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Spotlight on Indie #2: Edmund McMillen

by: David Sanchez ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

We take a look at one of the most interesting minds in independent game design.

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    A Look at One of the Greatest Minds in Indie Games

    Edmund McMillen - Twisted, Deranged, Awesome Indie developers are constantly looking for ways to invent games that are engaging, rewarding to play, and just as impressive as mainstream releases. Studio Pixel provided one of the most enthralling games ever created in Cave Story. Brad Borne came up with a highly enjoyable series when he created Fancy Pants Adventures. Games such as World of Goo and Scribblenauts proved that small scale titles could succeed on consoles and handhelds.

    When we look at indie games and indie game development, it is impossible to let the name of Edmund McMillen go unmentioned. The mastermind behind countless freeware titles and co-CEO of Team Meat is notorious for his dark sense of humor, fascination with art in video games, and appreciation of the not-so-often-seen difficult game. Let’s take a look at Edmund McMillen’s past, his present, and his future, from his days as a comic book artist to his current video game design endeavors.

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    Artistic Background

    Something a third grade teacher once said would become the title of McMillen's compilation CD. 

    Prior to making video games, Edmund McMillen was making indie comics that revolved around themes of darkness, despair, and a twisted sense of humor. There wasn’t a publisher that would touch his works, but this didn’t deter the artist’s ambitions, so he continued to churn out comics despite the lack of support from the comic book industry.

    The unique art style that McMillen employed in his comics dates back all the way to his days in the classroom. As a child, McMillen constantly produced drawings that were deemed “a cry for help” by his third grade teacher. Thankfully, not everyone agreed with this close-minded instructor’s opinion, and McMillen was allowed to continue expressing himself by putting a pencil to paper and drawing freakish monsters.

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    Game Development

    McMillen went from drawing comics to designing games, a switch that has caused much joy in the hearts of gamers everywhere. 

    These days, McMillen works primarily on independent video game development. His great sense of artistry and attention to aesthetics has carried over to his digital creations, and games such as Meat Boy, Gish, Aether, and the incredible Time Fcuk have all managed to convey a stylish look that’s simple yet highly pleasing to the eyes.

    The designer has worked on various projects, most of which are sidescrollers and puzzle games. These titles often offer a nice level of challenge. Rather than being obnoxious, frustrating death fests, though, most of McMillen’s works are challenging to a fair degree. Play a game like Super Meat Boy or Time Fcuk, and you’re bound to find yourself dying frequently. The solution in beating most of McMillen’s games is being tenacious, patient, and appreciative of the challenge, which is never unfair.

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    Dark Sense of Humor

    McMillen's sense of humor definitely stands out as unique. 

    McMillen has become popular for his dark sense of humor and style. Most of his games not only challenge players’ ability but also their intellect. With recurring themes of despair, death, and insanity constantly making their rounds in most of his titles, the work of Edmund McMillen is chilling, thrilling, and psychologically a good way. While most of what you see in McMillen’s games is brooding and sometimes even terrifying, any gamer with an open mind could easily appreciate the direction that these works take.

    And while the themes used in McMillen’s games are often used to express art and the freedom of being an independent game developer, a few games have been met with scrutiny and criticism. A game of his titled after a slang term for the female anatomy instantly comes to mind as it was one of McMillen’s most targeted games when it was released. An uproar of female gamers and writers expressed their dissatisfaction with the game, going so far as to claim that it proved that McMillen was a misogynist and had a psychological fear of women. In reality, The C Word (as it is alternatively titled) was proof of neither of these accusations. If the game proved anything, it’s that McMillen can express himself in any manner he darn well pleases and that independent game development leaves the door wide open for ideas that are artistic, controversial, and expressive.

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    Moving Forward

    What will the mind of Edmund McMillen come up with next? 

    Edmund McMillen has provided some of the most memorable gaming experiences, not just in the indie scene, but in the entire video game industry. By being fearless and allowing his artistry to flow through each of his creations, this designer has gone from small scale artist to small scale artist with a huge fan base. Browse around the internet and this site and you will find countless reviews praising the designer’s work. Even look at our review for Time Fcuk by yours truly where I describe the game as “one of the most psychologically engaging experiences in recent video game history” before planting a nice five star rating on it, and you will see just how much of an impact McMillen has had on the industry's fan base.

    He may not be making drawings of deranged creatures and terrifying his third grade teacher anymore. He may not even be devoted to drawing comics like he once was. But at the end of the day, Edmund McMillen is still an artist. He is an artist in a completely different field, but an artist nonetheless. He is an artist who explores the depravity of the mind while armed with a water gun. In other words, he provides a lighthearted look at the darkness of society. It’s hard to tell what McMillen has up his sleeve, but whatever it is, it’s sure to be something to look forward to.