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GDC 2011: Team Meat Discusses  Super Meat Boy 's Nearly Lethal Development
GDC 2011: Team Meat Discusses Super Meat Boy's Nearly Lethal Development
February 28, 2011 | By Kyle Orland

February 28, 2011 | By Kyle Orland
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More: Console/PC, GDC, Production



Playing the punishingly hard Super Meat Boy is a masochistic exercise for many players. But in a GDC 2011 presentation today, creators Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillen – the two person Team Meat – laid out the many ways that the development process was equally masochistic, at times.

“I remember looking at the calendar and feeling the panic and feeling the stress of that, and... I said to myself, 'I will die when this is done,” Refenes said, in what he assured the audience was not hyperbole. “I kept thinking, 'If I make it through, I probably won't die, but it's OK if I die afterward.'”

The reason for the nearly lethal development pace, the team said, was the promise of being included in Microsoft's Xbox Live Fall GameFeast, which they were told would lead to increased visibility and more sales.

With their dwindling bank accounts unable to sustain them until the next promotion six months later, Team Meat undertook a truly punishing schedule to get from rough trade show builds to a polished, bug-free game in just a few months time.

“This isn't an exaggeration; the last two months of development, Tommy and I never took a day off and never slept more than five hours a day,” recalled McMillen, who joined the talk via Skype call from his home office. “It was like a Groundhog Day situation, where we're just living this same awful day over and over.”

The incessant grind got so bad that McMillen recalls frequently telling his wife he was ready to throw out all their progress and just quit. Refenes, who's diabetic, said the stress caused his blood sugar levels to become disastrously unstable, and that his parents had to bring him a meal every day, or he would neglect to eat.

And after all that hard work, Refenes and McMillen said they were extremely disappointed with the promotion offered by Microsoft. What was supposed to be a featured promotional spot on the Xbox 360 dashboard, with no competing new digital releases for the week, quickly turned into a fourth slot initial placement opposite the release of Double Fine's highly visible Costume Quest.

Refenes and McMillen said Microsoft's limp support was somewhat understandable due to the somewhat underwhelming performance of earlier GameFeast releases Hydrophobia and Comic Jumper. Still, they felt like the rug had pulled out from under them, to an extent.

“It isn't supposed to hurt your feelings, because it's business, but it did hurt my feelings,” Refenes said. “Ed and I killed ourselves to get this game done, and we're just kind of pushed to the side.”

Despite the promotional snafu, Super Meat Boy received widespread critical acclaim and attention on the way to nearly 400,000 downloads across Xbox Live and Steam. But the high cost of that success had McMillen looking back in confusion.

“I still think back to those months and I'm like, 'Jesus Christ!'” he said. “The human body can do it when it needs to, but I would never voluntarily go through that again. If someone said 'Hey, you want to do Meat Boy again and get the same success?' I would say 'No way.' … In a way I'm weaker because now I'm afraid of something like that.”

That said, there are some tangible benefits to the development hell. “When we'd see someone pick up the game and not put it down, that would take any sadness we had and just put it aside,” Refenes said.


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Comments


Luke Quinn
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The way the Game feast went down was really unlucky for Team meat, but at least a few doors will be opened for them when they decide on doing another project.

From now on, I imagine they'll simply ignore the promises of fame and riches that should come with an organised promotion and simply do their games at their own natural pace.

Dylan Martin
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Were there any contracts for this promotional deal?

Andrew Dice
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I was a little disappointed there was so little time for questions (I had a question that I thought would've made an interesting piece for the presentation), but otherwise it was an interesting session. The way they got manhandled by Microsoft is frankly rather discouraging to any independent looking into XBLA as a distribution node. Wish we could've heard more about how it went down with Steam, even though they made it clear they love Steam!

Glenn Storm
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Would you feel comfortable posting the question here? This is a forum, of sorts. I'm curious, others likely are too, and there's a fair chance it may be addressed, potentially by Team Meat.

Adrian Bauer
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I love this game, I ended up getting many of my friends interested in it as well. You guys are awesome. I've had the Meat boy sticker on my wallet since we chatted between booths last year at IGF. You guys always have D-Pad's support!

Glenn Storm
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Respect for Team Meat. Tommy's quote is reminiscent of, "Today is a good day to die." Somehow an experience like this needs to fuel the next endeavor, but if a process is this punishing, without reciprocal support and reward leading to increased capability, anyone would feel apprehensive about the next progressive step. Sounds like a game balance issue.

Matthew Mouras
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This was a difficult piece to read. I squirmed a bit while going through it. You guys are incredible developers and SMB was one of my favorites last year, but no one should put themselves through such a development lifecycle. I guess it was nice to read that you are afraid of putting yourselves through such a wringer again - don't do it! Your talent is too valuable to be ruined by the crunch.

Arno Buruma
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SMB is an awesome game, but even 400'000 downloads is not worth nearly killing yourself over. It's much more difficult to focus or be creative if your body is under stress and you are unhealthy. If good quality is guaranteed in an upcoming game - that is to say that the producers of that game are lovingly crafting every detail and honing perfection.. I can wait. If it's worth my money, you bet I'll buy it.



Deadlines and video games just don't mix. Most of the time, when something gets rushed or developers are nearly killing themselves on a project - things like bad bugs happen, or developers find out soon after that there were key things they wanted in the game that weren't fully realized, etc. Obviously and luckily this didn't happen with SMB, but with code especially, you can have a product almost done, then realize that you missed one crucial little tiny step in the development of your framework and bam, it comes crashing down on the day of release. It has happened and that would be a brutal blow.



Free yourselves from deadlines or trying to squeeze into a promotion or whatever. Otherwise it'll be miserable or difficult or stressful. You must have fun all the time. True fans are devoted to quality not time of delivery.

Aleksander Miocinovic
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IMO it is important to note that majority of sales (55:45) were on PC (despite the fact that SMB was X360 exclusive for a month). Source: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/03/01/beefy-super-meat-boy-p
c-outsells-360/

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Interesting that I read this article shortly after reading this other article: http://gamasutra.com/view/news/33306/GDC_2011_Game_Developers_And
_The_Platform_Power_Struggle.php



"It isn't supposed to hurt your feelings, because it's business, but it did hurt my feelings,"



I disagree with the "it's just business" attitude. I believe that ethics and respect should be used in any aspect of human interaction. I'm baffled at the ethical apathy that has become rampant with respect to business. Fiduciary Responsibility is not a blanket excuse for all business practices. It doesn't have to be this way, and it shouldn't. Sorry to hear about the shafting.

Heinz Schuller
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I just read the full post-mortem in the latest issue of Game Developer. What an extraordinary effort and commitment shown by these developers in pursuit of their dreams. It is really sad and depressing that this level of respect and loyalty wasn't reciprocal on behalf of the publisher.


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