Spoiler warning: This article contains spoilers for the puzzle game Tunic.
Before Tunic, there was indie darling Fez from a decade ago, a game brimming with so many secrets that it sent its community into a secrets-excavating frenzy. This resulted in feverish discussions found in online forums translating Fez’s cryptic language, and the creation of a web tool that utilized an algorithm, powered by the cyclic sequence known as the de Brujin sequence, to crowdsource solutions to the game’s most ruthlessly guarded secrets: the Black Monolith puzzle. In some ways, Fez’s puzzles feel like a blueprint for Tunic’s myriad mysteries found within obtuse glyphs and manual pages discarded across its Hyrule-like environments of stumpy shrubberies and forest mazes.
The most immediate and obvious puzzle in Tunic is its runic language, which is impossible to avoid. Its symbols are etched on road signs, found in the pages of the lost manual, and surfaced in dialogue with other characters you meet. While the language has already been dutifully translated by avid puzzlers, lying in plain sight — or within earshot — is a second language: one that the community has collectively referred to as “Tuneic”, as opposed to the aforementioned glyphical language, which the community has named as “Trunic.” Unlike the first language, Tuneic is an auditory language that has no written form, and deciphering the language requires some basic knowledge in music theory — one that’s predominantly spoken by the game’s most clandestine species.
As expected for a game built upon layers of secrets, Tuneic is sung by one of its most well-hidden puzzles and easter eggs: fairies. These mythical creatures have been stashed away in obfuscated chests around the map, and opening them will result in a short, melodious peal being played. Apart from these chests, these tell-tale chimes can also be heard across the game, but are mostly imperceptible, except to players who know how to look out for them, such as in the striking of bells, or even the brief tune played in Tunic’s title screen.
Some similarities exist between the written language of Trunic and the more musical Tuneic. The musical notes in Tuneic are vowels ( “a”, “e”, “i”, “o” and “u” of the English alphabet) and consonants (the rest of the letters in the alphabet) that are the basic speech units — or phoneme — that make up a word. In particular, Tuneic words are a sequence of notes played in either ascending or descending order.
That sequence determines whether the preceding notes are vowels or consonants, and the general rule of thumb, as explained by Tunic’s helpful community, who worked on this predominantly through a Discord server put together by Tunic publisher Finji, is that the ascending order of notes form a syllable that is usually a consonant first, followed by a vowel. Conversely, a descending sequence is a syllable that comprises a vowel, then a consonant. Put all these syllables together and you have a word. Tuneic debunked!
Well, not really. The puzzle behind Tuneic isn’t always that straightforward, and another mind-boggling consideration is that Tuneic is also being composed with the use of several music modes, which is a type of musical scale that, in essence, gives the songs we listen to every day a distinct flavor. There’s also no clear way of telling when a Tuneic word begins and ends, and not all sounds and music in the game can cleanly translate to Tuneic.
“There are other rules which make it so that not just any sequence can be interpreted as valid Tuneic, and as a community we’ve developed an intuition for recognizing what Tuneic sequences generally sound like,” Ori Sky, a member of the Tunic community on Discord, tells Fanbyte.
The key to cracking the Tuneic puzzle, according to the community members I spoke to, is in a place called the Glyph Tower — a location that’s only accessible when you have gathered six out of 12 secret trophies. By solving a series of riddles written in Trunic from specific pages of the in-game manual, players can be directed to a website, ominously named “Do You Fear The Eyes Of The Far Shore”. On the site is a pulsating, sludgy black figure with glowing eyes that resemble the keys you’ve previously found in Tunic, and who also hums an eerily macabre harmony. This was the beginning of a new, immense space for the Tunic community to explore and unravel, with the website’s unsettling audio providing the rosetta stone to deciphering Tuneic, and a gateway to the game’s more ingrained secrets.
An image that appears when you visit the website Do You Fear The Eyes Of The Far Shore.
“We discovered written runes in the spectrogram representation of the audio file, spelling out ‘we are the eyes of the far shore,’ and some of us also noticed there were clear patterns in the audio, separated by noticeable gaps,” says Ori Sky. “We noticed that each sequence of notes matched up perfectly with the written runes we were seeing in the spectrogram, and they were either ascending or descending. We started to notice patterns […] and we were able to come up with some basic theories for how this language might work.”
Discovering what the precise notes in Tuneic mean, and how these relate to Trunic, is a series of trial and error attempts by the community, with members working closely together to interpret the language. “With this, we could look for and record similar sounding sequences in other notable places in the game, or places that might have easy to guess translations, much like decoding the runic language,” another Discord member only known as RisingStar tells me. In one instance, community member Oposdeo, who’s active on both Reddit and Discord, had jokingly suggested that the bells in Tunic had music that may be translated to “ding dong” which, in a hilarious twist, proved to be the right hypothesis.
“The first notable sounds were the big bells on the east and west, and the mountain door being unlocked. It was jokingly suggested the bells might say ‘ding dong’ or similar, but when we transcribed the notes we found that, if our rules were right, there were two sequences [that were of] the right length, and [these] had three phonemes repeated in the same order in both words,” says RisingStar. Several members have shared that it then took them about a week or so to figure out the bulk of Tuneic’s musical puzzles, after which progress “very quickly slowed down.”
This feels very much in line with the ambitions of Tunic’s developers. Speaking to VG247, audio lead Kevin Regamey explained he and developer Andrew Shouldice are big fans of audio puzzles. “Way back in the day (2012), I designed and released a game called Phonopath, which you can’t play anymore, because Flash is no longer a thing,” he said. “But it was an audio puzzle game, based in the browser, where you download audio files and find hidden passwords by turning the parts through spectral analysis and cryptography and phase cancellation — all these audio things, basically.”
The discovery of this brand new language within Tunic became rapidly overwhelming for the community. Members started putting together pages and pages of spreadsheets to document and share their findings, while realizing the massive potential of having Tuneic possibly tucked in every nook and cranny of the game: in the wind chimes, while spell-casting, and even within the soundtrack. It’s almost as if the community had unraveled yet another revelatory new way to experience Tunic, all over again.
“We did start seeing that this new language was, almost literally, everywhere, which was overwhelming, especially when the OST came into the mix,” RisingStar explains. “That, with both the admittedly rather high skill floor for transcribing the music, [as transcribing has] to be done by ear or analyzing a spectrogram, […] and the sequences getting more and more subtle. When mixed in with the surroundings, [it] means we know there’s a good amount of small easter eggs and fun lore tidbits of things [that are] saying words related to their surroundings, but there’s not much of a concerted effort to find them.”
“More and more, I realize — not just in terms of audio but also in relation to lore, backstory, and other potential secrets — that this game world has been meticulously crafted and no detail is unimportant. I’ve found myself staring at areas of the game for up to an hour, leaving me still unsure that there’s no deeper meaning behind something that could simply be decorative,” elaborates Ori Sky.
Despite the initial buzz over Tuneic among the community, progress has largely stalled beyond that pivotal discovery. That’s not to say that every single secret in Tunic has been unearthed by now; there are still some kinks about Tuneic that the community has yet to iron out. But unlike Trunic, figuring out the intricacies of this auditory language requires people with the keen interest to do so, as well as some musical training, and knowledge of Tuneic to distinguish a Tuneic sequence from the game’s ambient soundscapes.
“Another reason it is difficult is that within a song, the chord progression could be played on a piano in the background of some heavy synth music, or might be present in the bass track of the song. Basically, it can be hidden in a lot of places within a song, and even if you find something promising, it can be really hard to isolate and transcribe sequences from a complex musical track,” Oposdeo explains.
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“A lot of sound effects do translate to Tuneic—even the death sounds of the turrets we encounter in the overworld, which are warped in pitch and require some creative liberty in order to accurately transcribe,” Ori Sky says. “We often encounter sound effects that seemingly have no meaning, but sound like they should. Personally, I don’t think we’ve found everything yet.”
Then there’s the possibility of a third language in Tunic, a proposition that RisingStar has vaguely toyed with, but admitted they have not found a precedent for anything like that in the game. At least not yet, anyway. The discovery of Tuneic has only expanded the scope of Tunic’s seemingly bottomless well of secrets, filling the community’s collective imagination with infinite possibilities. It’s still compelling them to chip away at its trove of riddles, to plow through and see what more is beyond Tunic’s multi-faceted universe.
“The fact that Andrew slipped in so many hidden messages in plain sight within the game, disguised as music, is just genius,” Oposdeo says. “Nobody suspected a thing until the exact moment he wanted us to—on the website. Andrew really understands the joy of secrets.”