Edmund McMillen has said The Binding of Isaac, a game he describes as his “career suicide” game, came about as an answer to the “very, very safe,” Super Meat Boy.
Speaking with Nathan Grayson in a banging interview over on EG, McMillen described the process in choosing what game to release on Xbox 360, and why Super Meat Boy was eventually chosen
“It’s hard for me to say, because I hate saying I was playing it safe – but I was playing it safe with Super Meat Boy,” he said. “I was risking so much, so of course I was playing it safe. We went in knowing we could get this [Xbox Live] deal. So what game are we going to do? Well, let’s re-do a game. Let’s not make a new game, because that’s dangerous. I don’t want to risk my whole fucking career and my future on something that is uncertain. I’m not comfortable with that. I’m not comfortable with risking [programmer and good friend] Tommy [Refenes'] future and my wife and everybody else. I’m gonna do something that I know that people like already. And the most popular game that I had done recently was [the browser version of] Meat Boy.
“Super Meat Boy is the closest thing to selling out that I’ve ever done, but it’s not. But it is safe. It’s very, very safe, and I knew it was safe going in, and I was playing it safe because I was risking so much.”
“There is that part of me, after Super Meat Boy, that felt like I needed to… I needed to not play it safe. I needed to do something dangerous.”
McMillen said his next game, The Binding of Isaac, was just another way for him to push the envelope with recurring, almost disturbing, themes in his work.
“There’s recurring themes in everything in my work, and they’re usually things where I think it’s so odd that people think they’re gross,” he said. “I tend to focus on the fetal stages of birth, life and death – but mostly birth – the development process, and dying and decay. It’s life, but it’s these parts that are interesting. After and before, the development and the decay. Those are the mysterious things. Guts. The stuff that’s inside. That sort of stuff. Religion and sexuality and… genitals.
“People wonder why there’s a lot of violence in my work. I grew up with a picture of a bloody dying man who is suffering for everybody, a martyr, and it’s the whole idea of self-sacrifice. Your exalted God, your God, rips his body to shreds for the good of the world. Violence becomes holy. And in a lot of ways, in the Bible and Catholicism, violence and gore is considered holy. You drink the blood of Christ, you eat his flesh. How does that not come in to me?
“I just wanted to go all in. There were many times when I was like, ‘I can’t put that in.’ And then: ‘What am I doing? What am I doing? Am I doing this again? Am I committing career suicide? This is stupid. Why am I doing this?’ And whenever I would think that, I would be like ‘Yes, I know this is good. This is exciting again. I’m dancing around with things that are dangerous. I like that.’”
“I really went in thinking, like, ‘I’m going to have to give this away. It’ll be a sponsored free game, because no way in hell will people pay for it. It’s too weird.’ There was a darkness there that was so dark. That’s why I had to make it really cute, because I couldn’t… I can’t destroy people with this game. This is going to be way too heavy and weird and dark for people to enjoy. But that was what was most interesting, so I kept going with it – kept pushing and pushing and pushing. I never censored anything that I did. Nothing at all was ever taken back.”
The Binding of Isaac went on to be a success, and as of June 20, the game moved 700,000 copies.
Do yourself a favor and read the entire interview through the link.