The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth was supposed to add at least 120 items to the tough-as-nails roguelike. Players have only found 74. This prompted claims McMillen had lied, but it seems they’re merely...hidden. Fans are ripping the game apart to find the truth, even going so far as to read the Bible for hints.
There are dozens and dozens of items players can use in The Binding of Isaac, making it extremely tricky to keep track of what each one does. Platinum God is the most common resource for newcomers and hardcore fans alike, a site that’s updated when new information—like the discovery of an item—crops up.
Here’s the item list, as it stands with 74 items:
But here’s what the game’s Steam description promises:
120 new items—not counting tons of new pickups, chests, pills, bombs and cards—taking the item count up beyond 500!
It didn’t take long for people to start populating spots like the game’s subreddit with complaints about the disparity, and wondering if they’d been mislead.
The Binding of Isaac has a complicated history between fan and creator. McMillen prides himself on filling the game with secrets he intends players to discover over the course of days, months—even years, possibly. But though datamining, in which players scour through the game’s code to see how it works, they’ve usually figured out the game’s deepest, darkest secrets almost immediately.
“It’s disheartening. It sucks because we’re gonna start working on an expansion soon, but we sure as hell aren’t gonna fucking take all the time that it took - especially with Simon, who tried his best to really bury the stuff so it would deter people from doing this, but all they see is a challenge, so they’re going to dive right in and do it anyway. I can say right now that I don’t think the expansion is going to feature any buried secrets that anybody will care about.”
This came about due to The Lost, a secret character deeply embedded into the game’s last expansion, Rebirth. The Lost starts with zero health—which can’t be changed through upgrades, either—but can fly around and grab any deal from the devil for free. That might sound like gobbledygook to someone who hasn’t played The Binding of Isaac, but it’s a pretty significant advantage for The Lost.
Unlocking The Lost is ridiculous, requiring a series of arcane and obtuse steps where players must die in specific ways, as outlined on this Gamepedia page:
The Lost is unlocked by dying consecutively with certain characters, with no other deaths. Deaths must be completed in the order shown here, and seeds can be used for the runs except for the last with Azazel:
- Isaac must die to a Mulliboom in The Basement or The Cellar.
- Magdalene must die to her own bomb in The Caves or The Catacombs.
- Judas must die to any Mom attack in The Depths or Necropolis.
- Being killed by any monster spawned by Mom will spoil the entire attempt at unlocking The Lost.
- Azazel must die to any Satan attack in Sheol. Being killed by The Fallen in the boss room or a Kamikaze Leech will spoil the entire attempt at unlocking The Lost.
It may have been impossible for anyone to figure that out with datamining, but that was McMillen’s point. It’s why he was upset it was discovered in a week:
“It’s true. They couldn’t resist it, they had to break it apart. And even though people were actively working on some of the biggest secrets that would have taken awhile to unfold, they said “NOOOOO! I WANT IT ALL NOW!”
In that same interview, McMillen alludes to an idea he has for the future, a community-driven ARG that would be the only way for people to find the biggest secrets in a future expansion for The Binding of Isaac. It appears that McMillen has made good on this idea, and it’s playing out now with Afterbirth.
When accusations started flying at McMillen, he took to Twitter.
In other words: the items are there, you just haven’t found them yet.
This sent The Binding of Isaac community into overdrive. Right now, there’s a “live thread” keeping tabs on what people have discovered and what theories are being proposed (and quickly debunked), as more information comes in.
The first theory surrounds the number 109. With a bit of fuzzy math, it’s believed it took 109 hours for The Lost’s discovery in Rebirth to make its way to McMillen. Infuriated, he took the 109 number to heart used to some Afterbirth’s secrets. Some speculate a patch coming to the game soon—specifically, 109 hours after the release of Afterbirth—will unlock more of what it has to offer.
While the 109 theory sounds like something out of a conspiracy handbook, it gained serious traction when Tyrone Rodriguez of Nicalis, the game’s publisher, had his Twitch stream of Afterbirth conveniently crash at...well, 10:09 P.M.
And when someone asked how much fun McMillen was having?
At one point, McMillen shared what appeared to be a Steam code for the game, but as it turns out, that code—UM3lm-4Nx0-109x—was really an Imgur link.
What’s in that link? 109! There’s other stuff embedded in the image, too, like a hidden enemy (Monstro) and strange series of items found in Isaac’s eyes. Nobody knows what it means, but right now, everything could mean something.
Like, you know, the game’s price on Steam: $10.99.
Or the fact that Rodriguez was asking about police codes in his Stream. What’s the police code for 109? Suicide. How do players unlock The Lost? Suicide.
There are other ideas, too.
Afterbirth introduced Greed Mode, which is a boss rush-style way of playing the game that heavily relies on buying items from the shops to stay afloat. This has people thinking deeply about money, also known as the Nine of Pennies theory.
You encounter the boss Ultra Greed at the end of Greed Mode, and if you donate to the machine that’s part of that encounter and have the number 9 on-screen at the same time, the 9s flash. How come? Right now, nobody really knows.
All of this points to the idea that McMillen and company have gone out of their way to prevent people from unlocking secrets through pure datamining. But how? While it’s not confirmed, there’s another theory that sounds interesting.
By datamining the game—yes, the very thing they’re theoretically working against—players have speculated it’s possible for the game to initiate the downloading of new content when certain requirements are met while playing.
If true, it would mean the only way to unlock the game’s ultimate secrets would be involve doing certain things in-game, thereby avoiding the datamining issue.
If this all sounds completely ridiculous, that’s because it is, but it’s also incredibly fun to watch The Binding of Isaac fans (and creators) lose their shit. If you want to keep track of the latest development, the “live thread” and this testing megathread are the best places to see what people have come up with.
We’ll just have to see how this all plays out. Stay tuned.
You can reach the author of this post at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.