From the Humble beginnings of Webcomics and flash portals to having games released on every major gaming platform, the journey of Edmund McMillen truly is an astonishing one, not just for his own achievements but also for the impact he and those he has inspired have had on the games industry.
Edmund McMillen is best known as the developer behind games such as Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac, but he hasn’t always been the indie cult hero he is today. Edmund, born March 1980 in Santa Cruz, started his development life as what I would call a “deeply disturbed artist”. Edmund started his career developing flash games for Tom Fulp’s website ‘Newgrounds.com’, with all of his earlier titles having extremely dark themes, with some even being restricted to the mature section of the website. Just to clarify, that I am not being ‘soft’ when I say this, at least 90% of the games released in his first year of development (2001) featured dead children, with his earliest hit series being ‘Dead baby dress-up’. The dead baby in question was actually already a developed character, with Edmunds Newgrounds account actually being named ‘Bluebaby’ in honor of the character. Blue baby (also featuring in Binding of Isaac) was the main character of Edmund’s webcomic, ‘This is a Cry for Help’. The website that used to host this comic, under the same name, has since been taken down, likely due to both the amount of rather vulgar content on the site, but also to allow Edmund to then sell his comics as a collection, in homage to his earlier days (with the collection also being called “This is a Cry for Help”).
Edmund carried on very much so in the same vein, creating rather dark, and some frankly disturbing content (The Lonely Hermit and The Boy Who Questioned God both being good examples of this) up until 2004 when he released his first non-flash-portal release, Gish. Not only was Gish different in terms of its platform, it was also a completely new style for Edmund, with gameplay being the main focus area rather than the stories or morals he would often try to work into his earlier projects, and although this game didn’t blow-up, retrospectively this was the beginning of Edmund McMillen as a serious developer.
Between 2004-2008 Edmund went somewhat quiet, releasing several smaller games with his previous grotesque stylings, with Triachnid being the only game really carrying the torch from Gish as Edmund’s more professional work. The following years were very different, however. In 2008, Edmund released several games which I would call ‘indie classics’, or at very least cult classics. The first being ‘Coil’, an artistic game in which you are given no instructions, as somewhat of a metaphor for life. Then was ‘Aether’, a game composed of drawings Edmund had drawn throughout his childhood, and on a whole is representative of his childhood imagination. The final, and by far the most important release, was ‘Meat Boy’. Although Meat Boy was (very strangely) one of Edmund’s less successful flash projects, it led to what is one of the most renown platformers of the modern era, ‘Super Meat Boy’. Selling the game under his newly founded studio Team Meat (consisting of himself and Tommy Refenes) the game was among the first big indie games to hit the Xbox Store, and has since being held as the poster boy for what an indie game can be, with Meat boy also featuring in several other indie games, such as the Bit Trip trilogy, Ori and the Blind Forest and even in a game funded by PETA called ‘Super Tofu boy’. Between Meat Boy and Super Meat Boy Edmund carried on producing flash games, with some of his better games releasing over the course of 2009, such as Spewer, Timefcuk, and AVGM, and although these are some of his best games, with the nature of Flash games he never saw any ‘real’ success from them up until 2012, when he re-released these games as ‘The Basement Collection”, along with Coil, Triachnid, Gish and Meat Boy and the original Binding of Isaac, a game made 1 year prior (2011).
In recent years a lot of Edmund’s time has been spent developing DLC for the Binding of Isaac, firstly with more traditional DLC, The Wrath of Lamb, but eventually pairing up with Nicolas to completely remake the game, into Binding of Isaac Rebirth and eventually Afterbirth and Afterbirth+. Edmund has somewhat had people attacking him for devoting so much time to the same game, saying he’s simply cashing in, however I feel Afterbirth+ is the perfect way to tie off the series, in that it allows you to create your own levels and floors, as well as custom items and upgrades, meaning that he no longer needs to work on the game because the community does it for him, and I like to think it’s more of a passing of the torch rather than just another DLC.
In terms of Edmund’s contribution to the industry, it could be argued that he isn’t the poster child, with Phil Fish’s FEZ, as well as Jonathan Blow’s Braid, often being more well-received than anything Edmund has made. However, I believe it is in part his journey that is so inspiring to see, and even with things like Isaac, how he can work these grotesque and controversial ideas into games, and still, make it one of the most streamed indie games of all-time. More so than being a poster child for indie developers he is a poster child for those with unique minds, those who are often told their work is crude or incoherent, much as he was for many years, yet across all platforms, Super Meat Boy sold well over 2 million copies.
With two brand new games in the work (Ouroboros and The Legend of Bum-bo) there is plenty to look forward to from Edmund McMillen, especially if Team Meat were to pick Mew-Genics (a cat breeding simulator/tycoon) back up, and I think Edmund will continue to make new content and continue to improve, and even if he is to leave the games industry for good, we will always have his Twitter polls.