Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Searching For The Very First Easter Egg In Video Games

This Easter week, I wanted to share a fascinating story of the search for the very first Easter Egg in video game history. Steve Wright, director of software development for Atari's Consumer Division coined the term to describe hidden undocumented features in a video game, like hidden programmer credits or power ups or in-jokes. Atari had a policy of not crediting programmers that worked on their games, developers from their products, as the company believed doing so would prevent competitors from identifying and luring away Atari's best programmers.

In protest against this policy, programmer Warren Robinett devised an obscure series of circumstances in the1979 Atari game Adventure that, when executed correctly would take the player to an otherwise-inaccessible room that displayed the text "Programmed by Warren Robinett". When a curious teenager stumbled upon the hidden credit in the game and notified Atari, the company found that going back and changing the code and issuing new game cartridges would be prohibitively expensive, so the credit stayed. Wright dubbed it an Easter Egg, and Atari turned the act of rebellion into a company feature, making programmer credit Easter Eggs a de-facto company standard.

While Adventure has arguably the most well-known video game Easter Egg, it is not the very first Easter Egg in a video game. That particular honor went to the video game Video Whizball released in 1978 for the Fairchild Channel F home gaming system. Or so it was thought.

Enter video game historian Ed Fries and pioneering Atari employee Ron Milner. During the course of an interview Fries was conduction with Milner about the very first racing car video games, Milner's work on the video game Starship 1 came up. And what Milner said was mind-blower and history-changing. As Fries relates:

“That was the first and only game that I ever programmed and I think it was maybe one of the first games with a backdoor in it," [said Milner]. "I didn’t tell people about this, even within Atari, for at least 30 years, but I had some code in there that if you did a certain sequence of controls it would say ‘Hi Ron!‘ and give you 10 free games.”
I was kind of stunned. If this was true it would certainly predate the earliest video game Easter egg that I knew of and the one that is most often cited as being the first: “Adventure” for the Atari 2600 from 1979. I did a little searching online and found that there was an even earlier Easter egg in the game “Video Whizball” which was released in 1978 for the Fairchild Channel F game console.
But there was a problem. Ron didn’t remember exactly how to bring up the Easter egg. He remembered showing it off to some buddies at a county fair when the game first came out, but that was 40 years ago!
The story of the research into finding and rediscovering this hidden part of gaming history is a super fascinating read, so read the whole thing!

No comments:

Share This Post