In last few days Easter egg Hunts took place all over the globe with children running around and searching for painted eggshells probably hidden somewhere in their home yards. Of course, this may vary due to different type of hunts – sometimes, children are actually looking for chocolate eggs, real eggs, random types of candy, and also some information whether their favorite game is about to get a sequel… Not exactly this type of Easter eggs, nonetheless the kind I would like to focus on today. I am sure you’ve already gone through dozens of articles titled top whatever the number video game Easter eggs ever, so let’s do something a little bit different. The occasion could not have been better for explaining how the term “Easter egg” have appeared in video game industry, and how the first (discovered!) Easter egg has evolved into what players are hunting for in video games today. All aboard the spoiler train!
First of all, what exactly is an Easter egg? I mean, in video games, of course. Well, the most general definition describes an Easter egg as a feature or surprise hidden in a video game. The first discovered Easter egg was found in Atari’s Adventure video game released back in 1978. The publisher decided not to include the developers’ names in the credits cause other software companies might decide to give the developers a better offer they obviously would not refuse. The creator of the game – Warren Robinett, thought he deserved some credit and added a hidden chamber inside the game with his name being continuously displayed inside it. After Robinett left the company and the game was finally published (with the chamber, of course), a 15-year-old boy by the name of Adam Clayton was the first one to contact Atari and inform them about his discovery in the game. Of course, the management went full berserk knowing how much money they might lose by withdrawing the already manufactured cartridges and replacing them with new ones (without the secret chamber). However, seeing the potential in this situation, Steve Wright, the Director of Software Development, suggested they left the hidden feature, and what is more, include similar messages in their upcoming games. This way they could encourage players to stick a bit longer to their games and reward them for experimenting with the title.
Seeing how Easter eggs are popular across the gaming industry shows that Wright made a good call. Adventure was not the first game with hidden surprises but it sure was the first case that went public on such scale, and thus it is often considered to be the first Easter egg in video games. Let’s leave history behind and think about different types of Easter eggs waiting for us in all video games. Robinett’s idea combined two popular elements of hidden content – messages and locations. Such approach is used even today. These two elements are not mentioned in any tutorials or in the game description – players have to experiment with the game on their own to find out about all the secrets and reveal all unseen mysteries that await them. The hidden locations might differ in size from a single chamber to a whole level. Quite often these locations are accessible thanks to an unintentional bug that changes the programmer’s mistake into a Holy Grail. The examples I remember the most, are the Gabe Newell Room in Half-Life, the famous Cow level in Diablo 2, Warden Sharp’s secret room in Batman: Arkham Asylum, MAP31 in Doom II, dozens of Easter eggs in Duke Nukem 3D, and the quite recent Secret Developer Room in Fallout 76. Although the last one, instead of becoming an Easter egg, has actually become another nail in the coffin of Fallout 76.
Usually, a secret room can be unlocked after finding a switch that opens the door. However, in some cases players need to solve a riddle with no additional clues to it, exploit a bug, and even travel beyond the playable map to find the secret feature. Such rooms and areas don’t have to contain some valuable treasure. Even the sheer fact of discovering the hidden location is rewarding enough. Like the aforementioned Gabe Newell Room. Ok, just kidding – a better example would be… basically any other hidden location ever.
Another type of Easter eggs in video games includes urban legends, mythical creatures, and conspiracy theories. And yes, different installments of the Grand Theft Auto series have all of those. Players can hunt for Sasquatch or locate different parts of a crashed UFO spaceship. The characteristics of an open world game give developers countless options to implement such additional elements for players to discover. Even Red Dead Redemption 2 and Fallout 4 included UFO-related Easter eggs. The former one might actually be a sort of a prequel to the crashed UFO spaceship in GTA V. The latter started after witnessing the crash of an alien spacecraft – some players stopped there, believing that it was all. More investigative players decided to find the crash site and thus found the alien weapon. Again, that is yet another point, where some players thought there is nothing more. The Easter egg continues though, as after descending into the nearby cave, one could encounter (and eventually kill) an extraterrestrial. Easter eggs including sightings of mythical creatures, extraterrestrials, and other beings that are brought to life by multiple conspiracy theories, require players to go on a true hunt, looking for clues of those creatures whereabouts, eyewitness reports, alleged sightings, which sounds like a job of Mulder and Scully from The X-Files series. After a lot of effort players may have a chance to take part in the close encounters with unidentified creatures.
Other Easter eggs include deliberate attempts by some developers to needle or command competitive studios by exaggerating the latter’s mistakes in their game, making fun of some mechanics implemented in other games, or by adding some references to characters and events from other games (or elements of pop culture, for that matter) that fans will sure appreciate. This is a perfect opportunity to continue the everlasting tradition of mentioning The Witcher video game series. The CD Projekt Red games are FULL of Easter eggs, two of which stand out in my mind quite well. The first one can be found in the Prologue of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings – a dead body donned with white cloth lies near the large iron gate, next to the cart filled with hay. After approaching the corpse, Geralt says “They never learn” and receives +1 to Assassination Attribute. This is a clear reference to Assassin’s Creed series and the mechanic involving the main protagonist jumping from high spots into carts or piles of hay without dying. The second Easter egg comes from the third installment of The Witcher series, which depicted an open cell hanging from a cliff with a corpse of a dwarf on the floor. Upon approaching the corpse, Geralt says “Sky cells. Nice idea for prison without bars. Shame he didn’t know how to fly.” This is a clear reference to Tyrion Lannister, a character from the beloved Game of Thrones TV series, who in one of the episodes of the first season was imprisoned in a very similar cell, and was told that in order to regain freedom, he can always attempt flying.
Let’s move back to the aforementioned Warden Sharp’s Hidden Room found in Batman: Arkham Asylum. This is also a perfect example of Easter eggs teasing an upcoming sequel. Inside the room, players could find blueprints depicting Arkham City, which later turned out to be the subtitle of the next installment in the series. Also in the latest God of War, if you return to Kratos’ house and go to sleep you can experience a tease of what is to come – Thor, the god of thunder (not the one from the Marvel Universe, keep that in mind) appeared to avenge his brother Baldur. This neat feature teases what might actually happen in the next installment of the series. An interesting example can also be found in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, where players got to read an email including the list of main character’s ancestors sorted in terms of the century, historical events, and area they lived in that indicated France and Egypt. Actually, next installments took place during the French Revolution and Egypt – so everything turned out to be true. This is also an interesting way to reveal the future of the series.
Easter eggs are all this and much more. It would have taken an entire series of editorials to describe even a fraction of those that have been discovered so far. This brings another question: How many Easter eggs still remain to be discovered? And which Easter egg is actually the oldest one ever implemented in the game’s code? A tale for another time. And what are your favorite types of Easter eggs? Are you personally fond of conducting a research or investigation in the game to find them by yourself? Or do you prefer following other players’ footsteps to skip the arduous experiments and cut straight to the awesome results? Let us know in the comment section down below!
Hank | Gamepressure.com