Looking Back – Interview with Edmund McMillen
Luckily for Battery Acid we were able to speak with the popular indie game designer and artist, Edmund McMillen. He’s helped in many popular indie games, such as Gish and Triachnid, and he has been interviewed by the likes of PC Gamer and The New York Times. And like the rest of my “Looking Back” interviews these are pretty outdated. I remember I did this around the time Aether was released because I fell in love with it so much that I decided to talk to Edmund.
BA: Can you tell the readers a bit about yourself?
Edmund McMillen: Okay, my name’s Edmund McMillen. I’m a independent game designer and artist. Most know me from Gish, but I’m also now known for Aether): Coil, Triachnid, and C****. Some know me from my work on Braid as well.
BA: You helped in that?
Edmund McMillen: Yup.
BA: Specifically what?
Edmund McMillen: I was the character designer and animator.
BA: Cool. What is it like being an artist and designer for games?
Edmund McMillen: It’s rewarding.
BA: How so?
Edmund McMillen: It’s a really new art form so you kind of feel like you might have some pull as to the direction games are heading. So that’s a big motivator.
BA: Yeah I totally agree.
Edmund McMillen: Indie games are also becoming marketable and “hip” so it’s a good time to jump in. But yeah there’s just so much that can be done, so much to explore, it’s pretty exciting. It’s also just fun to make games.
BA: What is the usual process for designing games? Do people usually contact you or have you also contacted them?
Edmund McMillen: It’s different for each game. With Gish, I had started doing freelance for Chronic Logic and then pitched the basic idea to them. Then Alex and I designed it together. For Triachnid, Florian had a basic engine made and he came to me asking if I thought I could help turn it into a game. And Aether was an idea I had and wanted to do but couldn’t find someone who was interested. I pitched the idea to someone I hadn’t worked with and he loved it. Turned out great, his name’s Tyler Glaiel.
BA: Yeah I tried to interview him but he never really said he could.
Edmund McMillen: >:)
Edmund McMillen: Gish actually made it into the IGF the year before we won. We lost that time, but Gish was just a prototype then. The IGF wasn’t as big then as it is now, but it was still awesome to show our game to like minded people.
BA: So you just continued working on it?
Edmund McMillen: Yeah we had about 2-3 months left in development when we lost at IGF04. Gish took about 6-8 months to totally finish.
BA: Were you satisfied when it was completed?
Edmund McMillen: Very. It was my 1st pc game and the 2nd game I’d designed ever. It’s stood the test of time, but Gish 2 will blow it away.
Alex and I have both grown a lot and I think people will be very happy with how Gish 2 turns out.
BA: Do you have a release date yet or is it still too early to ask?
Edmund McMillen: It’s still very early. Next year. Sometime. It will be one of those “it’s done when its done” deals. We don’t want to rush or half ass it. And we are also working on a lot of our own projects on the side.
BA: So did you redo the game from scratch?
Edmund McMillen: Yeah. Alex has actually made 2 new engines, scrapped them and started over again. The current one we have is the one shown in our latest dev. video.
BA: Is it final?
Edmund McMillen: No idea, maybe. That’s up to Alex. The Gish 1 engine was remade a few times while we developed it as well.
BA: Oh I see. This brings me to another question. As a designer do you have to work around the programmers?
Edmund McMillen: I feel like a game wont’ turn out good if people haven to work around the other person. When I work with someone it’s like a marriage of ideas. If I say this is how I want it done and that’s that, the game will turn out like shit because the other person won’t be able to put any of himself into it.
Edmund McMillen: I never start an idea for a design with… THIS IS HOW IT IS AND THAT’S THAT! I start with a basic idea and work with the programmer to design a fun game with that basic outline.
BA: How is it working with other people? If you could, would you work alone?
Edmund McMillen: I’ve had my difference with people in the past, but the people I’m working with now are all awesome and very driven programming artists who have a great mind for design.
I couldn’t ever make games alone. I don’t program and I don’t want to learn. The idea of doing this alone just sound boring. Designing games for me is like a sport. I have a team, we are all equal and we are playing a game together.
BA: That’s a good attitude.
Edmund McMillen: If I was alone I’d be bored. No one plays sports alone.
BA: Yeah. Have you ever thought of working with major companies like EA or Ubisoft?
Edmund McMillen: The goal is to never work for a company. But yeah, like many, many others doing indie games I’ve been contacted by a lot of publishers who think my goal is to get picked up.
I’m not making games to get publishers to look at me. I’m doing this so I don’t have to ever work for anyone.
BA: So do you do this as a living?
Edmund McMillen: Yes.
BA: How long have you worked to perfect your style of art?
Edmund McMillen: My style isn’t perfected. I’m always learning. I personally think once you perfect something there’s no point in working on it anymore. So I hope to never perfect my style.
I’m always pushing myself to do new things and new styles. Keep things interesting and teach myself along the way. Aether is a good example. It
looks nothing like my other work and it has no lines, something that was actually really hard to do and something I wasn’t use to. So it was fun to challenge myself.
BA: How so?
Edmund McMillen: No outlines. None. It’s all color fills painted in layers.
So you start out with darkest color as a silhouette, paint it a lighter color, then lighter, ‘till it forms the image you want.
BA: Was everything planned out or did you just “go with the flow” when designing Aether?
Edmund McMillen: I wanted to make a game about my child hood. I wanted to make a game about a boy entering his mind and losing grasp on reality. I also wanted to play with the Mario galaxy mechanic in 2D. That was the basic outline I had.
BA: Since we’re on the subject, Could you explain a little about the characters and universe of Aether?
Edmund McMillen: What aspect do you want me to explain?
BA: Well the other characters on the other planets seem very lonely and angry.
Edmund McMillen: This is a spoiler, but the creatures on the planets are just aspects of the boy’s mind. Pieces of his fears and thoughts. They all represent different aspects of him; same with the planets.
BA: Does this apply to the character’s octopus creature?
Edmund McMillen: No.
BA: Then what does it represent?
mind. It’s like his imaginary friend that gives him courage.
BA: In the end we see a strange world he flies to. Does it represent anything?
Edmund McMillen: The last thing you see when you beat the game is the earth reappearing. In the
end the boy is lost in his mind, but showing the earth appearing kind of gives people hope.
In the full game there will be a lot more to this. In the full game the flash demo will just be the intro to the game.
BA: Oh so that wasn’t a complete version?
Edmund McMillen: No it was just a flash prototype, just the intro to a bigger game.
BA: Will gameplay be the same?
Edmund McMillen: There will be a lot more to gameplay. A lot more things will you be able to do and a lot of planets to explore.
BA: Wow. I already thought the game was pretty big!
Edmund McMillen: Hah no way! We made it in 14 days. It’s super small. The full game will feature over 20 planets and each planet will have 2-3 puzzles on it to solve as well as a “boss” level that finishes that planet.
BA: Is this still in the idea phase or have you already completed some elements of the final version?
Edmund McMillen: Idea phase. We are taking a small break from it. Tyler’s started college so he’s busy.
And I’m working on a few small games as well. We are going to try to have something more fleshed out for the IGF though.
BA: So what’s happened with The Book of Knots?
Edmund McMillen: The Book of Knots turned into Gish 2.
BA: Cool. Is it still going to have “Shadow of the Colossus”-like gameplay?
Edmund McMillen: No, well maybe, if you mean big bosses, then yeah.
BA: Cool. I’m going to have to end this interview now so I’d like to ask one last question.
Edmund McMillen: k
BA: If you could give any words of wisdom to the people who have just gained interest in developing games and to current amateur developers what would you say?
Edmund McMillen: Yeah. Realize what advantages you have being indie and use them to get attention. Try taking big risks; you have the ability to do so. So do it and put yourself into what you do and honestly it will show. That’s about it
BA: Thanks again.
Edmund McMillen: Yup.