Subversive artist and indie game designer Edmund McMillen is known for constantly venturing beyond the traditional boundaries of art, videogames and even good taste with his edgy creations, yielding some incredibly original (and rather twisted) titles in the process. From outrageous games featuring dueling genitalia to stylish and thoughtfully introspective explorations that blur the definition of what some might even consider a game, McMillen is not afraid to push the envelope. Meat Boy, one of his more recent game collaboration successes, is being super-sized for WiiWare, and he’s hopeful this bloody and gruelingly challenging vertical platformer about a boy made of drippy, raw meat will win over the hearts of Wii owners.
McMillen and his skeleton crew have rolled up their sleeves and are now steadily toiling away to create Super Meat Boy – a game he says will be “so amazing that you will crap your pants and so awesome that your body will suck the crap back up inside you.” Sure, it’s not quite the typical flavor of braggadocio you’ll find streaming from the lips of big game publisher PR reps, but a “unique” attitude and strong spirit are part of what make McMillen and his work so interesting.
Last year, Nintendo initially took an interest in one of McMillen’s other games, Aether, for a potential WiiWare release, but a number of factors proved too challenging to move forward with that project at the time. He instead teamed up with programmer Jonathan McEntee and musician Danny Baranowsky to make a Flash game called Meat Boy. “The basic goal was to recreate that frustration you felt when playing old NES games like Ghosts n Goblins and Mega Man, but making it forgiving enough to continue the hellish game play experience,” he recalls. “A game that would cause you to destroy your keyboard, but one that was fun enough for you to buy another one and come back to it right away.”
In Meat Boy you must guide the protagonist through an increasingly difficult series of (often) vertical scrolling levels filled with crumbling blocks, spinning saw blades, and other deadly obstacles. You leave a gory, oozing trail on any surface Meat Boy comes in contact with, and wall-jumping through each level gloriously paints the terrain with inadvertent carnage. The original Flash game has drawn about eight million total plays and the subsequent map pack garnered another 3.5 million. After Meat Boy‘s release, Nintendo got back in touch and asked about having it brought over to WiiWare. McMillen was working with programmer Tommy Refenes (who he co-conspired with to create Grey Matter) at the time. The pair decided to pony up for a dev kit and got cracking on Super Meat Boy. With McEntee on board for support and play testing and Baranowsky on music, Team Meat was born.
“The basis of Meat Boy‘s story is set around nostalgic videogame clichés,” says McMillen. “The story is basically a mash-up of every videogame story from the early 90s, except you’re a little boy made of meat who’s saving a girl made of Band-Aids from a fetus in a jar with a PhD. The goal with Super Meat Boy is to take this design and push it as far as it will go. SMB will be extremely over-the-top in every way.”
Staying true to what made the original game so much fun is crucial, he says. The team will stick with the simple running-and-jumping gameplay formula, while tightening up controls and redesigning levels from scratch to increase their complexity. Side-scrolling areas, full-screen levels, and epic boss fights will be sprinkled into the game. All-told, McMillen expects the finished game will have around 100 levels, including hidden areas, warp zones and an unlockable expert chapter. Co-op, versus and a four-player party mode are in the works, and a level editor is being considered. To spice up the game’s multiplayer modes, he’s made arrangements to include characters from other popular indie games in versus mode. It’s a feature the team is very excited about. 12 indie developers are signed on, and their characters will be unlocked by collecting Band-Aids throughout the game. SMB will also sport an updated art style and, naturally, “tons of new things that will kill you.”
Work began in January when the Wii development kit arrived, says Refenes, who is programming the title using an engine he created and refined for a previous game called Goo!. While McMillen initially spent some time agonizing over (and eventually settling on) a new visual design for the protagonist, Refenes began putting together the low-level framework for SMB. They hope to have PC and WiiWare versions wrapped up by the end of the year, and both versions are being programmed side-by-side. Making the game for two very different platforms poses some challenges, since the Wii’s graphical power isn’t as advanced as current generation graphics cards. “It’s a little bit like stepping back in time, but it’s fun to go back and find creative ways to do things that would just be a simple shader with current tech,” says Refenes, who derives energy from knowing the programming code he’s writing is compiling and running on the Wii. “I grew up with Nintendo, so it’s a dream realized to be making a Nintendo game.”
McMillen also notes it’s hard to avoid a certain measure of residual fanboyism for Nintendo, and it’s great to see the gaming giant finally supporting indie developers. There’s a huge nostalgia factor, and he feels creating Super Meat Boy for a Nintendo console makes perfect sense; it pays homage to all the great NES games from way back when. Nintendo has been very supportive and enthusiastic about their project, despite the game and its creators’ trademark edginess. No one wants to be spoon fed the same generic dribble over and over again, he adds, and it’s good to see fresh and strange ideas from indie developers finding their way into the mainstream. As long as these folks continue making quality games, he feels it will open additional doors to more experimental and great indie content.
“It’s time for creative people with different ideas to have a voice, and I think the indie scene screams with that voice. It’s awesome that people are finally listening,” he says. “If there’s a crowd of normal people and one of them is nude, people are going to wonder what the hell’s up with that nude guy, what’s he up to. Meat Boy is that nude guy.”
Nathan Meunier is a freelance writer, a regular contributor at The Escapist, and a die-hard indie gaming enthusiast.