Last time we checked on The Binding of Isaac community, a glitch caused people to believe the game’s missing content was part of a giant conspiracy. Instead, it was just a glitch. But in the last few days, culminating in a real-life search of Santa Cruz, California, fans did band together to solve a grand mystery.
This story is a little messy and complicated, so let’s get you up to speed.
The big secret in The Binding of Isaac’s last expansion, Rebirth, was a character called The Lost. In order to unlock the Lost, players had to commit suicide in-game in some very specific ways. This wasn’t discovered organically; instead, data miners scoured the game’s code and figured out how to make it happen.
The Binding of Isaac designer Edmund McMillen then gave an interview in which he seemed to express anger at data miners for spoiling the surprise. So when the game’s latest expansion, Afterbirth, arrived with some items missing and their locations couldn’t be data mined, players figured McMillen was playing a trick.
Though we now know a glitch was causing the issue, McMillen fanned the flames by teasing people on Twitter, releasing image files with hidden details, and constantly referring to the number 109. Why 109? It’s the number of hours it took for The Lost to be datamined and McMillen to find out. (To this day, this number appears to be completely speculative, but it’s become an urban legend.)
Eventually, a patch went live and McMillen revealed the teases were a joke.
This lead people to believe there was something going on, and they were right.
In the midst of the glitch vs. conspiracy discussion, people became obsessed with the game’s new mode, Greed. It’s a variant on The Binding of Isaac that revolves around shops, culminating in a battle against a new boss, Ultra Greed.
If you take out Ultra Greed, there’s a donation machine that’ll accept your spare coins. Pre-patch, the machine capped at 109 coins. (Can you see why people have stayed fixated on this number?) This was changed to 999 coins, and if you managed to feed the machine to its max, you’d get an achievement, Generosity.
Here’s a video of someone pulling it off:
Prior to November 12, here’s what the achievement looked like:
After November 12, however, it changed:
Combine that with a blog post by McMillen that contained a coded message...
“ur so close” seemed to be telling people to keep digging, so did they did.
reddit user MetalAlex had an early breakthrough, in which they realized “pixels mean everything.” He counted the image’s pixels, and realized it was hiding ASCII code—108 69 82 66 101 73 76—that, properly translated, spelled out lERBeIL.
In the past, McMillen had used coded messages to point people towards secret images, and this was no different. When dropped into Imgur, lERBeIL got this:
McMillen had actually been trying to point people in that direction:
Besides a quote—”and he removed that day that he goats”—it features Rebirth’s hidden character, The Lost, and a map with eight mysterious figures.
It didn’t take long for people to realize the quote was from The Bible—Genesis 30:35. (This isn’t a surprise; the game is loaded with Biblical references.)
And he removed that day the he goats that were ringstraked and spotted, and all the she goats that were speckled and spotted, and every one that had some white in it, and all the brown among the sheep, and gave them into the hand of his sons.
At this point, people were stumped. McMillen had gone to bed, providing no new hints. But desperation can breed inspiration, and people realized McMillen was secretly making references to the 1987 cult film, The Lost Boys. In a photo from November 7, there’s even a poster for The Lost Boys in McMillen’s home:
Spiders freak me the hell out, but I’ll continue pressing forward for you, reader.
The Lost Boys was filmed in Santa Cruz, California. Where does McMillen live? Santa Cruz, California. People loaded up The Lost Boys, and saw scenes from the movie takes place on the famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk, which houses an arcade.
(I actually wrote about this very arcade for MTV years ago.)
Besides sharing theories and info on the game’s subreddit, people were tweeting at McMillen, who would occasionally respond and favorite (like?) certain tweets, which some took to mean they were headed in the right direction.
Given that The Binding of Isaac is a video game, it made sense for people to focus on the arcade, but McMillen quickly pushed the crowd elsewhere:
This got some wondering about the various rides available on the boardwalk, but it turned out the rides were actually closed last Friday, when this all started going down. In another tweet, McMillen dropped yet another cryptic clue:
“People Are Strange” by Echo & The Bunnymen plays in the movie’s intro, which passes over a series of wanted posters. This is significant because there’s a wanted poster featured in one of the new endings for Afterbirth. Hmm, right?
With the boardwalk’s hours now in mind, McMillen had this to say:
Things began to click into place when someone fast forwarded to 30:35 in The Lost Boys, where a pivotal scene takes place on a bridge, and a character utters the line “perfect timing.” (That line isn’t featured in the clip below, however.)
reddit user nirvanaguy007 lived in the area but couldn’t leave work just because the Internet was losing their shit. His brother was available, and tasked him with walking around Santa Cruz in pursuit of...well, whatever was out there?
Not long after, nirvanaguy007 had something to report. His brother found a ripped up flyer featuring Isaac, with part of a phone number at the bottom.
It’s barely visible in the image, but “God is spirit” was written on the back.
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
It’s not a huge leap to figure 424 is the missing area code, and the best guess for the ripped off numbers? That’s right: 109. You crafty motherfucker, McMillen.
That number—424-444-0109—lead to a voice mail:
Here’s what the voice mail says:
“Hello [GARBLED], I am your [GARBLED]. I know what you came for, but I need to hear you ask me.”
As it turns out, if you reversed the audio’s “garbled” parts, you got this:
“Hello [Isaac], I am your [father]. I know what you came for, but I need to hear you ask me.”
The setup for The Binding of Isaac is that Isaac and his mother are alone, but clearly, he once had a father. He’s mentioned a few times in the game, even getting a key named after him, and there are a few photos in one of the endings:
You could leave messages for Isaac’s father, presumably to help unlock the puzzle by asking the right question, and many people did. In fact, I got the developers to send me a few of them for you to listen to below:
This guy seems distraught and confused:
This one professes his love for McMillen before losing his shit:
And this is one very confused pizza delivery person:
When PC Gamer wrote a story about the puzzle, McMillen told the outlet that people should “bring a shovel!”
The correct answer was “where are you?” This was hidden in an item screen, and was only in the game until it was discovered, then it was quickly removed.
Soon after, the voice mail was replaced with something new:
Here’s a transcript:
“Christ calls, generous gods don’t guide history forever. [GARBLED] (whispered) We need to go deeper. His final form ends beyond greed.”
The “garbled” part this time became “knowledge grows. His final form ends beyond greed,” suggesting there was something beyond the boss Ultra Greed.
Soon, McMillen tweeted this:
A closer look reveals...
This isn’t the first time McMillen had pulled this trick, and reddit user DIXINMYAZZ suspected it wasn’t the last, either. So he dug through the last voice mail, plucking the first letters of each word, and came up with this:
CC GGDGHF KG HFFEBG WNTGD
Huh? I’ll let DIXINMYAZZ explain what happened next:
109 is the key number string here; it’s the proof everyone is on the right track.
Figuring people were close to solving this, McMillen issued a brief warning:
Several posters were found at the coordinates, including a yellow one that McMillen claims he had nothing to do with, despite the obvious similarities:
There was also a strange allusion to the cycle of life and death, which is certainly part of The Binding of Isaac.
But, again, wasn’t part of this.
While people were looking around, McMillen’s tweets were joined by Nicalis founder Tyrone Rodriguez. (Nicalis helped with the remake and various ports.) Both of them seemed to indicate that people should be looking for “change.”
In fact, Rodriguez was actually on-site and observing people as this unfolded.
Digging underneath the change revealed a hidden Greed statue:
The moment this happened, the game was updated. As it turned out, to unlock Afterbirth’s biggest secret, people needed to solve a secret outside of the game.
Using ASCII, the “@” featured on Greed’s head translates into an @, so people started searching Twitter. “I am Isaac’s body” is written on the back of Greed’s head, leading people to the Twitter account called @iamisaacsbody.
The password, isaacisdead, was also on the statue. People tweeted from the account, which gave poor Isaac a voice. Remember what Isaac’s father said?
“Hello Issac, I am your father. I know what you came for, but I need to hear you ask me.”
The password was soon changed, but the account sent this out:
The game was updated yet again to feature a new character called the Keeper, unlocked by feeding the donation machine at the end of Ultra Greed 1,000 coins.
You can see that happen in real-time by heading to 35:50 in this video:
The Keeper has a triple shot and uses coins for life, rather than hearts.
And so, these many days later, the mystery is solved...or is it?
For the moment, it’s currently impossible to unlock Afterbirth’s 1001% achievement, though McMillen claims that’ll be changed in an upcoming patch.
If you care about the game’s lore, McMillen considers what happened here to be the game’s 19th ending. He’s also writing a blog post about putting this together, which may or may not kick off a new round of frenzied speculation.
Before we depart, this story would not have been possible without the folks who wrote various summaries about the events in progress. While I was keeping up with everything over the weekend, it got complicated fast and never let up. I want to specifically point out this image and this thread as being very helpful.
Thank you, folks!
You can reach the author of this post at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.