There has been a lot of talk lately about what constitutes plagiarism in game design. Is it stealing to make a game that looks just like another game, but plays differently? If you take all the basic elements of a game, but add a few surface-level changes, have you done enough to make the game your own? Where do you drawn the line between tribute and rip-off?
Edmund McMillen (co-creator of Super Meat Boy) seemed like a good person to help me figure all that out. His upcoming game, The Binding of Isaac, is clearly a tribute to the original Legend of Zelda, but only his most venomous detractors would ever dare to call the game a rip-off.
I recently spoke with Edmund about how he managed to draw from one of the most recognizable games ever made, without stealing from it (hint: killing people with your tears is part of his technique). In the process, I also got inside info on some of the game's other influences, its level of difficulty, and other secrets that The Binding of Isaac has in store for us when it releases on Steam next month.
I've heard The Binding of Isaac described as a cross between The Legend of Zelda and Robotron 2084, but with randomly generated dungeons. Can you clarify which traits from those games you were influenced by, and how you plan to make them your own?
The basic dungeon rooms of Zelda seemed to be an awesome structure to use in a roguelike, and the basic pickups in Zelda also worked really well as resources for the game's structure. Using bombs, keys, coins, and hearts to get into harder-to-reach areas fell into place nicely. The game controls like a shooter with dual controls; ASDW to move and arrows to shoot, much like Smash TV and Robotron. If Spelunky is Mario + roguelike, then Isaac would be Robotron + roguelike.
Both Robotron and The Legend of Zelda are pretty hard, and after Super Meat Boy, you've become known for making difficult (yet encouraging and rewarding) games. Are you going for a similar "hard, but not punishing" level of difficulty for The Binding of Isaac, and if so, how do you plan on pulling that off with this historically punishing genre?
Oh, it will be punishing. It's hard to get away from that [in] a game with permadeath, but anyone [who] plays roguelikes knows the fun is in the replay. You may play a game of Isaac where by level 3 your character has become a totally deformed monster who's haunted by his dead brothers, only to play again and find yourself floating in the air with psychic powers, using tarot cards to find secret rooms.
What kinds of enemies and bosses are in the game? Do they share any unified theme, or do you just put whatever you want in the game, or both?
Well, as you may have noticed from screenshots, the enemies and bosses tend to have a theme of "unwanted children" -- deformed, decaying, and dead versions of Isaac that dwell in the basement with minor Biblical themes. Right now, we have one boss per level, but my goal is to add more so there's a chance you won't see all the bosses [in] the first few play-throughs, to add more mystery to the game.
Before we go, is there anything super-secret-exclusive you can tell us about The Binding of Isaac, and is it true that you want to be a magician?
There is a mini-boss that kinda looks and acts like Bomberman... but he's totally not Bomberman.
|3:00 PM on 02.03.2013|
Binding of Isaac piano arrangement is sweet sorrow
When The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth was announced, I was puzzled by some of the folks were annoyed with the new graphics, deeming them "pointless." They seemed to think that because they liked the original game's visuals ...more
|12:00 PM on 09.28.2012|
The Binding of Isaac turns one, goes 75% off on Steam
Has it really been a year since The Binding of Isaac released? Time sure does fly when you're playing and replaying such a deceptively large game. To celebrate the one-year anniversary, Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl are d...more
|1:00 PM on 06.20.2012|
Binding of Isaac passes 700k sales, gets another update
According to game designer Edmund McMillen, The Binding of Isaac has sold more than 700,000 copies to date. This was made possible with help from the "Wrath of the Lamb" expansion, which sold 1/5th of the overall sales in "le...more
|1:30 PM on 05.28.2012|
Binding of Isaac 'Wrath of the Lamb' DLC now on Steam
I adore The Binding of Isaac. It's one of those games with a bite-sized length which lends itself perfectly to a mid-day work distraction and, as a result, I've played it nearly to the point of full completion. The one ...more
|12:30 PM on 05.07.2012|
Binding of Isaac expansion set to release on May 28
When someone tries to make videogame characters look hyper realistic, the end result usually leads to feelings of regret. "Why couldn't I just let that link be and move on?" The same effect can be found even for a game like ...more
|2:30 PM on 04.20.2012|
This Binding of Isaac expansion poster is such a tease
You know, it feels great to not spend every last moment of my free time playing The Binding of Isaac. This has been a nice break, but it won't last for much longer -- not with the upcoming expansion on the horizon. Edmund McM...more
|8:40 AM on 01.30.2012|
Binding of Isaac nears 450,000 sold mark
Hot off the announcement of a brand new retail version of the game, The Binding of Isaac is about to join the 450,000 sold club. There's no doubt that creator Edmund McMillen is thrilled, considering he didn't think that many...more
|5:00 PM on 01.28.2012|
The Binding of Isaac gets a grotesque retail edition
It was only a few days ago that online retailer, Merge Games, announced they would be selling a retail version of Terraria, a collectors edition no less. Now another of my favorite indie games from last year is getting a reta...more
|2:00 PM on 01.06.2012|
Binding of Isaac to expand with 'Wrath of the Lamb'
The Binding of Isaac is a deceptively long game if it's full completion you're after. I'm at 25 hours and I know that's nothing. Edmund McMillen recently started working on a new expansion, "Wrath of the Lamb," that will add ...more
|4:45 PM on 11.04.2011|
This weekend on TwitchTV: Also Binding of Isaac
Destructoid's Twitch.tv channel is committed to bringing lots of great gaming-related entertainment even during the weekends. From playing games on the stream, to discussing them in a talk show format, we bring a wi...more
|5:45 PM on 04.13.2012|
This Weekend on Twitch TV: Forever alone with Psychonauts
It's time for another super entertaining weekend on Destructoid's Twitch TV channel. It's going to be a bit unusual this time around. King Foom is taking it easy on Mash Tactics with some "A.D.D. Friday", to round out this we...more
|5:30 PM on 03.24.2012|
This weekend on Twitch TV: 321Go Effect
It's Friday again, which means it's time for me to break down for you the coming weekend of entertainment on Destructoid's Twitch.TV channel. I'm leaving Mash Tactics out of this one, as you can read all about the awesomeness...more
|5:45 PM on 03.16.2012|
This weekend on Twitch TV: Big ups to all of the lurkers
As another week of programming on Destructoid's Twitch TV channel comes to a close, and the excitement of the weekend approaches, I'm going to take this opportunity to do something slightly unorthodox. Spamfish and the Melted...more