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Top 10 Secrets In Games

GeekOut Top 10s

The media form so massive that it’s possible to leave thousands of details for the players to uncover… or never to uncover. Sometimes they’ll discover it decades later, or maybe players have to travel the world to uncover the truth, or devote hours monitoring every little detail. Sometimes it’s an easter egg, sometimes it’s facts about the game dispersed throughout the game or hidden behind puzzles so elaborate, it’s impossible to even begin to know how to begin!

Here we have pointed large neon signs at some of the best secrets, and some of our favourite secrets from games.


Top 10

10) Minecraft Level – Borderlands 2

Tucked away in the Caustic Caverns alongside yet more failed mining efforts from the Dahl corporation you can encounter yet more of the alien geography and local fauna that is encountered nowhere else on Pandora, a set of strange stone cubes, oddly destructible and mysteriously filled with guns and money. Wandering among these cubes are cubic beasts with green skin, usually an indicator of corrosive damage, but these explode like a Torgue teapot!

It’s not even as subtle as I’m implying, the brazen Minecraft section also includes head and skin drops that give you the pixelated, block headed look of a Minecraft character, but far more heavily armed. Just right of where the mine tracks terminate, it’s a well concealed little corner, tough for even the most thorough explorers, but these days that Easter Egg is pretty well known.

9) M’aiq the Liar – The Elder Scrolls Series

M’aiq tells many lies, or does he? M’aiq is one of the more entertaining recurring characters of The Elder Scrolls franchise. He moves very fast, to where it’s not possible to keep up with him ordinarily (there are always ways). People love to find M’aiq, as he’s always got a little story to share. I think Skyrim fans may recognise the line “Werewolves? Where? Wolves? Many wolves.” (this is paraphrased a bit).

M’aiq may be a bit more than people first thought though. The developers at Bethesda have used M’aiq to say what they (and many fans of the series) have been thinking. As an avid Elder Scrolls Online player, one of my favourite quotes from the MMO comes from M’aiq, where he says the following:

M’aiq asked an Argonian if she could breathe underwater. She asked if he could see in the dark. M’aiq had no good answer

This refers to the fact that in all other Elder Scrolls games, Argonians can breathe underwater and Khajiits get Night Vision. M’aiq knows many things, though M’aiq tells them through riddles.

8) Rattmann’s Ramblings – Portal 2

Ever masters of storytelling and cunning set design, the Portal team seeded Portal 2 with little narrative nuggets in the form of hidden chambers covered in graffiti, filled with assorted trash, and strongly implying that someone is living there, a poet, a dreamer, a scientist, a paranoid maniac who has lost his mind, who has deified Chel, and painted her in murals across every wall praising her as the saviour against the nightmarish all-seeing horror that dosed him with nerve gas and left him alone to crawl through the tunnels.

Doug Rattman also drops some seriously alarming truthbombs. He may have been wrong about the cake, but there’s an unsubtle hint that Chel’s surname is Johnson… yes, that Johnson, a theory backed up by a potato project, the one that may have taken over the science fair. Possibly the daughter of Caroline/GLaDOS, between his graffiti, his art, and the slowed down gibbers audible in some of his secluded hideaways. The contents of Lab Rat also tell how he bridged the gap between titles, have a read.

7) Piston Honda – Punch Out

Short one, but cunning. Punch Out for the NES is staggeringly well animated for the console it’s on and the simplicity of the mechanics. Look for the unique tells of each fighter that communicate, not only the punch that’s coming, but also a little of the personality of each. It makes the game feel like each fight is unique, rather than the same repetition of dodges and punches.

But Piston Honda’s most subtle tell came from a fan of his in the audience, who could apparently see something we couldn’t. There’s a tiny cluster of pixels that is set apart from the rest of the crowd because of his distinctive beard who ducks reactively when a big hit is coming. He’s the one to keep an eye on, because he’s clearly studied Piston’s fighting style more thoroughly than we have.

6) The Hidden Path – Grim Dawn

The Crate team love their secret hiding places, a reward for anyone willing to click anything or try any direction that looks vaguely path-like. Go hunting and you’ll eventually find hidden merchants, chest behind walls, torches that turn revealing hidden chambers, and The Hidden Path, an enormous questline seeded across Cairn and right on your very doorstep.

East from Burrwitch prison, there’s a path through shallow water leading to a blast point. Set your dynamite and start a journey filled with tough as nails bosses, clues to unravel, and ending in a visually stunning combat with great rewards. Along the way you learn about the Witch Gods who form the backbone of the game’s most recent DLC, and discover things about the world of Grim Dawn that make the hack-n-slash deeper than your average RPG setting.

5) The Chris Houlihan Room – The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past

Well this is a cute one isn’t it? A fan entered a competition for a Nintendo Power magazine back in 1990 and in 1992, Nintendo made a room in his honour. Although, due to the lack of information available at the time, the Chris Houlihan Room was often seen, but very few people really understood what the purpose of the room was. Instead, they’d stumble into this room, get quite confused, take their treasures and leave.

There’s nothing inherently strange about this either; in the early days of gaming, competitions in magazines were common and the developers loved the response. So they added in the Chris Houlihan Room, a room filled with Blue Rupees. There’s then a sign on the wall at the far end, which reads as follows: “My name is Chris Houlihan. This is my top secret room. Keep it between us, okay?”

No, Chris. No. I’m sharing your room today and you can’t stop me.

4) The 24 Year Secret – Doom II

There’s a stage in Doom II that could never be “100 percented”, only 90% could ever be reached. By travelling around the map and exploring for more guns and ammo you’ll occasionally see a pop-up message that says “secret found”, and finding and unlocking them all has been impossible for twenty four years since the game’s release. And then Zero Master finds it.

Rock Paper Shotgun, Polygon, Screenrant and so many others made a huge deal out of… what is essentially a bland and tiny little moment in a fast paced and intense game, that requires an absurd amount of effort to set up. The location of the secret has – apparently – been known for a while, and understood to be impossible to attain because of the positioning of certain level elements that make it possible only to stand on top of it without ever interacting, unless you get a pain elemental to spawn a soul on your head while your stood in the exact right place, forcing you to be pushed downward through world elements and into the trigger spot!

A game approaching twenty five years old can finally be completed.

2) Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth vs Reverse Castle – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’s

Sometimes it’s easier to just think about things from a conceptual level – and these secrets are simply ridiculous. Both of which required the players to think thoroughly outside of the box. However, which is the better secret?

Binding of Isaac Afterbirth

Cicada 3301 is one beast of a puzzle requiring astonishingly diverse technical and historical knowledge, a capacity for lateral thinking, and the tenacity to see it through. There are theories that it was used as a recruiting mechanism for some secret organisation somewhere! Said organisation may want to look to the people who unlocked this easter egg.

I daren’t even go into the obscenely long details, that required an internet scavenger hunt through link after link, decoding hidden messages, and sending people off on a real life scavenger hunt for a tiny figurine that led to a twitter account that had to be filled with tweets before the developers closed it off and released a new character for every player! It’s something of a leviathan for the serious fans to have conquered, because knowledge of the game down to the near-granular level.

Reverse Castle – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

The Reverse Castle is one of those really cool secrets that just blew me away. When you play through Symphony of the Night, you find Richter and go ahead and kill him. That’s it, game complete – Though it’s bizarre to have a Castlevania game not feature Dracula – In fact, this is what puzzled so many fans. The game was fantastic in its own right, but why on Earth was Dracula not there?

Turns out, he was.

If you don’t kill Richter, you get a quest to go about and find some body parts for, you guessed it, Dracula. This is the true ending of the game that a lot of fans missed. Killing Richter seemed like the logical thing to do, if you look at how the game is structured. It’s a fascinating foray into how to, quite literally, turn expectations on its head. Besides, you don’t get the true ending without doing this.

1) Every Ending and Everything – Doki Doki Literature Club

Having this at number one almost feels like a cheat, but when you think about what Doki Doki Literature Club is, it deserved the top spot. A game built on secrets, portraying itself as a game that it is not… and let’s not even begin to get into how many strange real-world treasure hunts people had to go on. Let’s go through a couple of the secrets and I’ll try not to give away too much of the plot.

When you play through, the game acts like a Dating Sim. What you actually are presented with is a horror visual novel, but you don’t realise it until it’s too late. With files that rewrite themselves, with you having to delve into your Steam folders and with images that’ll definitely disturb some viewers, Doki Doki goes from a pleasant romp of a protagonist who joins a Literature club as he has to join a club at least.

Some of the secrets include hidden audio, whole distortions to how the game looks, a menu screen that keeps changing, monochromatic images… And that’s just a couple of the in-game secrets. With secret images which had to be analysed, websites being found, leading onto secret projects, this game wasn’t a game… It was a secret finding experience.

Honourable Mentions

Not every secret is so secret, once they’re out, they’re everywhere. In our honourable mentions this week we raise a couple of such “secrets” that were once hidden, and became renowned, thus eliminating the secrecy…

Warp Zones – Super Mario Bros

Duh duh duh duh-duh duh, duhh.

Now that the theme’s stuck in your head, let’s talk about the famous Warp Zones of Super Mario Bros.

Considered one of video games worst-kept secrets, the Warp Zones are a way to quickly get through Super Mario Bros. without glitching the game. You can get to a Warp Zone in a variety of ways, but the most famous one is the one at the end of the pipe level in World 1 (World 1-2 specifically). Getting to it is simple – Get on top of the blocks where your score and everything is kept – run along the top and jump down at the end to get to three pipes.

These three pipes will take you to worlds 2, 3 and 4 respectively. If you go into world 4, you can eventually find a block that unleashes some vines leading up, off the map. Climbing these vines makes it so you go to another Warp Zones. This is how speedrunners achieve ridiculously good speeds at Super Mario Bros.

Oh and I haven’t even spoken about glitching through the world 1-2 pipe and wall at the end, which takes you to 1 Warp Zones pipe, which takes you to world -1. Yeah, Super Mario Bros. is a glitchy, fun title.

Moo Moo Farm (The Secret Cow Level) – Diablo 2

In keeping with the theme of well known, memorable secrets in video games, who could forget Moo Moo Farm? I personally love this stage and it was a great way to get yourself some experience and lots of gear. It was entertaining, tricky enough to find (except the invention of the internet meant it was incredibly easy to find it all) and yeah, it was fun. But it all stems from a seemingly innocuous item; Wirt’s Leg.

By using the Horadric Cube, you could combine Wirt’s Leg with a Tome of Town Scroll Portal. On doing this, you create a hellish looking portal. Travel through and it’ll come up saying “Entering Moo Moo Farm”. You know you’re in for a tough fight when a bunch of cows wielding halberds coming swinging at you. You’d better moo-ve it, as these bovine brawlers seriously pack a punch.


Keep this one under your hat, okay? We were never here, neither were you. Leave your vote at the door, and we’ll see you back here next week. Mum’s the word, and we didn’t even tell you that, you hear me?

Were there any secrets that we couldn’t uncover. Does your favourite still remain elusive, never ever tell us what we missed in the comments, or on Facebook and Twitter. People might overhear, the truth could get out, and we will not be held responsible for that!

Hey, this is a secret! Say “I nose it” in the comments to show you found this secret. Your reward is this video.

Video Game Review: Diablo II

A classic hack-n-slash title, renowned the world over as possibly the best ever made. However it’s been around for 17 years, having debuted in 2000. Therefore, it’s time to finally pick the game up once more and scrutinise it deeply. I will compare it to games before, around and after it to see if it still maintains the title of best hack-n-slash around. The gloves are off, Lord of Terror!

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Palette Swapping – Elemental Cues

Let me pick up from where I started last march by saying that a palette swapped creature in a game needn’t simply be a conservation of resources, and can be representative of something notably different or important, something made distinct by a change of colour.

For example, revisiting The Fallen from Diablo: (more…)


Snow In Video Games

With a few noteworthy exceptions, most games tend to have a fairly homogeneous progression, usually going from lush green grasslands and becoming progressively more wild, desert, jungle, and usually ending with freezing cold, winter perhaps, snowy tundra, or soaring mountain range. Some examples:

Diablo 2 progresses from the temperate plains around the rogue encampment, straight into the desert of Lut Gholein, forests of Kurast, and finally hell itself. The expansion then takes the hero to the barbarous wastes of Harrogath, a land filled with massive, destructive beasts and hellspawn.

Borderlands is almost exclusively deserts and salt flats, being the more common terrain on Pandora. The finale however takes our Vault Hunter to a snow-capped mountain in the Eridium Highlands.

Bastions journey leads the Kid from the ruins of his old town through the drifting chunks of Jawson’s Bog, forests and jungles, ending in the ice blocks of Urzendra Gate, Zulten’s Hollow and the Tazal Terminals, dripping with icicles.

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Castle Crashers, Titan Quest, the masterpiece edition of Myst, Grim Fandango when you think about it, Skyrim’s fairly snowy all over but the difference from Helgen to the Throat is a marked difference, Pokemon Gold/Silver ends on Mt. Silver, and I’m sure if you think on it you’ve already conjured a few examples yourself. Why do so many game designers take their story along this path?

There’s a literary device known as Pathetic Fallacy, you may be familiar with it. The sun shines on happy days, it rains when everything’s sad, it’s tragic, but some people still do it, and if it’s done well enough you’d never even notice it was happening. The same thing can also apply to the seasons, they follow a fairly natural progression with all the metaphors to go with them, spring is a time of rebirth and new beginnings; summer is filled with life, growth and joy; autumn is a period of decay, when everything is undone and falls into decline; finally winter is the season of darkness, and death.

The progression of a game follows a like-for-like path, and often the terrain and weather reflect it. A game usually begins with the birth of a hero, the call to action that takes the normal person into a story. The action builds, intrigue rises, suspense and activity grows, driving the hero to develop and achieve things he/she never thought themselves capable of. Finally the real conflict is ahead, seemingly insurmountable, friends fall behind, the world crumbles, the hero is faced with an impossible decision or heartbreaking revelation. They overcome at last to stand before the end, victory or defeat, life or death, pivoting on a single moment.

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A less heroic analogy, a decline in weather follows the decline of Prince Arthas in Warcraft 3, from the young hero of springtime, and the madness he pursues takes him into winters death, which then follows him everywhere he goes.

Keep your eyes peeled for this particular quirk of media, and how weather can influence emotions as part of narrative, and particularly look at how it can change your perspective on an area. It may not be the very last segments of the game, occasionally they are the very beginning (Metal Gear Solid, Borderlands 2, Rise of the Tomb Raider), but they’re frequently pivotal, memorable, tough, or some mixture of all three. If you’ve ever felt daunted at the sight of snow then you’ve already fallen victim to pathetic fallacy.


Top 10 Towers in Games

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Towers define a skyline, they change the cities that they occupy because they quite literally stand out. Because of that they also tend to help define games, they can be focal in stories, a more literal climax in climactic moments, or they could be simple but iconic background detail.

A tower is a symbol, a statement, and a genre of game in its’ own right. So join us as we take this opportunity to appreciate their place in gaming.
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Palette Swapping

It’s a padding device as old as games themselves. Throw in a little variety in your creature catalogue by changing the colours, copying the code over and slapping a completely different name on it. Cheap trick it may be, but it’s not without it’s up-sides, and it’s not impossible to do it well.

Inky, Pinky, Blinky, and Clyde became very distinct personalities in Ms. Pacman, but in the original Pacman they were just multicoloured clones of one another. Aside from the obvious advantage of giving them cool names, what benefit is there to making them different colours? It would have been simpler to leave them all the same colour, or perhaps change the colours between levels, increasing the sense of progression, but for the player, having unique colours makes it much easier to keep track of each ghost’s movements. It’d be easy for four identical ghosts to fade into your peripheral vision, and thus make them impossible to spot until too late, but changing the colours keeps the player’s attention.

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Another early example of identical creature given a variety of colours, the aliens from Space Invaders: the block of sprites has a very singular strategy, one that never changes no matter how many you destroy, no matter their colour. Aside from breaking up the wall of enemies, the changes in alien design help the player track progression, although the colours have no effect on the game, the stripping away of layers is much easier to track mentally by colour than by number.

Now let’s talk about Diablo…. here’s a prime example of palette swapping gone wrong. Of all the hundreds of monstrosities Diablo 2 (for example) has to offer, they boil down to a grand total of 72 sprites for general mobs, maybe another 20 or so for unique bosses. The classic of course that we all know and love: The Fallen

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Identical tactics, identical sounds and art, but with different colours! Now I don’t expect miracles from a turn of the millennium game, but I think my real question is why go to such drastic lengths with the naming scheme? I feel like it’s some poor attempt to make us believe that they’re supposed to be different creatures, and I’m not buying it. Great game, but compared to its’ contemporaries like Titan Quest or Grim Dawn (two games I talk about far too much, this is why I promised at the start of the year I was going to try and get through my Steam list) where creatures like the Satyrs are palette swapped, they’re named as different breeds, rather than different creatures.

Done well, this kind of palette swap can build up a kind of ecology, and feel within a world, make it a little more real by keeping some small level of consistency. So it really needn’t be all pointless corner cutting.

In short, I’ve grown accustomed to palette swapping, but I’m old enough now to realize that M&Ms aren’t different flavours because they’re different colours. Recently though, I’ve started observing palette swaps appearing somewhere I didn’t expect.

More and more, Games Workshop are producing twin model kits, swap a few pieces here and there on the spru and the figure counts as a completely different unit on the table, initially I was fine with that, not a big deal when the difference was between one type of tank or another, an assault sphinx or a transport sphinx:

But I find myself drawing a line when one build is an entirely different faction to the other as they have begun to be recently, and the differences are not suitably significant to be drawing that kind of distinction. I suppose my biggest question here is why? Is it to give the builder more options with the kits they buy, rather than being bound to a single model? Or is it just to save some money in plastic and moulds, because apparently the price increases just aren’t helping any more.

Call it a sideways move on the topic, but this feels like a palette swap! A cheap rehashing of old material sold as something different, and they’re not the only ones. Fans of Ashens, the action figure/cheap tat reviewer of YouTube will know how full the industry is with repainted figures resold under a different title, even as a different intellectual property. One of my favourite tabletop games is packed to the brim with palette swaps:

Krosmaster-Arena-Miniature-Board-Game-04

How many can you find?

Resources are limited everywhere, that’s a fact, be that resource plastic, money or time. Unfortunately this means corners will be cut here and there, but at times clever design can make this kind of cheat to great advantage. This is one major incident where we can look to the past for lessons to apply today. At one time the limited resource was colour, but it was used to greater effect than perhaps it’s used today.