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The most brilliant Easter eggs hidden in games

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Atari had a tradition of keeping its developers under its thumb. It didn't want its programmers and artists receiving individual credits for the games they made, preferring instead to place the Atari name on game boxes and on other types of branding. The developer behind 1980's Adventure, however, didn't agree with this practice. His workaround — a hidden room containing the text, "Created by Warren Robinett" — became the first Easter egg ever discovered in a video game, kicking off a long tradition of skillfully concealed secrets from those who make the games we play.

Fast forward to the present, and there are entire websites devoted to uncovering the Easter eggs in games new and old. And many developers have gone all in on making and hiding these eggs. Some have done it to credit themselves, as Warren Robinett did. Others have left hidden messages to players containing in-game revelations, tributes to past projects, or teases of future games from the company. And some have simply embraced the bizarre, wacky, and humorous.

You'll find a healthy smattering of all Easter egg types in the list below, which highlights some of the more brilliant eggs to ever be created and left for players to discover.

Destiny poster in Halo 3: ODST

When Microsoft acquired Bungie in 2000, the world of console first-person shooters was turned on its head. The move brought the Halo franchise to the Xbox platform as an exclusive, and over the course of seven years, three major Halo titles would be released on both the Xbox and Xbox 360 to critical acclaim.

Following the release of Halo 3 in 2007, however, Bungie announced the studio would be splitting from Microsoft to once again become independent, allowing it to work on other titles outside the Halo universe. But a contract still remained in place between Microsoft and Bungie for a few more games, and the next Halo game we saw also offered us a tease — though we didn't know it at the time — of what Bungie might be up to.

In the "Mombasa Streets" level of Halo 3: ODST, there are several posters scattered around throughout featuring a large portrait of Earth and a small white ball close by, along with text that reads "DESTINY AWAITS." When ODST was released in 2009, the small white ball may have been presumed to be Earth's moon. Now that we know Bungie's future IP was indeed called Destiny, and we know more about that game, it's clear the white circle in the photo is actually Destiny's Traveler.

Another interesting note for this egg: in 2014's Master Chief Collection released for Xbox One, the artwork on the poster in ODST was changed, presumably due to copyright issues.

Master Chief's helmet in Destiny

As you can imagine, there's a lot of love for Halo at Bungie, the studio that worked on the franchise for over a decade. Despite parting ways with the series and moving on to make Destiny, Bungie knows its roots and what made the company known to gamers around the globe.

There's a fair amount of Halo in Destiny itself, though you have to read between the lines to see it. Ghost, for instance, is quite reminiscent of both Cortana and 343 Guilty Spark. And Bungie certainly learned a lot about controls when making Halo — experience it brought to Destiny to create a game that feels very familiar to fans of its former franchise.

But Destiny couldn't get by without saluting Bungie's former protagonist — Master Chief — in a more obvious way. And located in the sandy dunes of Mars, you'll find a fitting tribute to the savior of the Halo series.

When you exit the tunnels in the Trenchworks during the Cerberus Vae III strike in Destiny, dispatch all the bad guys and pass by the tower in the center of the space. Now turn around and look at that tower, and you'll see a dead ringer for Master Chief's helmet, complete with lights that mimic his tinted visor.

Alan Wake's chalkboard notes in Quantum Break

The team at Remedy Entertainment has a nice list of hit IPs, from the Max Payne series to Alan Wake. But the company branched out from those earlier works when it released Quantum Break in 2016, both by creating a brand new property and by melding two worlds — video games and television — into one experience. Just because it went a new way with an IP, though, doesn't mean it forgot its older ones. And there's a nice amount of Alan Wake love to be found in the early parts of Quantum Break's campaign.

Upon entering a lecture hall, you'll notice a large chalkboard that looks to be filled with the typical scribbles of a professor who'd recently taught a class. But if you study the chalk writing more closely, you'll start to see that the subject matter concerns Alan Wake. And even more interesting: it seems to lay out the events that Alan experienced in his previous two titles – Alan Wake and Alan Wake's American Nightmare — as an English literature professor might lay out a work of fiction.

The egg raises two questions. Was everything in Alan Wake dreamed up as fiction by some unknown author? And further: does this author share a universe with the characters in Quantum Break? Perhaps we'll have to wait for Remedy's next title to learn more.

John Romero's evil head in Doom II

Easter eggs aside, John Romero is already plenty famous. He's the "godfather" of first-person shooters, having brought us Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. He's the co-founder of id Software, a studio that continues — as a subsidiary of ZeniMax Media — to work on the Doom franchise. But to players of Doom IIreleased in 1994, Romero is well known for being the very face of evil.

In Doom II's "Icon of Sin" level, the player is forced to do battle against a horned head that is able to spawn tons of enemies. The player must use a rocket launcher to attack a certain part of the head, with that splash damage hitting the actual hidden object that needs to be eliminated. That object, as it turns out, is a sprite of John Romero's head, placed behind the wall and out of sight by id's John Carmack as a joke.

Players who enter the cheat code "idclip" into Doom II can walk through the wall and see Romero's bloody head on a spike. Shooting Romero's head several times will end the level.

Believe it or not, Romero actually shows up twice in that final mission. It's his voice you hear when you first enter the room containing the Icon of Sin. What sounds like garbled gibberish is actually audio played backward of Romero saying, "To win the game, you must kill me, John Romero."

Bethesda's nod to Minecraft's Notch in Skyrim

Back in 2011, the studio behind Minecraft — Mojang — announced it was working on a collectable card game called Scrolls. In that same year, Bethesda Softworks also planned to release a game with "scrolls" in the title: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Despite the titles clearly not being in the same genre, Bethesda didn't take kindly to Mojang's use of the name Scrolls, and sent a legal threat to Mojang to cease and desist use of that name.

Mojang co-founder Markus Persson — known on Twitter as @notch — playfully challenged the team at Bethesda to a Quake III deathmatch for the rights, but unfortunately for the game world, his offer was refused. Bethesda soon filed suit.

Despite the legal standoff that was still ongoing by the time Skyrim's released, an Easter egg uncovered in the game shows that Mojang still had some fans inside the walls of Bethesda. When players ascend to the highest point in the game, located at the Throat of the World, they can pick up an axe that appears to be placed as a tribute to the Minecraft team. It's called the Notched Pickaxe, with its name combining two things: the nickname of Minecraft's creator — "Notch" — and the pickaxe that plays such a crucial role in Minecraft's gameplay.

The suit between the two companies was later settled in 2012.

Desert ice cream truck in Hitman: Absolution

When you're a contract killer, your life is all about killing. And sometimes, even when you intend to save a life, fate intervenes and you realize you've only delayed the inevitable. This is the lesson players learned in 2012's Hitman: Absolution, and they learned it in the most hilarious way possible.

In the mission "End of the Road," Agent 47 has a decision to make. He's kidnapped Lenny Dexter, the son of Blake Dexter, and he now must decide whether he's going to kill Lenny or let him live. He already has Lenny digging a hole, which would certainly expedite the killing process. But Lenny is unarmed and harmless, and as Agent 47 himself believes, there is "little honor in preying on the weak."

You can either kill Lenny or walk away from the situation without pulling the trigger. But as some intrepid gamers discovered, there's actually a third option contained within an Easter egg.

There are five vultures nearby in the desert. By walking toward them, Agent 47 can force them into the air. When all five vultures are shot down out of the sky, an ice cream truck comes roaring onto the scene and strikes Lenny, sending him hundreds of feet into the sky.

We're not sure what kills Lenny: the ice cream truck or the fall. But he definitely bites it.

Hideo Kojima tribute in Metal Gear Survive

We've talked about Konami's separation with Hideo Kojima in the past, and how the world wasn't quite sure what to make of a brand new Metal Gear title without Kojima at the helm. And when Metal Gear Survive arrived in early 2018, its reception wasn't all that great, with some outlets criticizing the game's "lack of variety" and slew of eyebrow-raising microtransactions.

But in spite of the fact that Konami is continuing Metal Gear without Kojima, and that it appears Konami as a company continues to hold ill will toward its former employee, the developers of Survive may have managed to include a tribute to the former captain of the Metal Gear franchise.

When you first load up Metal Gear Survive and create your in-game character, you're shown a list containing both your name as well as the names of other soldiers. And someone noticed that, when you take the first letter of each last name starting at the fourth name, the letters together spell out "K-J-P-F-O-R-E-V-E-R," as in, "Kojima Productions Forever." It's an Easter egg Konami has yet to confirm.

Hidden-in-plain-sight answer to Nicole's fate in Dead Space

The motivation of Dead Space protagonist Isaac is wrapped up in the fate of his girlfriend, Nicole, who is trapped somewhere on the same Necromorph-infested ship he is. Isaac spends the game trying to get to Nicole. To free her. To help keep her safe and get her to a safe place. But, spoilers: in a heart-wrenching, mind-blowing twist, Isaac realizes that the Nicole he's been seeing all game was nothing more than a hallucination used by the Marker to trick Isaac into releasing it. Seeing no way off the ship, and afraid of becoming a Necromorph herself, the real Nicole took her own life through lethal injection.

Even more depressing is that, upon studying the chapter names in Dead Space, Nicole's status was sitting right in front of the player's face all along.

Take a look at the first letter in each chapter name. New Arrivals. Intensive Care. Course Correction. Obliteration Imminent. Lethal Devotion. Environmental Hazard. Into the Void. Search and Rescue. Dead on Arrival. End of Days. Alternate Solutions. Dead Space.

Put each chapter title's first letter in a string together and they spell N-I-C-O-L-E-I-S-D-E-A-D: Nicole is dead.

Totaka's Song, the tune hidden in dozens of Nintendo games

One of the more joyful video game Easter eggs doesn't have to do with what's hidden in one particular game, but what's hidden in many games. It's Totaka's Song, the melody that seems to burrow its way into most of Nintendo's titles, leading to a treasure hunt of sorts every single time Nintendo puts out a new game.

The story behind Totaka's Song centers around Kazumi Totaka, a composer at Nintendo whose body of work includes titles like Mario Paint, Yoshi's Story, Animal Crossing: Wild World, Wii Sports Club, and more. Totaka first included his 19-beat tune in 1992's X for the Game Boy, and for reasons unknown, continued to hide the song in random Nintendo games that followed. Players usually have to perform a certain sequence of actions to play the song, and to date, players have been able to unlock and play Totaka's Song in 19 of Nintendo's titles.

The embedded video above shows just some of the games Totaka's Song has shown up in. And good news: at press time, Totaka still very much works at Nintendo, so if you enjoy hunting down his tune when Nintendo releases a new game, you'll have plenty of digging to do in the future.