Serious Sam was released in 2001, but the game's been hiding a secret for more than a decade. A player wasn't able to put it together until they were hired by the game's developer and asked the CEO for help.
One of original game's two hidden levels is called Sacred Yards. Like most stages in Serious Sam, you usually need to finish it by blasting hundreds of enemies on your way to the exit. Back in 2012, Serious Sam fan Discy89 discovered a way to skip several sections and make your way to the last area of Sacred Yards by picking up certain items and blasting specific objects.
It used to be that when you you found "proper" secrets, the game let you know "hey, you found a secret!" (Remember how DOOM would list them after you finished a stage?) In this case, the fans of the game considered this an "undocumented" secret, as the game never acknowledges it.
Still, it's cool, especially for hardcore players who think they have seen all the game has to offer.
It would seem reasonable for this to be the end of the road, but fans wondered if there was more to it. In 2014, SolaisYosei figured out how to make it happen without exploiting bugs. It proved there was was a sequence to be learned.
Great, now everyone can open the secret door! But it doesn't end there.
SolaisYosei recently started working at Croteam as a designer, which gave him access to CEO Roman Ribaric. He asked Ribaric if there was something else to be discovered in Sacred Yards.
Ribaric also happened to be the design lead on the first Serious Sam.
"Davor Hunski and Davor Tomicic, who were level designers at that time, handed me that level, so I can figure out what is to be done, where to go and to create gameplay," said Ribaric. "They did warn me that with its simplistic layout, they were not 100% confident it was good enough to have it in the final game. I did a quick look and, yes, layout was pretty basic, a T-shaped level with no specific areas or landmarks. But I told them I don't like throwing things out and I would see what I can do to — at least have it as a secret level."
Sacred Yards has mechanics that aren't found in the rest of the game, including switch puzzles. It even has a shout out to Valve writers Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek, who were then writers for the influential PC website Old Man Murray. Both were early champions of Serious Sam.
Once Ribaric had built all this unique stuff, he wanted Sacred Yards to become one of the game's main levels, but others pushed back. In the end, it stayed in Serious Sam as a secret.
"At that time, I didn't want to force the decision using my lead powers," he said, "as I already pushed some of my other ideas against [the] team, like originally changing the game name from In the Flesh to Serious Sam, [and] having only crazy action gameplay to speed up the development, so we can actually finally finish the game."
Ribaric thought some players might want to skip all the contraptions in Sacred Yards, so he built an additional puzzle that would let players bypass everything.
"If done in right order, [the secret] would give you a walk in the park gameplay, or one might say gameplay now similar to The Talos Principle or Dishonored," he said. "But in any case, it was just the opposite gameplay result from regular Serious Sam."
Unfortunately, no one found it, partially because Ribaric didn't make it a counted secret. Had people known there was another secret to be found, they might have kept looking. It's possible to figure out how it all works using the game's level editor, which Croteam shipped with Serious Sam back in 2001, but no one thought to look under the hood of Sacred Yards.
"For me, it was easy to see something is there, but obviously I was wrong," he said.
Ribaric considered recording a video and unleashing the secret himself, but he never did.
Instead, he told SolaisYosei to load up the Serious Sam level editor and see what he could find. Within a few minutes, SolaisYosei had an a-ha moment, pieced together the answers, and recorded a video to share with the Serious Sam community.
Voila! The path to beating Sacred Yards without killing an enemy had been discovered.
It's a lovely reminder how, even years later, video games can continue to surprise us.