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Former Fallout level designer shares what makes a good Easter Egg

Make no bones about it.

Sometimes a skeleton is just a skeleton. They're bloody everywhere in the Fallout games, so you could easily overlook just one more. Sometimes, however -- like in the Fallout 4 instance above -- it's a clever multi-layered nod to a friend. Earlier today, former Bethesda level designer Joel Burgess shared a few of his stories and favourite hidden creations via Twitter. It's some good insight, good advice for level designers, and highlights a few things you might have otherwise missed.

The skellington above is a three-part reference. To access it, you need to open a locked door with the legendary "Looking Glass" code, 0451. A number re-used since the original System Shock's first locked door. Part deux, named pistol the Gainer, is a nod to Fullbright developer Steve Gaynor, and references his love of  "nasty-ass video game magnums". Who can turn down a giant revolver? The third part of the reference is - apropos of nothing - a callback to an iconic (if gory) shot from Hideo Kojima's early point-and-click adventure Snatcher.

But taken by itself, out of context? It's a keycode puzzle, leading to a decapitated skeleton that might have blown its own head clean off with a giant revolver. That's why Burgess reckons it works. Likewise, his earlier "Townhome" mini-map in Fallout 3 is a small, tragic scene perfectly in keeping with the Fallout series. But those well versed in depressing sci-fi will recognise it as a comprehensive retelling of Ray Bradbury's post-apocalyptic short story "There Will Come Soft Rains". He talks about cutting more Easter Eggs than putting them in, to maintain this consistency.

Of course, Burgess' advice is just his personal take on it. While I largely agree with him on the importance of subtlety and compatible tone, sometimes you just need to cut loose for an in-joke. To this day, we're still seeing the occasional bit of fallout (literally, in one case) from The Zybourne Clock, a failed steampunk RPG project. Brillo mech-shooter Brigador even allowed you to play as its poorly drawn (and written) protagonist, Johnny Five Aces. Behold his amazing and slightly not-safe-for-work character profile on this wiki page here, quoted verbatim from the game.

On a similar note, I've gotten more than my share of giggles from Final Fantasy XIV's sassy and referential quest titles. More the work of the translators than anyone else, but always appreciated. No Simpsons episode goes un-referenced, even when the game itself is playing it straight. There's a long history of easter eggs in games. What do you think are the smartest? What best fits Burgess' design ethos of internal consistency, and what breaks the rules to best effect?

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Dominic Tarason


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