2011: Year of the Easter Egg

By Jeremy M. Zoss in Features
Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 10:00 am
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​By Remy Carreiro
From time to time, we like to run pieces by our readers. Here's one by Remy Carrerio, who has been working his butt off to get a piece on the site. Congrats, Remy!

For those who don't know, a virtual Easter egg is an intentional hidden message or inside joke placed into a video game by developers. It can be something as simple as a logo on a tee shirt of an minor character, or some subtle graffiti sprayed on a wall in the background. Sometimes Easter eggs are hidden and involve a lot of leg work to find (thus the name Easter egg) but sometimes, developers leave them in far less subtle places. The reason developers put Easter eggs in games often vary. Sometimes, it is to give props to something that inspired them. Certain Easter eggs have been the result of frustrated and unappreciated programmers hiding something in a game to stick it to the man. Other times, an Easter egg can be a reference to an older game the company made. There are even quite a few examples of Easter eggs that reference famous movies or television shows. The fact is, Easter eggs have always existed in games. From the top secret "Chris Houlihan" room in The Legend of Zelda:  A Link to the Past to the hidden developer room in Atari's Adventure. But 2011 will forever be remembered by me as the year that developers really began to have fun with Easter eggs. I almost made a pun there about how 2011 delivered virtual Easter eggs "by the dozen," but I stopped myself.

I used to think boss fights were the greatest moments in gaming. Some hulking beast lumbering toward you, while you unload a chaingun into them. But over time it hit me: boss fights are boss fights. Bosses are either big, incredibly strong and slow. Or they are small, slightly strong, and incredibly fast. There may be a few variations on those themes ( turning invisible, mutating to different forms ) but a boss fight is always a boss fight, and they rarely deviate from what is expected of them. But an Easter egg, well that is a different story. A virtual Easter egg can happen anywhere, at any time in a game. They follow no blueprint. Often times the result of spur of the moment thinking by the developers and programmers. As a gamer, there is a wonderful feeling you get when you stumble upon one of these Easter eggs in a video game. An almost indescribable feeling. It is slight elation mixed with a child like giddiness. The joy of finding something that you weren't necessarily supposed to. My love for Easter eggs started when I discovered the island from Lost in the game Just Cause 2. I felt like the only person in the world who had found it. Until I googled it. And realized that Easter eggs were a pretty common thing in gaming. Now I am slightly obsessed with them, so I spent the last year hunting them down. Finally, my obsession yields your payoff as the reader, so everyone wins!

We will start this off, fittingly enough, with Rage. A fun game in line with other classic id titles. It had breathtaking graphics, terrible load times, and a rather abrupt ending. But it also had well over a dozen Easter eggs. It was one particular Easter egg in that game that inspired this article. I was playing the very first mission: Quell the bandit threat. I was at the ghost hideout. I got captured, taken to "the killing room" and stabbed. After I defibrillator'ed myself back to life ( yes, defibrillator'ed is a word now ), I noticed a section of wall that looked abnormal (between the T.V and the painting ) and upon inspecting it, a secret panel slid open revealing a room out of Wolfenstein. Done up in the original low-res Wolfenstein graphics and color scheme. The feeling I got when I saw the high resolution 3D gun model from Rage walking into a room done up with old school pixels, I almost died of joy. It was an narcissistic Easter egg, no doubt, but one thing id does not lack is bravado. There is also a "wolf" statue you can find in that room and sell, so it's the Easter egg that keeps on giving. Now without spoiling any other major surprises in that game, I will say this. The Easter eggs in Rage only get better and better as the game progresses.There is a nod to the great T.V show, Breaking Bad. There is a subtle hint about forthcoming Rage 2 and Doom 5 games. There are full rooms that give props to Quake and Doom. There is even a secret developer graffiti room that you get an achievement or trophy for finding. And maybe my favorite Easter egg in Rage was the Fallout Vault Tec bobblehead you can find and sell. It is a wonderful nod to a similar and similarly enjoyable game. Rage opened my eyes to the joy a constant stream of Easter eggs can bring to a gamer. But just when I thought no game could surpass Rage for amount of Easter eggs, Eidos Montreal went and created pure magic.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution. What can I even say about you and all your glorious Easter eggs? In this game, I could not walk five feet or open an email in this game without being treated to an Easter egg of some sort. The most notable of the year had to be the Final Fantasy 27 poster that was displayed in Pritchard's office, over his bike. The artwork is distinctly Final Fantasy, and considering Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes place in the year 2027, if you do the math, it is sort of on point. As soon as you see that in the game, program yourself to look for things, because they are everywhere. Almost every email in the Detroit Police Dept. makes a nod, in some subtle way, to Blade Runner and it's brilliant author, Phillip K. Dick, who realistically inspired a lot of the lore and tech in this game. 

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Next up there is a cop named Alex Murphy. For those who don't know, Alex Murphy was the name of the officer who turned into Robocop, a movie which also took place in Detroit. When you subdue him so you can hack into his computer, his password is THIGHGUN. Any guess where Robocop's gun used to come out of? So what you have here is a Sci Fi game making constant nods to other Sci Fi words that inspired it. A very cool and very meta move on Eidos' part. Again, I will hold back so I don't spoil the surprises for you, because there are a TON. I will tell you, there are nods to The Office, Dopefish, Veronica Mars, The Big Lebowski (my personal favorite, involving a stained rug). There are even nods to Megadeath and Iron Maiden songs. By the time I had beaten it, I was convinced that DXHR had to have a separate group of writers just to come up with all the Easter eggs in this game. The one piece of advice I will give to anyone playing this game: Read the emails. I know that is a crappy, menial task in most games, but not in this game. In this game, the emails are so filled with Easter eggs, that reading the emails and trying to spot all the references is almost like a meta-mini-game within a game. Whoa, how Phillip K. Dick of me.

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We will conclude with Skyrim. Another game chock full of awesome inside jokes and references. I could have literally filled a whole article with just the eggs from this game. There are tea parties in the forest a la Alice in Wonderland. There are multiple nods to Arthurian legend, including Excalibur and the lady of the lake (who is kind of dead when you stumble upon her). You will find a book that reads like the Choose your own Adventure books from the 80s. There is a line taken directly from the Sci Fi comedy, Galaxy Quest. The " A Night to Remember" quest is CLEARLY inspired by the movie The Hangover. You can even give chase to The Headless Horsemen if you are in the right place at the right time ( I will give you a hint, he only appears between 10pm and 5am ). Farkas, who you can take on as a companion if you so desire, will quote a classic line from the original Legend of Zelda if you catch him at the right cue. From Nightmare Before Christmas to Pac-man. From Red Dwarf to Star Wars. Skyrim is easily the most Easter egg heavy game of the year. And not only that, but the references themselves are usually spot on and delightfully brilliant. 

There is one, though. one Easter egg in Skyrim that I feel deserves to stand as the testament to how cool an Easter egg can actually get. An egg that stands as a symbol that huge gaming companies and tiny, indie gaming companies can put their differences aside and quitely pay homage. What I speak of, of course, is the notched pickaxe at the top of the Throat of the World. A direct reference to Minecraft by Bethesda. While finding this weapon (which you can actually yield) is cool enough in itself, it is the fact that these two developers were on the verge of going to court at one point. Not only did they put their differences aside, but Bethesda, the much bigger beast in this equation, took the high road and gave Minecraft creator Notch some much deserved props in Skyrim. It is one thing for a game to give props in the form of an Easter egg to some game that may exist one day. It is another thing entirely when one of the biggest gaming companies in the world makes an Easter egg giving props to an up and coming Indie developer, who also just happens to be competition. To me, not only is that Easter egg a blast to find, it's symbolic that the gaming industry may be one of the last industries that is still populated by good people. And in finding that notched pickaxe, my respect for Bethesda tripled. Plus I think I leveled up. So it was an all around awesome moment.

While 2011 may have had some great boss fights, few of them resonated. It definitely had some amazing set piece moments, but a lot of them are starting to feel like I have seen them before. Some would even say 2011 had some of the best art direction for video games ever, and I would not argue that. But that is all stuff that gets talked about. And talked about a lot. And truthfully, all those things paled in comparison to the moment when I walked straight from a current generation game into a first generation game just by opening a door. And those moments can't compare to seeing a poster in a game, for a game I know I will probably be playing in 2027. That just redefines meta. But no gaming moment in 2011 compared to the moment when I found that little pickaxe and I knew the big guy still had the little guy's back. 
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