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Smash TV + Legend of Zelda + Roguelike = The Binding of Isaac

Half of Team Meat and two former collaborators are working on something...different.

Smash TV + roguelike + The Legend of Zelda + what else do you need to know about this game.

When the long, draining development of Super Meat Boy was finally over, programmer Tommy Refenes headed to Hawaii, seeking relaxation.

Edmund McMillen, the other half of the two-person powerhouse that is Team Meat, didn't rest. He stuck around in Santa Cruz, California.

(It is awfully sunny and warm there, though!)

"I can't seem to stay happy without having something to work on," admitted McMillen during a recent email conversation.

Instead, he got in touch with Florian Himsl, a programmer he'd previously collaborated with on smaller Flash-based projects like Twin Hobo Rocket and Coil. Both of them were in-between games, and began a week-long game jam. A what now? A game jam is meant to foster innovation by having a developer create prototypes at a rapid-fire pace.

Himsl and McMillen produced something they both felt good about at the end of it. That prototype was then fleshed out into The Binding of Isaac, which McMillen announced on its blog last month.

The ups and downs of Super Meat Boy's final stages of development were filmed as part of Indie Game: The Movie, but McMillen pushed back on the public perception regarding that final stretch, despite what they said at the time.

"I know we talked a lot openly about the stresses of SMB dev," he said, "but that was a very isolated incident, the stress was brought on by the pressure of [a] console release, and the time we were forced to get the game finished in. Most indie game dev isnt at all this stressful and very fun and relaxing for the most part. Isaac was very much my vacation."

Looking at The Binding of Isaac, it's easy to tell Edmund McMillen was the same artist behind Super Meat Boy.

The Binding of Isaac would be best described as a Smash TV-esque roguelike set within a dungeon structure modeled after The Legend of Zelda. It's awfully hard to not smile at the craziness of the mashup, which fits perfectly in line with McMillen's past work, whether with Himsl or Refenes.

I haven't played the game yet, but the released screen shots and artwork suggest the same sort of cartoonish absurdity that rightly encouraged comparisons to Red and Stimpy with Super Meat Boy.

"One of the things that I love about Edmund's art is that it can be disturbing and disgusting, but also adorable," explained Super Meat Boy composer Danny Baranowsky, a close friend of McMillen's and the man behind Isaac's music. "To me, that's incredibly interesting. I'm not at all an artist, so I don't really understand the technical reasons or whatever, but I love the idea of...there's blood and shit everywhere and deformed people and headless children and stuff--but it's adorable."

Aww. Just...aww. Baranowsky and Meat Boys sittin' in a tree...

Baranowsky and McMillen have only met in person a few times--Baranowsky isn't even sure of the exact number. Two? Maybe three? In any case, the two chat constantly on instant messager. Their relationship sounds less like one of a designer and composer, and more like a guy who designs games and a guy who composes music who just happen to be good friends and can collaborate with one another.

At this point, if McMillen is working on a new game, Baranowsky is composing the music. No question. The only other designer Baranowsky has such a relationship with is Adam Saltsman, the designer of Canabalt.

As with Super Meat Boy, Baranowsky started composing The Binding of Isaac's music when a playable version was dropped into his lap. He started playing Super Meat Boy a full year before it was actually released. The turnaround time on The Binding of Isaac is much faster, but Baranowsky, who describes his work on this one as "dark," underscored the importance of actually playing the game before getting down to work.

"The very worst thing you could do with game music is take people out of it," he said. "It's very easy to do. If you overdo it or way underdo it, if you're just not matching up with how the game feels, it's just something people are going to want to mute. It's just one thing that people are conscious of a lot of the time--'there's something about this game I don't like and I don't understand it.' I guess it's not really shooting for the moon just to try avoid not sucking [laughs], but that's definitely the first consideration."

The Binding of Isaac is a roguelike, a niche subgenre of RPGs with a descriptor lifted from Rogue, a D&D-based game released in 1980. Roguelikes are best known for their harsh death penalties, and typically involve players winding through dungeon after dungeon in search of new loot. True roguelikes feature ASCII or tile graphics, but if the gameplay sounds familiar, that's because developers like Blizzard co-opted roguelike mechanics for mainstream success in games like Diablo.

That's Rogue. When I said the original roguelikes were simplistic looking, I wasn't kidding around.

McMillen is still working out the specifics of how The Binding of Isaac will play into traditional roguelike tropes. The game will have endings, for example, but he's unsure of the implementation.

"Isaac is going to be a very hard game, but not in the same way SMB was," he said.

The game will encourage players to keep coming back, even if they unlock an ending. More of the story will be revealed the more times you play. When you die, though, it's truly Game Over.

"So in that aspect the game is more hardcore then SMB," he said, "but also easier to continue to play because every game will be totally different."

The amount of items, characters and weapons hasn't been fixed, but expect tons.

As for the "Isaac" name check, McMillen is still mulling over how overt the biblical references will be in the game. He admitted to becoming enamored with over-the-top Christian scare tapes he's found online, chronicling tales of ritual sacrifice and satanism. In some respects, they've influenced the game, but with the narrative bits of The Binding of Isaac still up in the air, it's hard to say how they'll surface.

"I don't want anyone thinking the themes are serious in any way," he said.

There was discussion of releasing McMillen and Himsl's game jam projects for free, but after they started running with The Binding of Isaac, it was decided to release this as a real thing. It's not the next proper game from Team Meat, but it is the first game being released by one of them since that game. As such, headlines often read "from the co-creator of Super Meat Boy," creating a certain set of expectations.

These expectations make McMillen nervous. He's unsure if his newfound fans will dig this one.

"I have no fucking clue, I've been reading press and it's starting to scare me," he said. "Isaac isn't SMB, and I'm not sure this game will be something SMB fans will dig at all. I'm in the dark here. [...] If it gets more people into roguelikes or more weird themed games then awesome. If they hate it I can just remind them that this isn't a Team Meat game, and they can hold their bitching till we release game two."

McMillen is not one to mince words. He's brutally honest, even outright blasting Microsoft's handling of Super Meat Boy's release in a post mortem feature for Game Developer (it's recommended reading). He's a creator that wears his heart on his sleeve, an endearing quality that no doubt contributes to why his fans love him so dearly and the games he works on resonate.

"Either way I try not to care or think about that stuff when deving," he said. "I'm just making games because I want to play them and they keep me sane."

Unconfirmed whether McMillen (left) and Refenes (right) will continue to wear sweaters.

You'll notice that McMillen did mention "game two" from Team Meat.

Yes, it's coming. Eventually.

When The Binding of Isaac releases next month, he'll head back into hiding with Refenes. McMillen doesn't have a timeline for the next one, but when it does get revealed, he hopes the final game will be about a year off--but no guarantees. Their experience with Microsoft over Super Meat Boy hasn't pushed them away from consoles, either.

"It's just made us a bit smarter on how to deal with business when it comes to console," he said. "We can say this about game two, it sure as hell won't be exclusive to console."

I told you he doesn't mince words.

The Binding of Isaac arrives next month through Steam for an unspecified price, but McMillen promises it won't cost that much.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by patrickklepek
Smash TV + roguelike + The Legend of Zelda + what else do you need to know about this game.

When the long, draining development of Super Meat Boy was finally over, programmer Tommy Refenes headed to Hawaii, seeking relaxation.

Edmund McMillen, the other half of the two-person powerhouse that is Team Meat, didn't rest. He stuck around in Santa Cruz, California.

(It is awfully sunny and warm there, though!)

"I can't seem to stay happy without having something to work on," admitted McMillen during a recent email conversation.

Instead, he got in touch with Florian Himsl, a programmer he'd previously collaborated with on smaller Flash-based projects like Twin Hobo Rocket and Coil. Both of them were in-between games, and began a week-long game jam. A what now? A game jam is meant to foster innovation by having a developer create prototypes at a rapid-fire pace.

Himsl and McMillen produced something they both felt good about at the end of it. That prototype was then fleshed out into The Binding of Isaac, which McMillen announced on its blog last month.

The ups and downs of Super Meat Boy's final stages of development were filmed as part of Indie Game: The Movie, but McMillen pushed back on the public perception regarding that final stretch, despite what they said at the time.

"I know we talked a lot openly about the stresses of SMB dev," he said, "but that was a very isolated incident, the stress was brought on by the pressure of [a] console release, and the time we were forced to get the game finished in. Most indie game dev isnt at all this stressful and very fun and relaxing for the most part. Isaac was very much my vacation."

Looking at The Binding of Isaac, it's easy to tell Edmund McMillen was the same artist behind Super Meat Boy.

The Binding of Isaac would be best described as a Smash TV-esque roguelike set within a dungeon structure modeled after The Legend of Zelda. It's awfully hard to not smile at the craziness of the mashup, which fits perfectly in line with McMillen's past work, whether with Himsl or Refenes.

I haven't played the game yet, but the released screen shots and artwork suggest the same sort of cartoonish absurdity that rightly encouraged comparisons to Red and Stimpy with Super Meat Boy.

"One of the things that I love about Edmund's art is that it can be disturbing and disgusting, but also adorable," explained Super Meat Boy composer Danny Baranowsky, a close friend of McMillen's and the man behind Isaac's music. "To me, that's incredibly interesting. I'm not at all an artist, so I don't really understand the technical reasons or whatever, but I love the idea of...there's blood and shit everywhere and deformed people and headless children and stuff--but it's adorable."

Aww. Just...aww. Baranowsky and Meat Boys sittin' in a tree...

Baranowsky and McMillen have only met in person a few times--Baranowsky isn't even sure of the exact number. Two? Maybe three? In any case, the two chat constantly on instant messager. Their relationship sounds less like one of a designer and composer, and more like a guy who designs games and a guy who composes music who just happen to be good friends and can collaborate with one another.

At this point, if McMillen is working on a new game, Baranowsky is composing the music. No question. The only other designer Baranowsky has such a relationship with is Adam Saltsman, the designer of Canabalt.

As with Super Meat Boy, Baranowsky started composing The Binding of Isaac's music when a playable version was dropped into his lap. He started playing Super Meat Boy a full year before it was actually released. The turnaround time on The Binding of Isaac is much faster, but Baranowsky, who describes his work on this one as "dark," underscored the importance of actually playing the game before getting down to work.

"The very worst thing you could do with game music is take people out of it," he said. "It's very easy to do. If you overdo it or way underdo it, if you're just not matching up with how the game feels, it's just something people are going to want to mute. It's just one thing that people are conscious of a lot of the time--'there's something about this game I don't like and I don't understand it.' I guess it's not really shooting for the moon just to try avoid not sucking [laughs], but that's definitely the first consideration."

The Binding of Isaac is a roguelike, a niche subgenre of RPGs with a descriptor lifted from Rogue, a D&D-based game released in 1980. Roguelikes are best known for their harsh death penalties, and typically involve players winding through dungeon after dungeon in search of new loot. True roguelikes feature ASCII or tile graphics, but if the gameplay sounds familiar, that's because developers like Blizzard co-opted roguelike mechanics for mainstream success in games like Diablo.

That's Rogue. When I said the original roguelikes were simplistic looking, I wasn't kidding around.

McMillen is still working out the specifics of how The Binding of Isaac will play into traditional roguelike tropes. The game will have endings, for example, but he's unsure of the implementation.

"Isaac is going to be a very hard game, but not in the same way SMB was," he said.

The game will encourage players to keep coming back, even if they unlock an ending. More of the story will be revealed the more times you play. When you die, though, it's truly Game Over.

"So in that aspect the game is more hardcore then SMB," he said, "but also easier to continue to play because every game will be totally different."

The amount of items, characters and weapons hasn't been fixed, but expect tons.

As for the "Isaac" name check, McMillen is still mulling over how overt the biblical references will be in the game. He admitted to becoming enamored with over-the-top Christian scare tapes he's found online, chronicling tales of ritual sacrifice and satanism. In some respects, they've influenced the game, but with the narrative bits of The Binding of Isaac still up in the air, it's hard to say how they'll surface.

"I don't want anyone thinking the themes are serious in any way," he said.

There was discussion of releasing McMillen and Himsl's game jam projects for free, but after they started running with The Binding of Isaac, it was decided to release this as a real thing. It's not the next proper game from Team Meat, but it is the first game being released by one of them since that game. As such, headlines often read "from the co-creator of Super Meat Boy," creating a certain set of expectations.

These expectations make McMillen nervous. He's unsure if his newfound fans will dig this one.

"I have no fucking clue, I've been reading press and it's starting to scare me," he said. "Isaac isn't SMB, and I'm not sure this game will be something SMB fans will dig at all. I'm in the dark here. [...] If it gets more people into roguelikes or more weird themed games then awesome. If they hate it I can just remind them that this isn't a Team Meat game, and they can hold their bitching till we release game two."

McMillen is not one to mince words. He's brutally honest, even outright blasting Microsoft's handling of Super Meat Boy's release in a post mortem feature for Game Developer (it's recommended reading). He's a creator that wears his heart on his sleeve, an endearing quality that no doubt contributes to why his fans love him so dearly and the games he works on resonate.

"Either way I try not to care or think about that stuff when deving," he said. "I'm just making games because I want to play them and they keep me sane."

Unconfirmed whether McMillen (left) and Refenes (right) will continue to wear sweaters.

You'll notice that McMillen did mention "game two" from Team Meat.

Yes, it's coming. Eventually.

When The Binding of Isaac releases next month, he'll head back into hiding with Refenes. McMillen doesn't have a timeline for the next one, but when it does get revealed, he hopes the final game will be about a year off--but no guarantees. Their experience with Microsoft over Super Meat Boy hasn't pushed them away from consoles, either.

"It's just made us a bit smarter on how to deal with business when it comes to console," he said. "We can say this about game two, it sure as hell won't be exclusive to console."

I told you he doesn't mince words.

The Binding of Isaac arrives next month through Steam for an unspecified price, but McMillen promises it won't cost that much.

Staff
Edited by Kelswitch

Team Meat! 
Totally interested in anything these guys'll make to follow SMB. 
Although I cant help but associate their artstyle directly with Newgrounds and all the good and bad that comes with it.

Posted by RecSpec

Oh wow, didn't expect it to be coming out so soon. Definitely intrigued by this.

Edited by Vitor

Crazy to think that so much still seems to be up in the air yet they're releasing so soon.

Regardless, will definitely be interested in trying this out. Can't say it's a genre I have too much experience in though so, if it's as potentially brutal as this article suggests, it might be a somewhat steep learning curve on my end.

Posted by MaFoLu

Next month? 
That is way earlier than I was expecting.

Posted by Vexxan

Next month already? Nice!

Posted by animaltime

Oh yes.

Posted by Khann

I foresee the term "rogue-like" having little meaning before long.

Posted by Stubee

I was unaware of what a Rogue-like was until Ryan and Dave did that quick look. After that i can safely say i want nothing to do with games remotely like that. 

Posted by darkjester74

Great piece as usual Patrick.  That Gamasutra story makes for a great read too!
Posted by StealthRaptor

I'm game.

Posted by TRAYNREK

This looks rad

Posted by TheMartino

NEXT MONTH?!?

Posted by Daveyo520

Sounds like a game I must have.

Posted by crusader8463

I liked the art in super meat boy, but for some reason this just doesn't sit with me very well. Can't put my finger on why, but it just looks off to me.

Posted by Bedurndurn

5th paragraph:

A game jam is meant to foster innovation by having a developer creates prototypes at a rapid-fire pace.

I'd blame it on Kessler.

Posted by Tha36thchamber

This looks great. I'll have to save some Paypal balance for it.

Posted by Protonguy

@Khann said:

I foresee the term "rogue-like" having little meaning before long.

Because more and more roguelike games are being created? Kind of don't understand your comment.

Posted by HBK619

At least bring this one to PS3...PREAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASE!

Posted by pornstorestiffi

Sounds interesting.

Posted by Khann

@Protonguy said:

@Khann said:

I foresee the term "rogue-like" having little meaning before long.

Because more and more roguelike games are being created? Kind of don't understand your comment.

No, because games will be less and less rogue-like but still claim they are rogue-likes, thus making the term completely diluted and useless.

Posted by nazer858

Great write up, can't wait to see (and hear) more of the game

Edited by mnzy

I haven't played the game yet, but the released screen shots and artwork suggest the same sort of cartoonish absurdity that rightly encouraged comparisons to Red and Stimpy with Super Meat Boy.

Is this a real thing or a typo?
 
Anyways: I'm looking forward to it, really want to play some "causal roguelike" (if that exists) for a while now.
But seeing how this is moving so fast, I don't think it will have SMB-like polish. But I'm ok with that.
Posted by wolf_blitzer85

Cool next month is alright with me.

Online
Posted by KillyDarko

Great reading. I didn't really like SMB, but I'm very interested in this one, the concept is a lot more appealing to me.
Also, hooray, no console exclusive! xD

Posted by PKHilson

Yes! The BLINDING of Isaac!! LOL

Posted by prestonhedges

"more hardcore then SMB,"

Nice typo.
 
Also it's either like Rogue or it's like Zelda. It can't be both. And Smash TV? Is it a dual-joystick shooter? Because there are lots of those. I guess "Robotron-esque" doesn't sound as good? What they've done is thrown a bunch of random games together to make a description. You know, like how Super Meat Boy was Sonic + Deadly Rooms of Death + Final Fight (because there is meat in both).
Posted by admanb

@Khann said:

@Protonguy said:

@Khann said:

I foresee the term "rogue-like" having little meaning before long.

Because more and more roguelike games are being created? Kind of don't understand your comment.

No, because games will be less and less rogue-like but still claim they are rogue-likes, thus making the term completely diluted and useless.

While I agree that the term "rogue-like" has been diluted to the point where it basically means "has permadeath" I don't think this is a bad thing. The more bleed-through and the less separation we have of genres the more creativity we'll get.

Posted by Nomin

McMillen sounds like an intense guy for an indie developer, who shits (not on) games. 

Posted by positron

I didn't even know this was coming out this year. This is great news!

Posted by koopi

I love Super Meat Boy. We need more XBLA/PSN/Wii/3DS action! :3

Posted by Subjugation

I'm glad we finally figured out how to spell Isaac.

Posted by Robin_Gr

On paper this sounds fantastic. I hope its good.

Posted by MattyFTM

Really looking forward to this. It looks awesome.

Moderator
Edited by Manburger

Yeah, definitively lookin' forward to this! I really appreciate Ed's sensibilities, and most of his previous projects are quite radical.

And a hearty heellls yeah for the return of Danny-B!

Posted by plop1920

Danny is making the soundtrack again? Nice!!!!!

Posted by MutieMoe

Looks interesting.

Posted by tourgen

pretty happy with the gameplay types they are mashing up. Those 3 are well up in the top 10 of game types I like to play, so good news!

Posted by mb_ross

I'm getting very excited for this game.

Posted by MisterMouse

hmm I will take a look at it, but I still dont know how I feel about it.

Posted by Alex_Carrillo

I do not like the art style.

Posted by Kyle

Next month?? Wow, I never would have thought it would be out so soon! That's awesome.

Posted by Juicebox
@HBK619
SONY keeps rejecting these guys. Sorry go complain to sony.
Posted by CaresserDundee

The rooms look kinda bland to me. I'm sure there are other themes in the rooms but that he releases two screenshots of very similar look worries me. Either way I hope he is releasing it on XBOX 360 eventually as well, even if he dislikes Microsofts handling of his previous game. I would love a proper XBLA roguelike that plays well on a controller. Epic Dungeon on Indie is great as well but it's not really that fleshed out compared to it's computer brethren.

Posted by HBK619
@Juicebox said:
@HBK619:  SONY keeps rejecting these guys. Sorry go complain to sony.
They didn't reject them though. Team Meat have said themselves that Sony just took too long to say yes to the product, by the time they had, Team Meat decided it was too late to go ahead with anything.
 
And yet they still persisted with the Wii version, wasting all that time for nothing...
Posted by MormonWarrior

That...looks hideous. I dunno, I love me some Meat Boy, but that looks pretty horrible. I'll give 'em the benefit of the doubt, but it does not look all that promising.

Posted by SSully

I can't wait. Never played a rogue like in my life, but it sounds fun.

Posted by Koshka

@admanb: Well, the procedural generated dungeon crawl, permadeath, steeper learning curve, varied loot, "losing is fun"...

I also consider tunbased to be a huge factor, which is why I don't dig calling this a rouge like. Seems more Diablo to me to be honest.

Posted by spartan1017

Team Meat? Color me interested.

Posted by HerbieBug

Anything any part of Team Meat makes I will buy.  Loyal fan forever. 

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