Last week, players found a gun in Destiny called the Sleeper Simulant. The Simulant is a heavy fusion rifle, a weapon archetype that has never appeared in the game before. It shoots a laser beam that bounces off of walls and deals damage to any enemies it strikes.
This was a very big deal.
The Search for the Simulant
Here’s why this is newsworthy: The gun was featured heavily in the pre-release marketing for Destiny’s Taken King expansion, but it wasn’t anywhere to be found at the expansion’s launch. In fact, it was marked as "classified" in the game’s data files, which made its features invisible to data-miners.
Further enticing players was a Game Informer preview on the design process for the gun, which labeled the Simulant as "Gjallarhorn’s new competition."
A dedicated core of Destiny players decided that the Sleeper Simulant must be hidden somewhere in the game, and began an involved, exhaustive and ultimately futile search for a secret trigger to unlock the quest leading to the gun.
Since the gun's design referenced Rasputin, the AI Warmind, players combed every inch of his bunker and searched the corners of every mission connected to him. They scoured the Grimoire, the Destiny lore bible that can only be accessed on Bungie’s website or through the game’s companion app, looking for passages that might contain hidden clues or double meanings.
They developed elaborate theories; the flavor text for the similar-looking Year One fusion rifle Pocket Infinity said that the gun "is less a weapon than a doorway." This was most likely a reference to the "doorway" that the Pocket Infinity’s seemingly bottomless supply of ammo comes through, or used to come through before Pocket Infinity got nerfed, but players theorized that the text might mean the Pocket Infinity was the doorway to the Simulant.
This gained credibility when players noticed that a Destiny community manager had the obsolete weapon equipped on his character profile.
Other players seized on the fact that Rasputin is always playing classical music and tried to unlock doors in the bunker by playing music through their microphones. Some dedicated players spent hours decoding the encrypted text that appears on computer monitors in the bunker.
The belief that this kind of search would yield any result was a minority viewpoint among Destiny’s hardcore players; many Destiny redditors referred to the Sleeper searchers as "spinfoil hats" a portmanteau referring to conspiracy theorists’ tinfoil hats and the spinmetal resource that Destiny players gather. Even the insults require a lot of background information in Destiny.
These skeptics believed that there was no hidden secret, and that the Sleeper Simulant was simply gated behind a time-lock, related to some unreleased bit of content like the hard-mode raid, or that it required an as-yet unattainable level of reputation with the gunsmith.
The real quest
It turned out the naysayers were right; it was a time lock. A quest appeared in the game on October 7 for all players who had collected the four random-drop fusion-rifle relics. It started a chain that involved a couple of special missions and solving a couple of puzzles, and concluded with a high-difficulty version of a strike. At the end of that, we got the Simulant.
The Sleeper Simulant quest chain was similar in scope to other Destiny exotic quest chains, like the ones you undertake to obtain the class-based exotic weapons or the Chaperone shotgun, and the gun is, like many of Destiny's exotic guns, a cool toy that probably isn't good enough to use in high-end content. It does what Bungie’s designers said it did in the Game Informer interview — it bounces around and can clear a room of enemies. However, it isn’t powerful enough to be honestly considered the Year Two Gjallarhorn that the Game Informer article had suggested it might be.
This was a bitter disappointment for those who had bought into the idea that there was much more to this. They had expected an epic quest for a god-killer of a gun. Some players, who have become heavily invested in the idea that the gun is great, are nonetheless arguing that it serves that purpose. The laser blast can deal critical damage, and its single shot crit is very high.
However, the magazine is small, the reserve is small, and the rate of fire is low, which means the gun is a much worse option for raid fights than an exotic like Black Spindle sniper rifle, which can empty its entire ammo reserve into a boss like the Warpriest or Golgoroth in a single burn-phase.
So the gun is interesting to talk about, but that’s the extent of it. A minority of vocal players had given it much more importance than it was likely ever supposed to have.
This kind of thing has happened before
The search for the Sleeper wasn’t the first time that players have banded together to hunt for elusive things that they wrongly believed were hidden in video games.
Ten years ago, dataminers discovered a legendary-quality sword called the Ashbringer in the game files of World of Warcraft. Raiding in vanilla WoW required being able to schedule your time around the needs of a 40-person guild, and most players couldn’t participate, so a lot of people hoped that the Ashbringer was a high-end progression path that didn’t lead through Molten Core. Players began methodically searching the game’s world for signs of the Ashbringer.
There was a guy in Dire Maul who knew something about the sword, according to NPC chatter, but he never shared his knowledge. Players found worn-out copies of the fisherman Nat Pagle’s memoir, which claimed he’d found the Ashbringer while fishing, so there was speculation that the sword could be related to that. After players hunted for about two years, a Blizzard community manager finally admitted that the sword was not available in the game.
Blizzard later put an epic sword called the Corrupted Ashbringer in the original Naxxramas raid, and there were hints in the game that the weapon could be purified by a character in.
But that clue ended up leading nowhere. There was never a legendary Ashbringer available to players. A decade after the searchers’ hopes were crushed, Paladins will finally get to wield the Ashbringer as their artifact weapon in the upcoming Legion expansion.
More recently, a group of Battlefield 4 players came believe there was a secret trigger that would spawn a dinosaur or a giant shark onto a map, and searched exhaustively for the set of conditions that would spawn it. The trigger wasn't real, but the developers were so moved by the dedication of the searchers that they patched a shark in for them.
What can we learn from this?
Audiences are curious, and that curiosity induces at least some people to engage with media on a very intense level. Obsessive players like the Sleeper searchers are beneficial to a game like Destiny; they form the backbone of communities like the Destiny subreddit and they evangelize about the game to people they know and members of other online communities in which they participate. And if you’re the person who figures out some intricate puzzle first, you get to be famous in those online communities, which is an incentive unto itself.
Upvotes for days, son!
But users who engage with media in this way expect reciprocity from creators. They dive down these rabbit holes because they trust there’s a payoff, and when that trust is breached, it’s not easy to repair. The obsession over the Sleeper wasn’t Bungie’s fault; nobody at Bungie ever told players that there was a hidden quest trigger leading to the gun, and once players started searching Bungie couldn’t have stopped them without spoiling its plans for content roll-outs and future surprises.
At least Bungie only let fans speculate for a couple of weeks, unlike Blizzard developers during vanilla WoW, who kept feeding the Ashbringer searchers just enough clues to keep them chasing a prize that didn’t exist.
If you’re a player who got drawn into the hype over the Sleeper and you’re feeling burned now, you might justifiably be more skeptical in the future. Games like Destiny have hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions of players running around all their environments, and secrets are inevitably going to be uncovered very quickly by the sheer brute force of all those people doing all that stuff.
At least Bungie only let fans speculate for a couple of weeks
This can lead to interesting situations where the egg follows the chicken. Bungie tried to hint at the existence of the Black Spindle by adding a runestone that players got from dismantling their Year One Black Hammer, that was etched with symbols from the mission where the new gun was hidden. But most people only recognized the runes after they had learned about the mission, which players found by accident. The secret mission was widely reported online within a couple of hours after it became accessible.
The same thing is true of the calcified fragments. If you try to gather 45 fragments to unlock the Touch of Malice scout rifle without using online resources that tell you where they are, you’ll probably be searching for weeks. Several of them are only accessible by jumping onto invisible platforms in areas that are only accessible during specific missions. One of them is accessed only by shooting a panel off of a random piece of debris that looks exactly like a lot of other pieces debris on the Dreadnought that are not interactive or destructible.
On paper it’s all inscrutable and perhaps impossible, right? But the fragments were discovered very quickly due to the sheer number of Guardians doing stuff on the Dreadnought and stumbling onto them. Few players were willing to allow themselves the mystery when an online guide was a click away, especially since most people wanted to get the Touch before their next raid.
On the other hand, there are three of the 50 fragments that nobody has found. If you were to scour the Dreadnought and find one of them, you’d probably become a hero on Reddit for a couple of days.
But the fact that nobody has found them yet strongly suggests they aren’t there to be found; they’re likely tied to unreleased content like the raid’s hard mode.
This is what the Reddit skeptics told the Sleeper searchers: if something exists in the game, somebody will stumble on it, and if nobody has found it, it probably doesn’t exist, or is gated behind something that players can’t access. It’s very unlikely that something like an encoded message on Rasputin’s computer screen will lead to a quest trigger, and even if it does, if the trigger exists, somebody will probably just stumble across it.
So, if you’re concerned about making sure your efforts in Destiny or in a similar game will lead to a concrete reward, you’re much better off sticking to projects inside the game that will yield known outcomes. If you haven’t beaten the raid, that’s a good place to start. If you haven’t gotten the Black Spindle yet, you should make that a priority, though you can only chase it when a specific mission is the daily heroic. You should also plan to collect 45 calcified fragments and obtain the Touch of Malice, which is a fantastic gun for raiding.
After that, you can dedicate your time to running strikes and bounties to earn Strange Coins; with the new Three of Coins consumable, it’s possible to spend every strange coin you get productively on a goal of collecting all the exotics that can drop from engrams.
And if you don’t have the Zhalo Supercell, you want the Zhalo Supercell. Trust me.
But, for some players, these known quantities just aren’t as alluring as the prospect of something undiscovered. And there’s still an exotic pulse rifle in the game files called No Time To Explain, which we don't know how to get. It’s probably not available. It’s probably connected to unreleased content or to extremely high gunsmith reputation, or just gated behind some kind of time-lock. But maybe it’s not! Maybe it’s available right now, but it’s hidden so well and so deeply that nobody has discovered it yet.
Maybe it’s waiting for you to find it!