Unbound: Ed McMillen Talks With Design3

And the infant could cry blood from time to time!

Who wants a long look into the mind behind The Binding of Isaac? Edmund McMillen recently spoke with design3, a web portal offering education and advice for game developers, and the resulting conversation is wide-ranging, fascinating and what I believe must be referred to as ‘refreshingly’ honest. That’s as honest as the country pub with the shaded garden serving up the first beer of a summertime Friday evening after a day of fielding calls in a thimble-sized office cubicle. The interview runs for an hour and a half but is certainly worth sticking with if you have an interest in Ed and his games, the indie scene, making games of your own or the wider industry. They cover it all.

The importance of being humble, the untold stories of independent games, the stress of development, piracy – there’s so much said and considering the length of the interview, it’s amazing that it doesn’t become boring. Interesting thoughts and experiences expressed well.

Perhaps if you are in a thimble-sized cubicle you could listen surreptitiously throughout the afternoon. Better still, get the heck out of there because your skeletal structure must be contorted horribly. Or you’re a very very small person, in which case good luck to you in your chosen career of answering miniature telephones!

We’ll hopefully have a chat with Edmund ourselves around the release of Isaac’s expansion, The Wrath of the Lamb.


  1. armaankhan says:

    Really great interview and well worth the time taken to watch.

    • siegarettes says:

      Its really impressive how many obstacles he’s overcome to be a success. I’m pretty sure he never finished college, as it never seemed relevant to him. In spite of that, and some negativity getting shouted down to him about his gruesome art, he’s managed to channel his personality and style into well made games and make a decent amount off of it.

      He’s really just one of those inspirational indie game figures.

  2. Unaco says:

    This is the guy obsessed with faeces and your/his mother, right? Pass.

    • Barlk says:

      Had to register just to refute your somewhat obtuse comment. Putting aside the fantastic SMB, TBoI’s array of bizarre, surreal and certainly mature themes are extremely well assimilated with the novel art style and gameplay, and at no point in my 40+ hours has any of it felt pointedly crude or oppressive in the slightest.

    • Unaco says:

      Yeah… And Call of Duty is a touching tale of men and the brotherhood that emerges during adversity. Nice try.

    • Buttless Boy says:

      Yes, in exactly the same way that Marcel Duchamp was obsessed with urinals.

    • I_have_no_nose_but_I_must_sneeze says:

      Just watch the interview. You might be surprised. Even if you absolutely despise this guy’s games, you might still find that he offers an insightful perspective on indie games as a phenomenon and on the creative process in general. If you’re really worried about it, there are no mentions of faeces or my mother that I can recall. He does talk about his own family a couple of times. You can skip those parts pretty easily.

    • Mistabashi says:

      Either watch it or don’t, but don’t waste your time commenting on things to tell people you aren’t interested in it.

    • Toberoth says:

      How open-minded of you, Unaco.

  3. povu says:

    Not sure I want to see the inside of this disturbing mind, if the game is anything to go by.

    • Premium User Badge

      Adam Smith says:

      It’s a very warm, humble and inspirational mind judging by the interview. I expect pleasant surprise.

    • Walrus_Knight says:

      It’s mostly him talking about video games.

    • Orija says:

      I donno if you’re talking about SMB but The Binding was more on the cute side than gross. Now the developers who make games like Hannah Montanna: Friendship is Magic, their minds are the ones I’d call disturbing.

  4. Quasar says:

    I sat and watched this the other day. Turns out Ed is actually a fascinating guy, and it’s pretty good inspiration for anyone who wants to work in games, although his ideas can often be extrapolated to the entertainment industry as a whole.

  5. clippa says:

    Jodorowsky T-shirt as well :D This guy just keeps going up and up in my estimation . Tell me cardiacs is his favourite band and I may well have to marry the guy.
    The binding of isaac was easily the best single player game of last year. Put 70 hours into it already and still playing.

    • Mollusc Infestation says:

      The Cardiacs is everyone’s favourite band. They just don’t realise it.

  6. tomeoftom says:

    This is such a good interview. Really interesting and open; he seems like such a nice guy.

  7. Ruffian says:

    great interview, great guy, great art. Can’t wait for the issac expansion. I can’t stand people who instantly disregard things, especially art, becuase it’s not “pretty”. Yeah you’re right shit and weird feelings about mommy may not be pretty but they’re still just as real and relevant to the human experience as hugs and rainbows or whatever you’d rather be thinking about, and shouldn’t be instantly looked over because of it.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      +1. This guy is a real role model for anybody wanting to do indie development. I love how many people in the indie scene speak to each other (like here with Derek Yu) and see each other more as friends than competitors.

      Refraining from watching the video just for that is beyond stupid and shows weak character, IMO, but I was expecting the guy to be a bit more weird or exalted. Turns out he’s gentle, smart and generally awesome. It just goes to show that someone can use disturbing symbolism without necessarily being fucked up in the head. Catharsis is probably involved.

      In any case I love his games… and I have generally low tolerance with disgusting stuff.

  8. idontreadrps says:

    link to youtube.com
    Edmund is a douchebag. Super Meat Boy and Binding of Isaac are both terrible games.
    I regret playing $1 for them in the HIB. I can’t take him seriously at all in any capacity and never will.

    • Salt says:

      He discusses that video indirectly in the interview, talking about how he is happy that those kinds of moves have shifted angry internet men to target him instead of more vulnerable developers.
      It appears to have worked well in your case!

    • bayerly says:

      Plus the video in question is a total joke and it’s hilarious when trolls try to call him a troll for it. Bahah, he’s teasing random morons who give people shit on the internet and never do a damn thing themselves…..then those people just do it again. You really can’t write this shit, you guys are so funny/pathetic.

    • kyrieee says:

      I’m pretty sure you’re the douche

    • nootpingu86 says:

      So how many steps up the troll ladder is Ed versus this sites editors who post his videos and give him publicity? Inquiring trolls need to know.

  9. WotevahMang says:

    I’m not emo enough to appreciate him and his works, apparently.

    • blind_boy_grunt says:

      apparently you are just as lazy as your insults because than you’d have at least watched a couple of minutes of the interview. Oh, and i think you forgot to call him pretentious.

  10. Terragot says:

    Shame his programmer doesn’t get any love, couldn’t even tell you the guys name.

    • Salt says:

      Tommy Refenes (I admit I had to look up his surname) is his programming buddy for Super Meat Boy, and at least in this interview gets a fair bit of air time.
      Binding of Isaac was with Florian Himsl on the keyboards.

      It seems true that the principle designer gets the lion’s share of press attention, but that’s to be expected really as generally it’s the game’s design that is of interest rather than the database structure used for level sharing. It’s an interesting question how the design work is shared between the people involved in these development partnerships, and that is touched on in the interview.

      Thankfully press attention doesn’t seem to be blinded by who draws the pretty pictures. Braid is rightfully always referred to as Jon Blow’s game, even though the lovely art is by David Hellman (look up the web comic he did the art for from a few years ago, A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible).

    • bayerly says:

      Rumor has it that d3 has a similar interview setup with Tommy in the next two weeks…..

    • Veracity says:

      “There’s a tendency among the press to attribute the creation of a game to a single person,” says Warren Spector, creator of Thief and Deus Ex.

      While we’re on the subject, Danny Baranowsky is kind of splendid and deserves much credit for having made me play a platformer at all and dump more time into Isaac than I’m at all sure it really warrants.

    • dalejwilliams says:

      Tommy Refenes? Sure he does! Google Zits and Giggles. Dude sold an incredibly simple iPhone app, increased the price every time some-one bought it, eventually sold it for $400, all while publicly giving the App Store shit. An hero.

    • nootpingu86 says:

      So wait, this guy is like the Steve Jobs of TRVE KVLT game design? Eddie that is totally un-metal, bro.



  11. oldkc says:


  12. salejemaster says:

    this guy, is so fucking awesome, that is all.

  13. Saul says:

    Edmund’s my hero. An indie dev who not only makes great games, but speaks eloquently and honestly about his processes. If you’re ever in Australia, dude, we’d love to have you on the Game Engine Podcast!

  14. nootpingu86 says:

    I have never seen an image of this particular fella until today. I have only seen an image of the guy who made the music for Super Meat Boy. Somehow I intuited McMilian himself also had a pretty frickin’ gnarly beard. 666 hail SATAN \m/ Also your games rock as much as Alice Cooper after a pre-show cocaine binge, YEAH MAN YEAH!!! \m/

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  16. MythArcana says:

    The fanboys are out in full force in here, but sheep need something to do, too.

    • shovelface88 says:

      The trolls are out in full force in here, but trolls need something to do, too

  17. pants says:

    Love that he’s wearing a Santa Sangre shirt

    • Beanchilla says:

      I definitely agree! It totally fits with Isaac as well, both are great and both have the same morbid overtones!

  18. Koozer says:

    Wow, where did all this frothing hatred for him come from? I certainly don’t remember leaving it in here.

    • clippa says:

      Yeah, it’s mind boggling that someone would dislike a stranger so much. What are his crimes? Designing games you don’t like? Drawing pictures you don’t like? Fill me in. What am I missing here?

    • Savagetech says:

      Equal parts ignorance, distaste, and jealousy. Pour them into an antisocial twit, shake well, and serve in a cold glass of internet anonymity.

      I don’t really get how someone could fervently hate him. You don’t like his games? Sure, that’s fine, but this hate is ridiculous. If you’ve read an interview or heard him talk *at all* you can tell that he’s a down-to-Earth guy who worked his ass off to get where he is. I don’t even like many of his games but he’s cool to listen to and when he nails a game design he nails it hard.

  19. timeformime says:

    This man is definitely impressive in his ambition and commitment, and most of all his taking the time to make such a great and candid interview such as this. Naturally people are going to hate success as profound as his, but I really dig his art design, Meat Boy and Isaac were fantastic, and I hope he makes plenty of other great stuff for us to play. =)