Between 2010's Super Meat Boy and 2011's The Binding of Isaac, Edmund McMillen is one of the biggest indie game developers working today, with his games having earned a lot of praise over the years. McMillen's newest project is The Legend of Bum-bo, which is a prequel to The Binding of Isaac. The game is described as a puzzle-based, deckbuilding roguelike and follows Bumbo, a familiar introduced in 2015's The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth expansion.
CBR caught up with McMillen to talk about The Legend of Bum-bo, how his experience as an indie developer has changed over the years and Mew-Genics, his long delayed project with frequent collaborator Tyler Glaiel
CBR: Although it shares a lot of common themes and stylistic elements, The Legend of Bum-bo is fairly different in terms of gameplay from a lot of your biggest successes over the last decade. Why did you want to create a puzzle-based, deckbuilding roguelike game?
Edmund McMillen: I wanted to create a "casual" game that had tons of depth and felt like my own. It was a challenge, really. I'd never made a puzzle game like it before, and I wanted to push myself and see if I could crack the code so to speak, make something that was basically a casual design but without talking down to the player in any way, with a lot of luck-based bells and whistles.
What did you find challenging when creating The Legend of Bum-bo?
McMillen: Its design was very challenging. We actually worked on this game for nearly 4 years and 8+ months was spent on an exploration aspect of the game that we totally cut because it didn't feel right with the games core mechanics. This was by far the most difficult game I've worked on design-wise, but I got there eventually and am extremely happy with what we made.
There are a lot of different Bum-bos in the new game. Which of them is your favorite and why?
McMillen: I'm a fan of Bum-bo the Weird, because they allow you to chain kills and movement together and finish rooms in 1-2 turns. They are super risky as well, and I enjoy that.
You keep returning to The Binding of Isaac and that world. What keeps bringing you back?
McMillen: Probably that it's the most honest and personal project I've done. I feel like it represents me well and the themes and story are hard to put down for me. I could just keep going forever with it, but I should stop now so I can work on other things.
You've been making indie games for a very long time, and you're one of the most recognizable indie game creators out there. How do you feel things have changed for those making indie games now versus when you started out?
McMillen: Expectation, I guess. People expect a lot more out of me, and they should. I mean I expect more myself. But with those expectations come that tiny nervous voice inside that says, "if you take bigger risks, you may let too many people down." I want to take risks. As an artist if you play it safe and work in your comfort zone your growth is stifled and suffers, but if you take risks you risk bigger failure. I try not to listen to that voice, but sometimes it steers me away from more risky ideas, and I hate that. That voice wasn't ever around back when I just started.
In terms of future projects after The Legend of Bum-bo and Binding of Isaac: Repentance, you've said you're still working on Mew-Genics with Tyler Glaiel. Can you give us any update on that game?
McMillen: Yes, so Mew-Genics was stuck in limbo for a while until I left Team Meat about 4 years ago. Since then Tyler and I have prototyped a few new mechanical ideas for the game and experimented some with a slightly new art direction. Once the dust settles on Bum-bo, it will become my primary project. I loved working on Mew-Genics back when I had started it with Team Meat, but sadly I think I was the only one that did. It's very special to me, and I'm glad I can start working on it again.
Is there any game or style of game that you want to make but haven't had the chance to yet?
McMillen: Possibly a horror type game, something unsettling and less funny/cartoony would be great to make. I'd also like to attempt an RTS at some point, maybe another deck builder type game, not sure. We will see what moves me when I have the time.
The Legend of Bum-bo is available for purchase digitally now.