[UPDATE: The ARG has reached its conclusion! To stay chronological, we'll drop what happened next at the bottom of the story.]
Original story: Buckle up: we might be in the midst of an augmented reality game the likes of which we haven't seen seen since Valve’s ARG for Portal 2 in 2010. That, or Edmund McMillen is the greatest troll the world has ever known. I’m not quite sure yet.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth saw its new Afterbirth DLC released two weeks ago, and players quickly found what they initially thought was a bug. Some items promised in the update's details were inaccessible due to a glitch that prevented them from dropping any more than 109 coins into a Donation Box in the game’s Greed Mode. People started to get suspicious when the bug was patched out on the 109th hour after the DLC’s release, and some even suspected it was the beginning of a larger event around the game.
Translating the code in this image (by counting pixels) led to this image:
Unfortunately, things sort of petered out from there, though the Binding of Isaac subreddit continued furiously looking for anything that might lead to more clues, with the number 109 holding the utmost significance. Potential clues came from McMillen’s Twitter account, but nothing concrete. Until, that is, the image for the ‘Generosity’ Steam achievement was updated to look like this. Within the last 24 hours, things have started to heat up.
Reddit user MetalAlex cracked the coded image, which was conveniently 109 pixels wide by 109 pixels tall. He counted the pixels in each line of the image to get a series of numbers, then converted those numbers in an ASCII converter to get a string of seemingly random letters and numbers. But if you put that string at the end of an Imgur link, you stumble upon this image.
The new image has a Binding of Isaac character called the Lost on it, along with a map, some shadowy figures, and a quote from Genesis 30:35 in the Bible. Meanwhile, Reddit user Nirvanaguy007 apparently found this poster hanging on a bridge in Santa Cruz, California—where Team Meat is located. Adding, you guessed it, 109 as the last three digits of the phone number plays an automated message (here's a corrected audio version with two words reversed) from what sounds like Binding of Isaac voice actor Matthias Bossi.
Since then, people have been trying to figure out where else in Santa Cruz clues might be hidden, asking McMillen on Twitter about places he may like to go to fish for leads.
We emailed McMillen about the whole situation. His only response was “bring a shovel!” which seems just cryptic enough to mean something. Perhaps the next clue is buried?
Binding of Isaac: Rebirth received another update within the last hour, only 12MB big, which apparently causes the Greed Mode to crash entirely. Whether that’s also part of whatever is going on remains to be seen. The amazing thing in all of this is that nobody knows what it’s leading to, if anything at all. The 109 coin glitch on launch could potentially have been just that; a glitch, and everything since then the response of a mad genius.
Whatever the case, we’re sure to find out more in the coming days and we’ll update you when something significant happens next. As McMillen himself said, “Shit is going down yo!”.
UPDATE: Turns out there was a light at the end of the tunnel after all! Here's what happened next.
A few hours after people began calling the phone number from the poster, the message changed to a different one. No one was really sure what to do with it until McMillen tweeted the message "We almost revealed more evil right?" Taking the first letter of each word spells out "warmer", which gave Reddit user DIXINMYAZZ (lovely name) the idea to take the first letter from each word in the voicemail. Convert the letters to numbers and it gave coordinates (seriously) to a building with the address 109 in Santa Ana, California—the city Binding of Isaac developer and publisher Nicalis is located..
It wasn't long before local fans were at the coordinates looking and, as instructed, they brought a shovel. They managed to find and dig up a mini statue of the Greed character from the game, with the text "I am Isaac's body, Isaac is dead, give me a voice" written on it, along with the ASCII characters for the '@' symbol. This quickly led to Greed's Twitter account which people hacked into by guessing the password was "isaacisdead", and began tweeting to give him a voice. The password was then changed and Greed started tweeting on its own, until the account finally tweeted this image:
Binding of Isaac Rebirth's Afterbirth DLC was almost immediately patched with a brand new character to unlock through the Greed Mod called Keeper, along with new achievements and items associated with it. So a potentially accidental glitch turned into a full blown ARG, resulting in the community unlocking more content for the game. Reddit user KevCar518 made a convenient wrap-up image that explains the whole ARG from beginning to end, which was incredibly helpful in researching all of this. As for what happened behind the scenes, McMillen has promised to do a postmortem for it on his blog soon.