I love Binding of Isaac, but I hate it. Apparently, that is the point – at least that’s what veterans of the game tell me I should feel. BOI brings together a unique blend of fun and frustration, one which make players want to throw their controllers against a screen but keeps players coming back. These properties make BOI a unique case study for looking at level pacing.


A game’s pace is what controls the rate or activity or movement and affects the player’s perception of the level. Pacing controls the flow of the game and the balance between challenge and boredom. What makes BOI interesting is its ability to keep players focused on the activity because/in spite of the game’s intense action. Unlike other games where the intense concentration becomes a liability which tires players, BOI manages to maintain players at a higher intensity of play for long times. That said, it is not without its lulls, games can last anything between 10 minutes and 3 hours and below is a general graph detailing the pacing of a level.
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One of BOI’s most unique features is the procedural nature of the game. Players will always find the same kinds of items and enemies, but it is the levels’ unpredictability which keeps tension in the play. The tension brought about when clearing a room, then the lull of collecting all of the items keeps up player movement impetus and maintains a constant tempo throughout a level. The procedural nature of the game keeps players moving quickly through rooms to finish the level. The unpredictable tempo keeps players moving and looking for the next helpful item. This procedural nature also makes the game’s flow and balance even trickier for the player to predict, yet abiding the rules and systems implemented by the developer.


What the above graph doesn’t show is that points of high tension are generally maintained for longer time periods  and the lulls are short quick bursts before the game’s fast pace returns. This leads us to the other unique modifier for BOI, which is the huge variety of items and the modifications the game provides players. The objective of collecting these in the hope that they positively modify your character is a huge factor in the fast paced movement for a lot of players. Usually one is not rushing off to the next room, not because they are not excited to fight, but rather they are hoping to explore to find new items to benefit their future fighting, ultimately prolonging their movement and flow within the game itself.


The Binding of Isaac is a game designed for prolonged bursts of tension, but because the game has the potential to end so fast, these intense playthroughs do not need to last too long. By using these long sprees of tension, coupled with quick relief and rewards, players find themselves quickly getting frustrated at the game but constantly coming back for more.





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