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Exclusive: Developers of 1930s-Style FPS Mouse on Art Style, Unity & Violence in Games

80 Level sat down with Fumi Games' Mateusz Michalak and Maciej Krzemień, who discussed Mouse's recent gameplay trailer, explained why they chose the Unity engine, elaborated on the game's rubber hose art style, and shared their opinion on violence in video games.

Almost a year ago, Fumi Games, a small indie development studio from Poland, took the world by storm by unveiling Mouse, a noir first-person shooter with a unique visual style reminiscent of old-school Disney cartoons from the late 1920s to 1930s. With a rags-to-riches story worthy of a novel, the studio rose from obscurity almost in an instant, with the first trailer for Mouse stealing the headlines and receiving millions of views across various social media platforms within a few days.

Recently, 80 Level had the opportunity to sit down with Fumi's Founder and CEO Mateusz Michalak and Lead Producer Maciej Krzemień, who discussed Mouse's most recent gameplay trailer, explained why they chose Unity as the game's engine, elaborated on the game's chosen art style, and shared their opinion on violence in video games.

Earlier this month, you shared a gameplay trailer for Mouse demonstrating some awesome new mechanics added recently to the game. One of those mechanics is a grappling hook that allows the player to traverse the levels Spider-Man-style, could you please tell us how and why it was implemented?

Maciej Krzemień, Lead Producer at Fumi Games: In our newest trailer, we showed two new mechanics that expand on the element of verticality in the game. One was the grappling hook you mentioned, and the other was shown at the end of the trailer, a helicopter that's slowing down the protagonist's fall.

Shooters, especially boomer shooters, tend to be grounded nowadays, and we are always thinking about how we can change that. So, we decided to add these two fairly new mechanics to Mouse, and at the moment, we're still working on their prefab parameters. These mechanics have already created a lot of new opportunities for our Level Designers because we set our protagonist free from the confines of the ground, allowing him to both climb and fall down in an easily controlled manner.

We also wanted the new mechanics to not only be useful in terms of level design but also intuitive and fun for the players to use. You can expect many such elements in the final product.

Another interesting mechanic demonstrated in the trailer is the Spike-D spinach can that gives the player character a strength boost. Do you plan to base Mouse's gameplay abilities on references to classic cartoons?

Maciej: Yes, many things that we implement are a "wink-wink" to people familiar with old-school cartoons. Some of them are more obvious, like the spinach can you have mentioned, while others are a bit more obscure, and yes, they're mostly based on classic animations, but not all of them. We want them to be tasteful and not in-your-face kind of references all the time. This is very explicit with the spinach, but you can expect some surprising stuff as well.

Should we expect Tom and Jerry-style double-barrel shotguns with bendable barrels?

Maciej: Probably. A shotgun is always a staple of an FPS game, and I always say that a measurement of how good gunplay is in an FPS game is how well the shotgun is implemented. So yes, I can say for certain that you can expect a double-barrel shotgun in Mouse. I'm not sure about bending barrels as of now, but a double-barrel shotgun is definitely a thing in our game.

Let's travel back in time a few years, what can you tell us about the early days of Mouse? How did your background as an Animator help you nail the game's rubber hose visual style?

Mateusz Michalak, Fumi Games CEO & Game Director for Mouse: The early days, I'd say, were quite funny. Our main inspiration at the time was Cuphead because, for the first time, we noticed that a game with significant artistic value stood out and was a success in the gaming market. From the start, we wanted to make a first-person shooter because we thought it would be easy to create an FPS game where you only run and shoot. But it wasn't; it turned out to be actually really hard to make a great FPS game, but back then, we thought that it was a walk in the park.

The first prototype was made in the Godot engine, and it didn't have much to do with rubber hose animation or even the correct vision of the game, it was just running and shooting mice walking towards you. Nonetheless, we thought of it as a great direction, so we delved more into this potential FPS with mice and chose to explore the FPS genre and establish a setting for the game. In the end, we chose the 1930s and the rubber hose era as the main sources of inspiration for Mouse's storyline and visual style.

Having done that, we created our first teaser trailer, shared back in May 2023, and uploaded it to TikTok. A funny thing is, TikTok can be a great platform to launch your concept presentations or teaser trailers because we, for example, instantly got millions of views there, and the interest in our game blew up from that point.

You mentioned using Godot for the game's prototype, does Mouse still run on this engine?

Maciej: No, we actually switched to Unity for a couple of reasons. First of all, most of the team members are Unity veterans, so it was natural to use the engine they know best. We do know that Unity is an unorthodox choice for making an FPS game, and we get a lot of surprised reactions when people learn that we develop Mouse in Unity, but the game so far has been a story of defying the rules and our choice of the engine actually proves it.

Another reason is a technical one. Having conducted several tests, we feel that Unity handles animation sequences better than any other engine. Also, Unity Technologies as a company has helped us tremendously in the past couple of months.

In light of Unity's last year's fee changes, many developers are now hesitant to dive into the platform. Are you concerned that these fees could potentially harm Mouse's profits?

Maciej: I'm not really that much into the business side of things because I'm more with the troops in the trenches, so probably Mateusz can elaborate more on that. But yes, we always say to ourselves that after last year's turmoil, we hope that Unity will not give us another heart attack like they did in 2023. So far, however, we are confident that we can make the game with Unity as it was originally envisioned, and we don't think that Unity will create any other obstacles in the future business-wise.

Mateusz: Back when Unity introduced its new fees in September 2023, Mouse was still in early development, so it didn't hit us as hard as some of the other developers. Of course, we did discuss the changes in the studio, but it wasn't and still isn't a crucial thing for us. Moreover, other engines like Unreal or Godot may also introduce new fees sometime in the future, so we'll just continue focusing on Unity, an engine we believe is a perfect choice for indie developers.

Let's talk about Mouse's gameplay, how do you plan to make the game fun? What will keep players engaged after the first hour of gameplay?

Maciej: When we started the game's production process, we obviously knew that it was the art style that caught people's attention. While it's great to have that attention focused on the graphics, we discuss every single day how to up the ante and set up gameplay elements to match. We aim to create something that is not just a nicely painted husk – we want gameplay to be as fun and enjoyable as the visuals themselves.

To do so, we create a lot of cartoonish weapons. What you have seen so far in the trailers are the regular weapons seen in many other FPS games, but you can expect something really weird coming up in the future. We also provide an abundance of movement options for our players. For example, the previously mentioned vertical elements, but that's not all.

On top of that, we design every single level with rewarding replayability in mind. After completing the level for the first time, you will be able to revisit it once again after some time to discover new elements and places that you haven't visited before. We believe that it will be enjoyable to complete the game once and then play it again and again and again to always find something new.

Since Mouse is a noir story, we also want to add a dash of detective elements into the core gameplay. You can expect some twists on the already established boomer shooter formula, and even the genre veterans will feel that the game is mostly familiar when it comes to gameplay, but they will be surprised by some elements every once in a while.

When it comes to the game's pacing, we are still way before the balancing phase. We have the mechanics, but their parameters are not final. So far, the game's pacing is best described as moderate. While most of the game's areas will be focused on action, we also want to give the players the ability to take a look around and choose the proper tactical approach.

As a rule, first-person shooters with no multiplayer are a one-and-done experience, what particular elements do you plan to implement to ensure replayability?

Maciej: As I've said, I cannot reveal everything yet, but what I can reveal is that the game's progression will be focused on gathering abilities, and not all of them will be available from the start. Once you gather those abilities, you will be able to access new areas in the previously completed levels. You may think of games like Metroid Prime, for example, or a really old game by Lobotomy Software called PowerSlave, known as Exhumed in Europe.

Of course, you can simply go forward, shoot your way through, and complete the game if you want to, but if you want to explore more story and gameplay elements and access new challenges, then you will be encouraged to revisit the levels to find stuff that you were not able to access before. Without revealing too much, I can also say that we are creating the game so that it would be attractive to speedrunners.

When you debuted your first trailer in May 2023, you relied heavily on TikTok and other social media platforms to promote Mouse, and if I recall correctly, you gained immediate popularity on the first day. How did you react to the community's overwhelming enthusiasm for your game?

Mateusz: Back then, Fumi Games was a really small team of four people working on Mouse. So for us, it was crazy. On TikTok, you can sometimes gather millions of views, and it's not seen as something out of the ordinary, but if you get so much attention, comments, and likes across different platforms, such as YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn, and every social media, it can be overwhelming.

Thanks to our short film MVP, which we created back when Fumi was an animation studio and which now stands at a whopping 216 million views on YouTube, we are somewhat used to virality, but nonetheless, we still initially thought of Mouse's success as a fluke that we wouldn't be able to reproduce. However, in December 2023, with the reveal of an early game trailer, our fears were alleviated and we were reassured that people do indeed love our game, as the second trailer got even bigger numbers.

Besides those major trailers you publish on your YouTube, you also sometimes share small snippets of gameplay on Twitter, is this a part of your strategy for promoting Mouse? Could you elaborate on your overall approach to SMM?

Mateusz: We are working closely with PlaySide Studios to establish a proper marketing plan. About a week ago, we participated in the Triple-I Showcase to showcase the new gameplay mechanics, such as the aforementioned Spike-D and the grappling hook. And as for social media, we share concise clips of gameplay footage from time to time to gather people's opinions on what's shown in the demos. So far, Twitter is our largest social platform where we receive the most engagement.

Speaking of PlaySide, there's this ongoing conundrum among indie developers regarding whether they should go solo or work with a publisher, why did you personally choose the latter and collaborate with PlaySide?

Mateusz: When it comes to solo versus publisher, there's no golden rule, as every developer has a different set of circumstances. For instance, Fumi Games is a private entity without any investors, we have a fast decision-making process, and from the very beginning, we decided to work with a publisher because we didn't want to make any mistakes when launching Mouse into the market.

We first came in contact with PlaySide in December, seven months after the release of the first teaser trailer, discussing Mouse not only as a game but as a brand and IP. Now, we have a shared understanding of what Mouse will become, which was crucial for us. Another essential factor was that the publisher collaborated with us right from the start, staying informed about Fumi's progress. And as a cherry on top, working with a publisher provides us with financial security we, as an indie developer, wouldn't otherwise have.

For us, PlaySide is quite special because they are a brand-awareness publisher. They own the Dumb Ways to Die franchise, and they also think of Mouse as a powerful potential brand, helping us explore alternative channels for Mouse other than game development.

Maciej: Thanks to their being not only a publisher but also a development studio, PlaySide has also been very helpful from the production side of things. It's great to be able to discuss roadmaps, production plans, and stuff like that with people from PlaySide because they always assist us whenever we need them and provide useful feedback.

What about those "alternative channels", do you plan to launch other Mouse-related projects that wouldn't necessarily be games?

Mateusz: Coming from the animation industry, we don't just think about the game itself but also other things that revolve around animation, such as TV series or films. So when it comes to Mouse, there are some possibilities that we will explore not only gamedev. While it's early days and we only have initial concepts, I can say that we want to build a powerful brand that extends beyond gaming, drawing inspiration from developers like Studio MDHR, the creators of Cuphead.

When we share news on our 80 Level social media channels about Mouse, we see some individuals accusing Fumi of being a one-trick-pony with its art style and claiming that the game will not amount to much when it is released. What response do you have for those commenters?

Mateusz: Whom you refer to here can be best described as a loud minority because the vast majority of comments are positive. However, there's no denying there are at least some people who accuse us of plagiarism and copying the art style from different cartoons they watched as kids.

What can I say? Coming from Poland, Fumi's developers were raised on a different style of cartoons, and unlike many Americans who grew up with Disney animations, we didn't have that exposure. So, it was quite surprising for us to receive comments alleging that we copied Disney with our art style. To that, I can say that rubber hose is not Disney's property but rather a general animation style, employed by many games throughout the years, such as Cuphead and the Bendy franchise.

Last year, when we released our first trailer, we read heaps of such comments because, at the time, we were concerned about the potential to infringe upon copyright laws. However, after digging deeper into the topic and conducting a thorough investigation, we discovered that we were simply evoking nostalgic vibes, not facing potential lawsuits.

Maciej: I'd like to add that while it is easy to assume after a quick look at the game that we are copying something, if you actually take a look at the details, you'll notice that Mouse has a distinct style of its own. As for the "Mouse is nothing without its art style" opinion, as I mentioned before, we are really focused on gameplay because creating a video game is a junction between all other media forms – graphics, sound, and, of course, gameplay. I'm pretty confident that the gameplay could stand on its own even without the graphics, but having such excellent visuals certainly enhances the overall experience.

Another vocal minority we have in our comments section is what I like to call the "think of the children" group, criticizing Mouse for its violent content. What are your thoughts on this opinion and violence in games in general?

Maciej: Normally, I'd say that the game's intended for adults, case closed. But I'll gladly elaborate, of course. First of all, when we started the project, it was with mature audiences in mind, and the cartoony art style itself does not define the themes that will be included in the game. Trust me, some of those themes will be really heavy and serious.

Internally, we strongly believe that we are way past the era when Western animations were targeting children. Since the 80s-90s, there were increasingly more animations aimed at teenagers and adults, stuff like Heavy Metal, Beavis and Butthead, Daria, South Park, things I grew up with, so yes, I was a kid but I still knew that it was meant for adults.

Obviously, there were also games that looked cartoonish on the outside but were really violent. The first thing that comes to my mind is Mad World on Wii, it was a game with a truly cartoonish art style but also very brutal, violent, and gory content.

All these products that I mentioned have their place in the market, and so does Mouse. Yes, Mouse is violent, but to be frank, we believe that it's not much more violent than the animations of the era that the game is inspired by. While we exaggerate that violence on purpose, it's never to a point when it feels distasteful. I'm pretty sure that audiences will note that when they see the final product.

Also, please do not let your five-year-olds play Mouse, it's a game for adults. Please follow ESRB, PEGI, and other rating boards' recommendations. If anyone feels like they want to call Jack Thompson, by all means, go ahead. Lastly, I'd say that we don't promote violence much more than your everyday evening news on TV. So yeah, FPS games are focused on shooting, but our game is not about mindless gore.

What do you plan to do with Mouse going forward? What is your roadmap for 2024?

Maciej: Currently, we are in the final stages of closing the game's design, meaning stuff like features, mechanics, what affects what and how. It still involves a ton of discussion, heaps of paper designs, and a lot of prototyping, but in the true spirit of the "fail fast" philosophy that we adopted, we prototype things, we test those things, and we decide what needs more attention and polishing and what should go straight to the bin. We would rather create five well-made mechanics instead of ten undercooked ones.

We're also at the end of expanding the game vertically, and after that, we will be expanding Mouse horizontally, populating it with content using those mechanics and their interconnections. In the upcoming months, we would love to introduce people to our new weapons, especially the weirder ones that I mentioned, new enemy types, new environments, and some story elements because the plot is very important in our game. We'll still need a bit more of the audience's patience here, but yeah, our main aim right now is to expand the game in terms of actual content.

Now that you've mentioned the audience, do you plan to ship Mouse in Early Access? What's your approach to playtesting the game?

Mateusz: We haven't decided on sharing Mouse in Early Access, everything is on the table as of right now. We are speaking closely with PlaySide regarding the matter, but the game still has months of development ahead. We want to have a great play test to balance Mouse properly but we can't reveal when or what we want to put on the market before the time is right.

Finally, do you have any new news regarding the game's release date? Is it possible for us to know whether Mouse is going to be released in Q1 2025 or Q4 2025?

Mateusz: We can't reveal this at the moment, but it will be 2025 for sure. A video game takes time to produce, and we are concentrating on developing the game. We will reveal the final release date before the game hits the shelves, but not right now. Stay tuned!

Mateusz Michalak, Fumi Games CEO & Game Director for Mouse

Maciej Krzemień, Lead Producer at Fumi Games

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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Comments 1

  • Testure .

    visually, this game fails in all the places where cuphead succeeded. the enemy and item sprites are great, but then the environments look like generic "stylized props" from the asset store with a greyscale filter. The style is a jarring mismatch imo.

    0

    Testure .

    ·2 months ago·

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