Wednesday, January 1, 2014

. . . Secrets Inside of Secrets

This post was discovered hiding in the "Drafts" bin, having been started on 25 March 2013 and then never edited let alone finished since.  The long gap in time means I get to update this, so in place of the 2013 charity calender we get the 2014 calender...

There is a story behind this: Each New Year part of my New Year chores are to hang the new Ryan Air Charity Calender and then do a bit of New Year cleaning on my computers, Network-Accessible Storage systems, and the drawers of my desk.

The idea here is to start things off with as clean a slate as I can manage...

The annual charity calendar raises money for kid-centric causes!
By the way if the hanging of that calendar rubs you the wrong way, try to remember that the calendar is a project that is made with the enthusiastic participation of both the airline and the in-flight crews, specifically to benefit charity in the form of UK Teenage Cancer Trust.

The charity is the only licensed UK charity dedicated to improving the quality of life and survival chances for young people (aged 13 to 24) battling cancer.  Considering the dismal dole and post-hospital medical care system in the UK, those kids can really use the help.  

Last year's (2013) calendar benefited the TVN Foundation of Warsaw, Poland, who help children suffering from cystic fibrosis.  The 2014 calendar is limited to just 10K copies, and raises €100,000 which is used for precisely what they say it is used for - supporting young people battling cancer. It's all good in other words, so you should see if you can buy one today!

So with that in mind, and after dusting this one off and discovering it is worthy of completion (basically there are only two choices here - if the article is worthy of being completed and posted that is what happens, otherwise it is put out of its misery with mercy) here is the first revived posting from the Draft bin for 2014!

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The first Easter Egg for a home video console game is in 1978's Video Whizball for Fairchild's Channel F

Draft Bin Article:  Secrets Inside of Secrets

The hidden objects found in video games are called "Easter Eggs" but the reason -- the origins -- of this label and practice are  surprisingly something of a mystery despite the relatively young age of the practice.

One version of the origins has the practice stemming from a contest called The Easter Egg Hunt -- because they are small and concealed -- the idea being that they are similar to the Easter Eggs from the traditional Easter Egg Hunt.

These hunts are festival-like events usually held out-of-doors, to celebrate the Easter holiday,  wherein adults hide brightly colored chicken eggs for children to find.  Usually the kid who finds the most eggs wins a prize.

Another version has it that the concept of the Easter Egg in video games reflects the elaborate jeweled eggs created by Russian jeweler Carl Fabergé for the rulers of Russia -- Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II -- as Easter gifts for their wives and mothers.

In a spot near Bedford Point, Staunton Island, in GTA III,  just past the area where it is very obvious you are not supposed to be able to reach, when you are persistent (and you use a taller vehicle-type) in order to jump over the blocked area, you can in fact reach -- and read -- the sign above, for this GTA-traditional Easter Egg.

Crafted from gems, jewels, and precious metals, the "eggs" usually contained, hidden within, a scene or other artistic secret -- with some being cleverly crafted puzzle-like eggs that you had to know the secret of in order to open them!  

It is estimated that just 52 of these special eggs were ever made, and as there are very detailed records for each that include the materials that went into them, when they were made, and as they are after all pieces of high art, the names that were given to each  as well as who their current owners and their locations are -- with the exception of eight of the eggs which have gone missing!  

The eight missing eggs are:
  • Hen with Sapphire Pendant -- gifted by Alexander III to Maria Feodorovna, Easter 1886.
  • Cherub with Chariot -- gifted by Alexander III to Maria Feodorovna, Easter 1888.
  • Nécessaire -- gifted by Alexander III to Maria Feodorovna, Easter 1889.
  • Alexander III Portraits -- gifted by Nicholas II to his mother, Empress Maria Feodorovna, Easter 1896.
  • Mauve -- gifted by Nicholas II to his mother, Empress Maria Feodorovna, Easter 1897
  • Empire Nephrite -- gifted by Nicholas II to his mother, Empress Maria Feodorovna, Easter 1902.
  • Royal Danish -- gifted by Nicholas II to his mother, Empress Maria Feodorovna, Easter 1903.
  • Alexander III Commemorative -- gifted by Nicholas II to his mother, Empress Maria Feodorovna, Easter 1909.
Interestingly enough there are actually two theories about these eggs and how they connect to the origins of the Easter Egg in video games...  

The first hypothesis is that it is the hidden treasure inside each Fabergé Egg is the reason for its use to describe the hidden objects or messages inside video games.  

The Memory of Azov Egg -- made in 1891 for Tsar Alexander III of Russia. The surprise contained within is a miniature replica of the Imperial Russian Navy cruiser Pamiat Azova (Memory of Azov), executed in red and yellow gold and platinum with small diamonds for windows, set on a piece of aquamarine representing the water.

There may be some traction for this one because, in fact, each of the eggs created by Fabergé actually did have a hidden treasure inside of them!  We will take the hidden treasures inside the missing eight eggs for our example here:
  • Hen with Sapphire Pendant -- a clockwork hen laying an emerald egg inside.
  • Cherub with Chariot -- a jeweled and working clock is contained inside the egg.
  • Nécessaire -- 13-piece diamond-encrusted gold woman's manicure set inside the egg.
  • Alexander III Portraits -- six miniatures of Emperor Alexander III on an ivory background inside.
  • Mauve -- a heart shaped photo frame that opened as a three-leaf clover with each leaf containing three miniature portraits of Nicholas II, his wife, the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, and their first child, Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna. It was made of rose-cut diamonds, strawberry red, green and white enamel, pearls and watercolour on ivory inside the egg.
  • Empire Nephrite -- a miniature gold bust of Alexander III inside the egg.
  • Royal Danish -- miniature portraits of Christian IX of Denmark and his wife, Louise of Hesse-Kassel (the parents of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna) inside the egg.
  • Alexander III Commemorative -- a miniature gold bust of Alexander III inside the egg.
The second hypothesis is the eggs themselves being treasures, but that seems a bit weak to me.

As far as I am concerned, the first hypothesis combined with the fact that back in the day when these were actually being made for the Tsars they were not called Fabergé Eggs -- a label that is relatively recent being more descriptive than identifying.

These artistic treasures were in fact commonly known both inside the Romanov family, by the Fabergé company, by its artists, and with all of the references to them found in correspondence about and relating to them, as "Easter Eggs" -- it simply makes a lot more sense.

Every now and then a developing studio will get so clever with an Easter Egg -- and in this case an Easter Egg that they actually wanted the players to find -- that none of the players actually manages to find it on their own, even when they already know it is there to be found! This was the case with the Warden's Secret Room in Batman: Arkham Asylum - which the stdio ended up having to explain to the players how to reach it!
The Easter Eggs in Your Game

It seems that the game publishers have wised up to the nefarious tricks of the code-monkeys who make their games for them -- in fact they appear to be more aware of the practice today than they were in years past.

That new awareness has, in some ways, altered the way that they do business.  

Specifically it has caused not just publishers but game development studios to add Easter Egg clauses into employment contracts for software engineers and coders that, while not really outright forbidding the insertion of Easter Egg content in the games that these code-slingers work on, definitely influences the type of Easter Eggs they toy with.

Most code-monkeys will tell you that it is a hell of a lot easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission -- which may be why, in recent years, Easter Eggs follow the much safer path of either honoring other video games, or paying homage to real-world people.

It is fair to say, in other words, that we are a lot more likely to see officially sanctioned Easter Eggs like Conan O'Brien's cameo in Halo 4 -- and a lot less likely to see secret levels like the Hot Coffee level that caused major controversy in the ability of publisher 2K Games to obtain the rating levels they were seeking for Grand Theft Auto IV...

The Original Easter Egg as a Symbol of Creator Credit...

The first officially recognized Easter Egg is widely held to be the secret signature hidden in Atari's 1979 video game Adventure by its chief programmer, Warren Robinett, whose insertion of his signature into the game was nothing short of a rather brilliant hack.

Bearing in mind that in 1979 the home video game industry was in its pre-infancy stage, and the video game studio phase that is today as a strong element of the structure of video game production.

Because of this, and because games were created as what is today known as "work product" -- which is to say that the artists and code-slingers who actually created the games both did not own a piece of the game, or share in its profits.

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Sometimes it is the very obvious that can trip you up when it comes to the discovery of Easter Eggs in video games - particularly when the Easter Egg is an object that you already know is there (or that it should be there) you just don't remember it! Such is the case with Jack's aeroplane in BioShock 2 (remember? The plane that he used to get to the city in the middle of the ocean from the first game?) Well here it is!

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What is more surprising is the fact that programmers were rarely ever officially acknowledged either in the advertising, the packaging, or even in the game itself, which did not include a credits screen as we are used to today.

Because of that and, it seems, out of a desire to sign his work much like an artist would sign their painting, Robinett created an interesting hack that lead to a secret room that the player could only really encounter if they already knew that it existed.

This had the effect of allowing the player to witness the words “Created by Warren Robinett” inside of the castle as an unofficial credits screen.  In effect Robinett had done something that he was contractually forbidden to do: he had signed his work.

If you have an interest in historical accuracy you may be surprised to learn that while Robinett's hack of Atari's Adventure, though it is widely thought (and said) to be the first Easter Egg in video games, was not actually the first such Easter Egg; it was simply the first Easter Egg that became common knowledge.

For whatever reason -- but probably because they wanted to keep their job -- the story behind the video game programmer who created the actual first Easter Egg was not revealed until some time in 2004, when it was widely outed in mainstream media, including an article in Forbes Magazine.

The first Easter Egg for Home Video Game Console gaming...

Video Whizball -- a game for the Fairchild Channel F home video game console, was engineered and manufactured by technology company Fairchild Semiconductor.

The Fairchild Channel F -- a console from the second generation of home video game consoles which include Atari's 2600, Magnevox's Odyssey, and Mattel's Intellivision, has a number of “firsts” associated with it.

It was the first programmable ROM cartridge-based video game console, the first console to use a microprocessor, and now it is the first home video game console to have a game with an Easter Egg thrown into the mix.

There are some other little-known firsts that also apply to the Channel F, which was originally launched as the Fairchild Video Entertainment System, or VCS (the name was changed to Channel F just a year after it was launched due to Atari using the same name, Video Entertainment System, to describe its 2600 line and later 5200 line) as it was the first modern cartridge-based home video game console to break the $200 price tag.

The VCS/Channel F sold for just $169.95 compared to the $200 for Atari's 2600 and Magnevox's Odyssey, $270 for the Atari 5200, and $299 for Mattel's Intellivision. To put that in more meaningful terms, that $200 from 1978 is worth $740 in 2014 dollars -- $300 in 1978 dollars is worth over $1,100 in today's money, so those consoles were NOT cheap!

The video game called Video Whizball was the game for Cartridge 20 of the Fairchild Channel F console's game library, and the software engineer who was responsible for creating Video Whizball, programmer Bradley Reid-Selth.

Thanks to investigative reporting by a number of sources we now know that code-slinger Bradley Reid-Selth is the first author of a video game Easter Egg -- fully a year before Warren Robinett slid his graffiti-like gesture of defiance past Atari's quality control stormtroopers -- having placed his surname into Video Whizball.

In GTA: San Andreas at the very top and highest point on the Gant Bridge -- which is the very obvious large red suspension bridge connecting Juniper Hollow and Palisades in San Fierro to Tierra Robada and Bayside the sign above can be found as what has become a sort of traditional Easter Egg in the GTA series.
Actually seeing that first Easter Egg requires a rather convoluted set of steps:

First the player must play against the computer, and win or lose kill the computer's opponent and then get killed themselves. Once that basic per-requistie is met, the player then must wait until both players are off the screen and then start a new game.

At that stage the player needs to select “GAME 43” and then “SCORE 67” and pull UP to start, at which point the non-existent program 43/67 loads, and the player sees “REID-SELTH” appear in the center of the screen.

And there you have it -- the first Easter Egg for home video game console play!

The Video Game Easter Egg...

It appears that the placement of secret Easter Eggs inside video games has been something of a tradition in the industry going way back -- but that really makes sense considering the nature of human beings and their rather unique (as far as we know) sense of humor...  

But then again what if that noise that dolphins make is not a language in which they are attempting to communicate with us, but is in reality the dolphins...  Laughing... At us?  I mean for all we know they see us as being just these hilarious thingies!

Anyway when you stop to consider that almost every game has a handful Easter Eggs -- and that handful in each game are just the ones we actually know about mind you -- it seems like there could be far more than we are aware of.

While funny or even meaningful messages in games as Easter Eggs tend to stand out in the memory of the gaming community, what about Easter Eggs that have a practical value?  Need an example?  how about the secret rooms in the relatively recent reboot of the Castle Wolfenstein game series: Wolfenstein 3D (for Xbox LIVE Arcade) -- which take the form of hidden rooms.  

A lot of hidden rooms.

Inside these hidden rooms can be found resources, special weapons, extra life tokens, full-healing-potions, or even simply a very large amount of ammunition conveniently placed near the site of a boss battle.  Some gamers would not consider those an Easter Egg at all, but rather a hidden element of game play resources...  But we are not "some gamers" and we do consider them to be Easter Eggs ni that they are certainly unexpected!  

Making Easter Eggs out of a room crucial to the success in a battle strikes us as an excellent use of the whole Easter Egg concept -- when a player knows it exists that is -- we're just saying...

Conan and Andy appear as union-card-carrying guards in the Shutdown Mission of Halo 4...
They Call Him CoCo

Then there are Easter Eggs that pay homage to real people...

The cameo-type Easter Egg appearance of late night Talk Show Host and Ginger Gamer Conan O'Brien (and his best mate and colleague Andy Richter) as a pair of dedicated and professional space marine guards in the instant classic and Must Have Game Halo 4...  

How much would you care to bet that the invitation to Conan by 343 Industries was equal shares of someone on the development team wanting to meet and interact with Conan, and part a nod towards the fact that Conan happens to be a major Halo fan?

Before we get to the meat and potatoes of his Halo Cameo, some gamer-like background is in order here, with our first logical question being did you know that Conan is a gamer?

We'll forgive you if you had the impression that, far from not being a gamer of any skill, Conan is what is known in impolite circles as a Newb?  Or is he?

It is very easy to get that impression when you judge him by what appears to be the public (if sincere) face of his gaming -- thanks in no small part to the large number of game reviews he has "written" and published via the official website for his television talk show.  We refer specifically to its section called "Clueless Gamer" with Conan O'Brien...

Actually the segment is created with Conan playing the funny man, and his long-time web producer and video games consultant-stuntman Aaron Bleyaert as his straight man. It should be noted that Bleyaert was actually part of Conan's team back when Conan was the host of the Tonight Show, which in dog years is like freaking for-ev-er.

(L34RL'/ (0|\|4|\|  has a bit more skill than he is trying to conceal.

The setup for his role as a clueless gamer really doesn't work if the viewer pays too close attention to what is actually happening in the games being "reviewed" but, nevertheless,  the joke-within-a-joke manages to succeed thanks in part to its name -- Clueless Gamer -- and the posturing set up for the show segment.

It is therefore very easy at first to dismiss him and his game reviews,  particularly if you fail to see through the humor present like his review of Grand Theft Auto V in the video embedded above.

Conan is naturally going for the laugh and like the other "reviews" in the Clueless Gamer section of his show's website he gets the laughs...

The fact that these are not really game reviews at all is easy to forget because Conan is actually a very funny man -- but even when he is trying to be funny without meaning to do so he reveals his familiarity with the games and their controls in instances like his jacking a car and ending up in a fistfight, and the skillful manner in which he "wrecks" his car.

But in reality Conan is actually not only a skilled gamer, but an often serious gamer.  Unlike the vast majority of his peers in Hollywood, in place of a "media room" and in-home movie theater, Conan has a very large screen display hooked up to which is a collection of video game consoles (pretty much one of everything) that is complimented by a very large collection of games.

Which brings us to Conan's Cameo Easter Egg appearance in the Must Have Game Halo 4...

If you still need proof that Conan is a gamer and much better at it than he suggests in the Clueless Gamer bits consider the over-all attention that her gives gaming both elsewhere in his show and, perhaps more to the point, in his real life...
  • Conan routinely includes video games as fodder for his monologue.
  •  Entertainment gossip show TMZ is rumored to have a team of cyberstalkers tracking down Conan's characters in World of Warcraft -- they are just looking for any character with red hair who actually uses punctuation and a Brookline accent...  According to TMZ MC Harvey Levin that criteria would positively ID the late night talk show host...
  • Investigative Reporter Arianna Stassinopoulou-Huffington, reveals in her August 9, 2013 article for high quality Internet newspaper The Huffington Post that O'Brien not only knows which of the Atari 2600's buttons turn the device on and off, but which buttons on the retro games console are used to reset the game, as well as where game cartridges are actually inserted...
  • Conan admits to CNN's Anderson Cooper that his motivation behind extending the Clueless Gamer feature beyond its original three-episodes to a regular feature on his show after he learned that video game publishers would send him free copies of their newest games for him to review.  Conan's reaction to the game publisher's offer is reported to be: "Free games?  I'm in!"
  • Conan routinely attends real-world gaming events because he is a gamer #1 -- Blizzcon '13.
  • Conan routinely attends real-world gaming events because he is a gamer #2 -- E3 2013.
  • Conan O'Brien moonlighted as video game characters including starring role in the Vatican's  Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father in December 1993 (see screenshot below-left).

“The online version of Grand Theft Auto launched yesterday. That's right; the fictional, crime-ridden government of Los Santos is now functioning better than America's real government.”

2 October 2013 - Conan

How Important are Easter Eggs?

In terms of you average video game, the Easter Eggs that are found within them are not so much important as they are fun.  Fun to find, fun to share, just plain fun...  But sometimes in other classes of program they can be critically important -- particularly when the Easter Egg is actually a game!

To leave you with some warm and fuzzy feelings about the topic of Easter Eggs -- and to make it even more worth your while to have read through what turned out to be a very very long post even though it was heavily edited and lots of the stuff between "This post was discovered..." and "How Important are..." I thought I would dish you some of the more useful Google Easter Eggs while thanking you for taking the time and making the effort to read this post!

Important Google Easter Eggs
That's right, the search engine Google has some important Easter Eggs you need to be aware of!  And here they are, in no apparent order (note that all that you need to do is type the following into the Google Search Box unless otherwise noted):
  • Play the classic old-school video game Atari Breakout! 
    Load your browser, open the Google Page, then select "Images" from the top-right-menu and type "Atari Breakout" in the search box without the quotes.  If you are at work, be sure to mute the speakers on your computer, because if you don't everyone in the office will know you are playing Breakout.  Fair warning!
  • You Bet Your Life!
    Open Google and enter "Conway's Game of Life" into the Search Box (without the quotes) and Google will begin displaying Conway's version of the game Life!  Just sit back and watch it all happen - or not!
  • You Want Bacon with That?
    Open Google and type in "Conan O'Brien Bacon Number" (without the quotes) to see where our favorite gaming ginger late night host stands in his distance from Kevin Bacon!  Note that you can do that with pretty much anyone in the IMDB - or at least that has been our experience!  Not only will it tell you their Bacon Number (as in how many degrees they are from Kevin Bacon) it will also illustrate the number in terms of the steps!
  • Care to have an Anagram of Anagram?
    Open Google and type the following into the Search Box: "Anagram" (without the quotes) and you will get an Anagram of Anagram in the "Did You Mean?" Offer Line!  If you find that amusing, go to one of the bazillion Anagram Servers on the Interwebs and type in your name to see what you get for Anagrams!  Chris Boots-Faubert gets a very nice selection but my favorite is "A Boob Stitch Surfer"
  • A Quick Anti-Boredom Barrel Roll Shot in the Arm
    Open Google and, in the Search Box, type in "Do a barrel roll" (without the quotes) and you will find something to be amused about!  Take that, boredom!
  • Did You Order a Festivus Pole?
    Searching for "Festivus" (without the quotes) places a Festivus pole in the left side of the window.
  • The Answer is...
    Load Google and type in "the answer to life, the universe, and everything" (without the quotes) into the Search Box and you get the answer.
  • Time Travel from your Computer
    Open Google and, in the Search Box type in "Google in 1998" (without the quotes).  You will instantly be teleported to the year 1998, as suddenly you will be searching the web via that year's Google!
  • Zerg Rush Destruction Game
    Did you know that in video games a "Zerg Rush" is defined as an overwhelming attack by a large number of enemy forces?  Well, it is!  And if you open Google and type in the words "Zerg Rush" into the Search Box (minus the quotes) the display for that search term will be attacked by an overwhelming number of enemy Google O's!  You must defend your search results by rapidly clicking the left-mouse-button on the foes, defeating them!  How well did you do?  You can compare your score with the world!

Enjoy your Google Easter Eggs - what the heck, enjoy all Easter Eggs, everywhere, including Easter Easter Eggs!



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