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The Nier: Automata Mod That Fooled the World

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In June 2022, a new Reddit user named SadFutago joined the Nier Automata subreddit to ask what might seem to outsiders a fairly innocuous question: “How do you open the church?”

Their post was short and sweet, seemingly coming from a confused, not-exactly-internet-savvy gamer who wanted to know how to access a building in Nier: Automata that, they claimed, was closed off for their friend, but open for them. The problem? There was no such church in Nier: Automata, to anyone’s knowledge. Dataminers had never heard of it. It didn’t exist in any guide, or video, or older build known to anyone in the audience. And as more information, and later images and clips came out of this location no one had ever seen before, the Nier subreddits, Discords, and eventually wider gaming communities went into a frenzy trying to solve the mystery of the never-before-seen church.

SadFutago kicked off a beautiful mess of a multi-month storyline that twisted the community, media, and even expert modders into knots. It eventually bled out of the Nier community it started in, reaching major media sites and mainstream gaming communities. Even Nier creator Yoko Taro himself got involved.

The “church saga” as it came to be known turned out to be an elaborate build-up to announce brand new modding tools for Nier: Automata that stand to revolutionize what modders can do with the game’s world and was largely orchestrated on the fly by three individuals who didn’t go into the saga with any elaborate schemes. They were just regular modders who made some cool stuff, and whose fun tease of the community spiraled far beyond what they had ever intended.

We tracked down the trio of creators behind SadFutago to get the true tale behind the Nier church saga. This is the Inside Story of how they tricked the internet into believing there were still meaningful secrets left hidden in one of the most exciting and existential RPGs of the last decade.

Chapter 1: Significance

The Nier: Automata church saga was the work of three individuals, but it began with just one, a modder going by Woeful_Wolf.

“I’m just a gamer who wanted more from the games I played,” Woeful_Wolf explains. “So since I was young, I started tinkering with them and seeing what I can break.”

Woeful began his modding career years ago with Source engine games, such as Half-Life 2, and picked up a lot of his programming knowledge from Gary’s Mod. Prior to Nier: Automata, he had been tinkering around with Skyrim and Fallout, but eventually arrived at the Nier series thanks to his love of JRPGs. He first picked up Nier: Automata in 2019, two years after its initial release. And while he was having a good time, he began to feel bothered by small details in the game that didn’t seem right to him.

“There’s a cosmetic item called the Luna Tear that you can have placed in 2B’s or A2’s hair, and what bothered me about this cosmetic is that it was actually pretty 2D,” he says. “It was just these flat planes, the petals of the leaves, and it was such a minor thing, but I would like more of a 3D flower. So I started looking at the 3D model formats for the flower.”

Before Woeful had even finished a normal playthrough of Nier: Automata, he was already tinkering around with modeling program Blender plugins and addons to improve the issues he had found. With the help of Bayonetta modder Kerilk, he began to create the tools that would eventually form the basis for the church project.

Once he got going, Woeful largely worked alone on the tools, but would sometimes solicit support from friends in the community when he made an interesting discovery. Enter our second church modder: DevolasRevenge.

“The only reason why I got into it was because I just thought about how cool it would be to mod Nier: Automata,” Devolas tells me. “It’s the first game that I modded, and it was only two years ago.”

It’s the first game that I modded, and it was only two years ago.

Devolas’ modding talents were a perfect support for Woeful. He could take advantage of the tools Woeful made, point out pain points and stretch their capabilities. Since the two were already friends, it was a no-brainer to reach out to Devolas when Woeful got a powerful new set of tools working for Nier: Automata.

“I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got map collision and prop placing and things like that working, would you like to test it before I release?’” Woeful explains. “And [Devolas] suggested we don’t release. We have to play a little prank on the community.”

Chapter 2: Amusement Park

But before we get to Woeful and Devola’s prank, we first need to understand exactly what was so revolutionary about what they had made.

If you’re not familiar with modding, things like “map collision” and “prop placing” might just sound like gibberish. But while the actual efforts behind their work were quite complicated, what Woeful and Devola were doing is actually pretty simple in principle. Basically, Woeful had created a set of modding tools that could be used to play around with the game engine of Nier: Automata, and Devola was using those tools to add in all sorts of elements to his copy that would never be present in a regular copy of the game.

Before Woeful Wolf made his discovery, the abilities of modders like Devola were actually pretty limited, because the scripting tools for complex changes simply didn’t exist yet.

“Before 2019, we couldn’t have custom models,” Woeful says. “We could have rudimentary character swaps, which was just swapping the names of two characters and having it load there, but we couldn’t have custom weapons or custom outfits or things in that, and then the next step was we could have custom map geometry. So visually, we could change the map, but we didn’t have collisions yet. So you could add a building or a wall or a statue to the middle of the map somewhere, but the player would just phase right through. Same with enemies, there would be no collision or path finding.”

In short, Nier: Automata modders prior to Woeful had the tools to add custom characters or weapons or outfits to the game, and could even edit the game’s maps to add objects or walls or enemies that wouldn’t be there normally. But if you tried to interact with them, nothing would happen, and the player would simply walk right through whatever was added. Fun to look at, sure, but not exactly immersive.

That’s where Woeful’s new tools came in. His work allowed Devolas to make the church not just look real, but feel real too, full of solid objects you can run into and, you know, actual floors and walls. But to hear Woeful tell it, brilliant as his tools were, they weren’t especially easy for modders like Devolas to use.

Which is where the third member of the church trio ended up accidentally, but fortuitously involved: RaiderB.

“I’m a computer science student from Germany, and I discovered this game Nier: Automata actually only recently about half a year ago,” says RaiderB. “At the beginning of the year I looked at the modding tools and what there is, and yeah. I started experimenting around with a couple of new things yeah that haven’t been really done before.”

Raider’s experiments involved, you guessed it, collisions. He eventually got something coded up that eliminated invisible walls in the game, effectively allowing you to go anywhere without restriction. But when he began to let others know he had something in the works, Woeful and Devolas took notice. They reached out to convince him to hold off on releasing his work, but at first, they were coy as to exactly what they had in the works.

“When I joined, I actually didn’t really know what the secret was,” Raider explains. “I only knew that there was a ‘secret’, but not what it was. It was only I think like in May or something that I started asking, ‘When is the secret coming out?’ That I got more and more involved into the actual work of it.”

When I joined, I actually didn’t really know what the secret was. I only knew that there was a ‘secret’.

Raider is humble about his contributions, but to hear Woeful and Devolas tell it, the entire church mod wouldn’t have been possible without his work. His scripting discoveries made the tools easier to use, and eventually went beyond just invisible walls, pulling together the overall immersion of the whole church:

“Before in Automata, no one would ever imagine you’d be able to change NPC dialogue, spawn them in a unique place, and then have completely different actions happening,” Devolas says.

And Woeful adds: “When RaiderB came in with his scripting was something that nobody’s ever seen before or even heard. And now looking at the scripting things that we’ve discovered, it’ll be hard and there’s still a lot of work to do, but I can almost confidently say anything is possible in the game that you see happen in the base game. So we could potentially make custom bosses or even custom quest blinds, hopefully working on new items with completely new functionality, but all of that is still a ways off.”

So Woeful_Wolf, DevolasRevenge, and RaiderB had made something incredible that would revolutionize Nier: Automata modding. And Devolas specifically had an unusual plan to unveil it that was exciting enough to warrant holding off the announcement of all these new tools for at least a little while.

Chapter 3: Copied City

Even from the start, Devolas’ plot quickly began evolving from a small prank to something far, far more elaborate.

“I wanted to start off with a tiny church,” he says. “So I wasn’t even going to make the church myself. I was going to grab a model and just throw it somewhere and then just pretend that it was real as a joke. But then I got a little carried away and we went from this really tiny church design to this huge hallway and there’s a big entrance. And then the iconic door was very secretive. It could’ve just been a new door we added. But the way I wanted it to be was that it would appear as a secret. So I made it integrated into the map so that it’s technically always there even if it isn’t. No one would think though there’s actually a door there.”

Devolas started by just dropping the church into the back of the map, planning to make it look like a hidden, previously undiscovered secret that required glitching into some unused area. It was admittedly a bit of a stretch for people to believe that such an easter egg might have remained undiscovered in a five-year-old game, it certainly wasn’t impossible, especially if it was kept simple enough to look like a forgotten fragment of some kind.

But the church did not stay simple, not one bit.

“And then I added an entire background and then I added the hallway and then I just got so carried away with trying to make it look real and then trying to add all these extra stuff that looks like it’s part of the game. And even when we were making the videos, I was still adding stuff.”

Even when we were making the videos, I was still adding stuff.

While Woeful, Devolas, and Raider are all three ultimately responsible for the church saga, Devolas was the mastermind behind most of the public-facing elements the audience saw. It was Devolas’ idea to create a Reddit user named “SadFutago” and have him innocently tease their project in the guise of a player looking for advice. Devolas named the alias before Raider joined them as an amalgamation of a synonym for “Woeful” and Devola’s status as the Nier character twin of Popola, since – in a translation that would later be memed excessively by the community – “futago” is the Japanese word for “twin.”

SadFutago started his quest innocently enough with a post to the subreddit NieRFanart, asking “Hello how do you open the church?” Without context, his query went relatively ignored, before he took the same question to the subreddit NieRAutomataGame and later the much larger Nier subreddit. 

“I wanted the SadFutago character to not really know what Reddit was, so they accidentally posted on a subreddit with 200 people and then eventually … it didn’t get any traction on purpose,” Devolas says. “Even if it did though, that would’ve been cool, but I was expecting it to not get anything. And then eventually I would move to another subreddit or I would move to Discord or something or even Twitter. But yeah, I did that on purpose just so that it would look like they didn’t know what they’re doing and then they just kept trying.”

SadFutago’s posts got more traction each time, with members asking the confused player to post screenshots of what he was talking about, as no one had ever heard of such a thing. So he obliged, posting a screenshot of a bunch of pews in a room no one had ever seen before. That’s when things began to get serious.

Then, as Woeful put it, a bomb dropped: SadFutago posted actual footage. All three modders acknowledged that the footage clip was a massive turning point not because the footage in and of itself was a huge deal, though it was. Up to that point, discussion of the church had been largely limited to the Nier modding community, but actual clips of footage caught the attention of streamer and hacker Lance McDonald. McDonald, who has over 70,000 Twitter followers, tweeted about the strange church, and the tweet exploded. News outlets began writing about it. Curious onlookers flooded the subreddit and the Discord. SadFutago had officially gone viral.

“The moment he tweeted it, we would be all working,” Woeful recalls. “Every hour or so, we’d refresh his tweet and see the view count or the views were going up 10,000, 20,000, 300,000. It just exponentially blew up and we were panicking because now we know we have to get serious, but we don’t have time, but yeah, definitely the moment the first video was posted and Lance McDonald’s tweet was when everything exploded, I think to the wide Nier fan base.”

We’d refresh his tweet and see the view count or the views were going up 10,000, 20,000, 300,000.

Devolas adds: “It was kind of overwhelming because I didn’t think that everyone would come to the modding server. So before that, we had 4,000 and then we have 8,000 now and all the channels were getting filled with all these people I’ve never seen before. And then the voice chats were so full that we had to make four more so that so everyone could go in them.”

Devolas, Woeful, and Raider were terrified that somewhere in these hundreds of thousands of people, someone would get wise to their secret. But somehow, no one did. Part of it seemed to be because so many modders were convinced such a feat was impossible.

“Many people were convinced that it wasn’t part of the game, but basically all theories were that were there were equally as unlikely,” Raider says. “It being part of the game was very unlikely because there were no traces of the files in the game. It being a mod was also basically impossible because there were no tools publicly available that could do anything like that. And almost no one has shown anything remotely to that. And I think the third theory was that it was a marketing stunt, but that was also very unlikely because yeah, the way it was executed in the beginning, the first few posts were not really a good setup for a viral market cutting campaign.”

SadFutago continued to post more footage, showing a path behind a mysterious door in the Copied City, a long drop down a ladder, a twisted hallway with retracting pillars, and finally at the end of it, the mysterious church. With each new video, the account showed more and more footage, sparking more questions and analysis from the subreddit, Discord, and general public. Fanart was made, and memes were created that transcended the subreddit and started bleeding onto general gaming Twitter. Multiple articles were written in most major video game publications. And in the midst of it all, an even greater figure latched onto the church saga that none of the trio expected to ever hear from: Nier creator Yoko Taro himself.

Chapter 4: Weight of the World

In response to someone tweeting directly at him asking for his opinion on the church saga, Taro said interested people could find the answer at his Twitter profile. His Twitter profile reads, “”I can’t answer about any products. Please ask publisher.” As we now know, this was Taro being funny and a bit coy, but at the time his response seemed to tease a marketing campaign of some kind from Nier’s publisher, Square Enix. And it didn’t help that Nier producer Yosuke Saito got in on the fun too, quipping that this sounded like something Taro would do.

The SadFutago trio were simultaneously horrified and thrilled.

“Oh my god. I was shitting my pants,” Devolas says.

“So long ago, just when I released the first ever tools in 2019 to allow people to make custom models for the game,” Woeful recalls. “The first image I ever posted on Twitter was we reported or we modeled the Yoko Taro in Nier: Automata. So we made him a playable character in the game and we tweeted him, and some of the other, Platinum and Square and his friends, but we never got any reaction. It was a bit disappointing, but getting the reaction now with the church project makes up for that, I think.”

The community was torn between three explanations for what was going on: hidden easter egg, unthinkable mod, or marketing stunt – and all seemed equally impossible. Now with thousands of eyes on SadFutago, scrutinizing each new post, the trio knew they had to wrap things up quickly. Woeful tells me that it was about at that time the trio realized the hype was reaching its peak.

“What I’ve noticed with hype trains and things in games and things is you never want it to go on too long because the longer it goes on, it just leads to a bigger disappointment if it is a disappointment in the end because we had no idea what the reaction was going to be when we revealed anything.”

And then, Raider adds, there was the growing fear not just that someone in all these thousands of people might discover the secret, but that someone would beat them at their own game.

“Towards the end people actually started developing some small tools or looking at how doing some basic map editing themselves and were proving that small parts of it could be done,” he says. “Or that was about when it was also a bit of a race against the clock for us to release our tools first, before someone else posted their own tools that weren’t as good as ours, but still usable.”

It was also a bit of a race against the clock for us to release our tools first, before someone else.

Meanwhile, the workload was becoming unmanageable. With so much attention on SadFutago, the pressure was on to post not once a month or once a week, but multiple times a day. Toward the end, the trio were essentially building things as they went, with Devola adding to the church as soon as the other two sent over tools updates and uploading his new creations almost immediately. For three regular people with lives outside of modding, it was becoming unsustainable, fast.

“So in the first SadFutago video, he just goes and opens the door and just enters that area, the camera detaches from the player and goes to the center and tracks them from far behind,” Woeful says. “So I was trying to figure that out and there’s the scripting thing is a real big mess and I had problems like when changing the camera, the character couldn’t move anymore and all these crazy things, but the moment I got it decently working, I sent it to Devolas and maybe, I didn’t think we even added anything after that. He just took the next video and posted that. If you look in that screenshot, sorry, the fountain isn’t there because the fountain, we added the video before the fountain was shown, that’s when we added it, and we released these videos every, I can’t even remember now, it was like two or three or four days. So we only had a few days between each feature.”

Devolas adds: “In the end, whenever I’d make a post on Reddit or on Discord, I’d be actively reading the chat to see what they’re saying. And so everyone’s fast responses and stuff and everyone’s theories would kind of influence what would be the next thing that I’d make. So for instance, someone would point out the flaws of something and that I’d try to secretly improve it so that it would seem more real.”

Everyone’s theories would kind of influence what would be the next thing that I’d make.

But before the trio wrapped things up, there was one final moment that cemented the shape of what would ultimately become the church saga’s grand finale.

Post after post, Devolas had been adding to the church: a chest that only 9S could unlock. A figure of Nier Replicant’s Yonah lying on an altar at the front. A bird bath at the back that, when interacted with, gave similar dialogue to that seen in Replicant referencing the Black Scrawl and the Shadowlord. And a strange black shadow creature at the front of the church that the subreddit took to calling “bloby.” 

Each new video progressed the church storyline, until eventually the subreddit was watching clips of SadFutago fighting in an apparently difficult boss battle against bloby. The community began to cheer SadFutago on through Reddit posts and, ultimately, on Discord as well. Between videos, Devola popped into the modding Discord, only to find a massive crowd of people in the voice channel all singing the moving credits theme of Nier: Automata, Weight of the World, together in an effort to encourage SadFutago.

“The community is really amazing just with their creativity with memes and their kindness and support to each other,” Woeful says. “Just a random stranger who’s been keeping a secret from this entire time, who they shouldn’t even be trusting, but still, they all come together in song and support this complete stranger with his battle against something that they’ve never even encountered, but so I just think it’s amazing and heart warming and makes me so… I don’t even know what the words are.”

“A lot of people were trying to … they thought that he was fighting in the moment,” Devolas recalls. “So yeah, so I tried to keep them updated. And I wanted to … everyone really liked to be a part of the idea that they were in the moment of something so crazy happening. So I tried to help out with that.

“That’s also why I did the final Twitch stream because a lot of people on the Reddit comments were in the Discord were saying I was a part of history, no matter what it was. So that’s what the final live stream was.”

Chapter 5: The Sound of the End

SadFutago set up his grand finale on July 28, 2022, at first posting a series of screenshots on the subreddit with strange titles: “z” “e” “3” “4” and finally, “zinnia.” The screenshots appeared to tease a shadowy room SadFutago hadn’t shown before, with shapes reminiscent of the final boss of Drakengard 3. He followed it up with a link to a twitch stream tagged “Ending”. The subreddit went nuts.

Incidentally, Woeful and Raider had absolutely no idea what was going on.

“Literally the day before, so the finale was in the morning for me and the previous day before the finale, I was literally in hospital because I had my wisdom tooth removed and I was out from anesthetics that whole day,” Woeful says. “So I came back and I heard, okay, the finale is happening and I literally knew as much as the fans, but RaiderB as well. For the finale, because RaiderB and I are in a similar time zone, but DevolasRevenge or SadFutago is in a different time zone. So while RaiderB and I were sleeping, Devolas went out, he did those. We had no planning or no idea of anything that what he was going to do that night.  The morning, we joked and said, Devolas has gone rogue.”

He had indeed, but in the best way.

“The final video that I streamed on there, I kind of made in an hour,” Devolas says. “So as soon as I rendered it, that’s when I did the live stream. So it was very last moment because I had to go on a trip the next day and I had to sleep. So as soon as I rendered it … and I didn’t do any testing either. I just launched OBS and then I tried to figure out how to play videos on OBS. And then I launched live stream and I played it. And I had no idea that people could talk in the Twitch chat, even if you weren’t streaming. So I didn’t get to read the Twitch chat.”

The video played out over Twitch at an hour that was wildly late for much of the Western world, but still attracted an audience of thousands. The first two minutes played out much as previous videos had, following 9S through the strange door, into the church, in a fight against bloby, and through a series of dialogue choices at the bird bath. But then, 9S was transported into an enormous, dim room decorated with the aforementioned Drakengard forms hanging from the ceiling. Upon examining a Lunar Tear in the middle, he was sent back to the Copied City for a battle with a trio of bosses representing the trio behind the whole scheme. 

The final minutes were a series of title cards thanking the community, apologizing profusely for the misdirects and the “anticlimactic” ending, and most importantly: the announcement of the tools and their imminent release for the wider community to use at last.

“I think the community had a lot of different emotions when the reveal came because different people had different expectations,” Raider says. “Some were excited, some people were disappointed, but I think many people … yeah. I think they were happy about the outcome either way. And yeah, I think that many people have really enjoyed the fun along the way. And that was also what mattered to most people.”

While the church saga’s story has concluded, the trio isn’t ready to move on just yet. Woeful and Raider have released their scripting tools, and Devolas has published his church mod so that even people who don’t necessarily build their own mods can play around in the world he built. Since that release, Woeful and Raider have been working to make their map and scripting work more accessible and understandable to a wider audience. With their tools, Raider says, modders will now be able to add completely new features to Nier: Automata’s maps, new quests, new areas, and so much more. 

We live in a time when online communities, social media, detailed guides, and datamines have all but ensured that true video game secrets don’t exist anymore. Any easter egg, hidden room, funny glitch, or deliberate tease is immediately discovered, analyzed, and devoured by its respective game community within weeks, days, or even hours of a game’s release. Everything has an explainer attached, and any question you have has an answer just a quick Google search away.

But games really are silly little things. Woeful_Wolf, DevolasRevenge, and RaiderB started their work with the intent of playing an innocent prank on a small corner of a single community. But they inadvertently accomplished something far greater: they managed to briefly create a true video game mystery. They united thousands of strangers in a thrilling spree of detective work, culminating in a cheering crowd singing to a single, mysterious player as he explored a new frontier before their eyes. And in the true spirit of Nier: Automata, some of those cheering, singing people have been inspired to start building mods of their own – perhaps one of them will someday build the next big video game mystery.

Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.

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