Thursday, November 10, 2011

Episode 11: The Binding of Isaac

Welcome to this week's episode of Roguelike Radio. Episode 11 features the Binding of Isaac, a roguelike shooter inspired by in part by the Biblical story of the same name. Talking this week are Ido Yehieli, Oddmund Strømme and Andrew Doull and we are joined by the designer and artist of the Binding of Isaac, Edmund McMillen. This week's episode is a little longer than usual because we both discuss the game and interview Edmund within the single show - there's also some swearing, if you are concerned about that sort of thing.

The mp3 of the podcast can be downloaded here, played in the embedded player below, or you can follow us on iTunes.

Some of the topics covered:
- The honour code of independent developers
- The dark theme of the game and the inspiration behind it
- Whether the Binding of Isaac is a roguelike-like
For further reading about the Binding of Isaac:
- Edmund McMillen on gameplay and progression in the Binding on Isaac
- The blog post on Isaac's theme that Andrew mentions at the start of the episode

Next week we'll be talking about roguelike influences in other games and what we'd like to see other games learn from roguelikes.


  1. Great episode guys, Edmund brought a lot to the table, making the whole interview/discussion extremely interesting. I love his work.

    I've found the episodes about newer games and interviews much more interesting than the ones focused on in-depth analysis of major RLs. But that has to be mainly me I assume.

    Other than that, keep up the good work guys, the show's amazing ;)

  2. Wow. Absolutely brilliant interview. Edmund is a very gifted designer. He really knows a lot about themes and how they can convey emotions to the player. I think every game designer has a lot to learn in this area, as it is not nearly as obvious or intuitive as mechanics.

    I'd really love to see if you guys could convince Edmund to be a co-host on some other episodes. I think his experience would bring yet another great angle to the discussion.

  3. Totally have to agree with Chong Li on all accounts. Edmund would really be a great addition to the show's crew.

    Also, Bloodsport happens to be a fav movie of mine, so big props to you man ;)

  4. Nothing like a carpet F-bombing to classy up the joint. You won't catch a Brit bringing on the heat like that ;)

  5. Just listening to this now and feel the need to throw in a bit of a clarification: we guys at Gaslamp Games have indeed beaten Dungeons of Dredmor. The question we answered in the interview was "do you play the game" and I think we said something to the extent of "not really".

    To clarify that statement for this present context: we don't beat the entire game anew on each patch (and therefore don't play it regularly like a normal player would play the game - we play to test things, and occasionally to play the associated drinking game).

    Ahem. That out of the way, I'll get back to the fascinating podcast. Carry on!

  6. Congrats on the RPS article guys:

    Also this was your best interview yet, but I may be biased because I love Edmund interviews.

  7. Thanks for the clarification - my apologies for the mistaken assumption. Of course, there's nothing like being wrong on the Internet to get comments :)

  8. Well - I only managed 16 mins before giving up on this cast. To me this is an utterly misogynistic game. The biblical story of Isaac involved his father, Abraham, not the mother. I've only seen a Let's Play and the intro video (which was enough to put me off) but to me it reads as "wahh mum took my games away".

    You don't get to say "I'm not a misogynist". That's not how it works Edmund. You don't get to be the critic of your own game and judge what it is or isn't. Make what game you want but you don't get to label yourself, and tell other people what to think of it, especially (uncritically, and not mentioned) on a cast of all (presumably) men, and specifically recasting the story to be a mother not a father. Just because a criticism is made often doesn't mean it's not true!

    On a journalistic level it's also pretty pathetic in my view to give the interviewee a free pass without even letting them speak for themself too. You announced that the game wasn't misogynistic and allowed them to agree, you didn't even start a real discussion about it.

    Really, really unimpressed. I'm an RPS reader and this will be my first and last cast I attempt to listen to.

  9. You judge a game based on a Youtube clip, and you judge a podcast based on 16 minutes of listening? We'll take your criticism on board but I strongly suggest you give things more of a chance before labelling them so negatively. Also it should be clear that thematically The Binding of Isaac certainly isn't everyone's cup of tea, and this is pointed out in the episode.

  10. I listened to the section on misogyny start and end with nothing interesting asked or said. And yes, I'm not purchasing a game that seems based on basically misogynist viewpoints - indeed the reason I watched the LP was to be proved wrong (I wasn't).

    You're not taking my critique on board if you're not responding to it. And yes, misogynist things aren't my "cup of tea", this is the point of my post...

  11. By taking your critique on board I mean your point about us not challenging the interviewee enough - this is something to consider in future, especially on such a contentious point that deserves some explaining.

    I'm not sure I'd class the game as misogynist or not myself, as I see it as a reflection of pop culture and society. The representations in the game are all tropes we see in other media. I can understand how it can be seen under another light though. If you're seriously interested I suggest listening to the episode a bit more - the developer expands quite a bit on his influences and where the themes came from.

  12. On the "you didn't see enough of it thing". Apart from anything else, yes, I judge things based on those criteria. I judge movies based on movie trailers. I judge TV shows based on trailers or watching half an episode. I just books based on reviews of writers I like... doesn't everyone? My love for indie games is the only reason I've given this 30 mins of watching and read a podcast to be proved wrong of my initial presumptions. Games like Spelunky, Machniarium and Super Meat Boy are basically all boy saves girl on some level. It's a *thing* that indie games really don't challenge on a general level, and above all it's lazy, sterotypical and offputting to many folk. Indie games don't get a free pass on issues like this just because they're indie, sorry. Or at least not for me.

    I am interested, but feel like I've given this all the energy I can and really struggle to imagine that listening/viewing any more of this game would make me change my mind :) Thankyou for your thoughtful repsonses though!

  13. Art will always be a reflection of the artist, and in the case of indie games that means geeky guys for the most part. And it means the heroes tend to be white males on a power trip. Whilst on the one hand this should be challenged more, what I really think would help is more female developers to really expand the range of influences the genre can draw from. Perhaps this is something that should be championed more...?

  14. I've played the game, and I was the guy asking the misogynist question, so let me elaborate. The game doesn't feel misogynistic because there isn't any violence directed to females other than Mom (other than some equal opportunity dead siblings), there's playable female characters (how many other games can you say that about?), the body horror isn't specific to the female form, almost all the bosses are genderless - except Mom, there's nothing specifically indicating a hatred of females beyond the hatred of females specific to horror and Christian religion in general. In fact, compared to plenty of horror imagery and religious rhetoric, Edmund treads very lightly here.

    Now I asked the question in the context of a) I couldn't see any misogyny in the game beyond the choice of the main enemy, Mom and b) it is a frequent criticism of his games. I suspected, and outlined in the linked blog post Edmund was being lazy in his choice of antagonist, but I chose to use the word cliche here (it pays not to insult your guests outright). I think you're entirely right about getting angry about the fact he is lazy, but you shouldn't get angry beyond the fact that game makers in general make lazy choices and the game does not support evidence of Edmund having a negative view of women beyond that.

    Now whether you put much faith in his admission that he made the game for his wife to play, the fact he is estranged from his father and so could not relate to the father/child relationship of the original story, the fact he made the game in 3 months so made easier choices, the fact that he was working in the wider cultural framework which emphasizes mums who harm their children, even though overwhelmingly it is fathers who do, or any other reason you could come up with, a podcast about a roguelike is not the bully pulpit to preach this view from, certainly not when the game developer has been helpful enough to attend. The fact that he was comfortable enough to discuss these alternatives and is aware of people's opinions about his work, is I think testament to his thoughtfulness as a designer. I wouldn't however label him an especially brave one.

  15. To clarify: this view = that he is and/or his games are misogynistic

  16. Just for your edification, I'll enumerate the total content which could possibly be considered misogynistic:

    The opening video.
    The end boss(spoiler: es)
    The final levels are called the Womb, and have a flesh-like appearance.
    Of 131 items, there are 9 that relate to personal items of Mom (Mom's Bottle of Pills, Bra, Pad, Knife, Contacts, Eye, Lipstick, Heels, Underwear). The Bra and Pad items have effects which could be deemed offensive (turn to stone, and make enemies run away).
    There is a Whore of Babylon item - however the appearance and effect of this item are consistent with other diabolic pact type items (except the Moon symbol may allude to menstruation). There's nothing gender specific unless you're especially sensitive to cuckold imagery (horns).
    There is a dead sister item - however there is a corresponding dead brother item.
    One of the unlockable female characters starts with the Whore of Babylon ability - this however ironically undercuts the cuckold imagery noted above.
    2 of 6 characters are female, 3 are male, one is genderless (but presumably male).
    One monster of 38 (and one miniboss) shoots red lasers from a vertical split in their abdomen.

  17. Sorry, forgot one, which is probably significant:

    There is a coathanger item, which you put through your own head when you pick it up.

  18. I’ve spent 55+ hours on The Binding Of Isaac, recently 100% it except Depths and Womb no DMG runs. (Although I did get Depths many hours ago but it didn’t register) and here’s the thing.

    It still feels fresh, fun and amazingly addicting as hell. I hope to see some DLC or Challenges added to the game. Those 5 bucks I payed was way way way WAY too low for all of this awesomeness.

  19. I don't understand why the game is misogynist because the antagonist is female.

    Does that mean that every game with a male antagonist is misandrist?

  20. You guys have run into a common issue. Make the baddy a woman and you are a pig. Or maybe just edgy. Make the baddy a man and no one notices.
    You have also run into a second issue. Make ANY commentary on religion and the wack jobs will come out of the woodwork.
    Best to ignore them all.
    As I've mentioned on Slash's Temple Site, this community is full of thoughtful developer types. So you might not be used to the wack jobs that troll the internet. But religious type broadcasts will attract those whose opinions are honestly invalid. Based on incorrect assumptions. Probably didn't even read the original story, play the game or listen to the entire webcast.
    These people are not reasonable. Not helpful and can be ignored without guilt.

    Great interview. Thank you so much.

  21. Note I post as "Jo" on Temple of the Roguelike.

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. i've listened to the whole podcast because i was quite curious about the things that may have been said about the game.
    i've played it, i don't like it, but i don't consider it a bad game.
    however, i still don't understand why everybody keep calling this a roguelike, and the podcast doesn't give me a tiny bit of an explanation.
    i know i arrive after the battle but, can someone clarify this to me ? i just don't get it and i'm really curious

  24. Randomised levels + permadeath with a smattering of traditional roguelike item mechanics. The real time element makes it a no-no for many, but it's clearly it has some serious roguelike elements at least.

  25. Wraith-troll-flytrap at the misogyny accusations (and/or trolling) that was going on here. I'd suggest that Edmund design his next game with a very carefully genderless brick as its antagonist, but somebody would be probably still read that as a dire insult against the homeless. So instead on a lighter note, when can I purchase my "Team Roguelike" shirt (presumably with a sexy glowering @ on the front)? :D

  26. Great discussion. I played the game without the wiki at first, but after discovering more items I couldn't remember what they all do. Especially the curses which are more abstract (and cost 2 hearts). I think I've nearly memorised all the tarot cards by now.

  27. THere's an incredible amount of misogyni in video games, but this one isn't it, at all.