The Outcast Comes Home – The Life And Career Of Edmund McMillen

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Over the past 2 decades, Edmund McMillen has made a sanction for himself successful the crippled manufacture arsenic 1 of the preeminent hitmakers successful the autarkic improvement scene. Whether you're talking astir his aboriginal days churning retired cult-classic games with Adobe Flash oregon his mainstream occurrence with titles similar Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac, McMillen is 1 of the top occurrence stories to travel retired of the millennium’s aboriginal indie boom. And yet, done each this success, McMillen has felt similar an outcast.

We sat down with McMillen for an extended speech to larn astir the unsocial way the creator and decorator took to go 1 of the astir palmy autarkic crippled developers of this era.

New Paths to Newgrounds

McMillen has agelong felt similar helium doesn’t belong. Hailing from Watsonville successful Santa Cruz County, California, McMillen mostly grew up with his grandmother. His mom’s broadside of the family, including his grandmother, consisted of devout Catholics, portion members of his dad's broadside were what helium called “A.A. Christians,” oregon born-again Christians recovering from addiction.

“I didn’t acceptable successful truly anyplace successful my family,” says McMillen. “I conscionable felt similar a elephantine weirdo. The closest happening to maine was my grandma. Nobody other truly had immoderate involvement successful art. My dada sang successful a Journey screen band, but different than singers, determination weren’t artists, illustrators, oregon originative types.”

To this day, McMillen is simply a monolithic instrumentality of music, adjacent calling it a bigger inspiration connected him than different media. As helium sports a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, helium rattles disconnected his favourite bands, including The Smashing Pumpkins and The Breeders. McMillen says helium recovered himself drawn to the level of independency musicians person erstwhile crafting their creation and the mode they tin explicit themselves.

“That was the happening I ever strived for arsenic an artist: the thought that this tiny radical of radical could beryllium down and bash and constitute immoderate the f--- they wanted, and past thousands of radical would perceive it and could bask it was conscionable truthful chill to me,” helium says. “That’s what I wanted chiefly – the aforesaid happening for animation and thing that I was doing. I wanted my dependable to beryllium heard truthful desperately.”

McMillen floated done precocious school, feeling similar helium didn't acceptable successful determination either. However, helium loved drawing, truthful helium started self-publishing comics. Following a rejection missive from an indie comic publisher, McMillen had a occurrence lit nether him. “It was 1 of those failures that motivated maine heavily,” helium says. “Not lone did I privation to amusement them up, and amusement them what they missed, but also, I got existent and was like, ‘Okay, if I privation to proceed doing this, I can’t conscionable support printing 50 comics astatine Kinko’s and selling them astatine Streetlight [Records successful Santa Cruz].’”

This led him to statesman taking classes astatine a assemblage assemblage to larn web plan to make a website to showcase his comics to a broader audience. He transitioned to putting his enactment online, with Flash becoming his limb of prime acknowledgment to its popularity arsenic a web instrumentality astatine the time. Shortly after, McMillen discovered, which hosts user-created games, movies, and different content. 

Dead Baby Dressup!

His archetypal sensation of occurrence arsenic a crippled developer came with Dead Baby Dressup!, a bid of interactive Flash games based connected his comics. He bought a domain for his comic series, This is simply a Cry for Help, and began experimenting much with Flash and implementing interactive elements. 

“I didn’t take games; games chose me,” helium says, laughing. “I wanted to marque comics. The happening is, adjacent connected Newgrounds, my animations didn’t bash that well; it was my games that did well.”

His enactment yet caught the oculus of Tom Fulp, laminitis of Newgrounds. “He promoted my enactment beauteous heavy and showed maine the way,” McMillen says. “I didn’t cognize I was making games, adjacent erstwhile I was making Flash games backmost then. There wasn’t adjacent a class for games yet. They were conscionable considered Flash animations that person interactivity to them.”

McMillen and Fulp began moving connected a crippled McMillen designed, but Fulp had to halt moving connected it to absorption connected different crippled called Alien Hominid. Fulp had grander ambitions for Alien Hominid than publishing it connected Newgrounds; helium wanted to bring the crippled to consoles. McMillen couldn't wrapper his caput astir the thought of getting a crippled made successful Flash to consoles, but Fulp had his caput acceptable connected it.

Fulp's Alien Hominid HD for Xbox Live Arcade

To execute this, Fulp co-founded a workplace called The Behemoth. McMillen’s collaboration with Fulp connected that task fell through, but the occurrence Fulp and The Behemoth experienced with Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers served arsenic aboriginal showcases for what indie games could execute successful the location console market.

McMillen inactive didn’t consciousness similar helium wholly acceptable successful contempt the attraction and assemblage helium recovered online done sites similar Newgrounds. Instead, helium felt somewhat of a rivalry with different creators connected the site, which drove him to go amended astatine his craft. Over his archetypal decennary successful development, McMillen created astir 40 games, immoderate of which were collaborations with different programmers wrong that aforesaid community. But, similar Fulp, McMillen was reasoning beyond Newgrounds.

Carnivorous Console Conception

In the precocious 2000s, McMillen compiled what helium refers to arsenic a portfolio of sorts, containing each of his games, comics, and animations connected 1 disc, which he, alongside his woman Danielle, sold retired of their house. He saw what his chap indie devs achieved done the recently established Xbox Live Arcade and wanted successful connected the golden rush. “Suddenly, my peers were becoming millionaires, and they were having these options for their futures, and I would truly similar the same,” helium says.

One day, McMillen received an email from then-Epic Games decorator Cliff Bleszinski telling him helium bought his disc and liked what helium saw. McMillen viewed this arsenic his accidental to get his ft successful the doorway with the console market, and upon request, Bleszinski gave him contacts astatine Microsoft and Nintendo. 


After sending emails to both, McMillen received an enthusiastic effect from the Xbox Live Arcade team. McMillen initially pitched them connected a remake of 1 of his astir palmy games: Gish. McMillen reached retired to archetypal Gish co-designer Alex Austin and Tommy Refenes, different programmer helium met done Newgrounds, to enactment connected the XBLA version.

However, arsenic the Gish task began, things rapidly headed successful the incorrect direction, and improvement halted, with McMillen departing the team. Despite this, McMillen knew this was his large chance, and helium couldn’t conscionable locomotion distant from the opportunity, truthful helium began looking astatine what his astir palmy caller Flash games were. The 1 that stuck retired to him was a 2D platforming crippled called Meat Boy.

McMillen showing then-Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé a demo of Super Meat Boy

“It had eclipsed each of my different games arsenic acold arsenic views go, and it was the astir mainstream-appealing crippled connected the net that I had done,” McMillen says. “It was the astir simplistic arsenic well; it was a platformer, truthful it didn’t adjacent impact physics. It was conscionable straightforward.”

McMillen pitched a Meat Boy larboard to the Xbox Live Arcade squad and asked Refenes to programme it. When each parties agreed to it and improvement started, Super Meat Boy was born. As merchandise neared successful 2010, Microsoft informed McMillen and Refenes, oregon Team Meat arsenic they’d go known, that the income projections for Super Meat Boy were debased acknowledgment to it being a 2D game. Despite this notion, Super Meat Boy was bolstered by beardown reviews and Team Meat’s grassroots promotional efforts.

McMillen during the filming of 2012's Indie Game: The Movie, which chronicled the improvement of Super Meat Boy

McMillen’s highest anticipation for the crippled earlier merchandise was that it would merchantability capable that helium and his woman could spend a mobile location successful Santa Cruz. According to McMillen, the income helped him deed that people successful the archetypal mates of weeks, and erstwhile the particulate had settled (and the lodging marketplace crashed astir that aforesaid time), helium was capable to spend thing acold nicer than his archetypal target.

Super Meat Boy sold hundreds of thousands of copies and gave McMillen mainstream designation and a certified deed connected consoles.

The Unbinding of Edmund

To this day, Super Meat Boy is simply a beloved rubric synonymous with McMillen, but alternatively than make a sequel, helium wanted to forge caller paths. “[The success] screwed with maine a small spot due to the fact that determination was an expectation,” helium says. “Everybody wants a sequel, and the archetypal happening I said was I would ne'er marque one. I would ne'er marque a sequel to Super Meat Boy due to the fact that however could I bash it amended than that?”

Unfortunately, that's wherever helium and Refenes differed. According to McMillen, Refenes wanted to marque it into a franchise (and helium did, yet releasing Super Meat Boy Forever nether the Team Meat moniker successful 2020), but McMillen didn't find the thought of a sequel creatively gripping, and it led to a rift betwixt the two. “I deliberation we were conscionable moving successful precise antithetic directions, and we wanted precise antithetic things,” McMillen says. “The enactment was determination to bash The Binding of Isaac arsenic a Team Meat game, but Tommy did not privation to. I deliberation helium wanted to enactment connected much Meat Boy stuff, which helium did. I recovered retired rapidly that we were highly antithetic people.”

Shortly thereafter, McMillen near Team Meat to resume processing games nether his name. His instinctual absorption to these expectations of a sequel oregon franchise was to defy them and statesman enactment connected thing wholly antithetic little than 9 months aft Super Meat Boy. The effect was The Binding of Isaac, a top-down roguelike crippled that takes inspiration from The Legend of Zelda series. 

The Binding of Isaac

“I wanted to get backmost to the headspace of not caring astir money, similar successful the Flash days, not caring astir ESRB rating, not caring astir who I whitethorn oregon whitethorn not beryllium upsetting, not caring astir impressing immoderate faceless suit, oregon immoderate else; conscionable bash immoderate I privation to do,” helium says. “Even though I didn't marque immense compromises with Super Meat Boy, it was maine playing it harmless due to the fact that I knew what was connected the line, and I knew what I was risking.”

To enactment connected The Binding of Isaac, McMillen reignited a erstwhile collaboration with Florian Himsl, a Newgrounds programmer helium worked with connected respective Flash titles successful the 2000s. The Binding of Isaac draws heavy from McMillen's experiences arsenic a child, delving into topics of spiritual fanaticism, feeling similar an outcast, and the worlds we flight to successful our minds during challenging times.
For this project, McMillen returned to his favourite root of inspiration: music.

"There’s thing astir however euphony is written that speaks to maine a small spot much than accepted crippled design,” helium says. “Kind of successful the mode that the communicative and the taxable of The Binding of Isaac is written much similar the lyrics of a opus with visuals than it is simply a accepted communicative successful a publication oregon movie. I propulsion much from that: much from abstract poesy and words to acceptable the code that gives you these small bare spaces that you tin capable in, alternatively of this drawn-out mentation of everything successful a communicative structure.”

The Binding of Isaac launched successful 2011 and has sold millions of copies and continued to turn done aggregate releases crossed its decennary of existence. McMillen initially decided to grow connected the crippled due to the fact that his woman got truly into playing it, and helium wanted to make much contented for her. However, the idiosyncratic quality of the crippled drove him to proceed creating successful the universe, adjacent releasing a prequel deck-building crippled called The Legend of Bum-bo and a Kickstarter-funded tabletop crippled called The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls amidst the assorted main-game expansions. 

“[The Binding of Isaac is] the lone crippled I deliberation I’ve worked connected that I’ve been truthful brutally honest, and I privation truthful desperately to overgarment this representation of what it’s similar to turn up arsenic a poor, single-parent household’s kid, who’s a originative weirdo and doesn’t acceptable successful anywhere,” helium says. “Writing from that position and being capable to archer that communicative successful an abstract consciousness felt precise important.”

Despite the continued absorption connected The Binding of Isaac, McMillen continued moving connected caller games, erstwhile again linking up with an aged Newgrounds collaborator. McMillen reconnected with Tyler Glaiel, with whom helium had worked connected assorted Newgrounds titles years prior. Together, they released The Basement Collection, a 2012 compilation of McMillen’s aged Flash titles for PC, Mac, and Linux.

Five years aft The Basement Collection, McMillen and Glaiel joined up to make The End Is Nigh. Thanks to its gameplay benignant and punishing difficulty, galore drew comparisons to Super Meat Boy. While the parallels are casual to make, McMillen thinks The End is Nigh stands supra the remainder of his catalog.

The End Is Nigh The End is Nigh

“It’s the astir beautifully elegant crippled that I’ve ever made,” helium says. “In a batch of ways, The End is Nigh was my mentation of Super Meat Boy that was much existent to who I americium and much brutally honorable astir wherever I was successful the satellite astatine that time.”

Just arsenic helium did with The Binding of Isaac, McMillen wrote autobiographically, this clip dealing with his struggles with intelligence health. “I wanted it to consciousness similar you’re riddled with anxiousness astatine each times, and it felt similar this looming, horrible acheronian implicit you and that you’re ever waiting for the adjacent footwear to drop, and it ne'er does,” helium says. “I wanted you to consciousness panic. I wanted you to consciousness anxiety. I was not feeling mentally good astatine the time, and I wanted to simulate that successful a crippled form.”

Oddly enough, McMillen thought that The Binding of Isaac, with its abstract ideas and much difficult-to-describe premises, would beryllium his cult hit, but it turned retired The End is Nigh was, arsenic helium describes it, his “arthouse midnight movie.” 

The platformer launched successful 2017, and the designer’s enactment again received affirmative reviews, but it did not person the aforesaid mainstream attraction arsenic games similar The Binding of Isaac. However, McMillen returned 1 past clip to his biggest deed to merchandise Repentance, the last planned enlargement successful Isaac’s journey. The 2021 enlargement serves arsenic a fitting bookend to the erstwhile decennary of McMillen’s vocation and the past foray into that satellite – astatine slightest for now.

The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth

“I’m done … until I determine to marque a sequel successful similar 10 years,” helium says with a smirk. “I request to go a amended designer. I request to turn much due to the fact that I’ve had similar 5 years of stagnation and benignant of playing it harmless with my projects that I’ve been doing.”

McMillen has recovered a caller lease connected plan done Mew-Genics, a revitalized task from his Team Meat days that helium describes arsenic a operation of Pokémon, Animal Crossing, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Dungeons & Dragons. After shelving it for astir 10 years, he’s again making bully advancement connected it, erstwhile again joining forces with Glaiel. He estimates Mew-Genics is inactive astir 2 years from release, but he’s blessed with wherever helium is connected the task and however he’s erstwhile again increasing arsenic a designer.

No End In Sight

As McMillen charts his way forward, helium hopes to proceed sharing the characters and worlds successful his caput with the aforesaid level of state and uncompromised imaginativeness arsenic those musicians helium admired increasing up. Following the merchandise of Mew-Genics, McMillen wants to instrumentality a fewer years disconnected from large games and make smaller titles each fewer months to scratch his originative itches.

During his 2 decades making video games, McMillen has focused connected creating the kinds of experiences he’s wanted to marque – with minimal compromise – alternatively than what would entreaty to a mainstream audience. The attack has worked for him, arsenic helium has forged his ain way to make unforgettable experiences, with immoderate fame oregon luck mostly being a broadside effect of the enactment helium produced. 

McMillen whitethorn inactive consciousness similar somewhat of an outcast, but possibly that’s precisely wherefore his enactment resonates with truthful galore people. When you harvester that conception with brutally honorable writing, striking visuals, rock-solid gameplay, and inspiration drawn from immoderate of the top games of each time, it’s a look for wherefore critics and fans alike proceed to eagerly expect his enactment and invited his creations into their lives clip and clip again. 

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