Spidersaurs is a run-and-gun shooter/platformer that’s coming to consoles and PC on July 14. When a horde of dinosaur-spider hybrids runs amok, gamers will step in as a pair of human test subjects tasked with saving the day. With a humorous, cartoon-like premise, tight Contra-style shooting, and 2-player local co-op, the game should be really special. To learn more about Spidersaurs ahead of launch, we interviewed director Tomm Hullet of WayForward.
Co-Optimus: Thanks for taking the time to visit our hidden compound for this obviously in-person interview. First, could you tell us a little about your experience in game development and some of your favorite non-run-and-gun games?
Tomm Hullet: Sure thing! I've been playing games my whole life, so by the time Battletoads hit the NES in 1991 I had the experience and grit it took to overcome the Turbo Tunnel…
Co-Optimus: *awestruck expression*
Tomm Hullet: Some folks at Virgin Games noticed because none of them could beat said Tunnel, and they needed a kid to prove that their games were not too difficult for children so marketing would leave them alone. Thus was I chosen to QA test one day a week over summer. Then, after high school, I started what we would now consider an indie dev group. From there, I joined Atlus and did localization, jumped to Konami for production, and then WayForward as a director.
Ironically, when I started at Virgin, the guy who hired me was a little worried because they had me on a run-and-gun game, and I was always playing Game Boy RPGs on the drive. I appreciate games in all genres! Some favorites would be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Undertale, and it's hard to ignore the four glorious months I offered up to Elden Ring.
The Turbo Tunnel of Battletoads (Image: Siliconera)
Co-Optimus: Spidersaurs is a run-and-gun shooter akin to the Contra series. What are some classic run-and-guns that impressed you, and have you played any noteworthy modern ones?
Tomm Hullet: [I’ve] always loved run-and-guns, especially the Contra series. Of course, while at Konami, I worked on Contra 4 with the folks at WayForward. Outside of that, I'm a fan of the usual suspects: Gunstar Heroes, etc.
[I’m] a bit sad the genre isn't so prolific these days, but I certainly battled my way through Cuphead. Looking forward to checking out The Delicious Last Course when I'm ready for a challenge again (see: Elden Ring).
Contra 4 (Images: Honest Gamers)
Co-Optimus: Now let’s turn the magnifying glass towards Spidersaurs. How did the idea for the game come about? Did you guys already know you wanted to make a run-and-gun before deciding on a theme?
Tomm Hullet: We'd been kicking around ideas for new run-and-guns for a while, to leverage our experience with Contra 4. I'd suggested "Gun-tra" but WayForward creative director Matt Bozon wanted to do something that felt like an ’80s "cartoon show meant to sell toys." In that spirit, he created Spidersaurs — the plot conceit and the two main characters. From there, my team created our menagerie of critters and stages.
Co-Optimus: The game starts with a brilliant ‘80s cartoon-style introduction, complete with theme song. Was this type of intro in the mix as soon as you conceived of the premise? What kind of work went into it on your end?
Tomm Hullet: Matt wanted to do an ’80s cartoon intro right from the start. He and I both love a good wailing guitar theme with a narrator who describes the plot [while animation plays that has been] secretly crafted by Japan's finest animators. Matt's wife Erin has animation experience, so the two of them worked with Powerhouse to create the animation itself, while Cristina Vee (voice of Shantae!) and [guitarist] RichaadEB created the theme song. Meanwhile, during voice recording at PCB Productions, I helped direct our fearless narrator voice. It was a lot of work, but I think it feels very authentic, so mission accomplished.
Co-Optimus: Like Shantae and the Seven Sirens, Spidersaurs started life as an Apple Arcade title before being ported to consoles and PC. How did releasing as an Apple title first affect development? What kind of challenges did you experience in the process of porting to consoles and PC after the initial release?
Tomm Hullet: Developing for the Apple Arcade launch felt a lot like console launch, in that details are coming in later than you'd hope or sometimes changing several times across development, so the team needed to be willing to pivot very quickly to meet our deadline. We certainly had our share of curveballs. The trickiest part to develop for the Apple version [in particular] was the touch-screen controls. Playing this genre of game on a touch screen isn't exactly the norm. Our recent update to go along with the new content includes a new control method on touch devices as well.
Since the game is built on our internal WF Engine, there wasn't any major drama porting it to other platforms. Just normal testing, along with console-specific features such as HD Rumble. It should be a comparable experience on all platforms.
Co-Optimus: Run-and-gun shooters generally tend to have high difficulty levels, a factor that hurt some of the later Contra games, in my opinion. Where does Spidersaurs land on the difficulty spread?
Tomm Hullet: [Difficulty] was definitely on our minds, as we hope this is a game [that] veteran Contra players might share with their children. While we definitely focused on [creating] an authentic run-and-gun experience, we did want it to be accessible. Most obviously, you have three hit points. With that, there are also health pickups that will restore you to max HP. [These] can be found throughout the level and sometimes drop from enemies. That sounds weird because it's such a normal platformer feature, but trust me, kiddos! The run-and-guns we cavemen used to play weren't so generous! ;)
The most charitable feature, though, is that one of our weapon types is "Shield." This essentially takes one of your weapon slots, leaving you with just one offensive option, but in return, you are surrounded by a barrier that blocks bullets and damages enemies! It makes a nice strategic option for less skilled players. [Later,] as they learn the levels and patterns, they can rely on Shield less and less.
Co-Optimus: That’s good to hear! Spidersaurs offers two playable characters. What are they like, and do they play identically?
Tomm Hullet: Victoria is a tough punk rocker who uses her guitar to solo enemies into submission. Adrian is a loyal and dedicated himbo who takes odd jobs while training at the police academy. Together, they fight, well, Spidersaurs!
At some undisclosed point in the past, [Victoria and Adrian] answered a want ad to taste new products at InGest and offer their feedback. [The protagonists] met, weren't overly impressed with one another, and went their separate ways… But apparently, that fated taste-test altered their DNA. Now that [Spidersaurs are rampaging and] InGest is in trouble, [the heroes are] called back into action.
Oh, their weapon sets are different too. You'll want to experiment to decide your favorite.
Co-Optimus: I noticed that both characters fight with homemade weapons rather than being issued guns by their employer, the InGest Corp. Shouldn’t a company like that have weapons for its personnel on-hand?
Tomm Hullet: Well, obviously on paper, there are a lot of things one might assume the leading firm of next-generation food distribution and development would provide its employees. [However,] it's a matter of priorities, and when the board formulates a strategy and subsequently acts on that strategy, vis a vis human resources, some level of compromise is expected. If you'll refer to the investor's brief, I'm sure you'll find everything is in order. Please hold your questions to the end.
Co-Optimus: Speaking of guns, what are the different weapons that players can pick up during a level? Can players dual-wield or otherwise enhance the weapons they find?
Tomm Hullet: Our five weapon types are Peashooter, Spray Shot, Wicked Piercing, AOE, and Grenade. And then, as mentioned above, Shield. How this translates into specific attacks depends on the character, so while Adrian's AOE is an exploding football, Victoria's is a chain electricity attack that can jump from enemy to enemy and zap an entire swarm.
Players can hold two weapons at a time, and collecting a second copy of a weapon they already possess will power it up to level 2. Getting hit by enemies will revert your active weapon to level 1, but you won't lose it unless you die.
Co-Optimus: Another of Spidersaurs’ cool features is that players can evolve and gain new powers after defeating bosses. What sort of powers can we look forward to acquiring? After gaining new powers, can gamers revisit previous stages with their new abilities?
Tomm Hullet: By consuming the dino-flesh of your fallen arachnid-enemies, that little DNA snafu I mentioned works its magic, and your character ends up more capable than ever! Abilities range from ground pounds and dashes to even the ultimate human evolution: the Double Jump. These abilities make it easier to get around - as well as provide more options to tenderize the Spidersaurs.
In Story Mode, players can revisit past areas, and those abilities might just open up new strategies or secret weaknesses in familiar encounters.
Co-Optimus: Spidersaurs features five levels/episodes and some impressively gigantic boss monsters. Do you have a favorite level or boss?
Tomm Hullet: Picking a favorite level is tricky because we worked very carefully to refine them all into fun experiences with their own personality. I'll randomly select stage 4. Let's say 4.
As for bosses, I'm a big fan of the True Final Boss we added for the console version. [It’s] quite a formidable opponent [with] animations [that] are lovingly crafted.
Co-Optimus: With multiple final bosses, does the game have more than one ending?
Tomm Hullet: Yes! The original [Apple Arcade] release didn't tell the full story, but now on consoles (and the Apple Arcade [version’s] free update), the truth can be revealed! We have three difficulty modes. If you play on the easiest setting, the game ends where the original release did, and you get the first ending. Playing on the other two difficulties will open up an additional stage, boss, and the true ending.
Co-Optimus: Speaking of replay value, are there any alternate modes to extend playtime?
Tomm Hullet: Completing the game [unlocks] Arcade Mode and Speedrun Mode. Arcade Mode is a convenient way to blow through the game without worrying about story; Speedrun Mode actually unlocks all your abilities from the beginning and adds a timer. Crafty players can use those abilities to find optimal paths through every stage. [We’re] hoping to see some unbelievable times on social media, players!
Co-Optimus: Spidersaurs supports 2-player local co-op. What’s the cooperative experience like? Does the game get harder when a second player comes along?
Tomm Hullet: We wanted to retain the classic run-and-gun experience, so bringing in a trusted friend gives you an advantage over the game. If you’re stuck, be sure to recruit someone. Of course… less-trusted "friends" [could] scroll you into pits and troll you a little bit. But here's a ProTip: when you die, just steal their spare guys. Who's laughing now?
Co-Optimus: Finally, is there anything you’re proud of about Spidersaurs that we haven’t already touched on?
Tomm Hullet: One element that might not be immediately obvious is our difficulty modes. For several years, former WayForward director Austin Ivansmith (DuckTales Remastered, The Mummy Demastered) and I discussed the stigma that exists around choosing "easy." Some veteran players even convince themselves they can never play a game lower than "hard." It results in a lot of folks forcing their way through a game instead of enjoying it.
With Spidersaurs, we've named these modes "Well Done,” “Medium,” and “Rare" instead. There is no stigma on meat doneness. Sure, people might tease you, but at the end of the day, you know what temperature you're comfortable eating, and that's what you'll order. That's how people should think about game difficulty.
Additionally, instead of just saying, "oh, enemies have more HP on hard" or "fewer enemies spawn on easy," we’ve tailored each stage for each difficulty. To truly master the game, players will need to learn the strategies and optimal paths for all three modes — great motivation for new run-and-gunners to sink their teeth into Spidersaurs!
Spidersaurs will launch this Thursday, July 14. Preorder it for $19.99 on Xbox, Switch, and Steam. The PlayStation version isn’t available to preorder but will launch alongside the other versions. We'll have a full co-op review soon!