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Interview: Edmund McMillen (Gish)

AUGUST 28, 2008

Another interview with Edmund McMillen of Cryptic Sea, co-creator of Gish, Triachnid, Coil and numerous other indie, freeware and Flash releases. Part one of this interview can be found here.

Hi Edmund, it's been two months since we last spoke. How's Gish 2 coming along?

Gish 2 is moving along okay. Alex and I are both working on our own games as well as a new one together, so we take breaks from the big project to relax a bit. I think we both have found that doing smaller games on the side of big projects help keep the mojo flowing, and stops you from getting bored with the big one. Gish 2 is still due to come out next year, and we should have something cool to show the public in a few months.

Can you tell us more about the other projects you and Alex are both working on?

Alex is working on a new bridge builder game and it's looking and playing really nice. He's also working on an updated Ram Jets. He will unveil its new name and new gameplay in a few months so I don't want to spoil his suprise here. Oh, and we are going to start reworking an older game Alex made back in the day.

How about information on some of the smaller games?

I just finished up the C word and have started work on another small flash project that I'm just calling Space Boy for now, and another project with Florian (Himsl) that's called "I'll See You in Hell".

I am also working on a few small projects with Tommy (Refenes, of Goo!) and my own personal CD project is also in the works.

What's the story with this personal CD project of yours?

The CD is going to be a collection of the past 10 years of my artistic independence. It's a giant lump of all the work I've done since I was 17, from comics to games to illustrations and short stories. The CD will also feature a lot of extras and unfinished games, as well as a hidden version of Gish from 2004 (the first IGF build).

When are you planning to release the CD? Will there be a digital version for download as well?

It will come out probably October, and be sold off of The CD will also be called This is a Cry for Help. It will sell for about ten bucks and be CD only. I'll probably only charge for shipping outside the US.. I'm not sure about this yet.

Can you provide specifics about the content of the CD?

I have 15 comics on there so far. They are all from 24 to 48 pages long each, and it's like 400+ pages of that stuff. There will also be text commentary on all the games and comics with weird facts and info, as well as secrets that haven't been found or talked about yet. The CD will also feature animations, movies, dressups, jokes, short stories, and most of the content that was on my old site All my Flash games are in .exe form (sorry Mac users) so they will run twice as fast.

How many games will be included on the CD in total?

17 released games. I haven't included the unreleased ones yet. Guppy will be in there, along with Gish betas, Gish the lost levels and the original version of Blast Miner that isn't available anymore.

Any commercial releases inside the CD? Or do we need to buy Gish to play the lost levels then?

No, you only get demos for Gish and Blast Miner. The lost levels are a stand alone setup, and it has its own install.

Are you designing or creating any navigation menus for the contents of the CD?

You will have to browse one folder at a time. I'm not doing anything special. It is just an archive, but it's organized well. When the time comes it would be nice to get the support of this community. It's my life from the past ten years. It's an exercise in independence, and I think it's something everyone can respect even if they don't enjoy the content.

What was the last good indie game you've played?

Well, Braid.. but that's what everyone says.

Right. Some people might know not about this, but you were involved in the early production of Braid. How did that come about?

After judging Braid in the IGF I knew I had to be part of it somehow. I heard that Jon was looking for an artist so I got in contact with him as soon as I could. He had bits and pieces of art from other artists, but he hadn't decided on what he wanted as far as character designs go. So I went to work sketching up tons of characters for him. I ended up designing all the characters in the game, although a few were re-edited when they went through the final makeover. I also did all the animation.

When David came on and started doing the background art, Jon wanted to make the characters look more like the background. It wasn't something I felt I could do well. David ended up painting over the sprites to fit the final style.

It was a smart decision. The game looks and plays awesome. I'm happy to have played a part in it, even if it was just basic character design and animation.

How was collaborating with Jon like?

It was interesting. Jon is a complex guy. It seemed like he had a really clear vision of what he wanted, but couldn't really explain it. So the process was trial and error and a lot of mind reading and praying. It was a challenge but it was also very fun to do, though my design sheets look like the same guy drawn a thousand ways with only slight edits. I'd just widdle down the features till he was happy with them.

I have a page where I just change the bad guy's nose size like twenty times. That's what I mean when I say he has something really specific in mind, but can't explain what it is.. the bunny design was easy though, I think it was the only design I got right the first time.

Can you tell us more about your next release?

The next game will probably be Space Boy, but that's just a temporary title. It's another small project like the C word that I'm doing with a programmer I haven't worked with before, Tyler Glaiel. He's pretty well known in the Flash scene, and so far he's doing a great job.

Basically the game is another experiment like Coil, but it's light hearted. It's about a boy who kinda lives in a fantasy world to escape from the real world. You play out the process of his escape and the events that happen after.

How long will Space Boy take to develop?

I'd give it a month, but it might be done quicker. The C word took nine days, so you never know. It will be about as long as Coil, with a little more for replay. I think I'm going to pull a Braid and add a few hidden stars here and there, we will see how it goes.

I'm really liking the new art style I'm using in it, and the control and overall feel is pretty nice as well.

How about the next release from Cryptic Sea?

In the next few weeks Alex and I will be playing around with an old game of his. I can't say which one though. We are going to try and reinvent it and explore what can be done with it now, after five years of growth on both our parts. Could be awesome, we will see how it goes.

Like I said before I think it's very important when working on big projects to have little ones you can jump to when things get a little boring, to keep the inspiration and mojo flowing. Another reason why I'm a fan of the TIGSource contests.

Oh by the way, Alex will be entering a game in the latest TIGSource contest, he should post it this week. It's sweet.

Tommy (Refenes) hasn't said anything about the collaborative project the both of you are working on - is it because of a NDA?

No, I think it's because he questions its release. We are still working on Grey Matter, but he hasn't had time to put in more work because of the Intel contest he got in with Goo. The game is still on the table, as well as an iPhone application/game we are playing with. We will see what happens though.

Any other upcoming projects we should know about?

I'm trying to keep myself as busy as possible. I'm working on another small game with Florian called I'll See You in Hell, and we are still working on Triachnid 2.

How about the mobile version of Gish?

I wish I had updates on the mobile version of Gish but I haven't heard anything in months. But Blast Miner is out in stores now. All over the US and Canada, soon to hit the rest of the world.

What was the inspiration behind the C word?

Florian said he wanted to make a quick game. Something we could do in a week, something simple. But he also said he wished that I would do something like the stuff I did back in the day, something that pushes the limits of taste I guess. Something taboo.

When I designed the theme for the C word I just kinda opened that part of my brain and let whatever was there to come out. I didn't censor or overthink what came out, I just drew it. I tend to write and design around things I find interesting, and stuff I find interesting tends to be weird, stuff that most people don't talk about.

I find genitals interesting. I think it's funny and also strange that we all have them, yet seeing them is somehow weird.. it was fun to play around with. And it's what came out when I sat down, so I did it. That's it. No other deep meaningful reason, and I wasn't just trying to be crude or offensive. If I wanted to shock and offend I'm sure I could have come up with something much worse. It's just what it is.

Were you happy with the response for the game?

I was honestly blown away by it. I really thought people would just write it off or get mad. Somehow it turned into something "punk", and was accepted by the "scene". Too bad the gameplay was lacking. If I knew it was going to get such a positive response I would have designed something more innovative and new for the gameplay. Oh well, it was a game in a week.

Is there something you can reveal about the C word that most people don't know about?

Even though the C word just looks like some shock game about genitalia, it actually represents a significant part of my life.

What have you been playing lately?

I've been playing Braid, just like everyone else. Or I should say watching Alex play Braid. Also been playing Starcraft with Alex and our intern, and a little Rock Band here and there. I've also been popping in and playing the games posted on the new TIGSource contest. I play whatever goes up. Alex's game is good, I've got to get him to post it.

Anything else you've played?

Castle Crashers and World of Goo, when it comes out. I've played all their early versions, so I'm excited to see the final game.

Is Cryptic Sea participating in the IGF this year?

I think so, yeah. I'll be entering Coil and probably the Space Boy game.

Who would you like to see win the IGF this year?

Hmmmm. I'd like to win something, so I'd like to see myself win. I'd like to see myself win the Excellence in Visual Art category for a change! I don't really know about any big indie games in development right now. I know Jon's working on something new, but I don't know if it will be far enough along for IGF. I know a bit.. but I could just be saying that to look cool.

Isn't Jonathan (Blow) a judge this year?

Ah boo. I'll tell you what I'd like to see in IGF. I'd like to see a new Metanet game. They have sent me a few old builds (of Robotology). Another game I wish I could be a part of. I've been wanting to do a game with them for a while. Actually started one called Office Yeti once, back in the day. I have a screen shot of that... the player is a mockup, but the rest was game art.

I'd like to see Ram Jets in the finals, and I'd like to see another Behemoth game. I know Dan's working on something secret, so maybe it will happen.

What are your opinions about the piracy issue, and whether it has an effect on indie games?

Personally I think piracy helps good games, indie or not. I think the people that pirate games will do it anyway and wouldn't buy the game, so I don't see it as a loss but as exposure. If someone likes your game, they will tell others about it. Alex and I both think that the main reason why Gish was so popular was because so many people stole it. So we take a loss, it's expected.

I think piracy only hurts games that are already bad. I don't pirate games, but I don't bash people who do. To each his own.

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UBM TechWeb (producer of Game Developer magazine,, and the Game Developers Conference) established the Independent Games Festival in 1998 to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize the best independent game developers.

The competition, now in its 13th year, awarded a total of nearly $50,000 in prizes to deserving indie creators in Main Competition and Student Competition categories at the IGF Awards Ceremony, held in March 2010 at the Moscone Center, San Francisco, CA, as one of the highlights of the Game Developers Conference.

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Featuring lectures, postmortems and roundtables from some of the most notable independent game creators around, the Independent Games Summit is a yearly event, with iterations thus far taking place in March 2007, February 2008, March 2009 and March 2010 at Game Developers Conference.

UBM TechWeb (which curates the IGF and runs GDC) plans to continue and grow the Independent Games Summit in subsequent years. [More information...]