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Postmortem: McMillen and Himsl's The Binding of Isaac
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Postmortem: McMillen and Himsl's The Binding of Isaac

November 28, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

5. Isaac's Fans

The number-one reason why you've heard about Isaac is its fans. Releasing Super Meat Boy and being in Indie Game: The Movie has shown me a wide range of fan types, but Isaac fans are just in a league of their own. At the time of this writing, there are well over 30,000 videos of Isaac on YouTube, countless pieces of fan art, animations, and plush toys all over the Internet, and over 30 fictional fan blogs where people can ask characters in Isaac questions and get in-character responses. It's totally surreal. Something in Isaac just spoke to a large group of creative people, and they held him up and ran with him.

Recently, I've been trying to find out how Isaac attracted such a creative and dedicated fan base. What is it about the game that spoke to this large group of artistic men and women? I can't ever know for sure, but I strongly believe that something in Isaac's theme and story connects to a large number of "creative outcasts."

I made it from the standpoint of a creative outcast; the game is about a creative child who is looked at as "made wrong" by the one person who cares about him, and his only real escape is his imagination. This is a story I could relate to, and it's one I think a lot of creative people latched on to mostly because it's not really a story you see in video games at all.

I am forever in debt to these people. Not only did they get the game to the masses, they also inspired me so much. You guys make me want to continue designing this game forever.

What Went Wrong

1. Shaky Launches

The Binding of Isaac was updated every day for two weeks during launch, and each time we thought we had solved all the issues. (Each time we were wrong.) Luckily, we were able to remove all game-breaking bugs in the first two days, but there were still many smaller bugs left that gnawed at us for a long time.

It sucked to launch with so many issues -- we had save bugs, game-breaking bugs that wouldn't let you complete the game, bugs that would not reward unlocks and achievements, and even some really odd ones that would scramble item clips and cycle through art from the game constantly. It wasn't pretty, and it was even more painful to watch so many upset players posting in the forums about the many issues with the game. (The biggest question, of course, was "Why didn't you test the game?")

The reason we released Isaac when we did was because it was done (if untested), and I didn't want to waste any more of my time on something I expected would crash and burn. I was just so worried it would suck that I wanted to get it out and over with.

2. Testing (and the Lack Thereof)

At launch, The Binding of Isaac had 100 items and five playable characters. 70 percent of the items in Isaac stack, and all the item abilities will affect Isaac in some way, so there were so many variables to keep track of that all the testing in the world couldn't have prepared us for launch.

Everything about the game was based on complex variables that multiply with each level you pass. In order to fully test all the variables we had in place, it would have taken hundreds of testers several days of extensive play time to fully debug this little monster -- there were bugs that actually took 100,000+ people four weeks to find due to how buried and rare some of them were.

Also, launching on PC meant launching on 10,000 different PC configurations, so we had bugs that would be caused by antivirus software, clean-up tools, and even some types of keyboard configurations.

The sad fact was that it was the day-one buyers that ended up fully testing Isaac for us, and I felt really shitty about that. A few weeks after launch I put together a free mini-expansion to make up for our shaky launch -- but that, too, was filled with bugs.

3. Performance and Feature Issues with ActionScript 2

The biggest downfall of The Binding of Isaac is its performance. Isaac was designed in Flash using ActionScript 2; that's what Florian could program in, so those were the limitations we had to work around. Sadly, Flash AS2 is quite outdated, and even with all the amazing work Florian put in, we simply couldn't get the game to run well on lower-end PCs. Flash even had major issues with PCs that used dual-core processors, so even PCs with amazing specs would slow down at times.

If I had known that anyone would have cared about Isaac, I wouldn't have made it in Flash at all. Framerate issues aside, Flash's lack of controller support and integrated Steam features really hurt Isaac. It pained me to release a game that was lacking features almost all games have. You'd think by now Flash would have added some kind of controller support, but no. Tommy actually wrote an achievement program specifically for Isaac so it could award Steam achievements, which was hugely helpful, but I couldn't ever really feel satisfied with the product due to our AS2 limitations.

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