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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 Milkman

Great article, Patrick. Can't wait to see what these guys do next.

Online
Posted by Xeirus

@patrickklepek said:

@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?

I read it just like Patrick explained it, they're both hard games, fucks sake people CALM DOWN, it's a simple comparison. People get so butt hurt over the stupidest shit :/

Don't worry Pat, I heart you still.

Posted by Milkman

@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.

For fuck's sake...all the caption meant was "SUPER MEAT BOY IS A HARD GAME DARK SOULS IS TOO A HARD GAME." Stop over-analyzing every little stupid thing.

Online
Posted by CaptainCody

Man, these people who jump on Patrick to insult him are so fucking pathetic, I hope you people know that when you are a bunch of loser assholes in article comments it doesn't exactly help any reputation you have elsewhere here.

Posted by TehJedicake

lol @ a lot of the giantbomb community, this is why I stray from the forums

Posted by Zaxex

I don't like hard games particularly but I loved Super Meat Boy, and despite myself got all the achievements in the Xbox 360 version. Even spending 5 hours straight on the "I Wanna Be the Guy" levels.

I'm getting into The Binding of Isaac now too, despite being initially cold to it in the way Patrick mentions.

I'm pretty optimistic about Team Meat's next game for that reason. I dug Super Meat Boy because it was so good, not because of the genre. Similarly with The Binding of Isaac; there's something about a good game that slightly transcends personal taste.

That said, their humour might not be my own, but that hardly matters because the game play in their games doesn't really reflect that.

The fact that a two-man team can not only make SMB independently, but also go forward with more prospects is amazing. Namely that indie games can exist and thrive in a more and more economically demanding setting. Buying great games seems to support great game developers, I'll probably keep doing that.

Posted by Xeirus

@TehJedicake said:

lol @ a lot of the giantbomb community, this is why I stray from the forums

To be fair, there's idiots in every forum and every website in the universe. But I see your point :/

Posted by Brodehouse

@Milkman: @Xeirus: I think you guys might have taken it a little bit more strident than it was intended. I think it's important to note how dissimilar they are from a design standpoint. That's the kind of thing I think about and I wanted to draw attention to it.

Maybe you guys need to stop overreacting, the swearing and all caps doesn't really add anything.

Posted by Brodehouse

@Alphazero: I think the speed of 'try again' is absolutely what makes Meat Boy so addicting and fun. If that was even two seconds longer, that game would stop being addicting and become irritating. By removing any interference between you and the action/challenge, they've made what I feel is the perfect version of challenge.

Posted by david3cm

@Sharpless: My issue isn't with Patrick or his statement, I just jump at the chance to shit on Dark Souls.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

I never did finish Super Meat Boy. Mostly because I felt like my progress through the game wasn't so much me getting better as it was me banging my head against the wall over and over again until I got to the next level then rinse and repeat. That's honestly what turned me off from it, as I entirely dislike that treadmill approach to gameplay.

Also, these guys do not seem like guys I would want to hang out with under most circumstances.

Posted by Xeirus

@Brodehouse said:

@Milkman: @Xeirus: I think you guys might have taken it a little bit more strident than it was intended. I think it's important to note how dissimilar they are from a design standpoint. That's the kind of thing I think about and I wanted to draw attention to it.

Maybe you guys need to stop overreacting, the swearing and all caps doesn't really add anything.

Really.... do you remember saying, "That comparison is one of the most cringe-worthy things I've heard you say." ... talk about overreacting, way to back-track.

Posted by Zaxex

I think a comparison between Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls is fine, they are both hard games in their own ways, especially for their genres.

I personally think Dark Souls is easier by some magnitude. If only because it requires less skill; you can level, change equipment and cheese enemies and bosses if you want to. In most of Super Meat Boy you just have to be good with the mechanics and keep trying levels until you finish them. To beat the respective games I think requires a different skillset. The Real End (or w/e) in SMB took me a while and I'd generally get a little better and a little farther over time until I beat it. To beat the final boss in Dark Souls I put on heavy armour and mashed light-attack and potions; for NG+ too.

That said Dark Souls had some capacities SMB didn't. My best moment of playing that game was probably when I went to fight Ornstein and Smough for the first time (having heard how difficult they were). I reversed hollowing and went to summon some help; needless to say I got invaded and the invader was blocking the fog wall, add to that the enemies in the area were attacking me too. I made a run for the boss room and got hit, then back-stabbed by the invader, losing about 95% of my life. Yet I made it through the wall into the boss room and managed to beat them on my first try. That was fucking cool. The hardest part of SMB left me more relieved than joyous at having beaten it. Fuck the I Wanna be the Guy dude.

Posted by Icemael

There is no "challenge renaissance". Difficult games have always been around. The vast majority of people just ignore them (and that hasn't changed: Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy have only managed to become as popular and famous as they are because they aren't that difficult -- they're harder than your average game, certainly, but they are nowhere near as OMGXTREEEMELYHARD as people are making them out to be).

Posted by ch3burashka

@Winternet said:

Make more Isaac! :)

Yeah, I was hoping for some further insight into the Binding of Isaac.

It's cool to see indie developers succeeding and, due to the success, having the resources to make even more cool stuff, and the authority on their own project to say when it's finished. The indie scene is getting bigger and bigger, and I can't wait to see what it looks like in 10 years. I doubt they'll have the power to threaten Activision or EA, but they most certainly will be represented by a greater slice of the pie chart.

Posted by DanTheGamer32

Still need to play binding of Isaac, loved SMB though

Edited by Brodehouse

@Xeirus said:

@Brodehouse said:

@Milkman: @Xeirus: I think you guys might have taken it a little bit more strident than it was intended. I think it's important to note how dissimilar they are from a design standpoint. That's the kind of thing I think about and I wanted to draw attention to it.

Maybe you guys need to stop overreacting, the swearing and all caps doesn't really add anything.

Really.... do you remember saying, "That comparison is one of the most cringe-worthy things I've heard you say." ... talk about overreacting, way to back-track.

'Cringe' does not mean flip out and get angry. That comparison did not feel right, and I commented on it. (especially because I like Patrick and he doesn't usually say stuff that I find hinky)

I had a problem with the comment, you appear to have a problem with me as a person. That's called overreacting.

Posted by Subjugation

I didn't not need to see that phallic phan art.

Posted by TheDudeOfGaming

Huh, never knew what they looked like. Now i do. Couple of insane asylum escapees. And that's just awesome.

Posted by limecloud

Sometimes I feel like Patrick is the only guy in games journalism doing games journalism. Never thought I'd find myself coming to Giant Bomb to read interesting interviews, editorials, reports, ect.

Posted by SongWriter1987

Great article Patrick!

Posted by Xeirus

@Brodehouse said:

@Xeirus said:

@Brodehouse said:

@Milkman: @Xeirus: I think you guys might have taken it a little bit more strident than it was intended. I think it's important to note how dissimilar they are from a design standpoint. That's the kind of thing I think about and I wanted to draw attention to it.

Maybe you guys need to stop overreacting, the swearing and all caps doesn't really add anything.

Really.... do you remember saying, "That comparison is one of the most cringe-worthy things I've heard you say." ... talk about overreacting, way to back-track.

'Cringe' does not mean flip out and get angry. That comparison did not feel right, and I commented on it. (especially because I like Patrick and he doesn't usually say stuff that I find hinky)

I had a problem with the comment, you appear to have a problem with me as a person. That's called overreacting.

As a person? Again, calm down, you give yourself way too much credit. Your comment came off as ignorant, as if you couldn't understand what Patrick was saying, which wasn't all that difficult to understand. I'm done arguing, this has gotten ridiculous.

Posted by fox01313

Always loving to see reflection/post mortems gaming interviews, hope that more show up on giantbomb. Great article Patrick.

Posted by onimonkii

so was isaac just a cash grab follow up by half the team? it certainly doesn't handle as well as meat boy does, and doesn't even have proper gamepad support when meat boy encouraged you to use one. it's still fun, but these issues make it feel like a step back from meat boy, closer to gish.

Posted by DeepSpaceJesus

what a cool guy!
  

Posted by Brodehouse

@Xeirus: I find it incredibly strange that you throw insults but maintain that other people need to calm down. You made this personal, don't be disingenuous.

Posted by sixghost
@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.
Whenever people parrot this line, it really makes me doubt whether they've even played the game for more than an hour. I can't think of a single situation in DS where you could lose even close to an hours worth of progress unless you were deliberately trying to do so.
Posted by Brodehouse

@sixghost: It actually comes from personal experience with Demon's on release day. 3 hours in and I was worse off than when I started the game. You can say "oh you're bad at video games"... but I got The Kid in Super Meat Boy. It took two and a half hours, but I got that Goddamn Kid.

So "parrot" nothing, I experienced it, duder. Was so disappointed because everyone was so up on Demon's Souls.

Posted by Stackboy

Super Meat boy isn't going to be recognised as one of the best games of this generation, but it should be. A great downloadable game that has crazy legs with the community levels and it goes against the grain of current day games being easy and accesible.

The Team Meat guys sound like interesting people. Nice to hear about people that aren't just straight down the line.

Online
Posted by Olqavtoras

Really good article Patrick!

Posted by EvilTwin
@Brodehouse said:

@sixghost: It actually comes from personal experience with Demon's on release day. 3 hours in and I was worse off than when I started the game. You can say "oh you're bad at video games"... but I got The Kid in Super Meat Boy. It took two and a half hours, but I got that Goddamn Kid.

So "parrot" nothing, I experienced it, duder. Was so disappointed because everyone was so up on Demon's Souls.

The only way you could be worse off than when you started is if you used all of your grass and learned nothing for it.  Dark Souls basically solves this problem by limiting, but also guaranteeing, how many healing items you're allowed.  
 
Even so, I agree with sixghost that saying the game punishes you by erasing an hour of progress is a huge exaggeration.  It may feel like that the first time you die in Demon's Souls, but I wouldn't have beaten either of them if it were even close to remotely true.
Posted by danimal_furry

I don't know how cool these guys are... but they sound like some pretty crazy yet driven game developers.

Posted by NunsandRoses

@onimonkii: Issac wasn't a Team Meat game, though. It was just Edmund who worked on it, and it was done in Flash.

Posted by Brackynews

@Subjugation said:

I didn't not need to see that phallic phan art.

And what's wrong with phalluses? If you have not seen their entire gallery of winners then You Don't Know Meat.

Posted by Andy_117

I love these guys. I watched their hour-long commentary over the top of a speedrun of Super Meat Boy, and I think it was perhaps better than the game itself. Well. Not really. But it was certainly more entertaining than a lot of other... stuff... it, um...

It was a good video.

Posted by Stealthmaster86

I couldn't for the life of me beat the final stage. Which is a shame because I got A+ on most of the stages.

Posted by sixghost
@Brodehouse said:

@sixghost: It actually comes from personal experience with Demon's on release day. 3 hours in and I was worse off than when I started the game. You can say "oh you're bad at video games"... but I got The Kid in Super Meat Boy. It took two and a half hours, but I got that Goddamn Kid.

So "parrot" nothing, I experienced it, duder. Was so disappointed because everyone was so up on Demon's Souls.


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

Patrick compared it to Dark Souls. Dark Souls and Demon's Souls are different games. Also, thanks for sharing your gamer credentials with us.
Posted by Xeirus

@DeepSpaceJesus said:

what a cool guy!

Sounds like a guy fed up with untalented trash talkers, I see nothing wrong.

Posted by Ghost407

Thank you Patrick!

Posted by Peanut

@ArbitraryWater said:

I never did finish Super Meat Boy. Mostly because I felt like my progress through the game wasn't so much me getting better as it was me banging my head against the wall over and over again until I got to the next level then rinse and repeat. That's honestly what turned me off from it, as I entirely dislike that treadmill approach to gameplay.

Also, these guys do not seem like guys I would want to hang out with under most circumstances.

Agree with all of this. I didn't really know how to express my distaste for where SMB headed, but that's pretty much it.

Posted by whatisdelicious

Those guys are super fun. Love this article, Patrick. Best part: "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."

Perfect.

Posted by GeneralZod37

Binding of Isaac, a $5 game, doesn't have proper gamepad support. This is inexcusable

Posted by Hangnail

Did the guy [Refenes] just refer to himself in the third person?

Posted by Tesla

Awesome interview. I'm not much for masocore type games but SMB is one of my favorite games of this generation. I need to go back and finish it.

Posted by richinjapan

Glad they're doing well, but this game drove me crazy.

Posted by tayls

I want these guys to be my best friends real bad.

Posted by RedRavN

I really liked binding of Isaac but not so much meat boy. I liked how Isaac had a sort of interpretive story and some meaning behind its insanity. Meat boy had no meaning for me, it was just a very simple, challenging platformer.

Posted by tactis

very cool read, thanks Patrick!

Posted by Digraven

Nice!!!!

Posted by aquacadet

This was a great read, thanks Patrick. I hope there are more articles like this in the future.

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