The Masterminds Behind The Nier: Automata Church Mystery Explain How It Got Out Of Control
There have been a few times when the modders behind the week-long search for a secret room (opens in a new tab) to Nier: automatons have ruined almost everything. You can’t just drop a few screenshots of a door that no one has ever seen before and not expect people to start scrutinizing every pixel. Thousands of fans on Twitter, Reddit, and the Nier: Modding Discord spent days considering all the possibilities. Some called it a hoax, and others assumed it was some kind of mod using techniques no one had discovered before. Turns out it was a bit of both (opens in a new tab).
“Sometimes it was compelling, but other times it felt like people were seeing right through me,” Devolas, one of three modders involved in the mystery and the mastermind behind the game, told me. Reddit character “Sadfutago”. “Even writing the titles for the videos took about 10-15 minutes to think about. Also trying to act like an ignoramus when people were giving him direct solutions to the problems he was having was kinda hard lol.”
Sadfutago’s video missives from the secret church were meant to look like a child taking footage from his PlayStation 4, but the team later revealed it was a PC version with PS4 button prompts.
“There was a moment when Devolas (sadfutago) was about to hit the post button on Reddit when I quickly stopped him to let him know he had left his mouse cursor on the lmao video screen!” Wolf, another member of the trio, told me.
Before Sadfutago, before Nier: automaton producer Yosuke Saito (opens in a new tab) and director At Yoko Taro (opens in a new tab) grudging comments about it, and before so many people were obsessed with a secret church, the team just wanted to prank their peers in the modding community before telling them about a major breakthrough. Nier: Automata runs on a Platinum Games proprietary engine and has almost (opens in a new tab) no online documentation. Prior to this, modders could only change the appearance of characters with texture and model swaps. Work tools with the ability to create entire buildings and other structures were basically a myth.
Wolf had been working on the tools to do this for years and planned to drop them into Discord modding only when they were ready for the public. He showed them to Devolas, who suggested they have fun with the reveal. Thus, Sadfutago was born.
No longer a child
“I’ve been tinkering with games for years now while learning programming and reverse engineering, jumping from game to game, but the Nier series is the one I’ve stuck with the longest,” Wolf said. . “I believe it’s because the community is so dedicated, however small it is (compared to others), and no one was working on building modding tools before! So I thought that had to change !”
The church project began in February, but didn’t begin to materialize until June, after the team recruited its third member: Raider. The plan was for Devolas to tease the project’s developments under the guise of Reddit user Sadfutago, a mixture of Wolf’s username (Woeful_Wolf) and the Japanese word for twins (Devolas’s name is based on the twins by Nier Devola and Popola).
The first Sadfutago Publish (opens in a new tab), titled “Hello, how do you open church?”, was posted on Nier’s small fanart subreddit and didn’t get much attention outside of Discord modding. The co-owner contacted Sadfutago, unaware that Devolas was actually handling the account. Devolas pretended to be a pain to communicate and managed to convince modding Discord that he was a kid with a copy of Nier: Automata, something had gone seriously wrong.
Shortly after, Discord user NSACloud, working independently, posted in modding Discord that it was possible to add custom levels and geometry using Blender, prompting Raider to improving them and playing around with scripting tools to allow you to do almost anything in the game including cutscenes, bosses, dialogues etc. this would be another massive breakthrough for the Nier modding community : Automata.
When Lance McDonald, dataminer of the popular game Nier and Souls, posted the video of Sadfutago where he entered through the mysterious door on Twitter (opens in a new tab) and quickly garnered thousands of reactions, the prank became much more than a prank. It was the first major video game mystery we had seen in a long time. This prompted hundreds of people to start looking for the room in their own games, streaming it live on Twitch and modding Discord. Memes (opens in a new tab) have been created, conspiracy theories (opens in a new tab) started, and discussions (opens in a new tab) took place on the internet as people searched for clues to the door and Sadfutago’s identity.
“It got out of control as you may have noticed,” Devolas said.
Hard to believe
Devolas nearly got caught for being friends with Sadfutago on Discord, but was able to to play (opens in a new tab) as if they too were trying to solve the mystery.
Scrambling to keep up with the hype and growing skepticism, the team rushed to finish the tools – with Devolas and Raider Far From Home no less – so people wouldn’t have to wait too long for the reveal. final. This compelled Devolas to continue posting more video forays into the church as Sadfutago seemed cooperative. It was a surprisingly tricky task to “get the gameplay as ‘Sadfutago’ as possible,” he said in a recent Reddit AMA (opens in a new tab). It’s carefully placed nods to Nier’s most iconic games scenes (opens in a new tab) and characters so people had something to choose from while Raider and Wolf continued to program.
Some people noticed that the Japanese text for Devolas’ recreation of a riddle in Nier: Replicant was wrong, which he later revealed was unintentional. “I made a mistake lol. I was manually typing the Replicant text, rushing it in hopes of sending the text document to Raider quickly, and halfway through typing I got found all the dialogs online and I pasted what I didn’t have in the text file,” he wrote (opens in a new tab). Luckily, no one seemed to suspect it was a last minute addition by a team trying to keep up with the chaos.
One theory some clung to was that the Sadfutago videos were a teaser for the Nintendo Switch version of the game or a long-awaited sequel to Drakengard 3, although in the end most modders were sure it was of some sort of mod. One of the big signs was that the button prompt for the church door didn’t have the arrow pointing to it like all the others in the game, something that could only be removed with tools from debugging.
It was a “compromise,” wrote Raider. “If the spire on the first door was still visible and the church was [really in the game]then people would have found out [on their own] Much sooner. But without an arrow, the chances of it being real are much higher.”
“The community analyzed every pixel and found many inconsistencies that we weren’t aware of. Cheers to you all,” he wrote.
These doubts didn’t stop people from cheering Sadfutago on as he battled a bulbous monster, known and same (opens in a new tab) like “bloby”, and tried to finish the little story that Devolas had created.
The final step
As the whole saga came to an end, Devolas couldn’t get past the crowd of detectives. While teasing the “ze34_zinnia” Twitch stream (opens in a new tab) which would serve as the finale, he began posting it letter by letter on Reddit as Sadfutago. People caught on too quickly, so Devolas dumped everyone one last time.
“It was supposed to spell zero [the Drakengard 3 protagonist] except I looked at the Reddit chat and the Discord chat and they instantly knew what it was. Before posting ‘r’ I decided to change it and add 3 and 4 (they have no other meaning than me thinking Nier 3 and Drakengard 4). I remembered Zinnia and the fact that they’re also a really uncommon character,” he said. wrote (opens in a new tab).
The Twitch channel itself was also a last minute creation.
“I noticed a lot of people see this as a one-time thing in their lives where even though it was a mod they wanted to be part of the experience and say they were part of the history,” Devolas said. “For this reason, I planned the final to be a livestream that everyone could watch at the same time.”
The stream, which featured Sadfutago successfully defeating bloby and a video montage (opens in a new tab) of all the memes and reactions, finally revealed Devolas, Wolf, and Raider as the minds behind it all. They have announced that they will be releasing their level tools, script tools, and the church itself for free over the next few weeks. The Add-on mixer (opens in a new tab) is now available and Raider said (opens in a new tab) the church should come out in “one or two weeks”.
Modder Kofuku has already added super mario 64 castle (opens in a new tab) and many more are posting their modding experiences in Discord.
The modders all feel a bit guilty for leading people on, but say the response has been overwhelmingly positive. “I learned that people are happy to be part of something bigger and something where everyone can be part of something together,” Devolas said.
Wolf said he expects people to learn how to use the tools, and they may never really be done figuring out what you can create with them. He can’t wait to see what people are doing.
“Seeing everything someone has done, and knowing that something I did helped them with it, makes me incredibly happy! [It’s] the whole reason why i’m doing this and wish to continue [doing] so!” said Wolf. “The community is so amazing, it really hurts my heart! Maybe it’s love haha!”