All Hail the Super Meat Boy

Inspired by classic platformers, particularly the Super Mario Bros. series, Team Meat's Super Meat Boy offers a retro visual aesthetic and simple, classic mechanics.  The game sees players taking on the role of a small, animated chunk of meat named Meat Boy who must save his girlfriend, Bandage Girl, from the evil Dr. Fetus.  Super Meat Boy seems easy enough, complete a series of brief platforming challenges, but the game's high difficulty quickly begins to sink in with its timed wall jumps, wall slides and enough buzz saws and lava pits to garner it a truly hardcore, and addicting, platformer.   The developers, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, teach gamers that you should never forfeit difficulty for fun – a common occurrence in mainstream video games today, as companies attempt to stray further and further away from retro game appeal for sheer accessibility.

Thankfully, Super Meat Boy has been receiving a lot of attention, being featured in indie game showcases including the Penny Arcade Expo's PAX 10 and was nominated for several awards in the 2010 Independent Games Festival.  In addition, the game – already available on XBLA and soon to be released on Windows, Mac and WiiWare – has been getting some great reception, and rightfully so.

I had a chance to speak to Edmund and Tommy about Super Meat Boy's humorous take on the platforming genre, and the benefits and challenges of independent development.

C & G Monthly: So first off, why did you guys decide to do a launch sale for Super Meat Boy?

Edmund McMillen: We were foolish idiots. [laughs]

Tommy Refenes: We're dumbasses. [laughs]

CGM: [laughs] No seriously. Why?teammeatsmall

Edmund: Well, I guess it was more about us giving back to our fans.  A lot of times you see games being released and a month later they go on sale.  We don't think this is fair to fans of Super Meat Boy and our original game, Meat Boy [on Newgrounds.com], so we wanted to kick things off with a launch sale.  That's our thank you to them for providing us with their awesome emails and all the fan art on our blog.

CGM: What were your biggest difficulties when making Super Meat Boy?

Edmund: We didn't have too many big issues, but we did have some I'm sure Tommy is willing to tell you about...

Tommy: The biggest problem we had when making Super Meat Boy was also the stupidest.  The game has a few bugs, but there's one where you had to pull the memory card out of the Xbox360 just as you were saving.  And literally, you had to do it exactly as you pull the card out.  I had to make it say "DON'T DO THAT IT WON'T SAVE!" just so it wouldn't happen to people.  Why the fuck would you be stupid enough to do something like that to your Xbox?  Who in their right mind would actually do something like that and not expect bugs?  I had to fix around 100+ of those bugs for each time it was saving.

Edmund: Microsoft has these lists of dumb shit that they have us do for no reason.

Tommy: Like one where we had to localize for China even though it's not legal to own a video game console there.  No one does.  But we still had to localize for it and pay for it. Lots of illogical shit.

CGM: Wow, yeah that sounds pretty trivial.

Tommy: I know. It's as though they're just searching for bugs any way they can.  It's extremely annoying.

CGM: Will you be making more cool promotional material (like comics, shirts etc.) in the future?

Edmund: Yeah, my wife Danielle does all of those herself and sells them on the Etsy Shop. She got about 50 orders the first day the game was released and had to shut down the shop, but she's almost caught up now.  She's been working on special edition brownies and Bandage Girl's as well.  And then we also still sell comics, shirts and stickers off there as well.

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CGM: I hear you'll be adding new levels to Super Meat Boy soon.  Mind telling me more?

Edmund: So yeah, we're basically able to update the game with new level content whenever we want, without making users pay anything.  It's a specific thing we can do that Tommy was able to add.  It has to do with the fact that our levels are all text based. But yeah, we will be updating the game for as long as people play it.  We plan on releasing totally new levels and even chapters based around unlockable characters in the game and those chapters are each made to use that character's specific ability.

CGM: Yeah, like Braid’s Tim, Alien Hominid’s Alien and Bit.Trip’s Commander Video. How did these inclusions come about?

Edmund: Basically it was a way for us to point the finger back at smaller indie games we loved and also help us with using indie games that were bigger.  It was a fun way to group us together and make a game for the indie community.

CGM: Of course! Speaking of characters, what about Mr. Minecraft?  Will be available on everything or only on the computer?

Edmund: Yeah, he'll only be on PC and Mac.  We'll have him for sure.

CGM: Let’s talk about indie games.  Left and right we're seeing indie games being released for download on all the latest consoles.  Not only that, but many of them have been getting some great reception. What role do you think indie games serve in the industry right now?  Is it to take the risks that mainstream developers won't take?

Edmund: I think that you're exactly right, indies have the ability to take risks.  Huge companies can't do this because they run the risk of failing and going under because of their budgets, but games like ours have no budgets.  Our cost is the time we spend; we had no investment, money wise.  Because of this we don't run the risk of losing much so we can take those bigger risks.

CGM: Edmund, your past games have really cool and unique visual styles and innovative gameplay mechanics.  I was wondering what comes first: gameplay or art?

Edmund: For Super Meat Boy I came up with the basic idea for what I wanted to do art-wise first.  All tile sets were done before I tested mechanics.  So I did visuals first, for sure.  They were quick and easy to test and became less of a risk.

CGM: And that differs with your other games?

Edmund: Yeah, it really depends on how much of a clear picture I have in my head of what I want to do.  The Meat Boy prototype had placeholder art because I wasn't sure how it would play out.  I wanted to first test it out.  Gish also had placeholder art first as well.  It just depends on how much I'm familiar with what I'm designing.

CGM: Super Meat Boy has been getting some great reception.  How does that make you feel?

Edmund: We're extremely thankful for all of our loyal fans and we just want to give them our thanks for sticking with us.

Tommy: Yeah, we really couldn't have done it without them.

CGM: Super Meat Boy must be a huge inspiration for small developers worldwide.  Do you have any tips or words of advice for those people?

Edmund: If you stay honest and your love for what you're doing is actually doing it and not in the outcome then you'll be fine and you'll be able to do awesome things.  Just stay true to what makes you happy and it will show in your work.  Stay honest to yourself and realize where you need to improve and why and you'll grow fast.  It's all about critical thinking and honesty.  Also, just pushing through and not giving up.  It took me 12 years to get where I am now.  I've basically made 20k a year for those 12 years.  I never quit because I loved it.