Monday, January 20, 2014

. . . My Personal Angry Birds Star Wars Saga

Released in November 2012 for pretty much every game platform that you can think of at prices ranging from just a few dollars to serious money, Angry Birds: Star Wars offers the fusion of two of the most popular IP offerings in history -- Angry Birds, and Star Wars!

 “Familiarity breeds contempt - and children.”
Mark Twain

Regular readers of my column, Digital Grind, which appears every other Tuesday in the Cape Cod Times, will know that I have an extensive list of literary favorites (some of which I am not at all shy about using the world "hero" to describe).

I often quote them when it is appropriate to do so.  Not so much lately, but when I am writing a commentary piece in Digital Grind I commonly do.

I bring this to your attention largely due to the manner in which I opened this post -- with a Twain quote -- because it is on-target and helps to set the tone.

The reason for that specific Twain quote has to do with my dear and wonderful wife Yvonne -- who features prominently in this post thanks in no small part to her entering my game play lab where she found me taking a break and playing Angry Birds: Star Wars on my newest gaming console, my Xbox One, whose network name is Calliope.

Those are some Angry Birds...
If I may digress for a moment, the network naming convention for devices on my home network is a theme-based system: devices that are on the gaming virtual network are named from a list of characters found in mythology.

Devices that are transient to the network automatically get assigned the last three digits of the IP address they draw from the pool available from our DHCP server, and all of the other devices - PCs, laptops, tablets, and the like, sport a wide variety of names in that the individual owners are allowed to pick whatever they like as the name.

So I was happily (more or less) engaged on Calliope playing Angry Birds: Star Wars when my dear wife came into the lab and began to give it her usual ten-second-tidy, collecting the odd tea cup, and the plastic beverage bottles on the floor that did not make it into the recycle container at which they were thrown because - and this will not surprise most people who know me - my basketball skills are weak.

While she goes about doing those things she does, out of the corner of her eye she is observing me play the same level, over and over again.

Now it should be obvious to her that what I am doing is trying to obtain 3-Stars for that level.  Each level in the game has three potentially unlock-able stars, each of which is unlocked for completing a different set of actions - the secret of which I do not know.

Because I do not know what, specifically, the game is looking for me to do in order to unlock all three stars -- and it is NOT simply obtaining a specific score -- which I know for fact!

I know this because I have replayed levels in which I only scored two-stars with an ending score of, for example, 80,000 and then replayed the level with an ending score of just 60,000 but for some reason I cannot fathom I unlock the third-star.

Clearly I did something in the level new, that I had not done before, as otherwise how does one explain unlocking that elusive third star?  I am just saying...

Levels are solved easily enough, but unlocking 3-Stars?  Not so easily managed.
 Keen Observation

So my dearest Yvonne is watching me as I basically do the very same thing over and over again.

The level that I am trying to complete with three-stars is one that as nearly as I can figure must be completed in a specific way, targeting the birds in a narrow aiming point, the idea being to take out all of the pigs as a sort of predictable splash-damage effect.

"You know," my wife observes... "You know," she repeats.

"Yes?" I ask.

"A common definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, while you expect to achieve a different result?"

The look that I give my dearly loved wife has been known, in past use, to melt glass.  To cause small children to take flight.  To motivate broken cars to fix themselves.  To cause Pit Bulls to cower in fear.  It is, I must say, and with great pride, a very expressive glare.

"I'm just saying," she adds, completely unaffected by The Look.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

. . . Career Choices

My son has reached the age -- 18 -- at which the question of what he wants to do career-wise is being asked more frequently and, it seems, with a greater expectation that he will have a meaningful answer.  

In short it seems that the adults asking the question are expecting that he already has a plan in place, and when it is his peers asking, the barely perceptible edge of near-panic that is present has the effect of adding an emotional layer to the question that somehow increases its weight.

I am not so old that I do not remember what it was like to be 18 and to be asked what it was you expected would be your career.  In fact I distinctly recall laying on my back on the floor of the tree-house that my brothers and I built ten years before, with the rare assistance of our father, who because of his career rarely had the sort of free time that is required to plan a tree-house, let alone build one.

How I imagine I looked while laying on the floor of my tree-house thinking about the future.
 Jump in the Way Back Machine...

As I lay on the floor staring up at the roof joists and the light fixture -- yeah, our tree-house was fully wired for both electricity and more - I should go ahead and digress and explain that...  Yeah, I think I will.

When the subject of  a tree-house was first raised by my next-older brother, who was ten at the time (I was eight, and my little brother was three so he did not really contribute to the conversation) had some definite ideas in terms of tree-house building.

There was a tree -- I think it was actually an oak tree -- which is rather unusual for the area around Byron Bay -- that had a thick set of branching trunk (a sort of "V" shape) right about twenty feet up, and that was where he thought that the tree-house should go.  Now the fact that our neighbor and my brother's arch-rival, Tim Rose, had a tree-house that was around fifteen feet up.  I am not saying that Tim's tree-house in any way influenced the choices that were made in terms of the planning and the construction of our tree-house...

In the interest of full-disclosure you should know that Tim's tree-house -- which was until ours was constructed the preferred gathering and hanging-out point for our group of peers -- was basically a platform constructed between two moderate-sized trees that was about twenty-feet across and ten-deep, with walls and a pitched roof that had been constructed as an after-thought -- originally Tim had planned to pitch an old military-surplus tent on the platform, creating a sort of tree-house that was very similar to the sleeping platforms that were commonly built in the rain forest nearby by students who were studying them...

It was, in other words, a very basic tree-house.

To put you in the picture, Byron is the eastern-most land point on the continent, and it is justifiably famous for its beaches and its sunrises; the hippies that live around the area (there are still a few small commune farms left over from the 60s!) and the rainforest nearby that still plays host to a number of outposts for Australian universities who study the creatures that live there as well as the plants and trees and whathaveyou.

Outside of the rain forest - which has a diverse collection of rain-foresty trees and plants - the types of trees that you are most likely to encounter range from gum trees to scrub pine and a smattering of European tree types that have been, over the course of a couple of hundred years, planted here and there by European settlers who desired a more European view out of the window of their Australian homes.

I named the tree on the right in this Australian Rain Forest "Mike"
While they are pretty rare you can still encounter the odd bunya pine but for the most part what you are going to find are king or bangalow palms and a wide selection of European trees because while it is easy enough to forget that Byron Bay is a mixed-use settlement, it is.  

Most of the native flora and fauna was eradicated early on and what wasn't was pretty neatly killed-off in the last hundred years in the interest of what they call "planned" environments (that is, yards of rolling green grass that could not survive here without their expensive irrigation and watering systems, and the regular application of chemicals intended to fend-off the native weeds that would make a pretty good meal of those outsider plants unless that effort to defend them is made, just saying.

You could ask a member of the Bundjalung tribe about the trees, and they will instantly start rattling off a long list of them because the indigenous people for this part of Australia are very in-touch with the land and what can be found in and on it.  But the names they will use will not be of much use to you since they are the names in their tongue, not yours.  

But then again you could ask a member of the Bundjalung tribe and get nothing but silence and a blank look -- these people are still irritated (I would say pissed off but to be honest I cannot remember ever actually seeing any of the aboriginal people around Byron show genuine anger to a white fella in all the time that I lived there) and you would think that they would be pretty angry, considering the shitty-end-of-the-stick that they were handed by the white settlers.

While I love Australia I have to admit that its people have not exactly been kind to the aboriginal tribes that were there long before a white man ever cast his gaze on the Gold Coast and said "You know what Jim?  That there coast will make a very nice holiday town, it will!"

The treatment of native-Australia has, in many ways, paralleled the treatment by Americans for the indigenous tribes that lived there long before the first white man looked at the forests and swamps of Manhattan and said "You know what Jim?  That there island will make a great place to build really tall buildings from which to sell things it will!" 

It doesn't help that the settlers either treated the locals like they were subhuman or worse, treated them like they were a commodity to be exploited.  Based on my personal experience with the native Australian I can say with confidence that they are not stupid, or beasts, and in fact are some of the most sensitive people I have ever met from a cultural point-of-view.

If you were to ask an aboriginal -- look, that term, aboriginal, is pretty offensive, but it is the word that white western culture has chosen to identify the diverse and distinct tribes of native Australians so I use it but I don't mean it in a bad way, just as a word intended to positively identify who it is I am speaking about -- teenager about what the career is that they plan to have, if they answered you at all, chances are the answer would be that they don't really know because it has not happened yet, right?

Back to our tree-house -- it was planned over a three-month period by my Dad and older brother, and it was built during the six-weeks of my Dad's annual holiday.  It is almost twenty feet off the ground and has a spiral staircase AND a rope-ladder (the former is the main access method, the latter the emergency egress method).

It is fully wired for electricity, with light fixtures (two of them) inside, and one outside to light the entrance.  It has three wall plugs so that we can plug in the odd thingy like a radio, tape player, or when I was in my early teens, my Commodore C=64 and its monitor.

The tree-house has a phone -- though not one that is connected to the telephone network, rather it is a phone that my Dad found in a resale shop from the 1920's that has a speaking horn on it and a  handset that you hold to your ear -- and a crank that you wind in order to cause the bell on the identical device that is installed in the pantry closet in our kitchen to ring.  While that was not as you might say high-tech, it was still pretty cool for a tree-house.

So I was laying on my back looking up at the joists and thinking about what it was that I was to do with my life.  This was the evening before the day I was to leave for Sydney and begin my university degree program, and I honestly had no idea whatsoever what I would end up using that degree for -- that was assuming that I ended up seeking a career inside the scope of that degree program, which was engineering.

So when my son is asked that question, I cannot help but remember how uncertain I was when I was in his shoes, and having the benefit of hindsight I cannot help but note that very few (if any) of my mates who went to uni ended up with careers that had even the remotest connection to the subject that they studied for their degree program.

I can only presume that there is some sort of logic to the whole degree-program approach to higher education, though even now I am unable to see it.

Two people having a meaningful conversation about the future and how education really relates to reality...
While the argument can easily be made that this does not really apply, to this day the most expressively accurate quote that I can think of when the question of young people and careers is raised in this conversation between Sloan (Mia Sara) and Cameron (Alan Ruck) about the future:

Cameron: I don't know what I'm gonna do.

Sloane: College.

Cameron: Yeah, but to do what?

Sloane: What are you interested in?

Cameron: Nothing.

Sloane: Me neither!

Cameron: (yelled at Ferris, who's singing on the parade float) "YOU'RE CRAZY!"

Sloane: What do you think Ferris is gonna do?

Cameron: He's gonna be a fry cook on Venus! 
And there you have it - the perfect example of how what you study in University or College will have on what you end up doing for a career after you leave the relatively safe and protective environment of higher-education and go to live in the real world.
What It Is...
The answer to that question changes over time.  If you had asked my son what it was that he wanted to be a year ago, he would have instantly answered that he wanted to be an FBI Agent.  Since then though, he has expanded his interests, so the answer has been modified.

Now he says he would like to be an FBI Agent, but if he cannot be an FBI Agent, perhaps he would enjoy being an Automotive Journalism...

Between you and I, the choice of Automotive Journalism strikes me as an excellent career choice.  For one thing, there will not be some crazed automotive engineer on the other side of the office door cranked up on Crystal and Heroin looking to pop-a-cap into him when he appears to interview them, and perhaps even more significant, I cannot imagine a more interesting time for a young fella to be an Automotive Journalist.

The oil-based auto industry is about to wind down, and by the time my son hits middle-age I fully expect that the world of auto-making will center around a wide range of alternative fuel sources, primarily hydrogen and electric-cell based power sources.

With the fascination that man has for speed and style, that means that the design and the performance of cars in the future will be as important then as they are now, and that should mean that he will have all sorts of interesting things to write about.

Plus I have to admit that having my son choose a career that is related to the one I ended up choosing is rather flattering.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

. . . the Tapped Out Blues

After giving the matter some thought, I have come to the conclusion that the only way that a gamer today could not be aware of EA's blockbuster hit The Simpson's: Tapped Out would be if they were allergic to mobile games and gaming on the move...  And maybe not even then.

The story in Tapped Out is pretty compelling and certainly believable (at least in terms of animated TV show believable -- not so much real world obviously):  Homer Simpson brings his myPad (the Simpson's version of Apple's iPad) to work with him and is playing a F2P Freemium Grinder and gets so engrossed in that game that he completely ignores the alarms going off all around him.

Homer is the safety officer at the Nuke plant.  His job is basically to engage the emergency cut-offs and the extra cooling capacity if the alarms go off -- and he not only totally fails to do that job thanks to the game he is playing, but that failure results in the complete destruction of Springfield, and its neighboring towns -- though how you could actually tell the difference between the Shelbyville before the disaster and after it I am not really sure...


Because I am writing the Unofficial SuperCheats Guide
to Tapped Out
I have to play the game every day. . . 

The SuperCheats Guide will help you play the
game without spending real-world money, so
if you get snared by this F2P masterpiece I urge
you to check out that guide...

With the town destroyed, your job in the game is to rebuild it -- and naturally enough you begin that process with a more or less clean slate in the form of an open and empty wasteland in which the only thing that is familiar to you is the nuclear waste and bits of the old Springfield that can still be found in the form of wreckage from houses and other buildings.

Homer starts out alone but soon enough has the assistance of his daughter Lisa -- which is a good thing because of the Simpson clan Lisa is pretty much the only one worth saving in a disaster situation -- and I am including Marge in that estimation, since she is at least as guilty as Homer in terms of blame.  After all she enables most of the bad that these people do.

Playing Without Spending

The trick to playing this sort of Free-2-Play game is not spending money.  That may sound odd on the face of it -- after all it is a Free-2-Play game, right?  That means it is free.  You don't have to spend money to play it...  

The problem that you run into with the really good, really well-made F2P games is not that you don't have to spend money to play them, but that you WANT to spend money while playing them!

In the case of Tapped Out, which I have to admit the folks at EA's development studio did a really good job -- if I was asked to rate the currently available games in the F2P genre, Tapped Out would be number one, and number two would be another EA game, The Sims: FreePlay.

The game was engineered from the start so that a gamer could play -- and obtain pretty much the full measure of game play satisfaction -- without spending a penny.  It was also engineered so that a wide range of what are called "Premium Items" are available that, just like their name implies, require the player to spend real-world money in order to obtain, have been added to the game that are desirable to own and that -- here is the clincher -- actually make your game play better by owning.

These items range in types, but almost all of them have a cool factor associated with them, and almost all of them offer the player a bonus in terms of daily income in the game both in game cash and XP, that makes the game just a little bit easier, and a little bit better.  Which is why they are so insidious in that it does not take a lot of personal justification to explain why you chose to buy them.

Putting your real-world money into the game takes the form of purchasing the Premium Currency in Tapped Out -- which is strawberry-frosted Donuts.  You read that right -- the good kind of money in Tapped Out takes the form of Donuts!

Free Premium Items?

What is worse is the fact that the developers of Tapped Out, aware that it would help their revenue stream if they could communicate why Donuts were a good thing, and the things that you can buy with them will help you in playing the game, made sure that there was a trickle-sized supply of them for the players who were opting to play without spending money.

You get, in other words, enough Donuts (eventually) so that you can buy one of the Premium objects or buildings.  Of course deciding which one you buy -- and you can only afford to buy ONE -- is something of an adventure in its own right.

Then there are the bonus items that are intended to keep the player playing the game -- particularly the daily collection selection that, if you are there once a day, each week, at the end of the week you collect a Mystery Box that -- this is the kicker here -- can actually reward you with some of the Premium items or buildings in the game!

Don't discount that as a scheme that doesn't pay off because it does...  Because I am writing the Unofficial SuperCheats Guide to Tapped Out I have to play the game every day -- and because I play the game every day, I have benefited from the different play elements (like the daily collection) so I can testify that it actually does make a difference in play, and you actually CAN obtain the top-end prizes that it offers -- though you are more likely to get the lower-end prizes -- I know this because I have gotten them all and the bottom end of the stack most often.

To put this in perspective for you, the prizes that you can win from the daily collection come from the Mystery Box that you get on the seventh day -- as long as you don't miss a day because if you do that resets the collection.  The following prizes can be had from the Mystery Box (with the odds of winning noted):
  • 10 Donuts (2%)
  • 30 Donuts (.004%)
  • $500 in-game Cash (4%)
  • $1000 in-game Cash (4%)
  • $2500 in-game Cash (.01%)
  • Angel Topiary (4%)
  • Bench with Jacket (4%)*
  • Brown Fence x5 (10%)
  • Gazebo (4%) 
  • Homer Buddha (1%)*
  • Lard Lad Donuts (.001%)*
  • Large Hedge x3 (10%
  • Lemon Tree (10%)**
  • Mystery Box (10%)*
  • Newspaper Dispenser (10%)
  • Parking Lot (10%) 
  • Picket Fence x3 (4%)*
  • Squeaky Voiced Teen (2%)*
  • Tire Fire (.002%)*
  • Tree (10%)
* Premium Item - can actually be purchased with Donuts in the game.
** Special Item that can ONLY be obtained as a prize from the Mystery Box.  The Lemon Tree is also the only decoration item in the game that has a timer and rewards the player with money and XP.

That's right you can actually win a Mystery Box when opening the Mystery Box you won -- which really is a sort of do-over, but considering that the cost of a Mystery Box is 6 Donuts, it is an expensive do-over!

Considering that some of the Premium Items in the list have chances that are fractions of 1% you might be thinking nobody ever wins them, right?  But you would be wrong.

The thing about winning is the more chances you have to win, the more chance there is that you will win -- and because I play the game every day, that pretty much puts me in the top of the stack of players with a chance to win.

Would you be shocked to learn that over the course of the year-and-a-half that I have been playing the game every day I have actually won all of the prizes on that list except the $2500 prize?

Not only that, but I have won the Homer Buddha Prize (that is an object similar to the Mystery Box in that it has its own list of prizes but it costs Donuts to play) and that from the Homer Buddha I have actually won some very desirable (and long-odds) prizes including the Springfield Sign, the Duff Brewery, and the Volcano Lair?  

Granted I am not sure which of the Homer Buddhas I won them with that was free, or which I actually paid for since I tend to use the Donuts that I get free in the game to buy a Homer Buddha every time I have the 15 Donut price tag, but still free is free!

The Problem with Tapped Out

I keep running into a problem with the game -- it is not a game bug, it is not really a problem at all if you think about it but really it is -- the problem you see, is me.

Even though I know that there are going to be objects that the game requires me to purchase using in-game cash -- expensive objects mind you -- and objects that are required in order to progress the quest and thus the game story, I constantly find myself struggling with myself not to spend the money I have saved up on just one more land-expansion, or just one more decoration that will put the finishing touch to that block in that neighborhood of my town.

Yeah, I have been bitten by the Tapped Out bug, and I got it bad.

I am not one of those players who can be satisfied with jamming all the buildings into the smallest amount of real estate possible, ignoring placing of roads, paths, and the like.  I have to have my town look like a town, damnit!

Neighborhoods should have the sort of service-oriented businesses that they have in real life!  There should be convenience stores, gas stations, and restaurants -- and if you have a public building there should be adequate parking!

Sure, that uses land that I might otherwise pack six Brown Houses into, or three Orange Houses, or come to think of it, four White Houses...  But no, that won't work.  After all you have to have some class when you are planning out a town!  Right?  Right?!

You know what the worse thing about playing games like Tapped Out is?  The worse thing is when you realize that YOU are part of the target demographic that the game was made for.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Xbox Kinect problems on Xbox One

Sometimes it seems that even the best ideas can have a hidden weakness -- which is why real-world tests should always be a major element in the Beta Testing of products like the Xbox One and Kinect in my opinion...

I was playing the new Need For Speed: Rivals game on my Xbox One yesterday and I noticed some really strange behavior -- I would be ripping up the road having a winning good time and then suddenly and without warning the game camera would snap to a rear-view, causing me to no longer be able to see where I am going and crash my car.

"WTH?" I recall thinking.

It did this several times and I could not for the life of me figure out why. 

Shortly after the camera glitch -- or what I thought was a glitch -- I was driving along and the game screen suddenly switched to the Map display -- thing thing about that is that Rivals does not have a Pause Menu -- the only way to pause the game is to go into one of the hideouts scattered around the city!

So if you guessed that I ended up crashing well, yeah, I did.

The Solution...

It turns out that what was happening here -- I kid you not -- was the Xbox Kinect was picking up phrases from the game itself, the audio of the police radio no less -- and interpreting them as commands like "Map" or "Look Back" and the like, and so executing the commands!

I have not been this amused since I saw the video of Siri on two iPhones talking to each other...

If you run into this problem the only option that you have is to turn the Kinect off via the menu on your Xbox One.  Sigh.  Way to go Microsoft!

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!

- = - = - = - = - = - = @@ = - = - = - = - = - = -
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!