People literally dug up clues in an insane Binding Of Isaac ARG

It turns out that Binding Of Isaac creator Edmund McMillen isn't just good at creating pixelated life-ruining games but also treasure hunts in the real world. A staggering ARG (alternate reality game) concluded at the weekend that resulted in a new character being unlocked in The Binding Of Isaac Afterbirth expansion on PC - still to come for PS4 and Xbox One - and it required people to actually bring shovels.

The ARG itself is as fiendish and complex as Isaac's basement so here we go. The Afterbirth DLC comes with a new game mode called Greed. This allows you to battle waves of enemies that can be controlled by a button in the floor, earning coins to shop with. The longer you fight without turning the waves off, the more you'll make. However, the Donation Machine in this mode - a 'charity' box if you will, that allows you to unlock better items for future runs - only allowed players to put in 109 coins. This caused outcry in the Isaac community. Where was the 999 of old Isaac? What did this mean?

Dutifully, a patch arrived that removed this bug. However, eagle eyed players noticed that this patch was added after the 109th hour of the game being on sale. Surely this had to mean something? There were no clues. Yet, and here's where things get interesting, keen eyed Reddit user metalalex caught sight of the new icon for the 'Generosity' Steam achievement for adding 999 coins to the Donation Machine:

He then translated those pixels into a code that took people to an imgur with an image of Isaac character The Lost, 8 shadows and a map.

Then the below Tweet from Edmund McMillen sent the community into a frenzy. This image suggested that 80s vampire movie The Lost Boys was a key clue.

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McMillen followed this up with a Tweet mentioning the words "People Are Strange." Obviously this was no coincidence and led players to the opening of the film where the song plays over walls of wanted posters on Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Given that an ending within Afterbirth shows a wanted poster, and McMillen had been dangling that there were clues outside the game, players headed out in search of clues in Santa Cruz. And then the brother of Nirvanaguy007 found the below.

From here on in there's some clue solving worthy of Sherlock himself. All listed by this very helpful ARG imgur from KevCar518, here's the concise version.

• Players worked out that 'god is a spirit' that's written on the back was a clue to the area code.
• The last four digits were worked out by data miners looking at the 109 hours taken to unlock the patch.
• A mysterious voicemail (Isaac narrator Matthias Bossi) answered the number and said the words 'Isaac' and 'Father' backwards.
• It also said the words "I need to hear you ask me"
• A message from the game itself had been patched out after it was found that said "where are you?" so players asked that very question.
• This unlocked another voicemail that had backwards wording. Once they had all been played forwards the voicemail was translated as saying "Christ calls, generous Gods don't guide history forever. Knowledge grows. His final form exists beyond Greed. (We need to go deeper)."

This wasn't cracked immediately but after a tweet from Edmund McMillen saying 'We almost revealed more evil right?' the community took action again. The first letters from that Tweet spelled WARMER. Perhaps the voicemail was the same? A Reddit user tweeted these letters at McMillen and got the below response.

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Now this is when things got ridiculous/brilliant. Knowing that they were on the right track, the community then switched out all the letters in the voicemail bar the 'We need to go deeper' for their corresponding numbers. And the results? A series of co-ordinates. For an address in Santa Ana. Number? 109.

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A group of treasure hunters got together and using a clue from McMillen that said "I found some change right under my feet. Awesome!' they dug up a figurine of Greed from the game. The parcel was three inches underground and wrapped in bubble wrap. Worth noting here is that when our sister site PC Gamer asked McMillen about the ARG before it got to this stage he replied only with the words "Bring a shovel." Sneaky.

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Symbols on Greed's head led them to a Twitter account for the little character and, following the instructions of "give me a voice," they used ISAACISDEAD as a password to access it and send out tweets. Lo and behold, the below Tweet appeared from the same account. You can see a full enthusiastic run down of this part of the saga on Reddit here.

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Not long after, The Binding Of Isaac Afterbirth received a new character for Greed mode. The Keeper is unlocked by entering 999 coins into the Greed Machine and then blowing it up. He doesn't have HP in the traditional sense, only coins that will refill his health. Sadly the maximum of these is two so no infinite health for you if you pick up a dollar. The Keeper starts with triple shot though and of course has his own associated achievements just like other Isaac characters.

More than 500 people took part in the event, with thousands following on Twitter and Reddit. If this isn't enough of the mystery for you, McMillen will be revealing all in a detailed blog post this week but something tells me he won't be doing anything quite like this again in a while.

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Louise Blain

Louise Blain is a journalist and broadcaster specialising in gaming, technology, and entertainment. She is the presenter of BBC Radio 3’s monthly Sound of Gaming show and has a weekly consumer tech slot on BBC Radio Scotland. She can also be found on BBC Radio 4, BBC Five Live, Netflix UK's YouTube Channel, and on The Evolution of Horror podcast. As well as her work on GamesRadar, Louise writes for NME, T3, and TechRadar. When she’s not working, you can probably find her watching horror movies or playing an Assassin’s Creed game and getting distracted by Photo Mode.