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Saboteurs, Smugglers, And Stowaways


June 7, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

Easter eggs. While some are intentionally inserted to benefit players; others are not. Sometimes these bizarre, incongruous hidden features are so obscure that even the majority of developers for the games they inhabit remained largely unaware of their existence until they were uncovered by the gaming public.

Whether they originated as meticulously crafted inside jokes, or as tiny subversions compelled by veiled motivations, the presence of these stowaways is no mere accident; each was intentionally embedded into a shipped game, either by a single disgruntled developer or a covert subset of a larger team.

What makes a game developer decide to "go rogue" and insert content without the knowledge and approval of their employers and colleagues? We will explore the question by examining instances of this phenomenon that have arisen in games from such prominent companies as Maxis, Naughty Dog, Nintendo and Atari.

Before we dive in, a few brief disclaimers:

The focus here is on content willfully inserted for the sake of sabotage, subversion, or self-aggrandizement. Therefore, something like Hot Coffee doesn't qualify, as it arose more from simple negligence rather than any deliberate effort to include it in the finished product.

By a similar token, Valve's recent radio patch for Portal also falls outside our purview, as its purpose was to hype a forthcoming sequel rather than undermine the existing game.

It should also be noted that I am a developer, not a journalist, and I make no guarantee that all of these examples constitute irrefutable, 100 percent authentic acts of subversion. Most of them are already well documented as such, but in the few cases that haven't been previously verified I have conducted approximately zero additional research to confirm or deny the presence of covert activity.

Breaking the Waves

Not long ago on NeoGAF, a user named RaoulDuke posted an unusual code for the Gamecube game Wave Race: Blue Storm. The code, which had apparently passed under the collective radar of gamers for nearly a decade, replaces the audio files for the game's announcer with quips that taunt and belittle the player. The new announcer is amusingly snarky, and the replaced dialogue, while insulting, is more lighthearted than offensive.

Overall, the "surly announcer" feature appears to have been introduced in the spirit of harmless levity, and would seem to fit in with some of the other wacky secrets in the game, such as being able to replace your jet ski with a dolphin.

All of which raises the question: why did it take almost ten years for this secret to be discovered? One possible answer lies in the fact that accessing it requires players to circumvent the normal password entry screen utilized by the game's other codes. As noted by Tips and Tricks Codebook editor Chris Bieniek (via Gus Mastrapa's GameLife article), it's clear that "somebody must have wanted it buried deep."

Of course, this naturally leads one to wonder how it was finally unearthed after all this time. RaoulDuke was not forthcoming in the terse post describing the code, omitting any information as to whether it was pure chance, random experimentation, or something other than mere serendipity that led to the discovery of such an obscure anthropological gem.

This in turn has fueled speculation as to whether the feature's discovery was truly the result of an unwitting accident, or if it was more likely to have been surreptitiously unveiled by a developer that was already aware of its existence (and possibly even responsible for its creation).

There are other suspicious aspects to the new announcer, most notably the amateurish quality of the replacement voice. The sardonic surrogate is the antithesis of the polished, enthusiastic default announcer, suggesting that the clips were created without any involvement from professional voice actors.

This may simply imply that the feature was a last minute addition, or simply a playful goof that wasn't deemed important enough to warrant devoting any substantial recording resources to its implementation. Alternatively, it could indicate that the secret voice track was inserted by an individual or small sect of the development team at NST acting on their own volition.

If the code is in fact the work of an undisclosed rogue developer, they certainly deserve commendation both for the diligence required to pull off such an elaborate prank, and for the admirable restraint they displayed in allowing it to stay buried for so long. As the next example illustrates, even the most subtle saboteurs aren't always able to execute such stealthy maneuvers without being apprehended.


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