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  • Tim Spaninks

Easter eggs gone wrong! (Pitfalls to avoid when creating Easter eggs for your game)

In my previous article we looked at reasons why you should be adding Easter eggs to your games. Though not every Easter egg will lead to a good outcome. Let’s look at some things that can go wrong when you create Easter eggs and hopefully take something away from it!


Your Easter egg never gets found

Of course, you want your Easter egg to be hidden. Otherwise it’s not much of an Easter egg. When an Easter egg is overly simple to find and most players stumble across it, it takes away the feeling of mystery and makes it hardly special. However, solutions to uncover an Easter egg might seem simple to the creator, but there are plenty of examples of Easter eggs that were almost never discovered.


In Batman Arkham City, some hidden dialogue of character ‘Calendar man’ can only be triggered on certain dates. Years after the release of the game, a video got uploaded to an anonymous YouTube account containing the hidden dialogues. It’s presumed that developers from Rocksteady uploaded the video themselves after players didn’t find the Easter egg.


You disappoint your players

Some developers like to create a really elaborate process to discover an Easter egg. When an Easter egg is particularly difficult or labor-intensive to find though, the pay-off better be worth it, or players will walk away thinking they completely wasted their time.


In the Hitman 2 sniper challenge, if the player manages to shoot 10 ducks, 10 pigeons and 3 hawks, it triggers a large yellow duck to surface in the backdrop. This Easter egg would be amusing, if it wouldn’t be near impossible to get to. If something is frustratingly difficult to achieve, you’d expect a worthwhile pay-off.


You get yourself fired

Some companies are more tolerant than others, but sneaking unauthorized content into your project, especially when you work for a larger corporation, can be risky business.

Programmer Jacques Servin prompted shirtless men in Speedo trunks to appear, hug and kiss in the game SimCopter on his birthday, his boyfriend’s birthday and Friday the 13th. Servin has stated that part of his motivation was to address the lack of homosexual characters in videogames. His company, Maxis, fired Servin citing “insertion of unauthorized material”


When possible, you might want to run your Easter eggs by the project stakeholders before the product is launched, though I’d say after you’ve already implemented them.

Though in some cases, one can argue that it’s worth the risk.


You get sued

It might be a fun idea to reference pop culture or memes through an Easter egg, but you should be mindful of using intellectual properties that don’t belong to you, or you might end up getting sued.

This is exactly what happened to 5thCell, the creators of Scribblenauts Unlimited and their publisher, Warner Bros.


Nyan Cat depicted in Scribblenauts Unlimited


Scribblenauts Unlimited allowed the player to summon famous internet cats, nyan cat and keyboard cat, which the respective meme creators deemed infringement on their trademarks, leading them to open a lawsuit against both the developer and publisher of the game.


To avoid this from happening, make sure that when you reference other properties, one of the following applies:

· You own the right to this property

· It’s an indirect reference, e.g. using the line “but our princess is in another castle” references Mario Bros, without violating its copyright

· It’s a parody. Fair use law might be a suitable defense against copyright infringement. This is however still risky and I would recommend against directly referencing other properties.


It’s a “you had to be there” moment

A bad Easter egg experience is when the player recognizes something in your game as a joke or Easter egg, but doesn’t know what it’s referring to. It’s the equivalent of your friends laughing at something that you don’t get, and them clarifying with “oh, you had to be there”.



The “Golden Ox” was an Easter egg that we included in mobile FPS, Critical Ops. The statue was based on cover art from the heavy metal album “the ways of the old” by the band Silvoid, in which our artist Miikka used to be the drummer. This was a running joke in the company, but to my knowledge, not something players ever recognized as an Easter egg.


When you want to reference to something personal, or something a player might not be aware of, make sure that your players don’t recognize it as an Easter egg when they’re not in on the joke.


Is it a bug or a feature?

Some Easter eggs might leave players wondering whether they discovered something cool or accidentally broke the game. You want your Easter Eggs to feel like a reward when discovered, rather than have your players wonder whether they should restart the game or file a bug report.


Third-person Easter egg in Apex Legends


In Apex Legends, players found out a way to force the game into a third-person perspective rather than the normal fixed first-person perspective. As it’s not a proper feature in the game, it hasn’t been polished very well, showing some janky animations. However, it turned out to be a planned Easter egg rather than a glitch. Many people seemed to like the Easter egg, but it could have been communicated a bit better. For example, by rewarding the player with an achievement, or showing some kind of notification when switching into third person.


They take away immersion

In most cases, Easter eggs break the ‘fourth wall’: the conceptual wall that separates the game’s world from the audience and the real world. They often refer to other games or popular culture, which has no place in the universe the game is set in. This leads to the player being very aware that he’s playing a game, rather than being immersed in the world itself.

The ‘Elevator disco Easter egg’ in Crysis 2 is funny because it’s utterly unexpected and out-of-character for the game. They made sure though, that the player has to go pretty far out of their way to trigger the Easter egg. This can be totally fine in and of itself, but you should make sure the player doesn’t stumble across an Easter egg accidentally during a crucial point in the story or an epic boss fight. Also, when the player encounters too many Easter eggs, they become a cheap gimmick rather than a memorable discovery.


Conclusion

Easter eggs can be wonderful little additions to your level and game if done right, but there’s plenty of ways you can end up cheapening your game or get yourself in a whole lot of trouble. Now that the pitfalls have been exposed to you however, you no longer have an excuse not to add some little gems to your game for your players to uncover!

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