Easter eggs are a great way to make the player feel good/amazed if they discover them, or even if they watch someone else discover them, as it shows that the developers took time and care to make some exclusive content that a small minority of players will experience, but of course, there are good and bad secrets.
Types of secrets
There are secrets were the developers hide their names or other’s name’s, the first recognized example of an easter egg is of this kind, in the game Adventure from Atari (1980), if you followed some specific steps you could reach a room were one of the developers putted their name on, “Created by Warren Robinett”, this was in a time were developers weren’t properly credited in the videogames industry. Other examples are John Romero’s face in Doom II.
There are self-conscious secrets, where the easter egg is a direct message to the player that refers to the secret itself, with messages like “There are no secrets here” or “You aren’t supposed to be reading this.”
Referential easter eggs are references to other franchises or even other pieces of the saga that the game belongs to, this could be, for example, the Minecraft’s Creepers in Borderlands 2, the reference to Batman Arkham City in Batman Arkham Asylum (Arkham City being a sequel to Arkham Asylum, the easter eggs refers to the next entry in the saga) or “Jill’s Sandwiches” in Dead Rising.
Lore secrets, these are easter eggs that expand on the lore or story of the game or saga, which could also completely change the meaning of it, examples of this are the cornfield vault in Inside, or Ratman’s Den in Portal and Portal 2. They’re generally places, although they could also be a readable document.
Gameplay bonuses are secrets that give the player a unique weapon, item, power-up or similar, they could also give a non-unique item as a generic in-game currency in great amounts. Apart from items, they could also be special NPC’s, enemies or bosses, which could by themselves also offer unique drops, missions, lore, etc… A great example is the Atari minigame in the map Nuke from Call of Duty: Black Ops II.
Meta-secrets are found outside of the game per se, they could be found, for example, in the installation folder of the game, in the physical box of it, hidden with invisible ink in the game dvd’s, in an image posted in social network, or even in a street wall. In some cases, they might be part of an alternate reality game.
Joke secrets are secrets that are just hidden stuff that isn’t that useful or doesn’t contribute to the player or game experience (apart from the shock factor and maybe some chuckles), this could be, for example, a computer mouse buried in the Moon. This type of secret doesn’t have much thought behind it, it’s just there to exist as a secret, a computer mouse buried in the Moon could be, instead, a Lore secret if it could be thought as a kind of environmental storytelling or even a referential secret, for this, it needs intent.
Secret endings, subcategory of Lore secrets, unique endings, in some cases called ‘true endings’, these secret endings could also be jokes, for example, the dog ending in Silent Hill II.
Surely there are more types of secrets, if any other way comes to your mind, you’re welcomed to share it in the comments.
Ways to reach a secret
There can be a lot of different ways that you can implement ways to each to a secret:
The recipe requires a player to follow a specific set of movements, actions or inputs in order to reach a secret, for example, standing still in a specific location for 4 minutes 33 seconds, shooting towards the sky at 3 specific clouds, or pressing buttons in order (also known as cheat codes.) The combinations could be as complex as you want, of course, you might want to keep it reasonable so someone eventually gets to the secret, personally I would say that if you could subtlety give the player ‘clues’ on the pattern it would be nice.
Hidden rooms, a common type, generally reached by casually exploring the environment and bumping into walls, there a different ways to implement them, one way is to have ‘fake walls’, that look like any other wall that you could collide with in the game, but with these, you can actually go through and reach a hidden room or area. If implemented well, they could be a nice reward for those players who take the care of exploring the world you’ve built.
‘Legally’ unreachable secrets, these secrets can’t be accessed directly through the game, but instead require external tools (like CheatEngine) to ‘hack’ the game and reach those secrets, these are very exclusive, as only the people who are curious enough to do that with the game will get a chance to see them.
The metroid-vania secret, this is a secret that generally is shown or sensed to the player in a moment where the player doesn’t have the tools or skills to reach said secret, these secrets generally stay hidden in the mind of the player until the player, later in the game, earns a new skill or item that lets the player reach that previous unreachable secret.
Skilled-based, these secrets can be similar to the metroid-vania secrets, but in this case the player has the required elements to technically reach the secret, it just requires a decent amount of manual or intellectual skill to do so.
Surely there are more specific ways to reach a secret, if any other way comes to your mind, share it in the comments!
There can be special properties that secrets have, these can make them more exclusive, this could be, for example, that the secret is only available at a certain date or moment, or it’s restricted to a certain real location, or happens in certain hardwares and not in others, in some examples, the access to a secret could be locked away by a bunch of collectibles that you need to obtain before being able to reach the secret, such is the example of Inside.
There are a lot of kinds of secrets, and surely a lot of interesting and cool ways to implement them in your games (or books, movies, software…)
They can reward the players who put the hours in, or those who just stumbled upon them, they can make them feel smart, they can make them feel surprised, impressed, skilled. They can give an extra layer of depth to your game, being narrative or mechanical depth. In the example of the metroid-vania secrets, they could also be a great teaching tool, also a good incentive to explore and to be curious. Use them right.
Inspired by this video