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The Greatest Easter Eggs In Gaming

According to Wikipedia, the name Easter egg comes from Dan O'Bannon's horror spoof, <i>Return of the Living Dead</i>. In the film, a container of zombies goes missing and is referred to--in code--as an "Easter egg."


By Carrie Gouskos, with Jeff Gerstmann
Design by Collin Oguro

According to Wikipedia, the name Easter egg comes from Dan O'Bannon's horror spoof, Return of the Living Dead. In the film, a container of zombies goes missing and is referred to--in code--as an "Easter egg." Of course, the name is more obviously derived from "Easter egg hunt" fame, where Easter-celebrating-children are made to search through an established area (usually the yard) for dyed hard-boiled eggs or plastic eggs filled with candy. Generally (in video games at least) Easter eggs are a reward, not a punishment, although they range from hidden files to secret rooms and often break character from the game, making reference to the developer or to the notion of the Easter egg itself. It's important to distinguish Easter eggs from cheats, since the former represent additional content. However, they're usually superfluous to gameplay. Cheats like the famous "Justin Bailey" code from Metroid may be as notorious as some of the more notable Easter eggs, but they serve a specific function, such as skipping gameplay levels or invoking invincibility. We define Easter eggs as hidden properties of games that can be revealed by button combinations or by accessing remote areas in the game or on the disc itself.

The Beginning

Getting the first Easter egg was an Adventure in itself.
Getting the first Easter egg was an Adventure in itself.

The first Easter egg on the list is the one that started it all. In 1980, Atari programmer Warren Robinett set about making a video game version of the original text Adventure. In the depths of the black castle in Games 2 and 3, which required special tools, direction, and a certain amount of know-how, players could maneuver to a room by the catacombs that had a single-pixel gray dot, the same color as the game's background. The dot would allow players access through a wall to a superfluous area with the text "Created by Warren Robinett" running down the middle. Robinett was partially motivated by the fact that, at the time, designers weren't given credit for their games. And so he claimed his own. Given the size of Atari games, this little screen ate a substantial portion of the memory (at around 5 percent), although Robinett has claimed that he created it only after the game was finished. Reprinting the cartridge without this screen would have proved to be too costly for Atari, and given the relative obscurity of the egg, it was left in for all future printings. These days, Adventure is almost as notorious for fathering the first Easter egg as it is for its innovations in action adventure gameplay.

The Hidden Track

One of the more interesting ways to hide information is to make it accessible only through different treatment of the disc. Our favorite example comes from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which reveals a hidden music track when you try to read it as a CD instead of as a PlayStation disc. In any music-playing program, if you load the black PlayStation disc, you'll be treated to "Alucard #2," the second (and only listenable) track listed. The song begins with a warning from the man himself to not attempt to listen to the first track, since it's merely computer data followed by a full Castlevania song that's been remixed. Click the Castlevania picture to listen to the beginning of the hidden track.

The Guest Stars

Midway's arcade basketball game, NBA Jam, was an instant success due to its easy-to-learn gameplay and exciting multiplayer. But another facet of the game also helped keep players coming back, quarters in hand. The game had a completely insane number of hidden secrets. For starters, the entire programming team is hidden in the game as players. By entering specific initials and birthdays, you could play as Mark Turmell, Sal Divita, and the rest of the gang. But there's more than that. You could also give the players unlimited turbo, show a shot percentage, or even give the player models big heads. But the weirdest inclusion has to be a crazy polygonal tank game. If you shoot all the tanks, it enables a mess of codes all at once. Crazy. Later, NBA Jam would be updated to NBA Jam Tournament Edition. Early revisions of the arcade version actually let you put Mortal Kombat characters into the game. Seeing Raiden's head on a basketball player's body was pretty silly, though it didn't give your player any kind of full-court torpedo dunk or anything like that. The NBA objected to the inclusion, and the characters were removed in later revisions of TE. Meanwhile, the home versions of NBA Jam included an even weirder array of characters, including the three members of the Beastie Boys and, yes, Bill Clinton. (And for those fans who wanted a break from shooting hoops, a secret code in the arcade version of the game also let you play a vector-graphics tank game similar to Battlezone, a far cry from basketball, but another weird Easter egg, nonetheless.)

The Humorous

Diablo II was a serious game, but it didn't mind exhibiting a little humor now and then. Once a rumor surrounding the original Diablo, the infamous "Secret Cow Level" was a reality in Diablo II, and infused the strategy game with a little fun. A specific sequence of events and one complete play-through of the game let you open a portal to a world where cows reigned supreme. All you needed was the leg of Wirt (an artifact from the game's first act) by the time you defeated Diablo in the game's last act. A trip to town and a transmute later and you'd have an open portal to a place known only as the "Secret Cow Level," which was filled with a seemingly endless amount of hell's bovines. Of course, the sheer number of these creatures and their high levels provided a worthy challenge to Diablo II fans, who now play that level almost exclusively to power up their characters. More humorous than the fact that you're fighting hordes of two-legged cows is that they emit quite-human-sounding "Moos," and they literally swarm you. Once they finally let up, you can fight the Cow King, but defeating him means sealing off the Secret Cow Level forever. So do so with caution. The Secret Cow Level is an example of an Easter egg that takes some work to unlock, but it also provides a decent reward. Not only does it exhibit the humor of Blizzard North's programmers, but also it's worth the effort financially.

The Muse

Final Fantasy Tactics wasn't the first game to include characters from an earlier game in the series, but it's definitely one of the most well-thought-out. In its installment as one of GameSpot's Greatest Games of All Time, homage is paid to the Cloud Strife Easter egg. "Not only is Final Fantasy Tactics one of the greatest games of all time, but it also features one of the greatest Easter eggs of all time: Cloud Strife, the hero of Square's remarkably popular Final Fantasy VII, is a hidden, playable character. He comes equipped with his trademark buster sword and limit break special moves from FFVII. Finding Cloud, and getting him to join you, was a convoluted process, to say the least, but word of his presence in the game quickly spread--even as many fans of Final Fantasy Tactics continued to believe that this hidden character was a hoax. For good measure, and as part of the process of getting Cloud to join your party, Ramza has a run-in with a girl who looks identical to Final Fantasy VII's Aeris. These cameo appearances helped solidify Final Fantasy Tactics' reputation as a genuine Final Fantasy game, since everything else about it is so different from the series' conventions."

The Literal

This screenshot and more can be found over at
This screenshot and more can be found over at

Many games take the term Easter egg literally, rewarding your efforts with actual Easter eggs (minus the candy!). The running gag in the Grand Theft Auto series is that you pay a high price for a low reward, going to the ends of the game for a dinky picture of an egg. In San Andreas, you don't even get the egg. Instead you receive a sign telling you that there are no Easter eggs and that you should leave...but not quite in those words and not quite as nicely. Games that have the ability, such as those of the massively multiplayer online kind, can even treat you to Easter eggs on Sunday. This previous Easter in World of Warcraft, players could hunt the snowy areas for Easter eggs filled with candy, as well as search for the elusive Easter dress and suit. These were rare gifts that only showed up on that one day. But our favorite literal tribute is in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Behold! It's an Easter egg.

The Winner

Best.Contest Prize.Ever.
Best.Contest Prize.Ever.

One day, Chris Houlihan was just another Nintendo Power reader. The next day he had one of the most elusive Easter eggs in gaming history named after him. Nintendo Power's contest promised that one fan would have the opportunity to own a room in the upcoming third Zelda game, A Link to the Past. For years, few people knew about this Easter egg, because it is, in fact, so difficult to execute. Although there are a few different methods, they all require the Pegasus boots and a certain amount of luck. You need to gain the appropriate speed to launch yourself into his room and not into another one. Inside the room, there are 45 blue rupees and a plaque that reads: "My name is Chris Houlihan. This is my top secret room. Keep it between us, OK?" Although contests have been offered since this one, generally winners get to be unlockable characters or part of the game's progress, not an actual Easter egg. The Chris Houlihan room is one of the more unique and enviable Easter eggs of all time.

The Perverts

Metal Gear Solid alone could probably generate an entire document on Easter eggs, since the series is rife with extras. One of the most famous is its ode to perverted little boys everywhere: the chance to see the game's empowered female character, Meryl, in her underwear. Long before Hillary Clinton was vying for presidency, Meryl had no one to protect her naked legs from a vent-crawling, peeping Snake. Before freeing her (or the DARPA chief, for that matter) from prison, Snake can peer in on both of them from a ceiling vent. A few trips in and out of the vent and you get the opportunity to witness different moments in Meryl's workout routine, from sit-ups to one-handed push-ups. If you do it enough times, she'll begin doing her workout in her underwear. Although frankly, this one is more like tepid coffee, since seeing a woman's legs isn't the most provocative event in video game history.

The Quest

Blizzard's great Easter egg tradition continues in World of Warcraft in a number of different ways. But one of the more rewarding is the Alliance-specific chicken quest. This egg incorporates a little bit of everything, such as annoying the people around you, actual work, and humor. To unlock the quest, called C-L-U-C-K, you simply need to type "/chicken" to any of the game's chickens a lot. And by a lot, we mean, a lot. Somewhere around 60 times (hence the annoying other people part), the chicken will look at you quizzically, and you'll be able to speak to it and receive the quest. Your next task is to buy the chicken a bag of special feed, "/cheer" at it, and then pick up your present: a pet chicken that will follow you to the ends of Azeroth. It's actually quite simple, but it's still not that widely known about, so you can easily get yourself a little treat that will amaze your friends and enemies alike.

The Legend

It was so difficult to pull this Mortal Kombat trick off that most players doubted it was even possible. But this was no simple wives' tale. If you satisfied a very specific set of requirements, you could face off against a green ninja at the bottom of the game's Pit stage. To face Reptile, first you had to be playing on one of the later revisions of the game. Then you had to fight on the Pit stage on one of those rare occasions when some shadowy item is flying in front of the moon. This didn't happen all that often, but when it did, you needed to beat your opponent without getting hit and without touching the block button. Do all this and you'd get to face Reptile. Reptile moved much faster than the regular characters, and he had both Scorpion and Sub-Zero's moves. If you could manage to defeat him, you could get yourself 10,000,000 points. Lose and you might end up getting Scorpion or Sub-Zero's fatality performed on you. People went crazy trying to figure out a formula for making the shadow appear in front of the moon, but it really just might as well have been random. Later versions of the arcade game had Reptile popping up before the start of random matches, as well as giving off clues as to his whereabouts.

The Tie-In

Few games have the foresight to tie in stories through their series. However, the rich Resident Evil games manage to do just that by introducing a family of characters--with varying relationships to the famous Raccoon City S.T.A.R.S. team and to one another--that seems to change (coherently) throughout. In Resident Evil 2, long before we knew how many games there would be in the franchise, patient (almost maniacal) fans were treated to a totally obscure reference. If you search the S.T.A.R.S. office on the second floor of the Raccoon City Police Department, Wesker's desk in particular, you'll get a message that says, "It's trashed. Someone must have searched the desk..." If you choose to keep looking, say, another 50 times, you'll finally receive a roll of film. The film, when developed, produces one picture: Rebecca Chambers in a basketball uniform. Later games in the series will tie in Rebecca's relationship with Wesker more thoroughly, but needless to say, this is the kind of egg that really requires a strict attention to detail.

The Hardware

Reinventing the meaning of the term
Reinventing the meaning of the term "launch game."

If you were lucky enough to get a Sega Master System back when the system launched in 1986 but weren't lucky enough to get any games for it, no matter! The SMS had its own Easter egg built into the system: a game called "Snail." The traditional boot-up screen for the Sega Master System directed you to turn the system off and insert a cartridge. If you ignored this and held the up button, as well as both the A and B buttons, the screen would slide to the side, revealing Snail. The objective was to navigate the little gastropod through a maze, from start to finish, within a certain time limit. Each level, the maze would get more difficult, and the time would get a little faster. If you died at any point, you'd have to start Snail over again from the beginning.

The Friend

I'm sorry, Mario, but Yoshi is on top of the castle.
I'm sorry, Mario, but Yoshi is on top of the castle.

The Mario series is another one that's filled with a number of different hidden surprises. One of the most notorious comes from Super Mario 64. After completing the game fully, by getting all 120 of the game's available stars, you unlock a cannon in the castle's front courtyard. You can use the cannon to get up onto the roof of the castle, where you'll encounter Yoshi, Mario's lovable dinosaur friend. Yoshi fully stocks your lives, although it's a little unnecessary at this point. Despite the pointlessness of the encounter, it was still considered a rite of passage to meet up with Yoshi in Super Mario 64, since it required so much regular gameplay, and it required familiarity with the rest of the franchise.

The Annoyed

Warcraft: Orcs and Humans' and Warcraft II's most famous Easter egg is a lesson learned from your pesky younger brother, only this time it's clicking instead of poking. If you select any troop in the game and continue to click on him or her, the vocal response will sound as if the troop is becoming gradually more agitated. An agitated troop will begin by saying something deferential when initially selected, such as "Awaiting orders." But he or she will lose his or her temper after multiple clicks. Each of the characters says something different, whether it's a water-based troop claiming to get seasick or an orc that threatens you for touching him too much. Of course, the implementation of this Easter egg only makes pestering your troops more interesting. Just make sure you get your work done before you piss them off too much.

The Ego

John Romero, upon  finding out he was the end boss of Doom II.
John Romero, upon finding out he was the end boss of Doom II.

John Romero, the charismatic designer with the famous long hair, was the face of Doom in more ways than one. While Doom II was still in production, a late-night trip through the final level with "no clip" mode on revealed that someone in the Doom offices had made Romero's role with the game a little more sinister. Although to defeat the end boss players shot at a large demon head affixed to the wall, the actual damage was being done to a graphic--unable to be seen during normal gameplay--of John Romero's head on a stick behind it. To have the last laugh, John Romero and the sound designer recorded Romero's voice for the demon, which said, "To win this game, you must kill me, John Romero." However, the voice was distorted and reversed so it wouldn't be obvious. To witness this egg in action, you must activate the no-clip cheat, as Romero did, and pay a visit to his face up close and personal. The pixelated picture winces as each bullet makes contact, until finally, after enough damage has been done, you complete the game. This egg is particularly important because it was a classic example of designer-fueled it might not have been as interesting if John Romero weren't a widely recognized character.

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