Game development can often seem like thankless labor. No glamour, no groupies, and except for the few examples of what pass for industry superstars, you don’t get the recognition that the average actor or director gets. How many gamers even bother to really read the end credits?
But devs DO have control over the entire game world that they’ve created, and sometimes they use that for a little self glorification (or more often, self-parody). This is usually done through a secret level sometimes called a ‘developer room’, which clever, well informed or plain obsessive players can find and enter, and even meet the developers themselves. Here’s my rundown of my favorite developer room secrets.
Get Taunted At The End Of Time In Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger, a classic JPRG for the SNES (and available today on 3DS), was seriously fun and full of craziness including time travel, robots, bizarre magic, apocalyptic parasites from outer space, and sly self-referential humor. The ‘best’ ending in the game, earned by beating it as quickly as possible, introduces you to the developers, with their avatars scattered throughout multiple rooms, making jokes and comments about the game and their jobs. Some of them event taunt you by threatening to unleash another boss fight or reset the game.
Beat Game Freak At Pokémon
Pokémon Red and Blue has a location called the Celadon Mansion, which is filled with 4th wall breaking references, including comments from the character designers and a computer which the player character refuses to play with in case he ‘bugged up the game’. Every subsequent game in the franchise has a hotel or similar area where the player can meet the game staff. Doing so after filling out your Pokédex will earn you a certificate from them.
In Pokémon Black and White, you can beat Game Freak’s very own Shigeki Morimoto at his own game by engaging him in battle. His team is really high level (but not as high as Cynthia), though fortunately he doesn’t have the strongest species, so it’s not the toughest challenge in the game.
The Devs Show Off Their Work In Ratchet And Clank’s Insomniac Museum
The Ratchet and Clank series’ memorial to sleepless nights at the office can be accessed by dedicated players who fulfil certain conditions in certain missions and go to the right location between 3 AM and 4 AM (I see what you did there). The Insomniac Museum is a kind of behind-the-scenes gallery of things scrapped or dummied out during game development, featuring messages from, and photos of, Insomniac’s dev team.
Fallout 2’s developer room is available for lucky players (as in those who quite literally have a high a Luck stat) to randomly encounter in the desert. It doesn’t contain the devs themselves, but rather rejected models of potential Chosen Ones, and characters like Tandi from the original Fallout, who’ll remark on how she had a crush on your grandfather. Animal cruelty won’t be tolerated in this special area and if you attack the dog, a leather-clad road warrior will turn up to stomp your ass.
Another special encounter shows ‘Unwashed Villagers attacking a spammer’, a reference to the Unwashed Village Fallout online community, and their noble efforts to keep the Interplay forums spam-free.
On a more melancholic note, Fallout 3 has an area called the Bethesda Ruins, a stand in for the real upscale suburbs (Bethesda, Maryland) in the Washington, DC metro area where Bethesda Softworks was founded.
Not So Serious Sam
Serious Sam 3 has you meet the developers in a secret room, but they’re not too friendly. Possessed of hideously distended craniums and keening howls, the Croteam developers will punish you for disturbing their rest.
Kill The Creator Of Doom 2
An oldie but a goodie. Classic FPS Doom 2 has you confront the final boss in the Icon of Sin, which utters an ominous, demonic sounding message. The message, played backwards, says “To win the game, you must kill me, John Romero”. When you defeat the boss, you win the game, thankfully without having to commit real-life homicide. But…if you cheat and clip through the boss model, you’ll find the monster after all. Hidden behind the boss is the actual object that takes damage in the combat and it is…yes, the head of Doom creator John Romero.
Rescue The Devs Of Divine Divinity
Larian Studios, creators of the Divinity franchise, have never been shy of 4th wall breaking humor, but their best joke ever has got to be in Divine Divinity. The in game versions of the developers complain about each other and the demands of perfecting a game in the rush before release, imploring you to rescue them. If you destroy all the bugs (as in, software bugs) you’ll be rewarded with arguably the best armor in the game.
Summoner 2’s Laughs And Love
The second (and sadly, last) installment in THQ and Volition’s criminally underrated Summoner series features a bumper amount of secret developer room content tucked away within a magic book. Not only do you get to watch a comedy show performed by talking creatures, but also get to wander around the THQ offices. You can browse the offices, go to the bathroom and even raid the beer fridge.
But this developer room is special for having the sweetest, most heartwarming secret in video games. You can accept a proposal from one employee who worked on the game, by talking to an NPC representation of Matt Flegel and telling him your name is Amanda Ashby. Flegal will declare his love for you (as Amanda) over several paragraphs, all sweet and silly, until…
Have you discovered any secret developer rooms? Let us know in the comments!
This article originally appeared on video games magazine site NowLoading.co. The site is no longer online, but I’ve uploaded a selection of articles from my time as a staff writer there (2016-2017) here as portfolio samples.