Meet the deaf Destiny 2 players who raid using a custom-made comms app

The final boss of Destiny 2's Spire of Stars raid, the impossible-to-pronounce Val Ca'uor, is one of the most difficult fights in Destiny's history. Players have to defend multiple objectives and activate several plates with precise timing, pass energy orbs around like a game of high-stakes hot potato, ride tractor cannons into space and dunk on warships, and cram as much ass-kicking as possible into a narrow DPS window, all while wading through a never-ending river of adds. It's nuts. Even experienced, max-level raiders struggle to beat the Spire of Stars consistently, so imagine how difficult the fight would be if your entire team was unable to use voice chat to call out the fight's many stages and commands. 

That's the challenge Destiny 2 clan BAM Optical Raiders took on, and earlier this week, they triumphed over Val Ca'uor. Here’s how they did it.

Some responses edited for clarity and length.

"It took us about 20 attempts in four weeks," Jason, the founder of BAM Optical Raiders and leader of the Spire of Stars team, tells me. "Our successful attempt took two hours to complete, and the team was crying we were so happy. All the work we had put into it had finally paid off, and it was well worth it. We are a raiding clan after all, so where some players just see an emblem and bad loot, we see another badge of honor." 

Obviously, Val Ca'uor was the hardest part. "The boss himself is not so tough," Jason says, "it's just staying alive and repeating the steps. The toughest thing was getting everyone on the same page and comfortable with the list of steps." In order to communicate effectively and handle call outs, Jason and his team used a visual interface called Jarvis 99-40, which was custom-made for deaf Destiny raiders by Jason's web-savvy friend Maverick and his partner Jamie. 

"Jarvis is a fairly simple web app designed to aid in communication," Jamie explains. "It was created to address problems with the Leviathan raid in Destiny 2, specifically the over-reliance on voice communication. Several of the encounters are far more challenging if you're unable to use voice comms, and players had to find ways around that restriction. A common method was to use different in-game emotes to signal other players, but there were issues with limits on the number of emotes you could display in a short period of time. Players have also used Discord bots, also developed by Maverick, to quickly chat, or Skype to sign with each other." 

Jarvis 99-40 is an evolution of those ideas. It allows deaf Destiny raiders to send visual callouts using simple buttons and easy-to-use templates. Here's what the Val Ca'uor fight looks like in Jarvis: 

Think of Jarvis as a pictographic Discord. Players create a unique session and share their session ID with their teammates so they can all pile in. Once all players have joined, they share the same interface, so whenever one player presses a button, all players see that it's been pressed. So if Jason clicks the "Plates" button during Val Ca'uor, all his teammates will know to "Go to plates!" There are also tools for custom countdowns, and a chat room is available in the bottom right of the app. 

Jarvis is available on multiple devices but it can't be directly overlayed in-game (BAM Optical Raiders primarily plays on Xbox One), so Jason and his teammates had to get creative. Jason uses Jarvis on a tripod-mounted Kindle Fire and uses its touch screen for call outs, while Maverick plays on a dual-monitor setup with Destiny on one monitor and Jarvis on the other. Another BAM Optical Raiders member uses his smartphone to run Jarvis and sends call outs via a USB keyboard. "You want it close enough that you can make call outs or use the chat, but far enough away that it doesn’t obscure the game screen," Maverick says. 

"Jarvis makes it much easier to communicate without verbal communication because everything is standardized and stationary," Maverick explains. "Unlike using a chat room or video call where you have to pay attention to the changing location of different bits of information, and unlike verbal communication where so much of it is not needed, misunderstood, or even talked over, the information on Jarvis is presented the same way every time. In the future, Jarvis will come very close to being a digital sherpa with all the information that is provided with real-time instructions."

Maverick has known Jason for years, but he only started work on Jarvis around nine months ago, which was right around the time Jamie offered to help out. Maverick had been working on projects with similar goals for about two years, but he'd only made text guides, video guides, and things like Discord bots. Jarvis was a much bigger project, so he enlisted Jamie's help. 

"I started work on the initial version of Jarvis a few days after Maverick made a post on Reddit looking for developers," Jamie says, "and there was a proof of concept done relatively quickly. It took a good few months to launch the open Beta though, with plenty of code tweaks along the way. The result is quite a lot of spaghetti code as extra features were added, which is why a rebuild is called for."

At first, Jarvis was just a tool Destiny 2 players could use to help with the normal Leviathan raid, but it's since grown to support both the Eater of Worlds and Spire of Stars raid lairs. Once Maverick and Jamie finish Jarvis' ongoing rebuild—tidying up the code and refining the interface—they hope to branch out to other games and assist more players, like mute players or players who don't speak the same language as their clan mates. 

"Jarvis is mostly used by the deaf community, however the system is designed to meet the needs of any gamer that cannot use sound," Maverick says. "There is a soundboard built in to make call outs and give non-verbal gamers a voice to use. In the future, we plan to appeal to our color blind audience, and also provide a high contrast mode. Further down the line we can see Jarvis not only working to merge abled and differently abled gamers, but also working to integrate gamers of various cultures and backgrounds. To this end we want to eventually include an automatic translation service that converts the chat to your native language regardless of the other player’s native language." 

We will continue to show the LFG community out there that we, deaf players, can play

Jason

BAM Optical Raiders also have big goals for the future. Emboldened by their latest victory, Jason and his clan plan to tackle the newly released prestige versions of the Eater of Worlds and Spire of Stars raid lairs. I've no doubt they'll pull it off: they've already beaten the normal versions of all three of Destiny 2's raids, after all.

"I would like to see us as a raid speedrun clan someday," Jason says. "We are raiders at heart, we meet almost every night to raid. Without raids, there is no Destiny. We will continue to strive to do our best and show the LFG community out there that we, deaf players, can play, and that they should keep their mind open. I want to send a message to the LFG community about Jarvis too, so both hearing and deaf players can benefit from Jarvis."

You can register for Jarvis for free on its official site. Anyone can register: you just need to provide an email and password. Maverick says that once they finish rebuilding Jarvis, registration will no longer be required and setting up sessions will be even easier. Jarvis is compatible with most tablets, phones, laptops, desktops and notebooks, but Maverick recommends running it through Google Chrome.