Last Tuesday, a Reddit user named DemonCipher13 wrote a passionate call for help on a subreddit dedicated to Destiny, a video game about the mysteries of space.
"The time has come," DemonCipher13 wrote, directly addressing David "DeeJ" Dague, a community manager at Bungie, the studio that develops and maintains Destiny. "Help us. Is there anything left to find in the Vault?"
He's not the only one wondering. For eight months, dedicated Destiny players have scoured the game's Vault of Glass -- a six-person raid full of enemies and hidden passages -- in hopes of finding secrets that haven't been discovered yet. This is an intricate, tricky process. To make things a bit easier, some 4500 hunters have organised on a section of Reddit called r/raidsecrets, where they regularly gather to theorise and talk about the obscure tricks they have tested in an attempt to unravel the secrets of the Vault.
Gamers love searching for secrets. For many, uncovering hidden mysteries is the true game. Long after they have spent their $US60, played through to the end of an adventure and seen the credits roll, they will pick at a game. They can do this for years. Decades even. Players of the game Halo Reach tried to get into one room in one level for five years before they succeeded. Grand Theft Auto players have been hunting bigfoot since 2004. Destiny players have had the same reflex. Some believe the game's best raid might be hiding a mysterious treasure chest; others think there must be another easter egg. Maybe a Halo reference. Or a dancing alien.
It's been a long time, though, and some raid hunters are weary. They want Bungie to tell them: are they on a wild goose chase? Are all their efforts in vain?
DeeJ wouldn't answer DemonCipher13. "Under penalty of certain death," the community manager wrote, "I hereby swear (as I have in now countless community interactions) that I will never comment on the particulars of a Raid. I abstain not out of spite for you, dearest community, but for fear of my personal safety."
Bungie's not commenting. So the hunt goes on.
Critics will gleefully tell you that Destiny is a repetitive video game. To make progress, players need to power through some 25 story missions, all of which follow the same rhythm: land on a planet; open some doors; use guns to shoot through waves of enemies. Anyone who sticks with the game for more than a few hours will repeat the same tasks -- boss strikes, story missions, bounties -- to rack up gear and advance to higher levels. It's a grind.
The slog becomes worthwhile, though, when players stick with Destiny long enough to access the Vault of Glass, a cavernous high-level dungeon that feels like it was extracted from a different, more cerebral game. Unlike any other level in Destiny, the Vault asks players to hop platforms, solve puzzles, and work together to deal with increasingly difficult encounters that can wipe an entire six-person team if even one raider screws up. It introduces rules and systems you won't find anyplace else in Destiny, like the Gorgon's Labyrinth, a maze full of aliens that can destroy entire parties with just a glare.
The Vault, as newcomers quickly discover, offers no guidance for any of these obstacles. There are no hints or mission objectives, no big blinking arrows telling players where to go next. Beating the raid requires patience, persistence, and a great deal of trial and error. ("Maybe if we go that way…")
Because of this opacity -- and the Vault's convoluted nature -- there's no way to know whether players have found all there is to find. It took weeks before raiders discovered that there weren't, as originally assumed, only four loot chests in the Vault of Glass; beating the Templar boss without letting him teleport would in fact trigger a secret fifth chest in a nearby tunnel. And although it's now been eight months since the Vault opened, there are still some hardcore Destiny players who believe there's more to uncover. They believe they haven't tried everything yet.
"Bungie has a history of creating easter eggs or hidden rewards that quite literally take years to discover," said Phillip Kenny, a 23-year-old engineer who created the /raidsecrets subreddit last year. He's not kidding; in 2014, Halo 3 players found an easter egg that had been undiscovered for seven years.
"They're very skilled at it and they keep their mouths shut," Kenny said. "I do think there is more to the [Vault of Glass] than just the fights and what we've found so far."
Kenny, alongside thousands of other raiders, has spent hours exploring and experimenting in the Vault, testing out wild theories involving hidden tunnels and Biblical quotes. Over the past few months, as /raidsecrets has expanded, they have found hints -- weird animations; secret passages; objects that seem like they should be usable -- that the Vault of Glass still has some mysteries left. (You can read many of these theories on their wiki.)
"It really is surprising how just a tiny curiosity grew to be as vast and detailed as r/raidsecrets has become," Kenny said. "Turns out there's a lot of people that had the same questions as my friends and me."
The dominant belief on /raidsecrets is that there's a sixth chest somewhere in the Vault, but nobody's found it yet. Some raiders think there must be an obscure way to trigger it, like killing the Oracles to the tune of the Halo theme or beating Atheon while part of the raid group is trapped in time. Others suspect that they might have already made this elusive sixth chest spawn; they just can't figure out where it is.
What may be most interesting to more casual Destiny players is that the sleuths on /raidsecrets have learned things that totally challenge what we all thought we knew about the Vault of Glass. For example, in the Gorgon's Labyrinth, standard procedure is for a team to figure out the enemy Gorgons' movement patterns and sneak past their patrols. Gorgons can be killed by a well-equipped raid group, as many players have realised, but after one dies, the two hidden chest rooms near the raid will close, and all the other Gorgons will grow stronger.
Last month, Redditor DemolitionWolf discovered something curious: killing a Gorgon from a distance will prevent it from seeing players -- and consequently, the chest rooms will remain open. Witness:
DemolitionWolf and crew have run meticulous tests in this section of the raid, even creating tables that break down the immunity shields of each Gorgon, which increase in different ways every time you kill one. The raiders have debated contingencies -- what if the elusive sixth chest only appears in Hard Mode? -- and have studied Greek mythology in an attempt to solve this riddle.
This Gorgon mystery revolves around just one section of the raid. If you're familiar with the Vault of Glass, digging into /raidsecrets is entering a rabbithole full of crackpot theories and devoted players who want nothing more than to be part of something epic. People have theorised about how to trigger seemingly-useless objects like a rusted teleportation gate outside of the final boss's lair, about how Destiny's optional "grimoire" story cards (only accessible in a separate app) tie into the Vault's mythology, and even about what secrets are hidden in the scoreboard that pops up when a team wipes.
Here's an excerpt from one of my favourite theories, by Redditor TheBrightside23:
Each Vault of Glass phase has seemingly depicted an epic battle in Greek mythology. What else but the most badass of all epic battles: The Titanomachy. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanomachy) In Greek mythology, there are accounts of a ten-year battle between the Titans, the oldest generation of gods, and the Olympians, the younger generation. Now, at this point, if you are still sceptical for whatever reason, look up the Grimoire Card Allies: Legends & Mysteries: Ghost Fragment-Mysteries. And assume that this is Kabr saying what he is saying. Or could he be Heracles reincarnate? Perhaps Zeus himself, who fought against Cronus (Atheon) during the Titanomachy, alongside 5 other Olympians (Guardians) Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon (Praedyth, Osiris, Pahanin, etc.) with the help of Athena (Aegis) and Hermes (Time's Vengeance). Because, really, when is the shield ever seen without the possibility of Oracles showing up. Another little tidbit is that I believe that Vault itself is Tartarus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tartarus). My master theory is simply to reenact each phase as did the gods in Greek Mythology. "Trials of Kabr" - Trials of Heracles, the beginning of the first trial. Perhaps even fulfilling all of Heracles' trials.
For some people, unravelling the Vault of Glass has become an obsession. Wrote another secret-hunter, sanecoin64902, last month:
So, I had a heart attack last week, and as I lay in the ER I thought (1) I'm not gonna see my son graduate, (2) I'm not gonna see my daughter get married, (3) I'm NEVER GONNA KNOW IF THERE IS A GODDAMN 6th CHEST!
One strange mystery that has been debated endlessly by the raid-hunters involves the Oracles, a set of glowing orbs that are unique to the Vault of Glass. Oracles pop up in waves during various sections of the raid. They don't attack players directly, but they will wipe out any party that leaves them alive for too long.
Most Destiny players know that each Oracle appears to the sound of a specific musical note, but what many don't know is that those notes correspond with a C Lydian-dominant tonality, which is also used in Destiny's main theme and much of its soundtrack. This has led some raid-hunters to speculate that killing the Oracles in some certain set order might cause something crazy to happen.
"So far, we've tried conducting a short melody with the Oracles and playing the musical scale in order," said Samuel "realcoolioman" Rodgers, an active member of /raidsecrets who says he's played 700+ hours of Destiny, 200 of which he's spent in the Vault of Glass. Rodgers, along with a handful of other devoted players, spends almost every night theorising and prodding the Vault for secrets.
"We have successfully found 10,000 ways to not spawn the sixth chest in the Vault of Glass," he told me. "Honestly, we discover new things in the Vault every week. Often small mechanics, but they add up. Unfortunately, it's entirely possible that we've spawned the sixth chest many times and just don't know the right place to look. That makes it pretty hard to know if we're on to something."
As an example, Rodgers pointed to a strange little secret he found earlier this year: a set of mysterious blue orbs that pop up during the final sequence of the raid. He posted about his discovery on /raidsecrets in March, and soon enough, he and the other secret-hunters were able to pinpoint exactly how to trigger the strange floating energy blasts.
"Apparently no one had ever noticed them," he said. Thanks to the tenacious community, we've been able to reproduce these orbs and confirm that they spawn from dying Oracles during the Gatekeeper and Atheon encounters. "Basically, if you down an Oracle one second before you succumb, an orb will spawn from the Oracle and slowly float away."
You can see it here:
(full video here)
Of course, like every other theory they have tested so far, the members of /raidsecrets don't know what these orbs do or whether they matter. "These orbs have their own programming, animations, and sounds, but we're still not sure what their purpose is," said Rodgers.
It's a near-insurmountable challenge: the Vault of Glass has thousands of hidden crevasses and variables that might trigger a secret chest. It'd take millions of combined man-hours to test out every possibility. (Crota's End, Destiny's second raid, is more straightforward and less mysterious, so most secret-hunters have spent their time and energy on the Vault.)
The prominent question at this point -- the question that everyone on /raidsecrets is asking -- is if there's really something left to be found. Or has this all just been for nothing? Since Bungie won't answer, the secret-hunters are resolved to keep hunting.
"If there's isn't more to the Vault of Glass, a lot of people will be annoyed with Bungie for the secrecy and lack of directness on the subject," said Rodgers. "I will have met many great people and enjoyed endless hours exploring one of the finest pieces of video game design around. Granted, I wouldn't delve into future raids with such fervour (fool me once), but the Raidsecrets community would keep playing. After all, we wouldn't have kept up the search this long if we didn't love playing the game."
Picture: Kirk Hamilton