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One Million Copies Later, Team Meat Reflects

Super Meat Boy's developers discuss dick jokes, six zeros, and grappling with success.

If you aren't familiar with Team Meat's work, this picture does a terrific job summarizing it.

“You feel like you’re walking into somebody’s mouth and they have the flu when you walk into a lobby. I feel like there’s an ass in front me and it’s farting constantly, and I have to breathe.”

That’s Edmund McMillen, the art and design side of Super Meat Boy developer Team Meat, talking about....airports, naturally.

“‘Did you try turning it on?’ No, it’s fucking broken. There’s a line down the screen!”

And that’s Tommy Refenes, the programming half of the two-man studio, explaining what it’s like to return a tablet to a Best Buy store after purchasing via BestBuy.com. Hint: it’s not fun.

The three of us recently spoke via Skype to discuss an important milestone in Team Meat’s short history: a little more than a year later, Super Meat Boy has officially sold more than a million copies.

McMillen and Refenes didn’t actually reveal this tidbit until days later, but the moment the number ticked into six zeros territory was--and they claim they aren’t making this up--on Christmas Day.

The occasion was a joyful punctuation to what was otherwise a “clusterfuck of a month,” where Refenes was forced to frantically finish work on the game’s delayed Mac port. Refenes admitted to not having much of an understanding of OS X, so Team Meat had initially outsourced the Mac version. But what came back wasn’t up to the duo’s personal standards, so Refenes was tasked with frantically cleaning it up. Even still, it's not perfect.

“I answer everybody’s email from tech support,” he said. “I feel like that’s the right thing to do. I answer the emails, and when they have a Mac problem, it’s just like, I go uhhhh. [laughs]”

My recording says we talked for 30 minutes, but Super Meat Boy only came up during a handful. It’s hard to keep McMillen and Refenes on a subject for very long, and the moment one gets serious, it’s as though the other can’t stand it, which means you’d better be ready for a dick joke to derail the conversation--and result in a fit of giggles.

Take, for example, McMillen trying to explain what it’s like to say he’s sold a million copies.

Super Meat Boy is part of gaming's refreshing challenge renaissance, right next to Dark Souls.

“Neither of us have a word for anything other than ‘This is life changing, and once again, this is insanely, crazy life changing event that I can’t process.’” he said. “ I don’t know. I can joke about it. We can make jokes about it forever, or be honest and say ‘Hey, this feels really good,’ but in reality, I can’t even define [it]. I can’t define the feeling of selling a million copies because it’s so foreign and bizarre and surreal and unreal. It’s beyond anything that I can really say. I can’t articulate it in any form other than it feels really great!”

“The closest thing is having a boner,” added Refenes.

“No, no, it’s better than having a boner” quipped McMillen. “It’s more like cumming for a month.”

“It’s exhausting and feels amazing,” said Refenes.

“At a certain point,” said McMillen, as laughter filled the Skype call, “it’s like when you jump out of a plane and get that initial rush, just like when you’re going--we’ll say going, rather than the c word. You’re ejaculating. I’ll use the technical term. You get the orgasm feeling, but I’m sure if you ejaculated and had an orgasm for a month long, you’d get used to the feeling, right? You’d become almost numb to it, but you’d still be feeling pretty good about it.”

This off-the-cuff, no-filter (and I mean no filter) approach is why Team Meat is Team Meat, but the consequence is finding themselves as a reliable source of controversy, a rub that appears rooted in grappling with skyrocketing fame. Each are fiercely passionate about protecting the integrity of the other, and this even came up during our chat.

When McMillen brought up a Formspring question about some issues in the PC port, he lit up.

“I kind of got upset, even though the guy wasn’t being mean,” he said. “I wrote this kind of manifesto of what people don’t understand. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how insane it is because nobody knows you made the engine that worked on all consoles all yourself, then when we went through the crunch with Microsoft, you got four months of work done in two months or less, and then when you passed it, you passed it faster than anyone who’d ever done it before. You jumped on from that schedule to doing the PC port in a month, and then when it came out, you fixed all the fucking major problems within the first week. People still complained! It’s just so fucking bizarre and so frustrating because nobody understands the amount of work that goes on in the background.”

Someone with public relations training would have said the exact same thing off-the-record, but like I said, Team Meat is Team Meat because they don’t think like that. It might rattle some fans, but don’t mistake it for the two of them not caring. Moments later, as McMillen calms down, Refenes explains how his own angered response to criticisms of his work is simply driving them to avoid similar problems when it comes time to finally ship their new creation.

Once Super Meat Boy shipped, McMillen almost immediately went to work on The Binding of Isaac.

Next time, Refenes wants to hire a company to test the game on way more computers. Refenes had several systems for testing out Super Meat Boy, but at the end of the day, they ran out of time and money.

“For every little email that I get that [says] ‘I can’t get the game to run blah blah blah,’ it’s not like I look at those and go ‘ha ha, you’re dumb,’” he said. “I look at those and go ‘Dammit, I wish I would have had the time to actually address this properly. I wish I would have had that time before we even launched it, and now we do. That, to me, is really, really exciting.”

The above back-and-forth is how most of a conversation with McMillen and Refenes goes, sporting a tangible tension between wanting to be taken seriously, while having trouble with the idea of taking themselves too seriously.

I mean, these are the guys who asked their fans to draw themselves nude for a Christmas fundraiser.

But it’s clear Team Meat is ready to move on from Super Meat Boy. The idea of putting that little wad behind them comes up constantly, despite their intense gratitude for being where they are today because it was such a success.

With them, however, the tension is described with an orgasm metaphor.

What comes next isn’t described in any specifics, but Team Meat appears to be following a path similar to Jonathan Blow after Braid. Super Meat Boy helped lay enough foundational support that Team Meat hopes it to avoid most of the problems that plagued them the last time around. Notably, enough time and money.

This is the fan-made charity painting that won Team Meat's Christmas-timed fundraiser.

“There’s nobody above Edmund and Tommy,” said Refenes. “We don’t have to answer to anybody. We had to answer to time last time, that was above us--time and money were above us.”

“The next big game that we work on is going to be very, very different from Meat Boy, and it’s not really going to be comparable, and I think usually that’s the way to go,” said McMillen. “But I think, either way, me and Tommy--and I know Tommy for a fucking fact--is going to be much more happy with his overall work on the games to come than he would be on Meat Boy, looking back at it. I know for a fact that we’ll both be happier with the next project, and we’ll both probably think it’s much better, and that’s usually what matters.”

Asked whether living up to the legacy of Super Meat Boy will haunt them, McMillen isn’t worried.

“You only get depressed about that kind of stuff if you know that the next game is half-assed in some way and you feel bad about it,” he said, “but if you try your best, and try to make the best game you can and try to put your all into it, I don’t think there’s much regret there, when it comes to 'oh, it’s not as good as my last game or whatever.'”

Before Team Meat's next game arrives, you'll be able to see them featured in Indie Game: The Movie.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by Ubersmake

@Mantel said:

Any word about the recent hard-coded database information in super meat world?

http://steamcommunity.com/id/112233112233/screenshot/630734416928593105

I'd like to know more about that, too, and what their thoughts are about it. As someone in software, making a design decision like that going to production would have gotten me, at best, ridiculed immensely during a code review, and at worst, fired.

For anyone who hasn't seen it yet, this image pretty much sums it up: http://img820.imageshack.us/img820/1641/itsfinetrustme.png

Although it doesn't take away from Super Meat Boy being an awesome game (IMO), the whole database snafu is something I'm interested in, especially in retrospect from the people who made that design decision in the first place.

Posted by mrfluke

@Cirdain said:

@EnduranceFun said:

Bindinf of Isaac is a splendid game!

Posted by miva2

SMB is awesome and i love the game.

but i didn't manage to pass one single level for that steam holiday achievement ;______;

SMB was a great game and i wish these awesome guys lots of luck on their next games!

Posted by Ronald

One thing that always bothers me is the "Only one person worked on this so it's OK if it is broken" excuse. I understand, things are going to break that you never noticed during testing. There will always be hidden bugs users will find that the programmers will never find no matter how many times test the code and play the game. It's the nature of programming. And I can understand the programmer being frustrated when bugs are found and they try to figure out what caused them. But don't then complain that people should be happy about it because you spent so much time and energy getting it to the point it is at.

Posted by I_smell

Team Meat are super cool dudes, even though they come off as weird jerks.
Here's a podcast!
Also I entered the nude contest NSFW.

Posted by X19

It's cool to get a glimpse into how they think.
 
Did this come out on PS3 I can't remember?

Posted by RustySpoon

@xbob42: People are still trolling with that in 2012?

If you can't make your game work on Mac, that's fine. I have a PC that I play games on primarily anyway. But if you release them for that platform, they better work like you intended. In the case of Super Meat Boy, they know exactly what the problem is but don't want to fix it. That's not a great statement to make.

Posted by RustySpoon

@Dark_Lord_Spam: That doesn't work on Mac with Super Meat Boy because the game is coded to automatically interpret the controller inputs. You can use whatever gamepad support app you like and SMB will just force itself to use what it thinks you should be using. That's when the "unfixable" problems with the 360 controller come into play.

Posted by Abendlaender

They shouldn't be concered about wether they'll ever top SMB because in my opinion they already did with Binding of Isaac which is probably my favourite game of 2011.

I spent roughly 95 hours with that game

Posted by Little_Socrates

They seem like fun guys. Glad to hear Super Meat Boy got the million! That game totally deserves it.

Posted by Vexxan

Interesting article, can't wait for their next game!

Posted by Dark_Lord_Spam
@RustySpoon said:

@Dark_Lord_Spam: That doesn't work on Mac with Super Meat Boy because the game is coded to automatically interpret the controller inputs. You can use whatever gamepad support app you like and SMB will just force itself to use what it thinks you should be using. That's when the "unfixable" problems with the 360 controller come into play.

Ah. That's worse then.
Posted by ghostNPC

Excellent interview and article Patrick! These guys sounded like a blast to talk with.

Posted by Fuga

They're jerks.

Posted by ServbotSteve

Last night on Twitter, McMillen asked about the idea of porting Isaac to PSN for Vita and PS3. Pretty exciting possibility.

Posted by Phatmac

I like their games, but they do sound like jerks.

Posted by Tordah
@Brendan said:

This is a well-done article sprinkled with spelling mistakes, served with a side of comments.

This is a correct observation.
Edited by Peanut

I thought SMB was a neat game, but I really don't like these guys. Almost every interview I've read with them they come off as egotistical jerks.

Edit: Having now read the article, I can add this to the list of interviews where they sound like total assholes in many respects.

Posted by paulunga

"Super Meat Boy is part of gaming's refreshing challenge renaissance, right next to Dark Souls."

Well, if you want to be more literal about it, it's right between Demon's and Dark Souls.

Posted by Death_Unicorn

My type of people.

Posted by punpun

I guess it's good to know that all of that nude fanart I see when I GIS "team meat" was just part of some terrible idea for a fundraiser.

Edited by kyrieee

@RudeCubes said:

Frankly I think Team Meat is a bunch of arrogant jerks! I like SMB and Isaac, but i'm stuck on a Mac so I have to play SMB with my keyboard and in a tiny window. Kind of makes the "USE A GAMEPAD, IDIOT" splash screen an asshole!

I tend to agree. I love the hell out of SMB, but it has some problems that indicate quite poor underlying programming, problems that they've stated as having no intention to fix. I'm sure they worked really hard to get the game out, but it's a product people are paying for and the customers are not there to be sympathetic towards the company or people selling them a product. If they don't have a clue on how to program for Macs then don't put out a Mac version.

Posted by Brodehouse

Patrick, Super Meat Boy has roughly nothing in common with Dark Souls. Super Meat Boy handles incredibly well, presents you with clear objectives and allows you to try again with a second of failure. Dark Souls handles like a third person game from 1996, is deliberately opaque with the information you require to play it, and punishes mistakes by erasing an hour of progress. That comparison is one of the most cringe-worthy things I've heard you say.

And I'm not one of those dicks who hates you.

Online
Posted by ElCapitan

Great article, Patrick. I love seeing this kind of journalism on GB. Hearing from developers is always a pleasure.

Posted by david3cm

@Brodehouse said:

Patrick, Super Meat Boy has roughly nothing in common with Dark Souls. Super Meat Boy handles incredibly well, presents you with clear objectives and allows you to try again with a second of failure. Dark Souls handles like a third person game from 1996, is deliberately opaque with the information you require to play it, and punishes mistakes by erasing an hour of progress. That comparison is one of the most cringe-worthy things I've heard you say. And I'm not one of those dicks who hates you.

I was about to write down this exact paragraph, then I looked at your comment. This exemplifies what I wanted to say, but I would have added the word "fucktard" somewhere in there.

Edited by patrickklepek

@Brodehouse said:

Patrick, Super Meat Boy has roughly nothing in common with Dark Souls. Super Meat Boy handles incredibly well, presents you with clear objectives and allows you to try again with a second of failure. Dark Souls handles like a third person game from 1996, is deliberately opaque with the information you require to play it, and punishes mistakes by erasing an hour of progress. That comparison is one of the most cringe-worthy things I've heard you say. And I'm not one of those dicks who hates you.

You realize that's not the point I was making, right? The point was that there's been a recent string of really challenging games that push against the notion of coddling players, a direct result of the mainstreaming and focus testing of most games. Both Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy are experiences that have high expectations from the skills of players, experiences that aren't for everyone--and that's okay.

Staff
Edited by punpun
@david3cm said:

@Brodehouse said:

Patrick, Super Meat Boy has roughly nothing in common with Dark Souls. Super Meat Boy handles incredibly well, presents you with clear objectives and allows you to try again with a second of failure. Dark Souls handles like a third person game from 1996, is deliberately opaque with the information you require to play it, and punishes mistakes by erasing an hour of progress. That comparison is one of the most cringe-worthy things I've heard you say. And I'm not one of those dicks who hates you.

I was about to write down this exact paragraph, then I looked at your comment. This exemplifies what I wanted to say, but I would have added the word "fucktard" somewhere in there.

He never compared the two. He was just pointing out that they're both really challenging games.
 
edit: oh that vvv
Posted by Animasta

@Brodehouse said:

Patrick, Super Meat Boy has roughly nothing in common with Dark Souls. Super Meat Boy handles incredibly well, presents you with clear objectives and allows you to try again with a second of failure. Dark Souls handles like a third person game from 1996, is deliberately opaque with the information you require to play it, and punishes mistakes by erasing an hour of progress. That comparison is one of the most cringe-worthy things I've heard you say. And I'm not one of those dicks who hates you.

that's all subjective man, I find the way SMB handles to be terrible, I think all of the story is terrible, I could at least play dark souls when I got it (I couldn't play SMB for weeks), so uh... don't make this a competition alright?

Posted by Adamsons
@Moncole said:

I didnt find SMB as hard as everyone made it out to be.

How do you have the golden gift achievement without any dark world/bandage/warp zone achievements, which are all much easier? :S
Posted by Allison

"You jumped on from that schedule to doing the PC port in a month, and then when it came out, you fixed all the fucking major problems within the first week. People still complained! It’s just so fucking bizarre and so frustrating because nobody understands the amount of work that goes on in the background.”

This seems kind of... uh, bad PR akin to how Binding of Issac stated to use Joy2key instead of not being coded in Flash and being able to use pads on the PC, or how much they shittalk people who DON'T use a pad in Super Meat Boy, or how the User Content Server's password and login are directly tied to SMB itself and are plainly spelled out in the game's code, making it easier to hack than PSN, or...

I'm not trying to say it wasn't easy for Team Meat, but there are definitely some things they gladly gloss over when it comes to their games. Super Meat Boy was UNPLAYABLE for those first few months on PC, and had more patches coming out daily than anything else at the time.

They're probably still a good company, but they sound like douchebags most of the time. :/

Posted by Sharpless

@david3cm said:

@Brodehouse said:

Patrick, Super Meat Boy has roughly nothing in common with Dark Souls. Super Meat Boy handles incredibly well, presents you with clear objectives and allows you to try again with a second of failure. Dark Souls handles like a third person game from 1996, is deliberately opaque with the information you require to play it, and punishes mistakes by erasing an hour of progress. That comparison is one of the most cringe-worthy things I've heard you say. And I'm not one of those dicks who hates you.

I was about to write down this exact paragraph, then I looked at your comment. This exemplifies what I wanted to say, but I would have added the word "fucktard" somewhere in there.

How is that cringe-worthy? The comparison was made because they are both very difficult games. There is nothing even remotely inaccurate or unreasonable about that particular comparison. He never said they had anything in common beyond that. Good grief, folks, sometimes it seems like you want people to fail, just so you can pounce on them. Relax.

Edited by Moncole

@Adamsons said:

@Moncole said:

I didnt find SMB as hard as everyone made it out to be.

How do you have the golden gift achievement without any dark world/bandage/warp zone achievements, which are all much easier? :S

My save file got erased when I switched computers so I have to beat the game again. And for the golden achievement the game was being laggy for some reason so I used a trainer to help me out. And I dont try to get achievements

I also used a Keyboard to play

Edited by Tireyo

LOLOLOL. The fan-made painting is disturbing. Team Meat is displaying their... meat. =-|

I was thinking about getting Super Meat Boy. It's a universally praised game!

Edited by moolkey

@Allison:

Super Meat Boy was UNPLAYABLE for those first few months on PC,

No, It was definitely not. Maybe for a week, MAYBE for a couple weeks. But it was certainly not unplayable for that long. That is a complete fabrication.

Posted by Brodehouse
@patrickklepek

@Brodehouse said:

Patrick, Super Meat Boy has roughly nothing in common with Dark Souls. Super Meat Boy handles incredibly well, presents you with clear objectives and allows you to try again with a second of failure. Dark Souls handles like a third person game from 1996, is deliberately opaque with the information you require to play it, and punishes mistakes by erasing an hour of progress. That comparison is one of the most cringe-worthy things I've heard you say. And I'm not one of those dicks who hates you.

You realize that's not the point I was making, right? The point was that there's been a recent string of really challenging games that push against the notion of coddling players, a direct result of the mainstreaming and focus testing of most games. Both Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy are experiences that have high expectations from the skills of players, experiences that aren't for everyone--and that's okay.

The 'coddling' of players is exactly why they're different. By using Dark Souls as a standard, Super Meat Boy absolutely coddles the player. There is no meaningful punishment for death other than trying the level again, rarely more than 30 seconds. Game mechanics are clear (and clean) as opposed to completely vague and unexplained. And most importantly is how it feels; it gives the player some of the best and most responsive platforming I've ever played. Allowing the player all these (modern) benefits is absolutely 'coddling' as far as the Souls series is concerned. The 'difficulty' in the Souls exists around the game, rather than the game itself. ... Maybe that sounds crazy.

I understand where you're coming from, but that comparison invites a symmetry between them that just isn't there. SMB is a retro game with modern ideals, the Souls are modern games with retro ideals.
Online
Posted by CharlesAlanRatliff

Great interview!

Posted by patrickklepek

@Brodehouse said:

@patrickklepek

@Brodehouse said:

Patrick, Super Meat Boy has roughly nothing in common with Dark Souls. Super Meat Boy handles incredibly well, presents you with clear objectives and allows you to try again with a second of failure. Dark Souls handles like a third person game from 1996, is deliberately opaque with the information you require to play it, and punishes mistakes by erasing an hour of progress. That comparison is one of the most cringe-worthy things I've heard you say. And I'm not one of those dicks who hates you.

You realize that's not the point I was making, right? The point was that there's been a recent string of really challenging games that push against the notion of coddling players, a direct result of the mainstreaming and focus testing of most games. Both Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy are experiences that have high expectations from the skills of players, experiences that aren't for everyone--and that's okay.

The 'coddling' of players is exactly why they're different. By using Dark Souls as a standard, Super Meat Boy absolutely coddles the player. There is no meaningful punishment for death other than trying the level again, rarely more than 30 seconds. Game mechanics are clear (and clean) as opposed to completely vague and unexplained. And most importantly is how it feels; it gives the player some of the best and most responsive platforming I've ever played. Allowing the player all these (modern) benefits is absolutely 'coddling' as far as the Souls series is concerned. The 'difficulty' in the Souls exists around the game, rather than the game itself. ... Maybe that sounds crazy. I understand where you're coming from, but that comparison invites a symmetry between them that just isn't there. SMB is a retro game with modern ideals, the Souls are modern games with retro ideals.

Maaaaaaaybe you're just looking into a caption a little too much? Maaaaaaaybe?

Staff
Posted by Brodehouse
@Animasta The story really has nothing to do with the difficulty or gameplay, and if you found it difficult to control, then I don't know dude. Super Meat Boy is what Greg Kasavin calls direct, when you touch the controller, he moves rather than begins to move.
Online
Posted by Brodehouse
@Sharpless Dude, I like Patrick. I'm not trying to tear him down. I just thought was kind of... Inaccurate, I suppose. There are very vital, core differences in difficulty between SMB and the Souls. I don't feel they have remotely the same design ethos and maintaining they are wouldn't be right.
Online
Posted by EoinMason

@moolkey said:

@Allison:

Super Meat Boy was UNPLAYABLE for those first few months on PC,

No, It was definitely not. Maybe for a week, MAYBE for a couple weeks. But it was certainly not unplayable for that long. That is a complete fabrication.

Hell, I was fine with playing it from the offset so I don't know what you're talking about.

Posted by Mattalorian

@Brodehouse: But they're both difficult video games. I think that's all that Patrick was trying to say.

Posted by Brodehouse
@patrickklepek Yeah, probably. I like video games so that kind of thing attracts me. Not challenging you to a knife fight.

While I have this odd connection, did you ask if they're working on a sequel for 64-bit operating systems? Seems the logical next step.
Online
Posted by punpun
@Brodehouse said:
@Animasta The story really has nothing to do with the difficulty or gameplay, and if you found it difficult to control, then I don't know dude. Super Meat Boy is what Greg Kasavin calls direct, when you touch the controller, he moves rather than begins to move.
Meat Boy sticking to walls when I jumped and the general movement/momentum/whatever never felt quite right to me. It's responsive, but I don't think meat boy controls as well as people like to say it does.
Posted by Gamer_152

Great article. I'm very interested to see what these guys cook up next.

Moderator
Posted by EightBitShik

@Cyrisaurus: I don't think he is because he sure does fix them pretty quick. However, I just don't understand how he has so many typos to begin with because most of the time you would think whatever he is typing it on would show up "red".

I bought super meat boy on live and the humble bundle so I wonder if they sold a million based on that data, meaning someone already has it on steam then they buy the bundle and now boom they have two copies.

Posted by TheGorilla

@Brodehouse said:

@Sharpless Dude, I like Patrick. I'm not trying to tear him down. I just thought was kind of... Inaccurate, I suppose. There are very vital, core differences in difficulty between SMB and the Souls. I don't feel they have remotely the same design ethos and maintaining they are wouldn't be right.

They both can easily frustrate many players. That's it. He never said the two games were similar in any way aside from both being "challenging." Games can be challenging in many different ways.

Posted by BombKareshi

Ugh... Not the kind of people I would want to hang with, I'll tell you that.
 
I enjoyed Meat Boy to a limited extent, but I'm not holding out for anything else from this team.

Posted by GenghisJohn

I get why people like SMB, game isn for me though. Also these guys seem like total assholes.

Posted by Alphazero
@Tireyo643 said:

LOLOLOL. The fan-made painting is disturbing. Team Meat is displaying their... meat. =-|

I was thinking about getting Super Meat Boy. It's a universally praised game!

It's so good. Very hard and unforgiving, but as others have noted the restart time is so quick it gets you immediately back in the action. I love it... and have bought at least two of those million copies.
Posted by Xeirus

@GenghisJohn said:

I get why people like SMB, game isn for me though. Also these guys seem like total assholes.

Really? Because they just seem like spastic guys, immature maybe, but assholes? Nah, don't get all angry after reading one article.

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