With a long weekend of gluttony fast approaching many of you will be looking forward to having a bellyful of Easter Eggs sooner rather than later. As much as we love a nice chocolatey treat or two at the Tag office, in our line of work Easter Eggs of a quite different kind are an ingrained part of our culture. With that in mind, we decided to take a look into the vaults at some of the most memorable ones.
Whilst the internet age has made the discovery of Easter Eggs a much simpler process, developers have been hiding in-jokes, references and messages in their work almost since the beginning. Back in 1979, Atari’s Adventure proved not only the first ever game to introduce fantasy elements, but the first to hide an Easter Egg within its depths. Fearful of having their staff “poached” by rivals, Atari had an outright ban on developer credits appearing in-game, but Adventure creator Warren Robinett found a way around this. In a secret area inside one of the game’s castles was Warren’s name in migraine-inducing flashing lights, creating a little bit of history as well as sending the children of the 70s straight for the paracetamol.
Lack of recognition for developers proved the motivation behind a number of early Easter Eggs, with the Atari 400 version of Donkey Kong hiding the programmer’s initials in a manner so obtuse they remained undiscovered until 2009. As the industry grew throughout the 80s and 90s however, Easter Eggs diversified with it. Capcom’s Street Fighter II was such a cornerstone of gaming culture in the early 90s that the game’s signature “Hadouken” move made an unlikely appearance in Mega Man X as a secret attack, and today such cheeky winks to other IPs remain one of the most popular forms of Easter Egg. These range from Homer Simpson’s donut-strewn work desk showing up in Duke Nukem 3D, to a newspaper clipping in Uncharted 3 that referenced the viral outbreak from The Last of Us. Developers have also been known to show a bit of generosity with such references. The 16-bit reimagining of Pitfall included a secret warp that let gamers play the 1982 original in its entirety, whilst slaughtering a few mannequins in Call of Duty: Black Ops II opened up a selection of 80s arcade games.
Naughty Dog showed a different form of generosity in 1993, with the Megadrive release of Rings of Power. Whilst the game itself won’t be remembered as one of the studio’s finest achievements, inputting a code on the splash screen did provide adolescent boys with a useful lesson in anatomy. Their prize was a flash of pixelated nipple from one of the game’s NPCs, several years before rumours of a naked Lara Croft code became the stuff of playground myth. Good old-fashioned nudity popped up again in the original Metal Gear Solid, where chasing your sidekick Meryl fast enough resulted in a cutscene conducted in a disturbing PSOne-era approximation of underwear.
Benny Hill tributes aside, Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series is one absolutely brimming with oddball Easter Eggs from top to bottom, ranging from the original’s infamous “mind reading” trick to an unlockable tuxedo and a Mario statue perched on a desk. Perhaps our favourite though, comes in Metal Gear Solid 3 and concerns an elderly sniper called The End. A formidable boss, savvy players could find a way round him by switching off the game and returning weeks later to find he had died of old age. Clever, funny and a little bit heartbreaking all at once, it’s an Easter Egg that fits perfectly with this most eccentric of franchises.
And ultimately, it’s this peculiar nature of many Easter Eggs that makes them so compelling. At the turn of the millennium many of us spent hours hunting down the lumps of Swiss cheese hidden throughout Perfect Dark, whilst within the teen-drama of Gone Home exists an aurally accurate audio diary from the family cat. Warren Robinett couldn't have imagined that four decades after his own piece of subversion, devoted players of The Witness would be rewarded with a video of the developer peeing into a bottle. Easter Eggs are here to stay and they’re getting ever weirder, so let the hunt continue.