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Unknown Pleasures 09: McMillen's Myriad Marvels

Continuing our irregular series of previews for the year ahead's more offbeat games, we now turn to uber-independent developer/artist Edmund Mcmillen. You'll know him best either for his work on gleeful, gooey physics-platformer Gish, which scooped the IGF grand prize in 2005, or for last year's naughty-naughty headline-maker C**t . He's an outspoken, uncensored fellow - as you'll tell from his remarkably candid comments about the Independent Games Festival further down this post.

Edmund's also a massively prolific game-maker, as evidenced by his stuffed Newgrounds page and his recent anthology of 10 years of his output, This Is A Cry For Help. Hence, it'd be wrong to focus on only one of his many upcoming games...

In the pipeline is a slew of Flash projects, an ultra-mysterious sequel to Gish, and another anthology - this time a bespoke one - in the form of No Quarter, a collection of retroesque games that mash-up well-known titles - both of which are co-developed with Alex Austin as part of their Cryptic Sea project. No Quarter will include the likes of Gun (just a temporary name for now). Which you'll want to play because of this:

Hitler survived and relocated to a remote island where he cloned himself 1000s of times to form a small society of Hitlers hell bent on world domination. You play as Vinko, a Russian secret agent sent to save the world. The Hitler clones come in varying forms of degradative states ranging from the mentally retarded and horribly mutated to the super elite.

Here's a very early video:

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I'd be interested to know how even the most judgemental right-wing newspaper would react to a game in which you kill Hitler thousands of times. Is a 'murder simulator' still the world's greatest evil when it's about destroying the world's greatest evil?

Anyway. Note the interface at the bottom of the screen - very Wolfenstein 3D. No Quarter will be heavily referential to videogames of times gone by. The idea is it's like a compilation CD, but with mini-games. It even has a tracklisting:

1."gun" (Mario + N + Wolfenstein)
2.Trivium (Tetris + Physics)
3."epic flail" (Missile Command + Rampage)
4.Hext (Scrabble + Hex board)
5."tree" (Art game + Sim)
6.Odyssey ( Lunar Lander + Awesome )

More on No Quarter soon, I suspect. Until then, we had a chat to Edmund about his other projects, both future and past.

So what's new in Gish 2? Are we in for major changes or a more traditional sequel?

Nothing is new in Gish 2 right now. We put Gish 2 on hold about 2 months ago to start on our next big release, No Quarter. We ran into a few walls in Gish 2, mostly due to the amount of time it would take to finish it. So we decided to start on a game we'd be inspired by making and something we could finish in about 6 months and bring to console.

You're credited as the artist on the Gish games - presumably your involvement runs deeper than that?

Well, creatively there have only been 2 people involved in Gish and Gish 2, Alex and myself. The core of the game play and over all design is a marriage of ideas from the both of us. I do all the art, animation, character design, story and most of the level design, Alex does all the physics, programming and engine.

To what extent are your games led by art first and foremost? A lot of them seem to hinge on a strong visual idea, with the game mechanics constructed around that...

My more recent games are usually based on a feeling or basic idea I'm interested in experimenting with. I'll take something like my childhood for example, and see how I could design a game around it to make the player feel how I did when I was a child. The final product of that was Aether. Coil (IGF finalist) was also approached this same way.

With games like Triachnid and Meat Boy I'm presented with a basic engine and asked to help design a game around the engine, but with games like Grey Matter and Blast Miner, first came the mechanic then the game was wrapped around that.

I guess with Gish and Cunt I started out with a basic visual and tried to design a game around that. I like to experiment with different approaches to game design, I get bored easily.

Presumably Gish 2 will be a commercial offering like the first game. Is it these games that pay the bills so you can create your more esoteric projects?

It's games like Gish 2 and No Quarter that will hopefully give me my big break, but I'm able to make a living off my more experimental flash work. Regardless of my income I'll always prototype my ideas in flash because it's easier to do and I can make ok money out of it. I can also gauge how people respond to an idea, like Meat Boy for instance. It's by far my more popular flash game of all time, and now Tommy Refenes and I are working on a console worthy full version we hope to bring to Wii Ware later this year.

What else is on your plate this year? Presumably This Is A Cry For Help didn't signal any plans to wrap things up?

Heh, yeah I'm actually going to be reprinting This Is A Cry For Help with new content in about 3 months. It will also feature a new cover for people who are into collecting stuff (that means my current stock is very, very limited - that version will never be reprinted again! BUY NOW.

Right now I'm working on 2 new flash games. One is a social experiment I'm doing with Florian Himsl (Triachnid, Coil) and one with Eli (Stranded) that's a kind of action puzzle game that I'm really loving working on right now. In late Feb I'll start on Onion with Tommy (Grey Matter and Goo) and another personal art project called Huck with Tyler Glaiel (Aether). The rest of the year will probably be spent on No Quarter and Meat Boy.

Cunt kinda made headlines last year - has its infamy been any kind of problem for you? And, in a nutshell, what's your defense of it?

No, not a problem at all. I think most people see it for what it really is, a tasteless joke showing being independent means you can make or do anything without being censored. If people want to use it as an example of misogony in games, then kudos to them for wanting to fight for something they feel passionately about. I know what my intentions were when I made it, and I'm glad I did it.

Big congratulations on Coil making the IGF finalist list. Excited? And what d'you reckon your chances are of becoming a two-time holder of the Innovation trophy?

Who knows.. I'm a bit torn by my feeling on the state of the IGF at this point. Their judging setup is very flawed and something they should really look into fixing. At this point it almost seems to be a role of the dice..

As it stands right now each game gets judged by around 2-6 people and not a combined score of all, or even a majority of judges. when only a few people are judging a game often times your running into very polarized opinions and personal taste of the people involved. If you have 3 people judging your turn-based strategy game, and 2 of those judges aren't fans of that genre.. then you're fucked. Judging something by its average score is only valid when its a consensus of all involved. Now I realize that having 200+ games and only 20 judges working on them is a big reach.. but it doesn’t mean keeping the way it's setup now is the best.. because it's obviously not.

That said, of course im happy with being a finalist, I just think Aether was a far superior game to coil and was basically doing the same thing. I think that most people would agree hands down. It also sucks to see a lot of very well-made games not make it over ones that are clearly not as good, but I think this is the fault of the way the games are judged. If 20+ people voted all these games into the finals I'd have no room to bitch, but that just isn't the case.

I wonder if saying this will lesson my chances of winning for innovation :)

What kind of trends are you expecting from indie development this year? Do you think the success of stuff like Audiosurf and World of Goo is a sign of things to come?

Yeah, I do. I don't see many stand-out games currently on the horizon, but I'm sure there will be some awesome ones coming out later this year - and who knows, maybe the next big indie game will be something I did.

There's much more from Edmund on his oft-updated, reliably uncensored development blog.

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