The tough-as-nails platforming game Super Meat Boy was released in October of last year for Xbox 360, and soon afterwards for PC. The crunch and anguish that developers Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes -- collectively Team Meat -- went through has been well documented through the various interviews and podcasts the duo took part in during the time.
Nearly a year later, they're far more relaxed, and preparing to begin work on their second game. McMillen has also been working on his own side-project, The Binding of Isaac, which is due to be released later this month.
As part of the recording, McMillen and Refenes shared their thoughts of a variety of topics, from McMillen's new game to whether or not the duo plan to work with publisher Microsoft again in the future. Here are 11 notable points highlighted from the podcast.
The Binding of Isaac Details
McMillen: It's a roguelike shooter using the dungeon structure of Zelda. You play as a little boy who is in a basement, and his mom's trying to kill him. So he fights her off with his tears.
I was looking to take a break [after Super Meat Boy] so I decided that my vacation would be a game jam for a week. I was supposed to do a game in a week. But then the game started to balloon a bit, and I just decided eh, we'll keep going and see where it goes. And it just got bigger, and I decided to keep going with it, and now it's turned into this monster.
Much like any other roguelike, it has permadeath. I think the goal of any roguelike game is that you want it to feel completely different each time you play, so my goal right now is to make sure it's completely different each time. So I'm adding as much random happenings, items, enemies and other stuff to make it so that it's entertaining each time.
Usually by level three you'll have a character that is distinctly different than the first couple of times you'll play. A full playthrough should take around 45 minutes.
The Mac Version of Super Meat Boy
Refenes: There is a Mac version coming... whether I'm working on it or not is irrelevant, because I don't think I'm gonna do it. I think I'm gonna get somebody else to do it, so that I don't have to, but I don't want to do it.
Next game, I plan on building everything simultaneously, because I don't... you know, launching a game, and then having a month later to launch it again, and then having to launch it again, and again... yeah, for Meat Boy, we're gonna get somebody to do that.
Working With Microsoft Again
McMillen: I don't think we'll work with them ever again. And it kinda sucks too, because we're still on really good terms with our producer, who was really awesome -- he also happens to be the producer on every good game on the fucking system.
It felt like he was the only person who really believed in us, and he felt like a friend... and I know it's painful for him, because we've not had one sale [on Xbox] since our initial launch sale, and I don't know if that's going to happen. Whenever we ask -- and we actively ask monthly if we can be included in a sale or get any kind of promotion -- they say no.
Which is odd, because it's like, I know for a fact that we, by openly talking about our relationship with Microsoft, they've actually changed a lot of stuff, and I've heard from developers that they have said to them, "We want to change our image and we want everybody to be happy."
So I'm really very happy that we talked about it, because I feel like we actually somehow did something, but I guess they could probably still be put off by it.
Refenes: I feel the only way we'll work with Microsoft, is if it's more on our terms, which I don't feel like they'll ever want to agree with.
PC vs Xbox sales
Refenes: The ratio of PC to Xbox sales is double on PC. That's just on Steam for PC... Other digital distribution sites in no way compare to what Steam is. Steam is a fucking powerhouse.
Definitely no Super Meat Boy sequel?
McMillen: I think both me and Tommy are thinking right now, and for the foreseeable future, that we don't have the skills to top Super Meat Boy and bring anything new to the table at all. In order to make a sequel, we'd need shitloads of new mechanics... there's just nothing there idea-wise. It's tapped out, and I don't want to fuck up what we did.
Also, we really love the game, but we're a bit sick of it. Maybe five years from now we'll break out Meat Boy and play it again, and really appreciate it again. But right now, it's just been in our face for so long, and it's time for something new.
Team Meat's Next Game
McMillen: We know what we want to do... and you could say that elements of Isaac are being used to prototype some ideas that I want to do with the next game design-wise... I'm hoping once Isaac is finished and the next game pops in, I'll be able to use a lot of the elements [from Isaac] in new and exciting ways.
So yeah, Isaac is kind of a prototype for some stuff that I want to play around with in the next game.
When Is The Next Game Coming?
McMillen: We're trying to be careful, because one of the things that we learned with Meat Boy -- when we were eight months into development, people were already saying, "Wow, hasn't this game been in development for like three years?"
Refenes: There's this short attention span, and a lot of people will hear about something, and then they don't hear about it again for two months, and they're like "That was from last year."
McMillen: So we both know that, until we have something that we want to show, I don't think we want to start talking about what the next game is, just in case we want to change it... I assume the game will take about the same amount of time [as Super Meat Boy], maybe a little longer. It really depends on how ambitious we get.
Will Team Meat Make A Nintendo 3DS Game?
McMillen: I think it would be cool to make a game for it, but we haven't had any ideas for games for the system. It's funny, because the Nintendo stuff... I think it worries most developers now because of the WiiWare thing... a lot of developers are getting cold feet.
But I dunno, the 3DS just sucks right now because there's nothing for it, you know? I mean, if you look at their download service now, it's really good, they've really improved it.
I think if we finally do make a 3DS game, I don't think it's something that couldn't also be... like, we're never going to make a game that couldn't also be on PC. I think it's just a stupid thing for most indies to do.
Like, imagine if Super Meat Boy was only out on Xbox... it would have been painful to not have a PC release. We would have been stuck with a bad taste in our mouth... PC is crucial, and PC is very alive and kicking at this point.
No PC Gaming Without Steam
Refenes: I believe if there was no Steam, that PC gaming would be a little lacking right now.
McMillen: It'd be dead. It'd be dead for sure. When we did our retail release... retailers came back to us saying, "PC games aren't selling anymore, so we're not buying anymore." Retail-wise, PC gaming is just dead.
Steam just singlehandedly brought it back. It's funny too, because so many people complained about it when it first came out. But they totally knew what they were doing, and they did it so well. They're developers, and they're still so close to being developers, so they know how that shit works, and they're not afraid to take risks.
Going On Stage At GDC 11
Refenes: A woman backstage came up to us and I quickly said "Oh, we're with Andy Schatz, we're going to help him present the Seamus McNally award."
McMillen: And she's like, "Oh, OK! The green room's over here!" So they walk us over to the green room, and Brandon Boyer's [chairman of the IGF] there. And we're watching the teleprompter, and just watching and chilling.
And then I jokingly said, "We should totally crash Andy's Seamus McNally and be out there." And Brandon's like, "Dude, you have to do it." So we did.
Although, to set the record straight, we didn't know Andy had anything prepared for a speech... I thought he was just going out and saying the marketing speak...
Refenes: Yeah, we didn't know he had some heart-felt speech that he'd worked on. We felt really bad after that.
How To Get Your Game On Steam
McMillen: If you can get a lot of attention, and get people to care about your game, try to do interviews, show what your game's about. And if Steam keep saying no, then just release it, and then if it does really well, then show Steam.
I think Steam is getting more accepting of indie games because they're doing really well with indie games. Indie games are doing really fantastic on Steam.
So yeah, persistence... make the best game you can, and talk about your game.
Refenes: And also when talking to Steam, listen to them when it comes to price. Because they really know what they're talking about. Use them as a resource, and talk to them.
McMillen: But don't give up too -- that's like a big thing. We used to hear of a lot of people saying "I emailed Steam and they didn't get back to me", and then they just fucking give up. If we gave up, we wouldn't be on anything. We had to fucking fight. You have to fight for these things.
I would say persistence and drive are the two most crucial things about being a successful indie developer.