Ten Great Gaming Easter Eggs

As you’ll no doubt be aware, last Sunday was Easter Sunday. Many of us will have spent the day (and quite possibly the days since) gorging ourselves on Easter eggs, and that of course includes me, since I never turn down the opportunity to eat chocolate. I also never turn down an opportunity to connect real world events with video gaming references. This may be why I’m not popular at parties.

In the gaming world, Easter eggs aren’t lumps of overpriced chocolate - they have a different meaning. If you’re not familiar with the term, an Easter egg in gaming is a hidden extra for people to find, such as a hidden room, a message from the developers, a change in the way the game looks, etc. They occur in DVD menus too, usually leading to a hidden documentary or something along those lines, but in gaming they can be almost anything.

Today I’m going to run through a few of my favourite Easter eggs in gaming, highlighting some of the funniest, most important or just plain weirdest.

Secret Credits - Adventure

This is possibly the first Easter egg in gaming, and certainly one of the most famous. Released in 1979 for the Atari 2600, Adventure was a game where you controlled a square blob and moved it around a screen of blobs, trying to find a bunch of blobs shaped like a chalice. It was a simpler time.

Since Atari didn’t credit their developers for their work at the time, the game’s creator defiantly included a hidden room in the game, containing the message “Created by Warren Robinett”. It was extremely difficult to find, involving pushing a grey pixel around on a grey screen and then walking through a concealed door, but was brought to light by a fifteen-year old who wrote to Atari alerting them to the message. Presumably, he also enjoyed telling teachers about other children’s misbehaviour at school, and to this day enjoys ruining Game of Thrones by telling his co-workers who dies next.


This screen and message took up 5% of the capacity of the game’s cartridge. It’s hard to believe that this was once cutting-edge gaming.

Guybrush Dies - The Secret of Monkey Island

LucasArts used to be famous for their high-quality output of graphic adventure games (if you don’t know what they are, please do yourself a favour and go play The Secret of Monkey Island right now). They’ve since been sold to Disney and so the future of a great number of beloved franchises remains in doubt, but we can remember the good old days fondly (in fact, I think that’s the entire purpose of this blog sometimes).

Before Monkey Island, graphic adventures were hard, and your character would often die. Monkey Island changed that and made it so that you couldn’t ever mess up completely, meaning the game could concentrate on being funny instead of frustrating (though some of the puzzles had that going on, too).

The main character, Guybrush Threepwood, possesses a great many useful skills including the ability to hold his breath for ten minutes, and this is put to the test when he is at one point strapped to a giant idol and pushed into the sea. It’s not a difficult puzzle to solve, but if the game is left alone for ten minutes, Guybrush will in fact drown and the game is over. Since this is the only way to die in the game, and players will almost never see it, it counts as an Easter egg.

Once drowned, your choice of actions changes from “Pick Up”, “Push” etc. to less useful ones such as “Rot”, “Bloat” or “Order Hint Book”.

Guybrush Drowns.jpg

Still Alive on the Jukebox - Left 4 Dead 2

The Left 4 Dead games are all about shooting zombies, yet manage to remain fresh and original, mostly due to the sense of humour in them. Four characters have to fight their way through hordes of zombies and other nasty creatures, bantering, bickering and wise-cracking as they do.

Developed by Valve, there was always going to be some sort of reference to their other works, and one level has the characters encounter a jukebox. Activating it brings zombies swarming over your location (obviously, since zombies are attracted to noise), but once they’re all dead again you can cycle through a few tunes.

The reference to Valve’s other work comes in the form of Still Alive, the ending credits song from Portal. I mentioned Still Alive in my blog post on The Catchiest Video Game Music of All Time, which means that it’s guaranteed to get stuck in your head as you merrily blast zombies or smash them with a baseball bat. Lovely.

John Romero’s Head on a Stick - Doom II

John Romero is one of the most famous/infamous of all game developers, having worked on games such as Doom, Wolfenstein, Quake and Daikatana (ugh).

On the final level of Doom II, using a cheat to allow you to pass through walls means that you can go inside the head of the final boss (don’t ask how these things are discovered, okay?), and inside you can find Romero’s head, impaled on a stick.

John Romero.jpg

It’s hard to fathom the mind of a person who would create an Easter egg like this, but there it is, as smug as a decapitated head can be. There’s a certain satisfaction in seeing him this way (albeit in a low-res pixellated version), as it feels like cathartic compensation for the travesty that was Daikatana and its advertising campaign.

Psycho Mantis Knows Your Gaming Preferences - Metal Gear Solid

This is one of the more clever Easter eggs that I’ve seen in gaming, and it came, almost inevitably, from the bizarre mind of Hideo Kojima, one of the more prominent lunatics in games development.

Upon encountering this bizarre boss, Psycho Mantis, the fourth wall gets entirely broken and the game addresses you, the player, directly. First, it pretends to change the channel on your TV, and then makes your controller move with “psychic powers” (really just the vibration function). Psycho Mantis’s best trick, however, is reading your memory card and offering comments on the games you’ve already played.

“You like Castlevania, don’t you?” was one of the more creepy lines of dialogue from the game, just for the fact that it was completely unexpected and had everyone confused that played it. It wasn’t made obvious that he was just looking at your saved games - it seemed that he really was psychic. At least to me, when I was young and gullible.

Psycho Mantis.jpg

Hideo Kojima has gone on to make a whole bunch of Metal Gear games, each one stranger and less interactive than the last.

Heart of Liberty City - Grand Theft Auto IV

GTA IV managed to approximate New York City in a humorous yet realistic fashion, allowing you freedom to roam wherever you choose within the city and coming across recognisable yet altered landmarks. These include Middle Park (a pastiche of Central Park), the Broker Bridge (obviously similar to the Brooklyn Bridge) and, of course, the Statue of Happiness (if you need me to tell you what it’s parodying, you might need to get out more).

Statue of Happiness.jpg

If the player manages to land a helicopter on top of it, which is no easy feat, or leaps out of one and lands in the right place, which is even harder, a secret door can be found, bearing the legend “No Hidden Content This Way”. Inside you can find that the statue has a giant, beating heart. No further explanation is given, or even possible.

GTA Heart.jpg

It’s also worth noting that the statue is holding a coffee cup instead of a torch like its real-world counterpart. Rockstar, the GTA developers, don’t seem able to pass up any opportunity for satire.

Jar Jar Binks in Carbonite - The Force Unleashed

Sometimes Easter eggs exist purely as fan service, and I think it’s pretty obvious that that’s the case with this one.

You remember Jar Jar Binks, right? The fully-CGI, bumbling idiot character that managed to successfully sum up everything that was wrong with the new Star Wars films? Don’t worry, you weren’t the only one that hated him. At a Star Wars convention, one fan turned up with a full-size model he’d made of Jar Jar encased in carbonite, showing his contempt for the character. Several years later, the makers of The Force Unleashed paid tribute to both his skill at model making and his insight into how rubbish Jar Jar is, by inserting his model into the game.

Jar Jar.jpg

Sadly, this level of awareness around the subject material didn’t help the developers to elevate The Force Unleashed above mediocrity, and including Guybrush Threepwood as a secret playable character in the sequel did even less.

Guybrush Force Unleashed.jpg

Secret Cow Level - Diablo II

Yes, you read that title correctly. I’ll explain.

The first Diablo, a game primarily aimed at gamers seeking to develop RSI from repeated clicking on things, featured a number of cows as background sprites that could be clicked on but otherwise did nothing. This led to rumours of a secret “cow level”, because some people are gullible and other people are bored.

In Diablo II, by combining some unlikely items, your character really can access the Secret Cow Level, which was included as a nod to the bored and gullible fans of the first game, where you can fight Hell Bovines and The Cow King, who are bipedal cows with polearm weapons.

Cow Level.jpg

Now, I don’t want to insinuate that Blizzard (who went on to make a little game called World of Warcraft) is a haven for drug use, but I don’t have a better explanation.

Ridiculous Hidden Characters - NBA Jam Tournament Edition

Basketball games are good fun, but can get a little repetitive eventually. The nuance of the real sport is sometimes lost in the translation to video game, and so developers often seek to spice it up in one way or another. Sometimes that means including Mario and Donkey Kong (see Mario Hoops 3 on 3), having Charles Barkley go on a quest to save the world (see my blog post on Five Obscure Sports Games for more details), or filling out your roster with a truly bizarre selection of characters.

NBA Jam is of course not meant to be taken seriously as a basketball game - your players can catch on fire if they score enough baskets, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t happen in the real sport. That’s not even the strangest thing about NBA Jam Tournament Edition, however. The strangest thing is Bill and Hillary Clinton.


Yes, you can play 2-on-2 as the Clintons, so long as you input the correct cheat code. It’s never been adequately explained why they were included as hidden characters, or even if permission was given to use their likenesses. Also included were Will Smith, Jazzy Jeff, all three members of the Beastie Boys, and Prince Charles.

I would pay a lot of money to see an exhibition match between Prince Charles and Mike D of the Beastie Boys.

A lot of money.

Crowds of Gay Men in Swimming Trunks - SimCopter

This must surely be the strangest Easter egg of all time, and comes with a little backstory.

SimCopter was a 1996 game about flying a helicopter (obviously), rescuing people, directing traffic, fighting fires and catching criminals in a city of the player’s design. This city could be designed in SimCity 2000, since SimCopter was made by the same people (Maxis).

One designer,     Jacques Servin, inserted some code that made great numbers of men in swimming trunks appear and swarm around the helicopter, hugging and kissing each other, but only when you played the game on certain days. It was initially claimed that Servin put the code into the game as a protest against his working conditions, but it later emerged that he was a founding member of an anti-consumerist activist collective called RTMark, who enacted several childish pranks in order to raise awareness or something. Let’s not pay them any attention, though.


Sadly this Easter egg was removed from the game shortly after release, when it was discovered, but some copies out there still have the relevant code included.

The gay men in the bug have fluorescent nipples which can be seen from miles away. I don’t see how that isn’t sufficient justification for keeping them in the game, especially considering that it’s pretty dull without them. Some developers can be so boring.

So, now you’re truly stuffed with Easter eggs, whether you ate your fill of them this week or not. I don’t know if Warren Robinett was aware of what he started back in 1979, or if he was just disgruntled and vengeful, but it’s a tradition that has now continued for 35 years of gaming, and now I feel old, so I’m going to put my slippers on and have a nice sit down.

There are literally hundreds of Easter eggs in the history of gaming, however, so I’d love to hear your favourites. Did you find any on your own, or get fooled by the Cow Level stories? Were you one of the kids that was convinced you could catch Mew in the original Pokémon games? (Turns out you in fact can, but no-one knew that back then). Let me know! You can get in touch with me through the comments below, via Facebook, Twitter, Google +, or email [email protected].

Written By: Dave Morgan

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