health, or you can choose to get stronger with your sword. And then also there’ll be these big boss fights and when you beat them you’ll rip out their heart and you can sell them to this character and they’ll give you these *purses* which [gives you powers] like the tentacle shot in the trailer.”
"The combat side of things, this is where there’s been a lot of iteration and we kind of landed on something kind of like Hollow Knight. It’s where a lot of the combat is based a bit more on timing. So you roll around and wait for your perfect hits, get them in and then get into safety."
One of the mechanics added to, well, add a bit of variety is a Tarot Card system that when found add powerful modifiers that can affect movement, attack power, health, or do things like reflect damage. And in terms of dungeon crawling, players will choose directions, overall rewards, and plan as they delve. Plus, there’s the intrinsic connection to the Create-a-Cult side with the ability to head out with the sole purpose of finding a new follower.
“The followers were the thing we could connect to the most,” adds Armstrong.
Followers can be assigned tasks, to cook and prepare meals, to build new elements, to push your cult leader status to the next cult level. “[The city stuff] is all simulated whilst you’re out in a dungeon. The idea is that you’ll come back to this busy and bustling city that starts sprawling out as you grow it. And the reason you’re going out into a dungeon [for the most part] is to get materials so you can build something.”
There are bosses in the form of rival cult leaders to deal with, and more traditional quest-like reasons to go out and swing a blade, but in keeping the two sides of the experience complimentary it definitely adds a very unique feel to the pacing and loop.
And speaking of two sides, that filters down to the cute, dark, and outright vibrant art-style.
“If you’ve seen any of our other games, I mainly just draw cute things,” Julian says with a wry smile. “Like, I’ve tried to design fucked up stuff [in the past] but it didn’t really work for me. But as I said, I also love horror films and I really do like the darker side of things. So I was trying to figure out a balance to that and I think that a lot of the earlier iterations we had I really pushed the style a lot; limited palette, solid colours with these cute little followers around. And although we changed the game a lot I still tried to keep some of that stylisation.
“[The city stuff] is all simulated whilst you’re out in a dungeon. The idea is that you’ll come back to this busy and bustling city that starts sprawling out as you grow it. And the reason you’re going out into a dungeon [for the most part] is to get materials so you can build something.”
“I think going from Adventure Pals, a lot of people did think that was a kids game and I wanted to do something a bit more mature; something that would fit in more with the Steam audience, so we thought, you know, “let’s just make some fucked up stuff”.”
Cult of the Lamb is currently in development for PC with a release window of 2022.