Struggling – Grisly, Gleeful Gaming | Developer Interview

In these ‘unprecedented times’, social isolation has been a bit of a hot topic. You might, in fact, say we’ve been Struggling a bit.

We sat down with Denis Simard, the Co-Founder and Art Director of the indie games studio Chasing Rats, to talk about co-op games in 2021 and why, more than ever, we need to find humour in horror.

What Exactly is ‘Struggling’?

A screenshot of Struggling gameplay
Credit: Frontier/Chasing Rats

So first of all, you might be wondering: “Struggling? Aren’t we all?”. And yes. But, specifically, I’m talking about the gruesome physics-based couch co-op platformer by Chasing Rats. If this title sounds familiar, that’d be because it launched on Steam and for Nintendo Switch in August of 2020. Nearly a year later, here we are. The world, still on fire. Still inside. And Struggling has just been released for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

If the world wasn’t terrifying enough for you, this fever dream, with its gleefully depraved visuals and ridiculous violence, could be the thing to push you over the edge. When I asked Simard to describe Struggling to me, he said it could be best summed up as “you’re a piece of flesh, really just a whole bunch of flesh with two arms…you scream all the time… and you suffer through a whole adventure.”

Y’know, life.

Struggling and Graphics

A screenshot of Struggling gameplay
Credit: Frontier/Chasing Rats

If you’re a fan of animation like Rick and Morty and Adventure Time, there are certainly parallels you can draw between the art styles. Simard described the inspiration for Struggling’s gory look as a blend of ”everything that I’ve watched myself as a person, every kind of adult animation that I’ve seen is just like, there’s a small part of it that just went in”. As he astutely put it: “There is blood. There is screaming. There is pain. Once again, not for everyone.”

I often find making things immature and gory for fun, and doing it for the sake of being shocking, is a fine line to balance. I asked Simard if it was difficult to balance when designing the gruesome characters in Struggling.

“(Leon, the audio director) was always asking, like, can you put hair on it? Like one or two? And for some reason, that’s like my limit. As in, I think it’s too much. And, you know, we have some wild stuff in the game, but hair on characters? I don’t know. I don’t like it. It’s weird.”

“We’ve tried to stay as far as possible from peepee-poopoo humor. Like, you know, you try not to do fart jokes or whatever… It’s a very fine line. I think we’ve succeeded in doing so.”

Coronavirus and the Struggles of Co-Operation

A screenshot of Struggling gameplay
Credit: Frontier/Chasing Rats

Whilst I paint a grisly picture, there’s also a very human side to Struggling. Recent times have taught us the brilliant, glittering importance of the mundane everyday. Defying the odds, human companionship, triumph over hardship – these are the things that co-op games excel in, and Struggling is no different. Simard and I spoke a little bit about our love for this genre, and how the coronavirus pandemic has changed things.

“Struggling is a game about having fun with friends in person, you know? One of you is going to get the other killed, so you’re going to just joke around and push each other or whatever. But then, when you can’t do it in person with someone, it’s a bit less fun to me.”

“I’ve always been a fan of couch co-op. I think it’s like the bread and butter of games. It’s the whole reason why I want to do games. I want to see someone having fun.”

Is There a Future For Co-Op Gaming?

A screenshot of Struggling gameplay
Credit: Frontier/Chasing Rats

We went on to speak a bit about the mechanics of Struggling. Whether you’re playing alone, or with a friend, you will be controlling one arm of a creature Chasing Rats lovingly refer to as Troy. Simard told me, whilst Struggling has each player controlling one arm on a single screen, he’d love to work on a split-screen couch co-op in the future.

As a self-described co-op connoisseur, it was amazing to see the passion and ambition Chasing Rats has for the future of this genre. Some of my happiest memories over lockdown have been playing the late-night co-op games my Player Two and I have discovered. The memories we’ve shared (as well as the many bottles of cheap prosecco that taste like battery acid) really are the best gaming experiences someone could ask for.

Simard puts it best: “Couch co-op is not dead. It’s merely sleeping, waiting. Biding its time.”

Struggling is out now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows and Xbox One.

Featured Image Credit: Frontier/Chasing Rats