3. Back-to-Basics Design Innovation
Edmund: When Tommy and I talked about attempting to remake the Mario formula, we didn't really discuss it publicly. Nothing could ever touch Mario, and nothing has ever come close, but as a designer I desperately wanted to at least try.
Super Meat Boy is Super Mario Bros. if Tommy and I made it. If we had made a design doc, it would have been as simple as that.
So looking at it from that perspective, we had a very solid foundation design-wise, but video games have changed a lot in the past 20 years. Difficulty has kind of been thrown out the door and replaced with accessibility over all else, erasing any real challenge.
It was vital for us to bring back the difficulty of the retro age, but also reinvent the idea of what difficulty meant. Frustration was the biggest part of retro difficulty and something we felt needed to be removed at all costs, in order to give the player a sense of accomplishment without discouraging them to the point of quitting.
At its core, this idea was quite basic: Remove lives, reduce respawn time, keep the levels short and keep the goal always in sight. On top of these refinements, we added constant positive feedback, and even death became something to enjoy when you knew that upon completing the level you would be rewarded with an epic showing of all your past deaths. The replay feature was a way to remind the player that they were getting better through their own actions and reinforce that feeling of accomplishment of doing something difficult and succeeding.
Edmund: Danny Baranowsky is an amazing musician, but one of the reasons why I believe his music was received so well in SMB lies in how things worked behind the scenes.
From the start, I felt it was important that Danny own the rights to all the music he made for the game. It seemed logical that an artist would put more into his work if he felt it was his and it represented himself. We wanted Danny to receive 100 percent of the profits from his work, and it only made sense that he would be that much more personally invested in his work if this were the case.
Danny's work comes from the kind of person he is. It's manic, obsessive, complex, and full of life. These were all elements we wanted for the SMB soundtrack, and making that happen was as easy as allowing Danny to make music he was proud of with little direction.
The SMB soundtrack was an amazing addition to the game -- it gets your heart rate up, complements every aspect of its gameplay, and stays with you for days. I believe the reason for this was respecting and trusting Danny as an artist and simply letting him do what he does so well.
Tommy: Steam is amazing. I can't stress that enough. The ability to quickly update within hours of a bug popping up made the entire PC launch much easier than it could have been if Steam had a different system in place to update code.
Also, Steam listens to its developers. They listened to us when it came to our suggestions for how we should push the sale, and in return we listened to them. Working with Steam never felt like a publisher / developer relationship. It felt like a mutual partnership to make the most money and put the best game out there.
We love Steam.
What Went Wrong
1. Personal Expenses
Edmund: It's hard to say our personal expenses were something that really went wrong, due to the fact that it was a HUGE motivator to getting the game done, but it was definitely an issue as we moved into the last few months of development.
There was one point where I had emergency gallbladder surgery that put me in the hole $50,000 due to the fact that I couldn't afford health insurance.
We had no real money at all, and even all the comics we had printed for GDC and PAX were attained through a barter system where my wife would make plush toys to sell in the Newgrounds store in exchange for the cost of printing.
Our situation was quite dire at several key points of development, but I've been on the poverty line for the past 10 years, so going without wasn't much of an issue, and honestly, we had much bigger issues to worry about anyway.
Tommy: At one point I had negative $800 in the bank. It's bad when you go to a 7-Eleven to buy a Coke Zero and get rejected. Turns out, each one of those Coke Zeros cost me about $40.