11.15.12

A conversation with the guy who made Super Meat Boy Galaxy

Through the Skype video chat window, I can see a poster on Aubrey Hesselgren's wall. It says, "And if you don’t like games you can get the fuck out of my house." It's probably safe to assume he likes what he does.

Hesselgren got the internet talking yesterday when he released a teaser for a mashup of Super Meat Boy and Super Mario Galaxy.

He had done some work on indie games (Goo) and on triple A titles; his work on Brink got him a little bit of notoriety. Nothing compares, however, to the response to his twitter post that showed off the Super Meat Boy Galaxy prototype.

“I am a bit overwhelmed with everything thats happened to me.”

SMBG was actually made over a year ago. Hesselgren didn’t intend to release it to the public; it was a birthday gift for Tommy Refenes, one of the guys who made Super Meat Boy.

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“I know Tommy from way back," he says. "I worked with Tommy in Amsterdam at a place called Streamlined Studios. That was horrible. Textbook worst games job."

Working with Refenes, you might end up holding yourself to a higher standard than most developers. 

"We were sharing a flat, and we went to work on a game called Goo. But then I had a nervous breakdown and had to stop working on that. There was this horrible nervous tension that I wasn't pulling my weight and he was doing all the work. He's a machine basically, he's the terminator. Working with Tommy I realized I wasn't ready to do anything on my own."

Was it the programming environment? The crunch?

“It's only kind of clear now, but I was coming to terms with the fact that I did not have the ability to do this dream job, and I was just kidding myself for a long time. ‘Fuck I've lived a lie all this time!’ It's called imposter syndrome? Its fucking true."

Working with Refenes, you might end up holding yourself to a higher standard than most developers. 

“[Tommy’s] kinesthetics are perfect. He puts the controls first and everything else falls into place. Goo was about controlling a liquid and you are doing it in a really complicated way and I wasn't able to do it. Tommy came in and took it over after I left and made it his own thing, this completely controllable slippery organic thing that you felt one with."

This is what makes Hesselgren's homage to the original Super Meat Boy so great: he captures Refenes tight controls. It doesn't just look like it, it plays like it. It has the jumping acceleration, the fast paced platforming and the wall hugging. Whereas a game like Super Mario 64 is a 3D game that preserves its predecessors environment more than play style, SMBG looks and acts very much like Super Meat Boy, only with an added dimension. See for yourself:

"Tommy's mom sent me a Facebook message that Tommy was having a surprise birthday party. I felt guilty about abandoning him on that project and wanted to put the bad times behind us. I tried to get some people to help with [the project], but they weren't interested so I ended up learning the basics. Very good experience."

He sent it off in time for the surprise party. Last month, they both happened to be in San Francisco and they got together.

"I talked to Tommy, kind of made up, and got to this point where I could show [SMBG]."

Hesselgren posted the video merely to have it for his YouTube portfolio. The Reddit reaction was beyond his imagiantion, but it's not unwelcome. 

“Its cool. I'm quite glad about how I've been able to brush off the negative stuff. In this case its something I knew I didn't want to pursue.”

Unfortunately he has no plans of making a spinoff or working with Refenes on a full 3D version.

"It's got the foothold of being Meat Boy which was this big success, its got 'media legs' or whatever. I'm not confused about it at all, it blew up for that reason. If it had been a game where you jump around on a sphere, nobody would have given a shit."

Hesselgren has a full-time job, but on his spare time he is working on another game.

"It’s about mouse manipulation above everything else....It's just about how you use the mouse in terms of, swipes, loops, that kind of thing to manipulate a craft and feel like you're really in control of that craft. So a real focus on physics, not real physics, but physics that feels good."

"I am thinking about doing a Kickstarter...but I want to get a working demo going first. I don't wanna just say, 'here is a bit of concept art, trust me guys.'"

With all the buzz, now seems like the perfect time to get one going, but with his other job, he says it will take a while to get it off the ground.

"I'm split. Its cheating because I'm basically riding on Tommy's coattails, but at the same time I really want to do this eventually. I don't know, you've got to use what you've got."