We spoke with the legendary game designer, Edmund McMillen, the brain behind Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac to talk about a few things, in celebration of the release of The Binding of Isaac: Repentance, The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls Kickstarter and in preparation for the 10 year anniversary of The Binding of Isaac.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
With The Binding of Isaac: Repentance being the final DLC for The Binding of Isaac, is there anything special planned for the upcoming physical release, like a Collector’s Edition? (like how Undertale had the music box locket with their collector’s edition, among other things)
We are working on something. I’m super big on physical media so yes, I definitely want to do something super neat. I’m toying with the idea of having a mini art book that comes with it... and maybe a few Four Souls cards for The Binding of Isaac card game ;)
Was there anything that was cut from The Binding of Isaac: Repentance that you wish made it into the final release of the game?
We had hoped to revamp the void and the delirium fight but didn’t have enough time. It’s obviously functional but not to my standards yet. There was also a game mode I was toying with that requires a bit more design time to get right and I didn’t think cramming it into the game unfinished was a good idea, so it’s being held for a possible later update.
With Repentance bringing the item count over the 700 mark, it must be getting tough to think of new ones. What's your process for designing each item's ability, giving it a thematically appropriate name/appearance and ensuring it synergises with other items?
In older DLCs I usually took a theme I thought was fitting or cute and designed the item around its appearance; in Repentance, most of my designs were based on me looking through all the current items we had to offer and finding holes in item cycles or mechanics that weren’t fully explored or fleshed out. I think the items are all quite solid even though we have so many.. not to mention we updated over 100 old items on top of it.
Have you ever been surprised by the continued fervent following your games have and why do you think you've been able to achieve this success?
I’m surprised I have a job. It was always a dream and goal to be able to support myself with my work. It took about 10 years but it was always fun and worth it... but any type of actual success with the kind of ideas I go with is quite surprising when you put them next to popular games. I’ll never know for sure what part of what I make is the main contributing factor to my success. I just make games I enjoy or would have loved as a kid and hope that there are many others out there who share my tastes... but I’d like to think it’s because my work is personal and honest, but who knows?
With the immense success of the games that you’ve made, does that add additional pressure to “recapture the magic”?
I’m being quite honest when I say I don’t care about what others think as much as I care about my own feelings on my projects. I’m VERY harsh in how I view my work and I know where my shortcomings are; I’m realistic and my standards are the only thing my work needs to stand up to. That being said, Repentance is quite magical. We did a great job here and I’m super super happy with the final chapter of this 10-year project.
Is there anything you can share about Repentance which is likely to throw off long-time Binding of Isaac players? Anything to shake up the formula?
The hard mode is harder, but not in a bad way. We rebalanced the game to hand you fewer BROKEN runs but also made there be fewer SHIT runs. The formula change is subtle but super effective. You’ll find yourself having more clutch moments and just barely getting through hard situations. There is a lot more thinking on your feet and it feels much more polished and exciting.
As you are a self-proclaimed Magic the Gathering fan, what impact and influence has the game had on your work, besides the creation of The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls?
Magic the Gathering probably influenced my career as much as Mario did. Honestly, it has been my most played game of all time since I was 13. Its design is flawless and it can be expanded on forever; Binding of Isaac pulled from this easily expandable feature. It’s hard to say specifically what other things it inspired because it totally changed my view on game design and strategy. You can see it abstractly in nearly all my recent games for sure.
Has The Binding of Isaac's Christian/Catholic themes caused any blowback from religious groups?
Nope, not at all actually. I’ve had a few pastors email me randomly and thank me for making a biblically themed game, and my father, who is also a pastor, install the game on the church PCs. Binding of Isaac can be quite critical of Christianity but from an outsider’s view it just looks like a game with Christian themes. I mean they worship a god of self-sacrifice, adorn their house with images and statues of his slow torturous death. If they are cool with those themes, they can get down with what I have to offer :)
If you could go back 10 years and say something to yourself as you were making the first Binding of Isaac game, what would it be?
I’d just send myself this gif:
Are there any indie games you or your team have seen recently that you have been really impressed by at all?
I mean Spelunky 2 of course. I’ve been in dev hell for a while so I haven't played much outside of that indie wise...
Lastly, what kind of meat is Meat Boy?
Horse meat :)
Thank you very much for talking to us!