Easter eggs aren't just for scoffing. They're the buried treasure equivalent of the technology world, created by smart developers to boggle the mind, and hidden deep in your tech just for the fun of it.
This taste for covert surprises began long before the computer age, but today easter eggs can be found everywhere, from websites to CDs to humble washing machines.
They might exist for a programmer’s own amusement, or just as a way to keep an in-joke alive.
Welcome to the secret world of eggs: enjoy!
Ever since video games were first cooked up, developers have been baking in hidden treats for hardcore gamers to uncover...
Gears Of War 3
(2011, Xbox 360) When a Lancer rifle doesn’t quite cut the mustard you need the Cluckshot, the hidden chicken-firing boom-shot. You’ll need to be playing on ‘insane difficulty’ and take down a pirate chicken flying in a pimped ammo crate to get it.
(1979, Atari VCS 2600) This blocky hit popularised the idea of easter eggs in games. In a two-fingered salute to Atari’s no-credits policy, a secret room revealed the programmer’s name. By the time Warren Robinett’s bosses saw it, it was too late.
(1977, Fairchild Channel F) This demo was supposed to help sell the world’s first cartridge-based console, but programmer Michael Glass created a secret mode that displayed his name so he could activate it on shop display models.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
(2011, X360/PS3/PC) Skyrim’s full of secrets, but few top the headless horseman who gallops around at night. Follow him to get your mitts on magic armour and weapons; just don’t expect chit-chat from the headless chap.
Own the They Shall Not Pass DLC for DICE’s WWI first-person shooter? When you spawn in the Verdun Heights level, you can spawn the balloon house from Pixar’s UP by performing an (admittedly convoluted) series of actions. Watch the video above for details.
Borderlands 2 (2012)
There’s a hidden cavern in Borderlands 2 which lets you get some sweet overdue payback on those home-wrecking creepers from Minecraft. Kill enough of them, and a larger one will appear, eventually rewarding you when you finally take it down. Take that, freaky green walking CactusMan.
The Division (2016)
Ubisoft’s online Manhattan-based shooter is absolutely rammed with easter eggs. Some of our favourites include pizza boxes complete with Ninja Turtle weapons, a mannequin from I Am Legend, an Echo of Jessie Pinkman and Walter White, and another one featuring the shortcut screen from Sean of the Dead. How people have the time to find all of these, we’ll never know - we’re too busy shooting bad guys to notice.
Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain (2015)
What’s this? Ocelot calls you back to base with a serious emergency? This can’t be good. Wait, is that… a cake? And a new variant of the Happy Birthday song, conveniently different enough from the original one to waive a royalty fee? It’s all enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Assuming you’re not off celebrating your actually birthday, that is.
Grand Theft Auto IV
(2008, Xbox 360/PS3/PC) Liberty City’s streets might be heartless, but there’s a big heart beating in the Statue of Happiness. Grab a chopper, jump on to the statue terrace with the four doors, and enter the door claiming ‘No hidden content through here’. But don’t bother pumping it full of lead – this heart can’t be broken.
Plants vs Zombies
(2010, iOS) Tap on the menu screen’s zombie gnome to access the achievements page; scroll down to reveal nods to buried PopCap hits – and, at last, a glimpse of another zombie nation.
(1991 to now) Gaming’s most enduring egg is the buck-toothed fish from the fourth Commander Keen game, out in 1991. Since then, the dopefish has appeared in dozens of games – most recently Rage and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
The Virtual Boy lives!
Nintendo's Virtual Boy was a huge, huge flop in the mid-90s… but the terrible, black-and-red system got a pretty cool recent throwback.
If you pick up the Nintendo Labo VR Kit for Switch and build the VR viewer, Nintendo has snuck in a little video that lets you relive the sensation of putting the chunky old headset up to your face and playing Mario Tennis. It's not actually playable, sadly, but this is a nice little homage to Nintendo's ill-fated earlier VR attempt (video via NintendoLife).
Remember when you could visit a particular cave, spray the entrance with bullets to kill respawning enemies, and take the resulting flood of engrams to Master Rahool for encryption? Yeah, us too. Sadly, Bungie put an end to the legendary Loot Cave, but not without leaving a little memory of our loot-grinding shenanigans in its entrance. Dying Light also has a fun little tribute to Destiny's Loot Cave in it, if you’re interested.
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
(2013, Xbox One/PS4/PC) In GTA V you come across a mansion with a more than coincidental resemblance to Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion, complete with topless female partygoers and a large swimming area. That's just one of the many, many easter eggs in GTA V though. There are too many to list here, so here's a link to 28 others.
(2015, Xbox One/PS4/PC) Dying Light contains loads of references to other zombie games, for example there's a bakery you encounter called Left4Bread, a clear nod to other zombie thriller Left4Dead.
Saints Row 2
(2008, X360/PS3/PC) How anyone found it is beyond us, but after some extensive island hopping, players are rewarded by a giant purple bunny rising from the deep. It also lurks in Saints Row: The Third.
Hitman: Blood Money (2006)
What’s this? A strange coin on the ground? Hmm, you’d better shoot it. Oh look, it appears to have summoned a gang of applauding semi-clothed men.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Nintendo Switch's first big title is riddled with treats and secrets galore. The name of the first shrine you visit, for example - the 'Oman Au Shrine' - is an anagram of Aonuma, Breath of the Wild's producer.
Meanwhile, fans of runes and cryptology can find many hidden messages in the vertically scrolling script which appears throughout the game, such as where you place pins - including 'master using it and you can have this' and 'it's dangerous to go alone', referring to the first game in the series.
Near the beginning of the game, after Link's awakening, he's shown the ruins of a church-like building which bears a striking resemblance to the Temple of Time from Ocarina of Time. Speed up the background music that plays while in this area and you'll hear piano segments of the Song of Time. Neat.
Elsewhere, acquire a raft and you can head to an island that's home to Toronbo beach - the very same beach upon which Link lands in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening.
Beyond that, you'll find plenty of nuggets to unearth - including a host of place names borrowed from other games, as well as outfits and icons.
And it's not just the games themselves...
Sega Master System
The original model had a hidden game: Snail Maze. Boot up the Sega without a cartridge and hold down Up, 1 and 2.
In the Photo Channel, pick an image and enter Fun mode. Grab the cat with the A and B buttons for some wise feline advice.
Highlight a menu item so its icon rotates in the top screen. Then blow into the mic to spin it around like a stereoscopic pinwheel.
Press Select and Start when loading a Virtual Console Game Boy title to get a more authentic taste of ’90s-style portable gaming.