Roguelikes, M$, and Frankenstein: Edmund McMillen Talks The Binding of Isaac
Loyal fans of Team Meat’s work are sure to be waiting impatiently in their seats right now, as Edmund “half-of-Team-Meat” McMillen’s new game, The Binding of Isaac, is set to go live on Steam in just one more day.
The game certainly looks fantastic, but is it really going to make any money or appeal to the public, especially considering its severely niche appeal? I asked McMillen to find out.
What made you decide to tackle the roguelike genre? Even in the vast world of indie games, roguelikes are a niche genre that seemingly appeal to a select few. Is this an attempt at a “mainstream” roguelike of sorts? Really, what I’d like to know is, what are you trying to accomplish with The Binding of Isaac?
Honestly the main goal for me with Isaac was getting my feet back in the water after [Super Meat Boy], I wanted to try something I’d never done, something that would be a bit of a reach for me as a designer, and something I viewed as dificult from a design standpoint but not as time consuming as something like SMB. My goal as an artist isn’t to try to make things “mainstream” but maybe that’s just a word that sounds bad; if you mean making an easily accessible roguelike then you could be a bit right there. The roguelike formula is an AMAZING design formula that was very fun to work with; it’s extremely rewarding and I learned a ton picking it apart.
Will Isaac be a gateway to more traditional roguelikes for players? No idea, probably not. Honestly I just care about making something that feels fresh and exciting for people and, more importantly, myself.
Super Meat Boy was a massive success that put Team Meat on the map. You’re tackling The Binding of Isaac without your partner in crime, Tommy Refenes, yet the look and style of the game is very much Team Meat-esque. Since you were the art and design side of the equation, that’s not exactly surprising, but what are you trying to do with Binding of Isaac to separate yourself from being “that other guy from Team Meat”? After the massive success of Super Meat Boy, did you feel any pressure while creating The Binding of Isaac to live up to that quality?
If Tommy didn’t go on vacation the week I decided to do a Game Jam game (that turned into Isaac), I would have been doing this game with him. It’s in no way a way for me to distance myself from Team Meat or anything like that; I’ve been making games for over 8 years, I think Isaac is probably my 23rd game. So I do tend to work with a lot of different people and jump into projects the instant I feel moved to do so; this was just one of those times.
As far as pressure, I guess I feel it in some respects. Sometimes I get worried that Isaac isn’t going to live up to anyone’s expectations after SMB. In fact I know it won’t; I’m 100% sure Isaac won’t at all be what the majority of people who picked it up “because it was made by that meat buy guy” will expect, but I’m also very confident that they will still enjoy it. I don’t think anything I could have done could be further from what SMB is; Isaac is such an odd design in many many ways. I try not to worry about it though, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed in spending 5$ on Isaac; I put a lot of thought and work into it and I think people will really dig it, even though it’s “not Super Meat Boy“.
Your troubles with Microsoft have been well-documented and are sure to come up again once Indie Game: The Movie starts screening later this year. I certainly don’t want to beat a dead horse, but The Binding of Isaac is going to be available only on Steam. Did your experience with consoles really convince you that the PC is the gaming master race, haha? I’ve met you once this past GDC, so I know you’re a pretty awesome guy, but would you ever considering bringing more games to consoles?
Ugh yeah, the MS thing seems to be following me around these days and I’m sure it will pop up again when the movie comes out. But honestly all that s**t’s in the past now; we have patched a lot up with MS recently and decided to “stay together for the kids” so to speak. We put our differences aside for Meat Boy because MS does want to continue to push it, and we want to continue to support that version of the game, so hopefully this November you’ll get to see Super Meat Boy on sale on XBLA with some additional content.
That aside I do feel like my home will always be on PC; for the freedom you have alone, it’s the tops for me. You can basically do anything you want on PC and have to answer to no one; that’s worth a great deal more then you’d think.
But yes, I will do more console games; the next Team Meat game will most likely launch on PC and 1-2 consoles depending on when it’s done and what consoles are out. We have learned a lot from SMB and I think we will be sure to make all the right moves next time when it comes to our publishing deals.
I don’t want to be presumptive, but I’m sure part of the answer to the previous question is sales. (lol NOPE –Ed. note) The Binding of Isaac is going to be $5 on Steam, which seems awfully scant considering the amount of content that’s been proposed. The whole price vs. value argument has always fascinated me, especially when it comes to indie games. How do you walk that dangerous line between “profitable” and “overpriced”, especially when the public expects indie games to be affordable?
I actually didn’t talk at all about sales in the last question, because honestly it’s not much of a huge factor to me at this point, and also why Isaac is only $5.
Isaac is $5 because that’s the price I’d like to pay for it if I didn’t make it; I’m not at all hurting for money at this point so why overcharge? I can’t say I put much thought into the line of profitable and overpriced, I just get a feel for it and do it. I think digital games should be cheap regardless of the scale of the game for many reasons. It honestly doesn’t make sense why a digital game is only 5 bucks cheaper then a boxed product, when I know for a fact way more than 5 bucks are lost in production and distribution. We live in a world where most people who know about this year’s lineup of must-have PC games also know how to easily pirate them, and I think cost is a big factor to turning a large number of those people towards paying for them. But, to each his own.
Finally, where in the hell do you get the inspiration for your character and set designs? As one of the staff put it, the new characters and whatnot in The Binding of Isaac look absolutely terrifying, and there wasn’t exactly anything cute about Super Meat Boy either.
I think about that a lot actually, I mean I obviously have a lot of preoccupations with weird looking s**t: flesh, organs, fetus’s and so on. I can’t pinpoint all of the reasons why but I know my fascination with stitched-up bodies and fleshy creatures comes from my grandpa. He had open heart surgery when I was little and used to show me his scars; I thought he was like an awesome kind of Frankenstein monster. When you’re 5 years old and the dominant male role model in your life looks like he was torn apart and put back together, I guess you tend to think of stuff like that as awesome.
I’m sure my Catholic upbringing also didn’t hurt.
Thanks for your time.
The Binding of Isaac will be available only on Steam tomorrow for $5.