Monday 30 September 2013

Undocumented Treasures

One of the secret pleasures of authoring a project is hiding some sort of message for only the diligent to find. There have been some legendary ones. One of the most famous is Alfred Hitchcock's subtle appearance in all his films, but in computer games, finding "easter eggs" is on a whole other level. The idea of a treasure hunt or a scavenger hunt is not a new one, but the idea of hunting for a hidden message within electronic entertainment is a contemporary phenomenon of the digital universe. Calling such messages easter eggs is supposed to have originated at Atari. Game designer/programmer Warren Robinett buried his own name in his 1979 game Adventure. Microsoft used to be notorious for application programs that included secret easter eggs until they tried to stop it in their "Trustworthy Computing" initiative (2002). One of the most famous was The Hall of Tortured Souls hidden in Excel 95. I think you can figure that one out.

Images, videos, cheat codes, special credits and all kinds of data are included today. Some can be summoned by special commands or sequences (preferrably undocumented). There are lists of them on some of the game review sites. For example, take a look at IGN's Best Easter Eggs or GamesRadar's 100 Best or ComplexMag's 50 Best.

I hid some video sequences in the first Jewels of the Oracle game back in 1995. Unfortunately, in later editions of the game some folks with no sense of humour or adventure removed them. I guess, back then, it was easier to find hidden files in basic resource directories. One of my favourites from that game was planted in the "well room." If you have the original game disc, it is still there. There was a special brick on one of the back walls. If you found on it, the Oracle appeared (larger and in the middle of the screen) and started talking about the "snake baking in the sun attends decisions already made" and then adlibs, "What the hell does that mean?" When we first put that in, we laughed until we cried. It also might have had something to do with the fact it was about 4:00 a.m. and none of us had slept for several days. I found it and posted it here.

We put a bunch more in Jewels II, but by then it had become de rigeur and maybe even a little predictable. The old adventure games and some of the early action games like Doom and Quake were clever the way they hid special items or messages. It's such a treat to find an unexpected feature. It always makes me smile. I guess that's why I was so thrilled when I first discovered the Chuck Lorre "vanity cards" at the end of the credits of Big Bang Theory episodes. At first, when I saw the original series, I noticed a screen of text that appeared for only a second. I presumed it was some legal disclaimer. Years later, when I bought the first season on DVD, I stopped the player and could finally read the messages. It blew me away! I was so pleased to see there are still people doing stuff like that.

For that very reason I placed a very tiny little man on the second Shen Kuo Magnetic Containment Laboratory (bottom left corner) page in my book The Perfect Round. Unless you look carefully, you might miss him. There are some other little text secrets hidden in the book, but I'll leave them for the diligent to find.

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