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Secrets Hidden Deep Within Games

Nothing stirs up that feeling of pure, unadulterated "WTF?" like booting up a familiar video game only to stumble onto something truly bizarre. Easter eggs are nothing new—they've been around since Ron Milner, former Atari engineer, programmed a secret message into 1977's Starship 1. However, sometimes, developers go further, hiding strange, spooky, and even sweet secrets for players to unearth. From challengers who only show up after players meet specific conditions to creepy sounds that caused gamers to question their own sanity, let's take a look at some of the most notorious secrets hidden deep within video games.

Doom II - John Romero's head

Back in the '90s, John Romero was a veritable rock star of game design. As the co-founder of id Software, he helped pioneer the first-person-shooter genre by lending his talents to the likes of Doom, Doom II, and Wolfenstein 3D. He's even credited with coining a term you'll see in most of today's competitive multiplayer games: "deathmatch." Suffice it to say, Romero left his mark on gaming—both figuratively and literally. One of the most notorious—and gruesome—video game easter eggs of all time actually comes in the form of his smug-looking, decapitated head impaled on a spike in the final level of Doom II. So how do you find it?

The game's final boss, the Icon of Sin, is depicted as a massive, mechanical goat's head jutting from a wall. The only way to defeat said Baphomet-wannabe is by riding a forehead-level lift and firing rockets into its exposed brain—or by activating the "idclip" cheat, allowing the player to enter walls, platforms, and even the boss' body. The inside of the Icon's brain reveals John Romero's disembodied noggin, which serves as the enemy's actual hit detection point. And while you could totally take out the big bad from the outside, players have the option of unloading their shotguns on good old Romero instead.

Halo 3 - The Cavemen

While it's better known for its multiplayer experiences, the Halo franchise doesn't skimp on futuristic, alien-invasion storytelling—or fun, freaky secrets, like an out-of-place family of cavemen hiding just out of sight.

The creepy cavemen clan in question can be found in Sierra 117, the second level of Halo 3's single-player campaign. Taking place deep in an African jungle, the level features quite a few twisting paths and hidden crevasses, one of which hides a secret we wish we'd never discovered. Players lucky enough to stumble upon the eerie primitive creatures, hidden in an alcove atop a narrow rocky ridge, earn the "Primate" achievement. And they'd better. Nobody wants to stare into those empty eyes any longer than they have to. Yeesh.  

Halo 3 - Happy Birthday Lauren

Halo 3's easter eggs aren't all unmoving abominations bent on skulking through your nightmares for all eternity. One of the game's most notorious secrets is a hidden message that a lovey-dovey programmer named Adrian Perez snuck into the game for his wife, Lauren. 

The now well-known "Happy Birthday, Lauren!" message wasn't always so infamous. In fact, it had gone entirely undiscovered until Jon Cable, an engineer for Bungie, responded to a fan's question about easter eggs, suggesting that the third game in the popular shooter franchise contained a secret he didn't think anyone had found yet, and adding, "It only happens on a specific day...so good luck." That exchange took place in 2012, five years after the initial release of the game. It would be another two years before Halo modder and YouTuber Lord Zedd discovered the secret message (by cheating—but that's besides the point.)

While remarkably well-hidden, unlocking the easter egg required a very specific yet simple condition to be met—it needed to be December 25th. Or, rather, an Xbox 360's calendar needed to be set to that exact date. Once the system's date was adjusted, players needed to begin a solo game, then hold down both thumb sticks when the loading screen appeared, and voila! The words "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LAUREN!" would appear in a slightly darker tone against the loading screen's spinning ring.

See? Not all secrets are horrifying and shiver-inducing.

Black & White 2 - Name whispers

For some gamers, the best easter eggs are the spooky ones.Case in point: the mysterious whispers that seemingly calls out to players in 2005 deity simulator Black & White 2. The game features a hair-raising voice that whispers the word "death" every time a villager croaks, a practical (if startling) way to keep tabs on your populace. While that sounds creepy enough as it is, the omniscient voice has another trick up its sleeve—one that still freaks out new players nearly 10 years later. Every so often, the creepy, hushed voice will call out a player's real name—so long as it's a common one and its database contains it. 

While this easter egg's overall purpose is still unknown, some speculate that the ominous invocation suggests an alignment shift–meaning the mysterious whisperer's letting you know you're stepping up your benevolence game...or, alternatively, hopping on the devil's highway. To this day, players still aren't sure where exactly the game obtains this information from, but it's widely speculated that it pulls it from your profile or straight from your operating system. Either way, it's one of the spookier easter eggs in gaming, causing some late-night players to question whether or not their sleep-deprived imaginations are running amok.

GoldenEye 007 - ZX Spectrum emulator

Rare's 1997 FPS hit GoldenEye 007 was both a faithful adaptation of its thrilling source material and an engaging split-screen multiplayer experience that set the standard for console shooters to come. It also contained a mind-boggling secret that took over a decade to unearth. In 2012, while digging around in the guts of a GoldenEye 007 ROM, super fan Zoinkity discovered a total of ten extra games embedded in the game's code. Interestingly enough, these weren't even N64 titles—they were older games, developed by Rare's corporate predecessor, Ultimate Play the Game, for a console called the ZX Spectrum (basically a British Commodore 64). 

Turns out that the UK-based Rare had been experimenting with emulation around the same time they were developing GoldenEye. Rare wound up using the shooter as a petri dish for their pet project in order to determine whether or not console emulation was possible on the N64. Rather than remove the code prior to the game's launch, they merely disabled it, allowing anybody with a background in programming to re-enable the ZX Spectrum emulator—which ran games like Sabre Wulf, Atic Atac, and Jetpac—by applying a fan-developed patch to a GoldenEye ROM.

Deus Ex: Invisible War - "The REAL Endgame"

While it wasn't exactly a huge hit, Deus Ex: Invisible War contained one of gaming's most bizarre alternate endings: a trippy, tongue-in-cheek dance party. Accessing Invisible War's secret dance party ending requires the player to reach the UNACTO ruins, pick up the flag near the entrance of the level, and then promptly flush it down the toilet in Manderley's old rubble-ridden office. The player will then be greeted by a prompt that reads, "And Now For The REAL Endgame...." 

They're then transported to Club Vox for a surreal shindig with the game's cast, incredibly unfunny datacubes, and flaming penguins. It's the wackiest, least canonical ending this side of Silent Hill 2's "dog ending." And the awkward dancing and dead-eyed expressions are the best/worst use of Invisible War's unnerving, emotionless character animations. Honestly, kudos to the bored schmuck who discovered this wonderful disaster. Who flushes a flag?

Mortal Kombat - Reptile

Contemporary Mortal Kombat players might be surprised to learn that one modern masked favorite was suspiciously missing from the original 1992 arcade game's roster: everybody's favorite jolly green skull-gobbler, Reptile. Before he became the acid-spewing savage we know today, he was something of an urban legend.

The green meanie had hardcore arcade gamers vying to be the first among their friends to unlock him as an opponent, while their casual counterparts debated whether or not he was even real. In reality, Reptile was nothing more than a buffed Scorpion/Sub-Zero palette swap, and unlocking him was a relatively simple, if time-consuming, endeavor. All you needed to do was win a match with a double flawless victory without blocking, and then perform a successful fatality on the Pit stage after a pair of shadows passed over the moon during combat. 

Okay. So maybe it doesn't sound so simple now—those conditions were pretty hard to replicate, and the pay-off was pretty flimsy. But, back in the day, fighting—and beating—Reptile cemented your legacy as a legit gamer, at least within a 10-mile radius of your arcade. 

Final Fantasy IX - The Lost Nero Family

It took 13 years for JRPG players to notice an obscure Final Fantasy IX side quest involving the disappearance of the Nero family. Completing the side-quest involved returning to the same spot seven times over the course of the game's fourth disc as members of the Nero clan went looking for the rest of their kin. An FFIX message board poster named The_Kusabi_ first discovered the side-quest when he read about it in Final Fantasy IX Ultimania, and a YouTuber named GarlandTheGreat was kind enough to upload a gameplay video of his own experience along with instructions explaining how to complete the mission.

It's not an exceptionally exciting side quest, and its reward, a Protect Ring, isn't all that unique—the accessory can be synthesized, purchased, or obtained through any number of quests. Still, stumbling upon a long-lost quest after a decade is every completionist's dream (or nightmare, depending on how you look at it).

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - The Chris Houlihan Room

The only thing more exciting than uncovering a secret in your favorite game is, of course, having one dedicated to you. In 1990, Nintendo Power magazine ran a contest that would give one lucky, randomly-selected winner the chance to have their name programmed into an upcoming video game. The winner of said contest, which required gamers to photograph themselves during an encounter with super-rare Final Fantasy mob Warmech, was a gamer named Chris Houlihan. Mr. Houlihan's name was designated to a secret area in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past appropriately—if lazily—named "The Chris Houlihan Room." Inside, Link can snag a total of 45 blue rupees and check out a telepathic tile on the back wall that reads, "My name is Chris Houlihan. This is my top secret room. Keep it between us, OK?"

While not technically an official location in the game, Mr. Houlihan's personal easter egg serves a practical purpose: it's a crash prevention measure. In other words, players are transported there when the game can't determine where to send Link after he enters a new area. The room proved so mysterious that some gamers thought something was "wrong" with their game upon finding themselves in the oddly-named area. And while many players have reported winding up in secret room by accident, others have documented their own sure-fire methods for accessing the area for their curious fellow easter egg-hunters.

Portal 2 - Rattmann's final transmission

Portal 2 is all about defying orders and exploring the Aperture Science Enrichment Center at your own pace—so, of course, it's the perfect game for secret-seekers. While a number of Portal 2's most interesting secrets relate to Dr. Doug Rattmann—aka "Rat Man," a former Aperture researcher who escaped GLaDOS's testing chambers prior to the events of the original Portal—most of them can be fully appreciated without pausing your game. 

However, Valve's award-winning puzzle-platformer boasts one easter egg that requires players to install special software to get the full effect. Turning on a radio in Rattmann's third den—which can be located during Chapter 2, in Test Chamber 6—produces an ear-grating sound remarkably similar to a 56k modem. In reality, this is an SSTV signal. Players who discover this hidden signal are automatically rewarded with the "Final Transmission" achievement. But those who run it through an SSTV signal decoder are treated to an awesome easter egg: an SSTV image. Gamers who've already completed Portal 2 once should immediately recognize the location in the picture as Wheatley's new home away from home—the moon.