Burials And Bubblewrap: The Binding Of Isaac ARG

In the week or so after the release of The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth [official site], many members of the Isaac community were up in arms. Datamining – digging through the code for behind the scenes information – had revealed less new content than the pre-release build-up and Steam store page seemed to promise. There was talk of gated content that would only release when updates arrived, there were accusations of lying and betrayal; the Isaac subreddit was saltier than the Dead Sea. And then, over the weekend, the game crept out into the real world and everything got a little weird…

The community had suspected an alternate reality game (ARG) might be happening for a while. The discovery that donation boxes in the new Greed mode of the game would only accept a total of 109 coins was the most obvious clue. 109 is an important number in the weird world of intense Isaac fandom, having been the number of hours taken by dataminers to discover hidden character The Lost in its remake Rebirth. There were other instances of ‘109’, including an official stream of the game crashing at 10:09 and a patch arriving 109 hours after release.

But all efforts to discover more came up short. Until, that is, one of the achievement images was updated. Once the image had been cracked (by MetalAxel, who explains all over on reddit), it led to an imgur link containing a picture of Isaac and the quote: “And he removed that day the he goats”. That’s from Genesis, one of the books in the big ol’ book that is Isaac’s origin story.

That’s when things started to move quickly. Isaac co-creator Edmund McMillen cryptically pointed those playing along to eighties vampire movie The Lost Boys, which eventually led a couple of intrepid investigators to a specific location in Santa Cruz. One of them found this. From there, voice mail messages (with backward sections, obv), and a series of mysterious questions and clues eventually led to this little fella, buried near a building in Santa Ana. Street number 109, of course.

(source: ‘mikeyninja’, reddit)

The text on Greed’s head is the ascii code for an ‘@’ symbol, which pointed folks toward Twitter. The account name was written on the buried Isaac’s body. The community gave Isaac’s body a voice, by tweeting a series of questions, and were rewarded by an update to the game that unlocked a previously unmentioned character and associated items.

McMillen says he’ll write a postmortem of the whole experience soon. For now, he’s keen to make clear that the events of the ARG were in some way canonical. Splendid stuff.

There’s a handy wrap-up of the whole thing here and if you own the game it should now have updated or be ready to update. If you don’t own it, take a look at our review.

10 Comments

  1. Catchcart says:

    Also “Room Ten O Nine” from “Shine a Light”. I expect there’s a Mick Jagger cameo somewhere in there.

  2. meepmeep says:

    Datamining – digging through the code for behind the scenes information – had revealed less new content than the pre-release build-up and Steam store page seemed to promise.

    Unless I misunderstood Edmund’s cryptic tweets, a large amount of the missing content at release was due to a bug and not an intentional part of the ARG?

    link to twitter.com

    • Nixitur says:

      Welcome to ARGs. Trust no one, especially not the game’s creator. Saying “There was a problem, but now it’s fixed.” is a surefire way of getting people to dig deeper.

    • Baines says:

      You mean his tweets about it being due to “a “thing” that I can’t talk about now” and “because of the “stuff”“?

      McMillen’s tweets can be read either way, that it was a bug but they didn’t want to ruin the ARG plan, or that the “bug” was fake and always part of the ARG plan.

      The replies on that page are from disgruntled fans who didn’t believe it was part of the plan, and were upset that McMillen either tried to pretend that it was or that McMillen then chose to make it part of the ARG with the intentionally delayed patch.

  3. JFS says:

    As if the game itself wasn’t creepy enough.

  4. Mnemosys says:

    I love what they did here, and the new character has an interesting gameplay. I bet more surprises are coming our way as the 1001% completion achievement remains unlocked leaving us with 275/276 achievements on steam for the moment.

  5. anHorse says:

    I can’t stand this.

    I want to play the actual game, something that is constantly being fucked with thanks to this arg.

    If you aren’t interested in it the arg makes the experience of playing demonstrably worse than what was on offer from afterbirth

    • ButteringSundays says:

      *Confused Face*

      I’ve been playing the game+dlc just fine since launch and this is the first I’ve heard of the ARG.

    • death_au says:

      The game wasn’t being fucked with because of the ARG. Really, the only things that were changed as a result of the ARG were the icon for the generosity achievement and the new super-secret character unlock being patched in.
      The 109 thing was confirmed as a bug that was patched 109 hours after the release of Afterbirth (it was apparently ready an hour or two earlier, but they delayed it by that hour or two because it was too good a coincidence to miss).
      I think there was also a later patch fixing a few more bugs (including the overnerf of Azazel), before the post-ARG patch.

    • grrrz says:

      what I have hard time standing is entitled little brats who think because they payed a few bucks for a game they probably already played to death the develloper has to cater to their every whim.
      The way you should see it is the devellopers threw out a great little scavenger hunt, quite a few people had fun, and then everybody got free bonus content out of it.
      As for the few bugs, well it happens a lot with games,the Azazel problem was corrected in a week, and the Greed mode crash bug in like 20 minutes. yeah sure bring out the pitchforks.