Hunting for Easter Eggs

I recently read Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One. The story captivated me and likely appeals to other gaming fans, especially those who—like me—happen to love 1980s pop-culture. Although the book takes place in the future, the plot encouraged me to think more about games from the past.

In Ready Player One, America becomes a wasteland. To escape the onset of depression, the vast majority of citizens flee into Oasis, a virtual video game world. When the creator (James Halliday) of Oasis dies, both the real and virtual worlds become chaotic. Halliday indicates in his will that he hid an Easter egg somewhere in the vast virtual universe. The person who discovers the egg will become heir to his impressive fortune and Oasis.

The book’s characters tout this as the most elaborately hidden Easter egg ever, yet the concept of hiding gems within games dates back to the late 1970s. Halliday notes how the first Easter egg, which appeared in the 1979 video game Adventure, inspired him to add his own to game play.

At the time that Warren Robinett designed Adventure for Atari, the company did not credit individual designers. Robinett took matters of credit into his own hands when he created a secret room within the game. A player accessed the room by locating a one-pixel object known as the “Grey Dot,” which Robinett made nearly invisible when he colored it the same shade as the wall. When a player found the dot, he passed through a wall into a room that contained the text “Created by Warren Robinett.” Atari executives never knew the room existed until a 15-year-old player sent them a note. The company considered remaking the game, but it proved too expensive.Adventure Easter Egg, Atari 1979, Courtesy of Fair Use

Since Adventure, many game designers have incorporated hidden rooms and levels into their final products, often with humorous results. In 1988, the Sierra graphical adventure King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella allowed astute players to travel off the planet. If a player stood outside the dungeon that held captive Rosella and at the same time typed the words “Beam Me,” the game transported him to a space station with a view of the world and random orbiting objects, such as cheeseburgers. A group of men and women in white lab coats greeted the player and introduced themselves as the game’s development team. This only appears in early copies of the game, however, which make use of Sierra’s AGI engine.

Diablo II, an action role-playing game published by Blizzard Entertainment in 2000, also contains a hidden gem. In the original Diablo game, players joked that repetitively clicking on a certain cow that roamed the streets would lead to a secret world populated by bovines. While this world did not exist, creators took the rumor and ran with it in Diablo II. After killing the game’s final boss in Diablo II, players must stand in a certain encampment and combine special items to open a red portal to a secret level containing Hell Bovines—bipedal cows with polearms—and the Cow King. This gag continued in Diablo III, which included a hidden level known as Whimsyshire. Players must create a Staff of Herding and present it to a character known as the Cow King’s Ghost. A rainbow gate appears, leading to a colorful level straight out of a children’s cartoon, except that it contains enemies such as killer unicorns and evil teddy bears.

My personal favorite Easter egg appears in the 1995 LucasArts game Star Wars: Rebel Assault II. Press “Alt+V” to bring up a control menu, then type the password “OVRES,” and all of the game’s cut scenes become reworked with new text in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Small shadows even appear at the bottom of the screen, resembling Darth Vader, R2-D2 and C-3PO.

While none of these hidden gems grant the type of reward gamers hoped to receive in Ready Player One, they still provide amusement. With the advent of the Internet, players can spread word of these secret levels more easily than ever before. What gaming Easter eggs did you discover?