Easter egg (interaction design)
An Easter egg is an intentional inside joke, hidden message, or feature in an interactive work such as a computer program, video game or DVD menu screen. The name has been said to evoke the idea of a traditional Easter egg hunt.
According to game designer Warren Robinett, this traditional term was coined into the context of media by Atari personnel who were alerted to the presence of a secret message which had been hidden by Robinett in his already widely distributed game, Adventure. Released in 1979, Atari's Adventure contains the first video game Easter egg to have been discovered by its players; the hidden item is the name of the game's programmer, Warren Robinett. Robinett inserted his Easter egg late in the game's development in an attempt to gain some recognition for his work, as Atari then kept its programmers' names secret. In 2004, an earlier Easter egg was found in Video Whizball, a 1978 game for the Fairchild Channel F system, displaying programmer Bradley Reid-Selth's surname.
This practice is similar in some respects to hidden signature motifs such as Diego Rivera's inclusion of himself in his murals, Alfred Hitchcock's cameo appearances, Fritz's appearances in the works of Chris van Allsburg, and various "Hidden Mickeys" that can be found throughout the various Disney Parks.
In computer software, Easter eggs are secret responses that occur as a result of an undocumented set of commands. The results can vary from a simple printed message or image, to a page of programmer credits or a small videogame hidden inside an otherwise serious piece of software. Videogame cheat codes are a specific type of Easter egg, in which entering a secret command will unlock special powers or new levels for the player.
In the TOPS-10 operating system (for the DEC PDP-10 computer), the
command is used to invoke the TECO editor to create a file; if given the file name argument
, so that the command is
, it will pause and respond
before creating the file. This same behavior occurred on the RSTS/E operating system, where TECO will provide this response. Other Unix operating systems respond to "
" with "
" (a reference to The Prisoner in Berkeley Unix 1977).
Many personal computers have much more elaborate eggs hidden in ROM, including lists of the developers' names, political exhortations, snatches of music, or images of the entire development team. Easter eggs in the 1997 version of Microsoft Office include a hidden flight simulator in Microsoft Excel and a pinball game in Microsoft Word.
The DOS-based palmtop computer HP 200LX of 1994 contains a number of easter eggs, including a gallery of the development team in a hidden pathway of the built-in 3D maze game Lair of Squid. In test mode, it reveals several limericks and cryptic poems.
The Debian GNU/Linux package tool apt-get has an Easter egg involving an ASCII cow when variants on
are typed into the shell. Using aptitude with the option
will make the program state that there isn't any easter eggs in it. However, by adding
(and more v's), there is in fact an easter egg.
An Easter egg is found on all Microsoft Windows operating systems before XP. In the 3D Text screen saver, entering the text "volcano" will display the names of all the volcanoes in the United States. Microsoft removed this Easter egg in XP but added others.
Some computer and video game secret levels are triggered by an Easter egg. In 1993's acclaimed LucasArts video game Day of the Tentacle, the original game Maniac Mansion from 1987 can be played in its full version by using a home computer in one character's room.
For a time, Google Maps contained several Easter eggs whereby a user asking for directions from Japan to China, from New York to Tokyo, or from Taiwan to China would be directed to either jetski, kayak, or swim across the Pacific Ocean. Asking Google Maps for walking directions from the Shire to Mordor produces "One does not simply walk into Mordor", a warning that replicates a line from The Lord of the Rings. Google search responds to "Do A Barrel Roll" in the search box by tilting the page 360°, as if a pilot were maneuvering an aircraft. This is a reference to the popular video game series Star Fox, where the phrase became famous. In December 2011, Google introduced an Easter egg that was triggered by typing "let it snow" into the search box, which caused snow to fall and the screen to frost over. Another Google Maps Easter egg, on Earls Court Road in London, shows a police box that allows the user to enter the TARDIS.
In 2012, an update to the Mac App Store for OS X Mountain Lion introduced an Easter egg in which apps, during the download process, were timestamped "January 24, 1984," the date the original Macintosh went on sale. Upon completion of the download, the app was given the correct date. This is the first Easter egg to appear in Apple software since Steve Jobs banned them when he returned to Apple.
While computer-related Easter eggs are often found in software, occasionally they exist in hardware or firmware of certain devices. On some home computers, the BIOS ROM contains Easter eggs. Notable examples include some errant 1993 AMI BIOS that on November 13, 1993, proceeded to play "Happy Birthday" via the PC speaker over and over again instead of booting, and several early Apple Macintosh models which had pictures of the development team in the ROM (accessible by pressing the programmer's switch and jumping to a specific memory address, or other equally obscure means). These Mac easter eggs were well-publicized in the Macintosh press at the time, along with the means to access them, and later serendipitously recovered by NYC Resistor team, a hacker collective, through elaborate reverse engineering,. Similarly, the Radio Shack Color Computer 3's ROM contains code which displays the likenesses of three Microware developers on a Ctrl+Alt+Reset keypress sequence—a hard reset which discards any information currently in RAM.
Several oscilloscopes contain Easter eggs. One example is the HP 54600B, known to have a Tetris clone (and even to save high scores), whereas the HP 54622D contains an implementation of the Asteroids game named Rocks. Another is the Tektronix 1755A Vector and Waveform Monitor which displays swimming fish when Remote>Software version is selected on the CONFIG menu.
In the second and third hardware revision of the Minolta Dynax/Maxxum/Alpha 9 SLR camera, including all SSM/ADI upgraded cameras, an undocumented button sequence which is impossible to press by accident, can be utilized to reconfigure the camera to behave like the Dynax/Maxxum/Alpha 9Ti and subsequently invoke support for the limited model's extra functions also in the black model.
The Commodore Amiga models 500, 600, and 1200 each feature Easter eggs, in the form of titles of songs by The B-52's as white printing on the motherboards. The 500 says "B52/Rock Lobster", the 600 says "June Bug", and the 1200 says "Channel Z". The Amiga OS software contains hidden messages as well.
Many integrated circuit (chip) designers have included hidden graphic elements termed chip art, including images, phrases, developer initials, logos, and so on. This artwork, like the rest of the chip, is reproduced in each copy by lithography and etching. These are visible only when the chip package is opened and examined under magnification, so they are, in a sense, more of an inside joke than most of the Easter eggs included in software. The 1984 CVAX microchip implementation of the MicroVAX CPU contained in its etchings the Russian phrase in the Cyrillic alphabet "VAX: When you care enough to steal the very best", placed there because, "knowing that some CVAX's would end up in the USSR, the team wanted the Russians to know that we were thinking of them".
Easter eggs are found on film DVDs and Blu-rays. Klinger states that their presence is "another signifier of artistry in the world of DVD supplements." According to Berardinelli and Ebert, most DVDs do not contain them, and most examples are "inconsequential", but a very few, such as one found on the Memento DVD release, are "worth the effort to seek out".
The TV series Doctor Who has an episode using Easter eggs as a major part of the plot; the episode in question even has an Easter egg on the chapter selection for that episode on the disc release, showing the full in-episode Easter egg.
Unlike DVDs and computer games, broadcast radio and television programmes contain no executable code. Easter eggs may still appear in the content itself, such as a hidden Mickey Mouse in a Disney film or a real telephone number instead of a 555 fictitious telephone number. One 2014 Super Bowl advertisement was leaked on-line in which a lady gives a man a real telephone number which the advertiser had hidden as a marketing ploy; the first caller to the number received a pair of tickets to the game.
Security author Michel E. Kabay discussed security concerns in 2000, saying that software quality assurance requires that all code be tested, but it is not known if Easter eggs are tested. He said that because they tend to be held as programming secrets from the rest of the product testing process, a "logic bomb" could also bypass testing. Kabay asserts that this undermined the Trusted Computing Base, a paradigm of trustworthy hardware and software, in place since the 1980s, and is of concern wherever personal or confidential information is stored, which may then be vulnerable to damage or manipulation. Microsoft created some of the largest and most elaborate Easter eggs, such as those in Microsoft Office. In 2005, Larry Osterman of Microsoft acknowledged Microsoft Easter eggs, and his involvement in development of one, but described them as "irresponsible", and wrote that the company's Operating System division "has a 'no Easter Eggs' policy" as part of its Trustworthy Computing initiative.
Douglas W. Jones said in 2006, "some Easter eggs may be intentional tools used to detect illegal copying, others are clearly examples of unauthorized functionality that has slipped through the quality-control tests at the vendor". While hidden Easter eggs themselves are harmless, it may be possible for malware to be hidden in similar ways in voting machines or other computers.
Netscape Navigator contributor Jamie Zawinski stated in an interview in 1998 that harmless Easter eggs impose a negligible burden on shipped software, and serve the important purpose of helping productivity, by keeping programmers happy.
- Easter eggs in Microsoft products
- Hidden track
- Magic string
- The Book of Mozilla
- Undocumented feature
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