If you’ve played video games for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard of the term “Easter egg.” But what exactly is an Easter egg, and how do you find them?
Below, we examine Easter eggs in gaming, including their history and some examples.
What Are Easter Eggs?
Easter eggs are secret bits of media that developers hide inside video games (as well as other mediums, like movies and computer software). They can come in the form of text, images, special scenes, nods to other works, and more.
Generally, Easter eggs are hidden and uncovered for their own sake. They are optional, and they don’t grant any bonuses to gameplay. This makes them distinct from cheats or in-game collectibles.
Video game Easter eggs get their name from the real-life practice of Easter egg hunts, where children search for eggs filled with candy and other treats.
The History of Video Game Easter Eggs
Developers have been hiding Easter eggs in their games since the early days of the medium. The first widely recognized Easter egg, which served as the origin of the term, was hidden in the 1980 game Adventure on the Atari 2600. It’s one of the first action-adventure game, with its primitive key-collecting and sword combat serving as a precursor to titles like The Legend of Zelda.
Its developer, Warren Robinett, was frustrated with Atari’s policy at the time of not giving credit to its programmers, which the company did to prevent other companies from poaching their talent. He secretly embedded the text “Created by Warren Robinett” into the game, accessible only with a method that was difficult to stumble upon.
This wasn’t discovered until after the game was released, by which point Robinett had left Atari. The company decided to leave this text in the game instead of removing it; Steve Wright, the company’s software development director, said that players trying to find this would be like “hunting for Easter eggs” and wanted all future Atari games to include them.
Examples of Easter Eggs in Video Games
Since Adventure, Easter eggs large and small have appeared in thousands of games. These tend to fall into a few categories. Let’s look at some of the most popular, along with some examples from games.
References to Other Games
Some Easter eggs are nods to other franchises or titles, usually those made by the same developer. These are usually a little treat for fans of the franchise, or observant players who know a lot of games.
For example, in Uncharted 3, there’s an easily-overlooked newspaper that reads “Scientists are still struggling to understand deadly fungus.” This is a reference to the plot of The Last Of Us, also developed by Naughty Dog. Interestingly, the company forgot to remove this reference before the game launched, since The Last Of Us hadn’t been announced yet.
Other examples include Persona 5 making light references to characters from Persona 4, Animal Crossing: New Leaf allowing you to eat a “Famous Mushroom” item and grow large like Mario, and Overwatch characters’ voice lines referencing dozens of movies and games.
Fun and Silly
A lot of Easter eggs are simply fun little jokes that last a few seconds and then move on. They often reward players for going out of their way to explore or trying weird combinations of actions.
For example, in Crysis 2, interacting with an innocuous panel on the wall in a certain level will open an elevator across the hall. When it opens, you’ll see soldiers dancing for a few seconds.
Another Easter egg in this vein is being able to move the 64 icon around the screen on the Star Fox 64 title screen while the character’s heads follow it. In the case of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, they hid a literal chocolate Easter egg in the game.
A fun pattern of Easter egg is a special room that lets you talk with in-game avatars that represent the game’s creators. They might tell you more about the game’s background or give you various rewards for finding the room.
One of the best-known examples of this is The Dream Project in the SNES RPG Chrono Trigger. In one of the game’s many endings, you end up in a room with several of the people behind the game, with the opportunity to chat and hear more about their experiences.
In most of the Pokémon games, you’re able to speak with characters that represent the designers. Another similar example is the Insomniac Museum in many Ratchet & Clank games. These bonus rooms include scrapped content and developer commentary for a behind-the-scenes look.
If you play many games from the same studio or designer, you might notice Easter egg patterns in their games. One fun case of this is Totaka’s Song, a simple melody that Nintendo composer Kazumi Totaka hides in a lot of the games he works on.
The melody usually requires waiting for another track to end, making it hard to stumble across. People have a lot of fun trying to find it in each game they play with Totaka’s compositions.
Why Do Developers Hide Easter Eggs?
You might wonder why developers bother to put Easter eggs in their games. After all, they just add more work in a development schedule that’s often crunched as it is.
As we’ve seen, Easter eggs can serve as a way for the developer to communicate directly with the player, even if their managers aren’t on board with it.
But more importantly today, they are simply a way to add some extra flair to games. Developers have fun hiding these secrets, and sometimes it takes players years to dig them up. As a gamer, it’s fun to be the first person to discover something like this and share it with the world. Even Easter eggs that are less hidden, like nods to other games, are a neat little “aha!” moment for diligent fans of a series.
Easter eggs inject a lot of fun into games that would otherwise be missing. Having a hidden message just for the sake of it can be refreshing in a lot of games, and keeps them from getting too serious.
Time for an Egg Hunt
We’ve taken a brief survey of Easter eggs in gaming, including their origins, some common types, and why they exist. Their definition is pretty broad, so you might find other kinds than what we’ve mentioned here. Next time you play a game, keep an eye out for hidden rooms, nods to other media, or other little goodies. You might be surprised what you find!
And don’t forget that video games aren’t the only place where you’ll find Easter eggs. They exist in software, on websites, and much more.
While technology is cold, it’s still made by humans. Where there’s a human, there’s a sense of humor. Often, engineers slip a fun secret into their code — an Easter Egg.
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