After yesterday's in-depth discussion of Super Meat Boy's creation, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Referenes (along with a cameo from Ed's wife Danielle) discuss gimmicks in the industry, the best indie titles at the moment, and a one hundred dollar bottle of Cola.
You mentioned previously about games today holding your hand too much. Is that due to the industry's reaction to the wider audience being brought in now?
Ed: It's 100% business. It's a logical business plan. If you want to be able to make as many people as happy as possible, even if it means an empty happiness. So that's why every single game has super in-depth tutorials that teach the player so they can't make any mistakes. Everyone's trying to make sure no-one gets discouraged in any way possible and they make their way through to the end. Because videogames right now are treated like movies. In order to get the whole experience you need to finish every aspect of the game so they want to make it so everyone can do that. And that's business. It makes business sense.
I know it doesn't particularly make sense when coming to game design because not every game in the world should be easily beaten. Some of the best games I played recently are like that. Like Spelunky, if that game was easily beatable then it'd be worthless. It'd completely kill it.
The indie scene totally gets that - that's why every fucking indie game is quite hardcore. I think that there's this underground scene that desperately want that feeling of accomplishment at the end and have basically made games to get that back.
I can see that gamers that have grown up with the the 90s classics want to pay homage to them. But what do you think of the next generation after you, who have been weaned on this generation of games?
Ed: I don't know. I'd like to believe that kids now are playing old games from the 90s. There's a kid downstairs from me who wears Mario t-shirts. He's about seven. He loves Mario, 2D Mario. That's what he loves and knows all about. I think you can't get away from a good game regardless of when it was made which is the reason why Nintendo keep remaking and rehashing old ideas. To keep that current.
But realistically all the kids that grew up, and I think this is more important, all the kids that grew up with games in the past ten years also grew up with online games; that's flash games, indie games - PC games overall, and all those games are basically pretty hardcore and in the same vein of the early 90s.
Tommy and I talked about the whole thing that's been going down with Kinect, Move and Wii and in a lot of ways this is the downfall of videogames. Completely removing the - I don't know, its horrible...
It's removing any sort of challenge from the game?
Ed: Its removing a lot of stuff. I understand that there's a market for that sort of thing but what I don't think a lot of consoles are understanding is that when you maximise that market you take away from a core videogame market. And that's what Nintendo did. I was the hugest Nintendo fanboy in the world, then the Wii came out and I was like "whoa, they don't make games for me anymore." To even think about it...okay they made Smash Bros, and that wasn't that great, and what else? Mario Galaxy. But you can't live off two games in four, five years.
Are Microsoft and Kinect just playing catch up?
Tommy: They're late, they're playing catch-up and they don't quite understand. Because this is what's going to happen and this is what has already happened. I know Kinect has sold a million units, and they think it's going to sell five million. I don't see that. There's no games to support any of that stuff. They invest, what, five hundred million dollars in Kinect - they announced that a long time ago - I think they're seeing it as something that has a very very fast burn rate. Something that burns quick, and expensive. So if its already sold one million units, that's, let's say, one hundred fifty million dollars its made in profit. It'll only go to a point. There's not going to be any lasting appeal for Kinect. I don't see a game coming out next year that's a "oh man - oh fuck, I don't have a Kinect, I need that". This unknown game in my massive imagination that I can't even fucking think of yet.
I don't see that actually happen. Its seems they looked for the quick profit and they don't necessarily care about what actually keeps it going. Sony's the same way, its not just Microsoft. I heard that the Move sold horribly. The only thing it had going for it was that the tech junkies liked the new tech.
Ed: They also had more money backing the ads. I won't doubt that the majority of money invested in Kinect was just to promote it and every fucking Best Buy had it on display and made people look like retards.
Its one of these things that Tommy and I talk about this and we think to ourselves "why the hell would anyone buy that?" But then obviously people are buying it. I then think to myself then its just got to be marketing, but then how much power does marketing have? Is it really that powerful? Can it really turn people into thinking that something that is not good, is? Because I'll tell you right now, Kinect is not good. It's not. There aren't going to be any good games for it. You can look at the fucking Metacritic overall score of the games, that aren't anything over a seven.
Tommy: You know what I bet it is? People want something new. I mean, you've said it a hundred times, people want what they don't know about yet. And I guess Kinect can appear to be something new and something that they haven't done before. I think that the reality of that is I don't think or see the Best Buy thing selling it to any sort of gamer. I see it selling it to a person with a really short type of attention span, which a lot of people do have. They'll buy Kinect. They'll play it for a week and they're not going to play it again. Maybe that Yoga thing is good, they can do Yoga in their house. But I thought the point of Yoga was to go to the classes and meet the girls.
Do you not think it'll take a while for the developers to get their heads round the technology and implement something cool for it?
Ed: This is the fucking EyeToy. This shit has been around.
Tommy: When PlayStation came out and all those developers said ‘oh its difficult to develop'? I understand that. That comes with any new system. The games they put out at the beginning of the PlayStation cycle, the only thing different about them is how they look. It's not going to be a better game. More processing power does not make a better game.
They can do all the tech for Kinect and Move and stuff but if there's no potential for a really good game then its not going to sell. The one thing they sell over and over are these sword fights, with Kinect, Move and Wii. They don't work. Because it's missing that whole thing of when you hit somebody's sword there's no feedback. There's crazy fundmental flaws to it. It's not a question of the tech. It's a question of what you do with it.
What you do with tech is you make stuff look better. That's all tech is for. Tech isn't for new experiences neccessairly. I mean it could for something like Kinect but your experiences are very limited. Because for everything that Kinect, Move and Wii Motion Plus are, they are still very limited on what they can offer a player. You control your arms, you control your character on the screen. That's the extent of it. Until you have electrodes hooked up to you and you can feel sensations and feel force against what you're pushing, you're not going to get any new experiences.
Ed: I think its as simple as looking at it like this: there are a lot of really great developers out there, really talented, genius people who make great great games. Right? Okay. One of those design entities is Nintendo. And when Nintendo came out and the Wii came out, they had one good game, which was the one they launched with; Wii Sports. And I would go out on a limb to say this would be the best game out of any of these 'moving around your room, flay your arms' type of games. It will always be the best. Because they knew what they were doing, they knew the limitations of the tech they were using.
Anything you can do on the Wii is something you can basically simulate on the other systems. They got it right that one time, and they were never able to reproduce it. No other company was able to come close to Wii Sports as far as something that was enjoyable and fresh. Because if you don't see Rockstar and Capcom and all these other places coming up with great innoviative ideas for this tech, there's a reason. Because it's fucking dead. There's nothing you can do other than the stuff you've already seen. There's not some genius who is going to come up with the greatest idea in the whole world who didn't think about Wii Sports or whatever else. That's it. That's what you can do. Nintendo did it. Showed you what you can do with it and that's all that's really going to matter.
All you see on Kinect are emulations of existing products. Its not because these people are idiots, its because these people can't do anything more than that. What more could you do other than simulate Dance Dance Revolution or simulate Rock Band or simulate Wii Sports? That's why you're seeing this repeated over and over. They're not stupid - there's just nothing else you can do here. Nohing else is going to happen.
I'll tell you right now as well, with the 3DS, and I have very high hopes with the 3DS-you're not going to experience anything new with the 3DS that hasn't already been seen before. Its not going to add to any game design or game development. It's simply a visual upgrade if you will, or downgrade, depending at how you look at it.
It's just that all these new gimmicks that come out, you can farm that design. One good designer can farm that design and come up with every possible thing that design could be used for in a game that would be fun within a matter of months. That's why you don't see anything else. Name one Wii game that's better than Wii Sports, that's more exicting than that? There's a reason - they got it right the first time and everyone then emulated them.
But you're interested in developing for the 3DS?
Tommy: Yea, Mainly because it's a new DS. Not so much that its got this 3D gimmick about it. Because it has promises of better online stuff...
Ed: You also can't avoid the fact that the one solid innovation that has happened in videogames in the past fifteen years has been that touch screen on the DS. That is a valid, extremely useful...it lends endless possibilities to game development and design. It is a great tool, but you don't have to use it. And the dual screen doesn't even matter, but the fact that touch screen is there was copied by-
Tommy: The iPhone.
Ed...and everything else. But I have very high hopes for the 3DS. We'd both love to develop for it and probably will. I also think if they make the online stuff very easy so its not that hard to play with other people, to download games online and give you a good amount of space to store your games on, I think that system is going to fucking fly. But of course its going to do well.
Tommy: That's honestly the only thing that holds Nintendo back, their whole slow download service. If they had something similar to Xbox Live, Xbox Live would not be the number one seller of downloadable games and content. Because everyone already owns a Wii. It's market is huge, but the online experience is awful. You have to enter your credit card number every single time you want to buy points and add to that your address and your name.It takes five minutes to put in enough money to buy a five dollar game. It just doesn't work.
Ed: And it takes ten minutes to find a game.
Tommy: It's the equivalent of driving to the store, there's a Gamestop ten minutes from me, I can drive there and use a Gamestop voucher and buy a game by the time I'd have entered in my details and bought it online.
What's your thoughts on Xbox Live? You'd said there was a loophole to upload content that you needed to do...
Tommy: Its not a loophole. They actually suggested to us that we use it. There's a very specific part of the Xbox Live service...for everything that is bad with Microsoft, and every good company has something bad about them, but Microsoft has put a ton of thought into how they interact with everybody online, both customers and developers. They made it incredibly easy. There's a very specific part of Xbox Live available to developers that developers can't use due to the nature of their games. We were able to use that, and Microsoft knew we'd be able to use that to push some levels up for free. They came to us and asked how we'd feel about a level of the week kind of thing. We took that, ran with it, and said, "well how about a Chapter a month"?
Ed: That's what I thought I'd do after the game was out. Make a lot more work for me. [laughs]
What's the view of Xbox Live in the independent scene?
Tommy: I think mistakenly, this is not Xbox Live, but any console, and I think people mistakenly think that it's a gold ticket. Its not. It's not for every developer, not every game that gets on there does well. Good games do well. But that goes for every system. A lot of our friends are trying to get on Xbox Live, trying to break in, trying to talk to all these people over there thinking if they get their game on there they're going to be super rich. Like Castle Crashers and Braid. It's a mistake to think that in the first place; getting into the independent scene with the view to be a millionaire.
But overall it's favourable. Working with Microsoft was nice. There were and are a lot of hiccups and a lot of times it was just "what the fuck? What are you doing?" But I think that's inevitable when you deal with more than one other person, when you deal with a team of people that don't necessarily know who you are.
What games are exciting you right now?
Ed: We're both judges at IGF and been playing a lot of indie games. We've been playing this game called SpyParty, which is really fucking good. If that does not make it into the finals I will kill myself.
Tommy: I am going to interrupt the awards ceremony every single time they announce an award I think that SpyParty should have won.
Ed: You'll be sniping. It's a great game that hopefully everyone will get the chance to play eventually. Its one of those games that, it's weird to compare to it, but it feels like a Street Fighter game that shines brightest when you're playing with someobody else. I'm not too sure how great the single player will be but if the guy came up with this unique and cool vision, then they can come up with a really cool single player version - but right now its multiplayer only. What else?
Tommy: Super Crate Box!
Ed: Yes! Super Crate Box is fucking awesome. Desktop Dungeons is another one.
What's the future for yourselves? Another game?
Ed: We're still doing Meat Boy! We're way too stuck in Meat Boy land. Not to say we're not talking and thinking about the Best Game In the World, which we referenced before, which we're still working on. It may, or may not be the next game, we'll see. We'll take it as it goes. As we mentioned we don't like to note down everything right away, because we want to be as open as we can in development to make sure the game can make itself and all the pieces fall in nautrally. But of course we want to make new, awesome games together.
And still keep it as a two-man outfit or would you increase the team size?
Tommy: NEVER! Never ever. The very idea of paying someone a salary and insurance and making sure...the idea of someone's livelihood relying on me is fearful. I don't like it. I couldn't raise a child right now.
Whenever any independent gets any sort of money they feel like they have to expand. And in order to make new games they have to expand. This isn't not every independent, obviously there are always exceptions. But a lot of them do. They got to get these fourteen artists, they got to get this and that but when you get to that point you're not so much creating games anymore as more you're trying to find work to pay your employees. And I've done that. I've been there, in a situation where I've looked for contract work and that was a miserable time in my life. I had a shitload of money but that's not fun. It wasn't working on what I wanted to. If we hire people we have to find work, find them work, find money and have to make the next 'whatever' game. I don't want to do that but I have to because I've five people to pay. It's scary.
Ed: In a lot of ways introducing new people to the mix is much like introducing new people into a relationship. You think it possibly could be exciting to have that threesome and experience. But in the end its more "no, this just complicated everything".
Tommy: "Why's Edmund looking all nice at that programmer?" [laughs] "I'm a nice a programmer as he is". And you know what inevitably happens. I'd hire some girl I really liked. That I thought was attractive and all that would do is destroy the business.
Ed: I'd walk in and it'd all be like ‘what's this?". "Oh, the intern has this idea for this dolly game she likes the thought of, and I thought I'd program it..." then we'd miss the deadline for our next game...
Tommy: And then she'd get a boyfriend and I'd just crash, and nothing would get done on time.
Ed: You don't know how many times I've heard that story.
Tommy: I've been in it twice. Twice I've seen it happen.
So steering it back to business, is Meat Boy paying the bills?
Ed: We haven't got any money. [laughs] Nothing. Tommy and I haven't got paid for about two years. There was a time...I'm going to tell this story, even if it's a long one...
Tommy: Tell it.
Ed: ....when Tommy came to visit. We'd go to a 7/11 and he'd get a Coke Zero, for a dollar twenty-nine. So I get a call from him, he's frantic. I ask him what's wrong, and he says he needs a hundred dollars [chuckles] I'm like "what?" He starts shouting "I'm fucked! I'm fucked!"...I've actually got this phone call a few times. What happened was he'd no money in his account, and everytime he was buying a Coke Zero they'd charge him the twenty dollar overdraft.
Tommy: Twenty? It was $39.99.
That's an expensive Coke.
Ed; Was it worth it?
Tommy: [pause] No.[laughter]
Ed; At one point Tommy was negative eight hundred dollars.
You not getting anything back from T-shirt sales?
Ed: The funny thing about that is that the T-shirts sales go back to
making more T-shirts.
We did this barter system with Tom from Newgrounds. It started basically like the paperclip thing - he has this red paperclip, trades to this guy, then trades again...it started with me putting up three hundred dollars to front the print of these comics for this thing that Tommy got invited to in London for Nintendo. We needed something to advertise Meat Boy.
So we took a few of those comics and signed them, sent them to Tom, in exchange for what I believe were stickers. He sent us them back, we sent him more comics that were signed in exchange for him to front the cost of printing the second comic, which was given out at GDC. And then in turn we were able to print what became more comics, and then T-Shirts. Those are basically paying for themselves. We're just selling them off Newgrounds.
I haven't talked to Tom about it but I'm not going to ask at this point because he's done so much for us. All the plush doll sales actually go to my wife. She is the one making money in this situation. She's the only one that's making money.
Danielle McMillen: I'm fucking loaded.