Spoiler Warning: I discuss some aspects of ‘The Stanley Parable’ in this post, if you havn’t played it and want to experience it without any prior knowledge (and by this point that’s a privileged position to be in) then read no further!
It could just be a symptom of my chocolate addled brain meandering around the idea of how much of a gift Easter is to gaming blogs, or that we recently stumbled upon a ‘Minecraft’ secret hidden inside the grizzly antidote to gore splattered FPS’s that is ‘Viscera Cleanup Detail’, but my post-Easter-hiatus ramble focusses on that dangerously recursive topic, ‘Games within games’. More specifically the surreal feeling of stumbling into a different game universe unexpectedly; something familiar, but in the wrong place. It’s the same clash of realities as bumping into a well known actor on the street and almost greeting them like an old friend.
The gentle nod of an in-game secret towards another game is commonplace; the DOOMed space marine in ‘Duke Nukem 3D’ or Jill’s Sandwiches in ‘Dead Rising’ for some reason spring to mind. The less subtle nod of a game such as ‘I Wanna be the Guy: The Movie: The Game’ is also nothing new and the idea of having crossovers has been well established (largely in the rosters of fighting games) for years. The immersion of one ‘game world’ into another however, is surprisingly trickier to find examples of; I’ve pulled together as list of four which stand out for various reasons:
‘Zork’ in ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops’
CoD isn’t a title that makes my regularly played list; I’m not big on modern military shooters, but the zombies mode has been a favourite haunt of my Brother and I so I have at least a vague understanding of the game and tone… even if the regenerative health system baffles me. It’s not a nationally guarded secret that breaking out of the restraints on the title screen, meandering over to a computer terminal and typing ‘Zork’ gives you access to the full version of ‘Zork 1’ for you to enjoy in the relaxed environment of your very own prison cell at your leisure. This particular implant of one game into another stands out as just being Bizarre. I’d be hard pressed to think of two games that feel ‘further’ from each other than the always controversial ‘CoD’ and arguably the game that set the formula for the text-based genre. Maybe the intent of the designers was simply to highlight just how far gaming had progressed in the 30-ish years between these two titles or maybe it was to show an awareness of the roots of gaming. Whatever the reason, it has to be pretty awkward to play with a joypad. (If you’re curious there are many YouTube videos demonstrating how to access Zork such as this one)
‘Wolfenstein 3D’ in ‘Doom 2’
The secret exit to level 15 in ‘Doom 2’ takes you to level 31: ‘Wolfenstein’; a recreation of the first map from Doom’s predecessor ‘Wolfenstein 3D’; the secret exit to that level takes you to level 32: ‘Grosse’, a recreation of the final level of the first episode of ‘Wolfenstein 3D’ with the original boss (Hans Grosse) switched out for a Cyberdemon and the final dive into ID’s history being the destruction of hanging ‘Commander Keen’ sprites in order to finish. This particular transgression of game worlds is interesting for a couple of reasons. The explanatory text which displays upon beginning the level suggests that the Nazi inhabitants of this level are also inmates of Hell – an interesting idea given the tendency for the series to lean heavily toward the occult and supernatural. The second point to note is the commitment required to implement this secret; for a game that came supplied on 4 floppy disks and given the extra sprites, textures and audio required to bring the Nazi menace to life, it is certainly a more impressive feat than adding Zork to the ample frame of CoD. Wolfenstein gets further secret bonus points for featuring as a dream sequence in ‘Wolfenstein: The New Order’ (and ‘Old Blood’) and essentially being the unlicensed SNES title ‘Super Noah’s Ark 3D’.
‘Portal’ in ‘The Stanley Parable’
The ‘video game’ ending of ‘The Stanley Parable’ pulls the player into two different game worlds, firstly that of ‘Minecraft’ and secondly ‘Portal’ – I’ve listed Portal here because technically it is the only one of the two that the player actually ‘plays’ (by which I mean place a cube on a button); however both of these are relevant. ‘The Stanley Parable’ focuses on the nature of choice in games, each ending has a different implication and arguably a different point to make (and I’m sure there are essays about it) but the ‘game’ ending really does slap you in the the face with the question ‘How is choice implemented in games?’. Minecraft and Portal represent opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of in-game freedom, Minecraft being the ultimate in gamer freedom allowing you to go where you want and do what you want – albeit still within the ‘rules’ of the game world. Portal is essentially the polar opposite in terms of game freedom and given the oppressive & menacing nature of the game setting it seems appropriate that the player is trapped on a linear path. There are also the parallels to be drawn between the narrator and GlaDos. In some ways both observers struggling to control the player’s actions, whereas in reality it is only in ‘The Stanley Parable’ that you have any real choice regarding your fate.
‘Lemmings’ in ‘Leander’
The ’91 title ‘Leander’ by ‘Psygnosis’ for the Amiga & Atari ST (later released as ‘The Legend of Galahad’ on MegaDrive/Genesis) has unfortunately drifted into obscurity, but contains an excellent game world crossover secret hidden in World 3-3. You are informed that there are ‘prisoners’ being held and, whilst it is purely optional, when you find the prisoners they are none other than those green haired bundles of suicidal tendencies, the Lemmings. The protagonist must clear their path in order that the Lemmings can make it to the exit in true Lemming style. It’s a fun addition to the game and quite out of character considering it is a sword wielding romp through a medieval inspired world. Psygnosis seemed to have a soft-spot for crossovers considering that in the original Lemmings there are four ‘special-graphic’ levels, each inspired by other Psygnosis titles.
As always, I don’t really have a point other than to point out these fun universe slides; Feel free to mention any of your favourite crossovers/secrets/Easter eggs in the comments!