According to McMillen, Meat Boy began his life as a character he co-designed with his friend Jon McEntee called "Inside Out Ninja," who he describes as "a ninja that was super agile, but had no skin so he was in pain always and if he touched anything he would die." It wasn't too long before McMillen's original Flash title Meat Boy was climbing the charts over at Newgrounds, and he enlisted the help of programmer Tommy Refenes while beginning discussions with Nintendo to bring the game to WiiWare.
McMillen had already been in discussions with Microsoft about bringing Gish or Gish 2 to the Xbox 360, so when publishing Gish fell apart, McMillen offered up Super Meat Boy as an alternative. The stellar reception that the first 100-level demo of Super Meat Boy that Team Meat showed off at a 2009 Nintendo event in London convinced the duo to add a ton of extra content, from boss battles to doubling the number of levels. It's an ironic footnote, given that Super Meat Boy is no longer making it to Nintendo's console.
Refenes and McMillen also reveal their inspiration for Super Meat Boy's death-replay feature was inspired by Quantum Mario, a video of a hacked version of Super Mario World in which each attempt to complete the level was recorded by an emulator and replayed simultaneously in one stream.
When animal rights group PETA created vegetarian parody, Super Tofu Boy, shortly after Super Meat Boy's release, Team Meat couldn't resist putting him into the PC release of their own game. "Wouldn't it be funny if Tofu Boy was actually in our game but he was so shitty you could barely beat a level with him?" mused McMillen. "We can do that. At that was it. It took like 45 minutes to make him and Tommy put him in [the PC version]." It turns out that PETA's little stunt resulted in Super Meat Boy sales spikes on both Xbox 360 and PC, and resulted in about 5,000 new Twitter followers.
In discussing how some of the bonus characters from other games made it into Super Meat Boy, McMillen also shares the little-know fact that he designed Tim, the protagonist from last year's smash indie hit, Braid.
Yeah, I designed Tim. I actually did all of the animations for the game as well. It was a long process, though. I worked with Jon [Blow] for a year on it and did all of the animation and all of the character design. Then, once David [Hellman] came in and did all of the background stuff, Jon wanted that style to go through everything. David just painted over my sprites. It wasn't sprites like 8-bit sprites. It looked more like a cartoony style. Not painterly.
On the publishing front, McMillen also shares some very positive thoughts about Steam, and some mixed feelings about Microsoft.
Working with Steam is amazingly easy and straightforward. There's no headache at all. They know how to promote a sale, and they know how to treat their developers. Microsoft doesn't do that as well. They're kind of falling in that department. I don't know why. They thought our game was going to do a lot worse than what it did. It's not that our game did bad. Our game did very very well. They just didn't expect it to do well. They expected it to be a short burst flame that just kind of went away.
We just happened to be in development when Microsoft was developing Kinect and putting all of their focus on that. We happened to launch in the hardest week of the hardest month, most competitive-wise for any video game. And we launched alongside Costume Quest, which was bizarre for us because we thought we would get an exclusive week. I'm sure Double Fine was even more upset over that. It was like all of these bizarre factors that lined up. Seemingly just bad luck. It's nice to still have come out on top.
The interview also touches things like recruiting Danny Baranowsky to compose the game's soundtrack, some subtle inside jokes and references buried within Super Meat Boy, and the team's general plans to work on a smaller project for handheld devices before tackling their next opus, whatever the subject or genre may be.
We've talked about dabbling in the dynamically generated genre, the brawler genre, the shooter genre, and the casual genre. Me and Tommy love video games. I don't think we discriminate on what genres we'd want to do. As an artist, you just want to push yourself and experience all aspects of the art. And I think we're pretty much interested in making awesome games in any genre. But I think pure platformers we're pretty much done with. I don't foresee us going back to a platformer like this anymore.
Whatever the future holds for Team Meat, it won't be more Super Meat Boy. "We've farmed this. It's done," stated McMillen. "There's no more coming out of us."
That said, enterprising PC gamers have already begun creating custom Super Meat Boy levels using the PC versions "accidentally" included "developer mode."
This isn't even stuff that they can do much with. But they're already amazing so I know for a fact that once an actual functional level editor comes out it can be a self sustaining endless barrage of Meat Boy levels that people can enjoy forever. We can just close the book, move on to whatever we're doing next, and let them forever build on a game that they love. I think that's an appropriate way to end it.
Really interesting and insightful article. Happy to hear that Team Meat want to try new platforms and idea; they are definitely a company to keep an eye out for.