An interview with Sadfutago: The story of Nier Automata’s secret church, straight from the modders who made it
Nier Automata’s secret church isn’t a secret anymore, and the mysterious Reddit account sadfutago has been unmasked. The past few days of frantic theorycrafting, fact-checking, and data mining were all sparked by just three inventive modders. This small team quietly redefined what Nier Automata mods can be and, less quietly, teased their work with cryptic breadcrumbs that the internet couldn’t resist.
At the end of it all, the people behind sadfutago and these revolutionary mod tools say they’re feeling a touch overwhelmed.
This memorable performance was put on by Woeful_Wolf, DevolasRevenge, and RaiderB of the Nier Modding Discord (opens in new tab). (Yes, sad comes from woeand futago, or twins in Japanese, comes from Devola of Nier’s twin sisters.) I first spoke to Woeful_Wolf on July 28, just hours before the Twitch stream that revealed the truth of the secret church. At the time, the mod team was still hiding their involvement but also actively participating in the Discord, with Woeful_Wolf going so far as to help other Nier modders try and recreate the secret church while remaining incognito. The weight of the hindsight from that conversation threatens to crush me into dust even now, so I simply had to track the team down for the whole story.
Responses edited for clarity and length.
The brilliance of sadfutago
“I wanted the sadfutago to appear innocent so that people wouldn’t assume he’s capable of making a map,” Devolas tells me over Discord. He also had to seem ignorant “so that he can avoid suspicion.” Devolas was responsible for posting, but Wolf and Raider also occasionally helped check and workshop the contents. For example, Wolf, who describes Devolas as “the mastermind behind the character,” once caught an errant mouse cursor in one video that would’ve ruined the claim of sadfutago playing on PS4.
The allure and persona of the account was also aided by its audience. Nier fans love a good rabbit hole, and sadfutago took on a mind of its own as people swapped traces of the imagined person behind the posts. The prevailing theory was that sadfutago is a French Canadian minor with imperfect English language skills and limited technical understanding – a reasonable profile given the clues, but one that surprised even Devolas.
“I just had a Canadian version of the game, I’m not sure why they thought he was French,” he jokes. “I’m glad it was convincing.”
Sadfutago was even helped by the creators of Nier Automata. Creative director and renowned prankster Yoko Taro responses (opens in new tab) With his usual aloofness when asked if sadfutago had discovered some cut content. Producer Yosuke Saito even joked (opens in new tab) that this seemed like something Taro himself would do. And when I reached out to Square Enix, a representative said: “Unfortunately we won’t be able to provide a comment.” Because they didn’t shut down the wild theories floating around, responses like these ended up accelerating sadfutago’s rise, not to mention hopes that this could all be leading to an official announcement.
“That turned the sentiment in our favor,” Raider says. “Before the question was: real or mod? Then the new question was: is this a PR stunt?”
Oh wow, this is blowing up
“The tease was imagined as being one to two days, maybe a week, until one of the data miners or someone knowledgeable in general shoots us down saying it doesn’t exist,” Devolas says.
Instead, someone knowledgeable excitedly shared (opens in new tab) sadfutago’s early posts and put countless eyes on them: reputable modder Lance McDonald. McDonald rightfully critiqued the tone and content of the posts as more evidence emerged, but his early tweets poured kerosene on the fire.
“Soon after that it exploded,” Raider says of Lance’s tweet. “The modding server before was a chill place with some occasional conversations over the day. Then suddenly there were multiple people joining the server every minute and the chat was going faster than I could read.”
“I never expected things to get this big,” Wolf explains. “Our first target audience was simply the modding server and maybe a hundred people from Reddit. But this literally went viral overnight. I also thought it was insane that we got any response at all from Saito, Taro, and other Drakengard and Nier icons. ”
“The server would be so full that people would make extra voice channels,” Devolas says. “And as soon as I’d post as sadfutago, I’d listen to the voice channel. They instantly knew he posted.”
As the Nier community’s excitement reached critical mass, Devolas started to worry that some people would be let down by the truth. The response was “definitely a bit more than what we were aiming for” and “kind of scary,” he says. “It makes me want to take a break and let things chill out. The reaction is a bit overwhelming.”
“Some people really thought it was a Drakengard teaser,” Devolas continues. “A bit unfortunate, so there are some mad people. Discord is pretty positive about it, and Twitter too, but there are some not so happy people on Twitter as well.”
If he could do it all again, Devolas says he’d make it clearer earlier on that this was about a mod. There were some clues in sadfutago’s final posts – Japanese text stressing that this isn’t an ARG or even official – but just as Twitter’s bound to have some not so happy people, folks on the internet are bound to miss some important details. But overall, the ending went about as well as it could have.
“I love all the positive responses from most people,” Wolf says. “I love secret hunts and I hope ours was good enough and entertaining for all of you!”
This cannot continue
More often than not, the modded content Devolas posted had literally just been finished. The team was flying by the seat of their pants right up to the climactic reveal stream. Like game developers preparing a trailer for a trade show, the mod team propped up the best-looking stuff they had while scrambling in its shadow.
“I used it as an excuse to buy myself more time,” Devolas says of sadfutago, referring to the gap between the account’s June posts and the July videos that truly lit the fuse. “The church wasn’t presentable then – even when I sent the first pics, we didn’t even have the iconic first door.”
“Whenever we posted, that was mostly all we had at that point,” Raider agrees. “That’s why things in the very first screenshots looked different from the final videos.”
“In that quiet month, we were rushing to develop the scripting tools and figuring out all the game logic and how we could create our own,” Wolf adds. “We literally were making everything as we were going along!”
Wolf is a veteran of mod tool design and Devolas worked more on art and modeling while acting as a de facto creative director and managing sadfutago. They were already collaborating on the mod in early 2022, but in terms of assets, the secret church was just some pews and walls as of early March. Wolf delayed the public release of some updated mod tools specifically to follow Devolas’ idea of using them to create an Easter egg for the Nier community – something he “honestly feels slight guilt for” even now. Likewise, Raider says he will usually share updates right away but “this was the exception.”
Raider didn’t join the team as a key programmer bringing “major discoveries” until April, says Wolf. The mod never grew beyond these three, though Wolf says a few people in the Discord out the secret early on and were asked not to spoil it, and Raider notes that “a bunch of people have contributed many other important things to the community.”
Preparing the reveal stream was especially difficult. Devolas intentionally broke character (opens in new tab) after more people worked out that this had to be a mod, and the rush was on for a fitting finale.
“I didn’t want to end it super abruptly, so I quickly made the final scene with 9S in that giant dark room with the hands,” Devolas says. “I made the final live stream as well as the video. It was so late because [Woeful_Wolf] wanted to watch it but he had to sleep. So I told him I’d stream it as soon as he woke up. It had 13,000 people and I’m surprised it went smooth-ish because I kind of did it without testing anything.”
“The whole finale was quite rushed,” Raider admits. “I worked late into the night to make some things work. Then in the morning I was quite surprised by what Devolas did – not in a bad way. I actually didn’t see the final video until it was streamed. The voice chat reactions were great to hear.”
Members of Nier Modding were among the most surprised viewers. Meowsandstuff and Grojdg, who’d just started working with Wolf to recreate the secret church using normal mod tools, were utterly flabbergasted.
“This is the first time I’ve seen anything this big,” Meowsandstuff says. “Never have I had a mod tug me from both sides thinking it was real then fake and back… it was so well done yet so weird sometimes. A lot of it probably was the absolutely masterful way that the sadfutago character was played.”
“I got absolutely, unequivocally juiced,” Grojdg tells me. “The sheer embarrassment of seeing my name pop up in the thanks at the end is something I’ve never experienced. I’m breaking with jealousy that I wasn’t one of the people behind this. Their talent is giving me so much drive to jump back into Nier modding properly and show them up.”
Become as mods
With the dust settling, we can finally see this mod for what it is: an unforgettable story, and a massive leap forward for fan-made Nier Automata content. As McDonald pointed out in his viral tweet, a critical reason this ruse worked at all is that this kind of mod was considered impossible. But Wolf and Raider – Devolas clarified that he didn’t make any tools or scripts himself – have unlocked a sea of possibilities. Custom battle arenas and boss fights, intense speedrun gauntlets, original quests with cutscenes. Raider himself is already preparing a mod that’s “very big in scale” and separate from the secret church, and it ought to be out soon.
Woeful_Wolf, DevolasRevenge, and RaiderB will release all of these mod tools via GitHub and the Nier Modding server in the days ahead. Everything will be open source, so anyone interested will be able to use and modify the tools. Wolf says that existing Nier Automata mods should work fine with the new tools once they’re reimported, and they’ve done “some small backwards compatibility things for any edge cases.”
“Well, the initial goal was to troll the internet,” Raider jokes. “I’d say we accomplished more than that. I’m interested to see what all the new people will bring to the table. That’s a nice side effect of this whole thing. I’m not very good with these kinds of words, I’m just excited to see where things go from here.”
“We got the entire community excited and together, if only for a few days, and we got a few new people interested in modding in general, even if only temporarily,” Wolf adds. “I’d definitely call this a win for me. I have been doing this for so long with so little attention coming to the modding community. Really, this completely blew all sense of scale out of the water!”
To cap off this strange chapter, I asked Devolas if he has a final message to share as sadfutago.
“We love the Nier series, and it’s because we love the Nier and Drakengard series that we went out of our way to make this mod.”
thank_you from r/nier