Easter Egg (Virtual)

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An Easter egg is an intentional inside joke, hidden message, or feature in a work such as a computer program, movie, book, or crossword. According to game designer Warren Robinett, the term was coined at Atari by personnel who were alerted to the presence of a secret message which had been hidden by Robinett in his already widely distributed game, Adventure.[1][2] The name has been said to evoke the idea of a traditional Easter egg hunt.[3]

This practice is similar in some respects to hidden signature motifs such as Diego Rivera's including himself in his murals, Alfred Hitchcock's legendary cameo appearances, Fritz's appearances in the works of Chris van Allsburg, and various "Hidden Mickeys" that can be found throughout the various Disney Parks.

Atari's Adventure, released in 1979, contained the first video game "Easter egg" to be discovered by its players, being the name of the game's programmer, Warren Robinett. In 2004 an earlier Easter egg was found in Video Whizball, a 1978 game for the Fairchild Channel F system, displaying programmer Bradley Reid-Selth's surname.[3]

In computing

Software

In computer software, Easter eggs are secret responses that occur in response to an undocumented set of commands. The results can vary from a simple printed message or image, to a page of programmer credits or a small videogame hidden inside an otherwise serious piece of software. Videogame cheat codes are a specific type of Easter egg, in which entering a secret command will unlock special powers or new levels for the player.[3][4]

In the TOPS-10 operating system (for the DEC PDP-10 computer), the make command was used to invoke the TECO editor to create a file; if given the file name argument love, so that the command was make love, it would pause and respond not war? before creating the file.[5] This same behavior occurred on the RSTS/E operating system, where TECO would provide this response. Other Unix operating systems would respond to "why" with "why not" (a reference to The Prisoner in Berkeley Unix 1977).

Many personal computers have much more elaborate eggs hidden in ROM, including lists of the developers' names, political exhortations, snatches of music, and (in one case) images of the entire development team. Easter eggs in the 1997 version of Microsoft Office include a hidden flight simulator in Microsoft Excel and a pinball game in Microsoft Word.[6][7]

The Debian GNU/Linux package tool apt-get has an Easter egg involving an ASCII cow when variants on apt-get moo are typed into the shell.[8][9]

An Easter egg is found on all Microsoft Windows operating systems before XP. In the 3D Text screen saver, entering the text "volcano" will display the names of all the volcanoes in the United States. Microsoft removed this Easter egg in XP but added others.[10]

In the Pinball game in Microsoft Windows, typing in "hidden test" (with the space) and pressing Enter will allow the user to drag the pinball around with the mouse.[11]

Microsoft Excel 95 contained a hidden Doom-like action game called The Hall of Tortured Souls.[12]

Some computer and video game secret levels are triggered by an Easter egg. In 1993's acclaimed LucasArts video game Day of the Tentacle, the original game Maniac Mansion from 1987 can be played in its full version by using a home computer in one character's room.[4][13]


For a time, Google Maps contained several Easter eggs whereby a user asking for directions from Japan to China, from New York to Tokyo, or from Taiwan to China would be directed to either jetski, kayak, or swim across the Pacific Ocean.[14] Asking Google Maps for walking directions from the Shire to Mordor produces "One does not simply walk into Mordor", a warning that replicates a line from The Lord of the Rings.[15] Google search responds to "Do A Barrel Roll" in the search box by tilting the page 360°, as if a pilot were maneuvering an aircraft.[16][17] This is a reference to the popular video game series Star Fox, where the phrase became famous.[18] In December 2011, Google also introduced an Easter egg that was triggered by typing "let it snow" into the search box, which caused snow to fall and the screen to frost over.[16]

Hardware

While computer-related Easter eggs are often found in software, occasionally they exist in hardware or firmware of certain devices. On some home computers, the BIOS ROM contains Easter eggs. Notable examples include several early Apple Macintosh models which had pictures of the development team in the ROM (accessible by pressing the programmer's switch and jumping to a specific memory address, or other equally obscure means), and some errant 1993 AMI BIOS that on November 13, 1993, proceeded to play "Happy Birthday" via the PC speaker over and over again instead of booting.[19] Similarly, the Radio Shack Color Computer 3's ROM contained code which would display the likenesses of three Microware developers on a Ctrl]]+ Alt+Reset]] keypress sequence—a hard reset which would discard any information currently in the dynamic memory. Several oscilloscopes have contained Easter eggs. One example is the HP 54600B, known to have a Tetris clone (and even to save high scores).[20] Another is the Tektronix 1755A Vector and Waveform Monitor which displays swimming fish when Remote>Software version are selected on the CONFIG menu.[21]

The Commodore Amiga 1000 computer included the signatures of the design and development team embossed on the inside of the case, including Jay Miner and the paw print of his dog Mitchy.[22]

The Commodore Amiga models 500, 600, and 1200 each featured Easter eggs, in the form of titles of songs by The B-52's as white printing on the motherboards. The 500 says "B52/Rock Lobster", the 600 says "June Bug", and the 1200 says "Channel Z".[23] The Amiga OS software contains hidden messages as well.[24][25][26]

Many integrated circuit (chip) designers have included hidden graphic elements termed chip art, including images, phrases, developer initials, logos, and so on. This artwork, like the rest of the chip, is reproduced in each copy by lithography and etching. These are visible only when the chip package is opened and examined under magnification, so they are, in a sense, more of an inside joke than most of the Easter eggs included in software.[27] The 1984 CVAX microchip implementation of the MicroVAX CPU contained in its etchings the Russian phrase in the Cyrillic alphabet "VAX: When you care enough to steal the very best", placed there because, "knowing that some CVAX's would end up in the USSR, the team wanted the Russians to know that we were thinking of them".[28]

DVDs and Blu-Rays

Easter eggs are also found on movie DVDs and Blu-Rays.[29][30][31] Klinger states that their presence is "another signifier of artistry in the world of DVD supplements."[30] According to Berardinelli and Ebert, most DVDs do not contain them, and most examples are "inconsequential", but a very few, such as one found on the Memento DVD, are "worth the effort to seek out".[31]

The TV series Doctor Who has an episode using Easter Eggs as a major part of the plot; the episode in question even has an Easter Egg on the chapter selection for that episode on the disc release, showing the full in-episode Easter Egg.

Security concerns

Security author Michel E. Kabay discussed security concerns in 2000: software quality assurance requires that all code be tested, but it is not known if Easter eggs are tested, since they are secret; therefore, a "logic bomb" could also bypass testing. Kabay asserts that this undermined the Trusted Computing Base, a paradigm of trustworthy hardware and software, in place since the 1980s, and is of concern wherever personal or confidential information is stored, which may then be vulnerable to damage or manipulation.[32] Microsoft created some of the largest and most elaborate Easter eggs, such as those in Microsoft Office.[33] In 2005, Larry Osterman of Microsoft acknowledged Microsoft Easter Eggs, and his involvement in development of one, but described them as "irresponsible", and wrote that the company's Operating System division "has a 'no Easter Eggs' policy" as part of its Trustworthy Computing initiative.[34]

Douglas W. Jones said in 2006, "some Easter eggs may be intentional tools used to detect illegal copying, others are clearly examples of unauthorized functionality that has slipped through the quality-control tests at the vendor". While hidden Easter eggs themselves are harmless, it may be possible for malware to be hidden in similar ways in voting machines or other computers.[35]

Netscape Navigator contributor Jamie Zawinski stated in an interview in 1998 that harmless easter eggs impose a negligible burden on shipped software, and serve an important purpose: helping productivity, by keeping programmers happy.[36][37]

See also

Video games portal
Software portal

Notes

External links

  • "Chip Fun: Microchip-based Easter eggs" – National Museum of American History.
  • Hidden DVD & Blu-Ray Easter Eggs
  • The Top Ten DVD 'Easter Eggs' – Sound & Vision Magazine.
  • "Easter eggs" – Digital Press. Classic video game easter eggs.
  • Atari 2600 hidden Easter egg feature
  • Russian based Easter eggs
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