The TYF Team visited Team Meat on the Saturday of PAX to interview Tommy Refenes, the CEO, programmer and designer for Super Meat Boy Forever, which is, in fact, a sequel to Super Meat Boy.
Sam Carpenter asks Tommy questions about design fundamentals, the landscape of challenging games, and why he made the changes he did to the beloved, crushingly brutal indie title.
Super Meat Boy Forever is a proper upgrade from the original with new, fleshed out (no pun intended) art direction, level design and game play. Instead of a single stage, the Meat Boy is now in auto-runner territory, meaning he is going to automatically move toward the right or left side of the screen, so it is up to you to make him, not only jump properly, but punch kick and dive as well, as the stage quickly moves along, creating something that’s much more rich and complex than a simple mobile style auto run game. Simply adding these new mechanics quickly show players the depth of challenge the new game play can present, and as each level is a much longer, more layered sequence like a Sonic level, check points are implemented to encourage players to keep at the puzzles that stump them. This, in part, breaks each smaller segment of these new longer levels, into more complex and varied version of classic Super Meat Boy challenges, and the game play won’t turn stale as they’re randomly generated a-la a rogue-like game.
Video interview with Tommy can be found here, and in written version below!
Sam Carpenter, TYF: So, this is Super Meat Boy Forever.
Tommy Refenes, designer, programmer and CEO of Team Meat: Correct.
Sam C: This is the sequel to Super Meat Boy?
Sam C: What’s different about Super Meat Boy Forever that wasn’t in Super Meat Boy?
Tommy: All new art, all new levels, all new everything. The control scheme is different, he’s always running. It’s only a two button game, and the levels are randomly generated in a way. If you imagine a level as being generated from a hundred smaller levels, each of those levels has like a hundred smaller levels it generates from. A lot different story wise, you’re trying to rescue your daughter Nuggets instead of Bandage Girl. You can play as Bandage Girl in this one. It’s still a ridiculously hard game, and the two buttons actually make so we can make it even harder; but it still…it feels good. It still feels like Meat Boy.
Sam C: Most game sequels are called (insert game) 2, why did you choose Super Meat Boy Forever as opposed to Super Meat Boy 2?
Tommy: For that exact reason. I didn’t want to call it Super Meat Boy 2 because I thought I could do something better with it and it plays into the whole randomly generated thing. You can play it forever!
Sam C: But it’s not an infinite runner?
Tommy: No, it is not an infinite runner. Because it’s set worlds that are designed with a start to finish.
Sam C: So what inspired the original Meat Boy? It’s a very difficult game, definitely a bit of a weird aesthetic and something that’s kind of out there.
Tommy: It’s like cute, and gross?
Sam C: Yeah.
Tommy: Cause that’s just in the…you know, when we did the first game, that was just kind of the aesthetic that the original artist Edmond [McMillen], that’s just kind of his thing; and, y’know, we just carry it through to the second game. It just sort of…just make something different, weird, and…difficult. That’s kind of the thinking.
Sam C: We’re at a very big convention, there’s probably thousands of games here right now, what do you want people to come away with at this booth?
Tommy: I want people to come away…because a lot of people will think that because we’ve made a two button game, we’ve made an easy or not a great game. They’ll think we’ve made a mobile game. And that’s not what we’ve made. So I want them to come away saying-and this actually happens all the time-“It’s different, but it still feels like Meat Boy.” And it’s been successful in that way because literally I’ve heard people, just in passing, say that exact phase, so I’m very happy about that.
Sam C: So as you’ve said, it’s moved to a two button system. Why did you make the choice to make it different from the original one? How is that impacting how you’re making it?
Tommy: I wanted to do something different, again. Cause that’s just sort of what I like. In my career, I don’t like doing the same thing over and over. If I wanted to make Meat Boy 2 just to make money and just to turn something around quick, I would have just made Meat Boy 2 with 600 levels. I would have just made more of the same. And for me, that doesn’t interest me. I don’t…I need challenges. And with this game, I wanted to make a randomly generated platformer and I wanted to make something that was easy to play. It changes how we have to make levels, because we have to compensate for the fact that you can’t just turn around on the spot but that plays into how exactly the first game was made; because with the first game, I created the controls and we didn’t make any levels for about three months. It took me three months to get the controls perfect. And this game was similar, I got the controls perfect before we made a single level. And once the controls were perfect, you can make levels, you can make stuff that is really complementary to each other, very symbiotic. So yeah, there’s a lot of design considerations for make a level for this game that we wouldn’t have had in the original Meat Boy. It’s just a new challenge, and it’s fun to try new stuff. When we made the first Super Meat Boy, everyone was making pretty easy games. You had Mario, what was it, New Super Mario Bros that had the Super Guide, there wasn’t a lot of challenge in games. Then we bring this out, now everyone makes challenging games. So, it’s fun to do new stuff.
Sam C: Talking about the development process, what was it like making the first Meat Boy [versus] this one?
Tommy: Well, first Meat Boy was very much just me and Edmond, just two people, and it was actually a lot of fun. Until the very very end, where you have to go through console certification and stuff; where if somebody saves their game to a USB card and then pulls the USB card out, you have to put up a notice; which is dumb to me because they consciously made a decision. But development was a lot of fun, and we got through it, everything went well. This one is very similar. It just feels good to work on it. It’s different, because it’s not a struggle for money or anything anymore,
Sam C: Obviously the first Meat Boy was very successful, did you see that coming? What was it like being that successful, and will that influence this game?
Tommy: I didn’t see…I knew the game would do well, because I knew the game was good. I didn’t know how well. I figured it would do well enough to probably make the next game, and pay off some bills. I didn’t think it would do, you know, four million in sales. (Laughs) I didn’t think it would do anything like that. For this one, I honestly don’t know. I know this is a good game, I think it will do well, but the market has also changed at this point. So I have no idea if it’ll do better or worse, I think it’ll do enough to pay some bills. I have the exact same expectations that I did with the first Meat Boy. It’ll be worth my time to do this, for sure. And if it does better than that, then hooray! (Laughs)
Sam C: As you said, when Meat Boy came out, there weren’t a lot of “hard” games out there, but Super Meat Boy, and from what I can see of the second one, they are brutal games.
Sam C: Why did you decide to make them as hard as you did?
Tommy: Well, it’s kind of a throw back to the game I grew up with. I grew up in the NES days, where you had stuff like Mega Man, those kind of difficult games that are a part of my “video game pedigree” in a way, that’s what I see a video game as: something that’s challenging. Although I do enjoy storied games like Metal Gear and stuff like that, but as far as my scope and what I’m able to make, this is what I can make. This is what I can do. It’s like, why does an artist paint squirrels? Cause he likes squirrels, y’know? (Laughs)
Sam C: Like you said before, since Meat Boy came out, many games have gotten a lot harder. Do you think that was because of Meat Boy?
Tommy: I…think so. It’s weird hubris to say yeah, it totally was, but I think; and I know from other developers-they’ve come up to me and said “You’ve inspired me to do this, we’re making a super hard platformer that’s inspired by Meat Boy,” I’ve hear that several times, especially at conventions like this. I hear it all the time. I think, maybe, the success of it made people realize: “Oh there still is a market for something challenging.” That still exists. You don’t have to make sure that your $100 million cutscene at the end of the game is seen by everybody. You don’t have to do that. You can make something, and people will play through it. There’s tons of people that have 106% on Super Meat Boy. There’s tons of people here at PAX that have beaten every level. It takes them a while, but they do it. People enjoy a challenge, I think.
Sam C: How good are you at it?
Tommy: Oh, I’ve 106% [completed] it several times. I enjoy it.
Sam C: Do you like a lot of hard games?
Tommy: I actually don’t play too many games. I don’t have a ton of time to do stuff, so I try to make sure that the games I play are gonna be ones that are worth my time. And unfortunately, that tends to be your Marios and your Zeldas and stuff like that. So I do enjoy a challenge, I really liked [The Legend of Zelda] Breath of the Wild; how brutal it was. I really really liked that about it. So I guess you could say I enjoy hard games, I just don’t actively seek them out, probably not like I should. But I can’t pull time out of air.