The average AAA game often takes a year or two to make. For game developers, that’s a lot of proverbial blood, sweat, and tears poured into a single video game.
Understandably then, game developers who have committed these long hours would find a way to poke fun at both their expense and gamers. Most of these subliminal messages are left into the source code of games without the publisher’s knowledge or consent.
The first subliminal message to be found in a video game could be attributed to Warren Robinett, Atari programmer and creator of Adventure, video game’s first action adventure game. As Atari’s corporate policies wouldn’t allow programmers credit for their video games, Robinett did the next best thing–gave credit where credit was due–through a subliminal message. Still, the message wasn’t easy to discover. Robinett hid is signature within a hidden chamber in the game’s sprawling map. As it was only accessible by a special item, not many gamers found it.
But, if you discovered the minuscule object Robinett hid within the game; a single invisible pixel and completed the process to unlock the impassable chamber, you would have been welcomed with the message “Created by Warren Robinett.”
Since then, subliminal messages have found their way through some of the biggest and best video game titles in the industry. From Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Bros. to the Halo and Metal Gear franchises.
These subliminal messages aren’t too obvious and for some, you’ll need an eagle eye. Happy hunting!
20 Reading Between The Lines
Nicole Brennan had some very important titles, for starters, scientist and senior medical officer of the USG Ishimura.
But perhaps her most important title for the sake of this list and the Dead Space franchise is one-time girlfriend of main protagonist Isaac Clarke. While Isaac doesn’t physically interact with Nicole during the events of Dead Space, only interacting with her through audio and video logs and hallucinations, Nicole nevertheless plays an important role within the game. After all, despite being unaware of his girlfriend’s fate, Isaac journeys through USG Ishimura in search for her.
And until it was pointed out by eagle-eyed observers, players had to wait until the climax of the game to realize Nicole’s demise. To discover this subliminal message, simply note down the first letter of every chapter and you’ll stumble across the truth. Nicole is dead.
19 We Built This City
It’s evident that developer Rocksteady knew that Batman: Arkham Asylum would be an immediate success. After all, Batman is vengenance. He is the night. But, there is a less subtle reference to the hit sequel Batman: Arkham City hidden within Arkham Asylum.
Either during the mission in which you must acquire Dr. Young’s notes or after you’ve finished the game, go to the Warden’s Office, which is located inside Arkham Mansion. Go to the room with the fireplace and locate the left wall. Using your Explosive Gel, spray the centre of the wall three times. The explosions should reveal the opening to a secret room. Scan inside the room and you’ll see blueprints (note the stamp of approval) for an expansion of Arkham Asylum, referencing the upcoming sequel, Arkham City.
18 Going Commando
This subliminal message pays homage to one of Nintendo’s ported games–the arcade shooter Commando. While most gamers wouldn’t have ever played this run-and-gun action game, or even heard of its existence, until perhaps the 2009 Bionic Commando release for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. With the latest release of the game featured protagonist Nathan Spencer, the original Commando played host to the tough-as-nails soldier named Super Joe.
Commando features one of the most unique subliminal messages within a video game. But only if you finish in a very specific format. Complete the game with three lives and 24 grenades remaining and you’ll be treated a very well-hidden secret which reads, “ARIGATOU GOZAIMASHITA. 31ST JULY 1986. CAPCOM.” The secret message even comes complete with heart-shaped emojis displaying the love that programmers had for their games.
17 I Can Read Your Mind
When Metal Gear Solid was first released by Konami for PlayStation, many gamers were baffled by psychic profiler Psycho Mantis’ stated he had the ability to “read our thoughts.” While at first we shook our heads in disbelief, our jaws dropped when his telepathic and psychokinesis powers revealed a fourth-wall breaking scene, revealing the games we played and how often we saved, and even “moving” the controller.
While the deception was short-lived though. Gamers quickly clued in, realizing that the game used the Playstation controller’s vibration feature to “move” it, and the game scanning our memory cards to track our games. It was a delightful surprise and displayed the power of this once next-gen system. But it may have been something you missed the first time around as you were still busy freaking out.
16 Now I Have Become Death
The God of War franchise has always been about death and destruction. After all, Kratos sets out on his journey of revenge after being tricked into killing his wife and daughter, then spends the rest of the series destroying hordes of undead and dismembering members of his mythological family.
But, journey to the Hall of Atropos in God of War II and after your fight with Perseus, complete a hidden puzzle within the stage (before going out on the balcony) to trigger the secret orb stash which will echo the words of the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, made famous by Robert Oppenheimer when he first saw the world’s first nuclear test. “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” a fitting reference considering Kratos’ past and current journey.
15 Please Get A Life
Nathan Drake. What’s not to love about this brash but roguish character?
Indeed, most gamers were drawn to Uncharted’s quirky and playful side. The series never took itself too seriously and yet stood on the precipice of groundbreaking storytelling in terms of visuals and gameplay.
But as Nathan displays Naughty Dog’s playful side, the developers also potrayed a range of subtle playfulness. In fact, in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, one of the Spanish tombstones the epitaph reads, “Si usted está leyendo esta piedra sepulcral usted es un nerd enorme. Consiga por favor una vida y consiga una novia.” Which, when translated reads “If you are reading this grave, you're a huge nerd. Please get a life and a girlfriend.” You may have missed it as you were busy killing baddies, but its right there, waiting for you to take the hint. (Hint: they’re not serious)
14 U R Mr. Gay
Remember autostereograms? They’re those 3D visual illusions that when you stare at the image long enough cross-eyed, another image appears. Well, someone decided to stare long enough at the original Super Mario Galaxy box art to reveal a rather homoerotic message.
When you follow the rather suspicious twinkling star placement cleverly encoded by Nintendo’s art designers, the letters clearly spell out “U R MR GAY” or “You are Mr. Gay.” While many gamers have been suspicious of whether or not this message was intentional or purely coincidental, its subtly has made it the stuff of urban meme legends. You do have to hand it to Nintendo though. Despite this subliminal message making the rounds throughout Internet forums and making headlines, Nintendo did nothing to alter the placement of the twinkling stars.
13 Donkey Kong Lays An Egg
While Adventure for Atari 2600 may have been the first time a programmer hid his initials in within a game, Donkey Kong perhaps features one of the most elusive programmer initials to find, remaining undiscovered for 26 long years.
To get programmer Landon M. Dyer’s initials to appear on the title card, a set of specific conditions must be met. A specific high score must be met, your last death must be accomplished by falling, the game difficulty has to be set to 4 (this is done by pressing the option button three times), and then you have to wait for the game to completely cycle through the demo screen. When you’ve followed these steps to completion, the programmer’s initials LMD will appear on the title card.
12 The Monkey Family
While everyone may know about the monkey family hidden within the second campaign level of Halo 3, complete with a backstory (hint: their names are Sam & Grady), and visible through your sniper scope or through traversing through a specific footpath, did you know that that’s not the only reference of this primitive family?
They’re not just a part of the scenery of Sierra 117, however. In fact, there’s another lone monkey man that can be discovered in a more difficult hard-to-reach part of the level. To add complexities to this rather bizarre and unexplained subplot of Halo 3, a monkey man can also be found in Halo 3: ODST. During the final cut scene after the end credits of ODST, in the final few seconds of the scene, move the camera to the left and look at who’s been sitting there the whole time. That’s right, another monkey man.
11 The Statue Of Liberty?
Inscribed on New York’s Statue of Liberty are the words, “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This symbol of freedom has given hope to many who have journeyed to visit it and the words inscribed on the plaque is a moving testament to human spirit.
GTA in a rather comical fashion has tried to imitate this rather moving message in GTA IV with the Statue of Happiness. The Statue of Happiness is a replica of the real thing, save for two important factors. As the statue is only accessible by helicopter, boat, or swimming to the island, when you eventually reach this digital “Ellis Island,” you may hope to find the same inscription. Instead, you’ll find a door with a sign that reads “No Hidden Content this Way.”
Oh and we won’t even get into the rather inhuman grin of the Statue of Happiness.
10 The Puzzling Events Of Tetris
While many may not know of programmer David Pridie and his involvement in the video game industry, most will probably have heard of Pridie through the blistering rant he slipped into the final code of The New Tetris for the Nintendo 64.
The rant is long. Like, really, really long. In fact, most of the rant is an attack on certain members of the dev team, particularly one producer whom we cannot name. Pridie doesn’t even name him, only referring to him as D*N. As the game released was Tetris, its rather... puzzling(!) where this level of attack came from. The entirety of the message is unfit for this website, but certain excerpts calls this particular producer “useless.” With the history of Adventure and Donkey Kong taking a significant amount of time to discover, it’s surprising that it only took all of three days to find this subliminal message.
9 The End Of Youth
Most video game bosses will require you to overcome some difficult, drawn-out battle. Metal Gear Solid though has never done anything conventionally. It would make sense then that famed creator Hideo Kojima would continue to take the unconventional approach when designing video games.
In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Big Boss encounters the legendary “Ancient Sniper” of the Cobra Unit, colloquially named The End. Like other bosses in the Metal Gear series, The End will give the player a special item drop when defeated. But The End can be defeated by one of two ways, a drawn-out gun battle or a battle of attrition. If you chose the later and leave The End alone for two weeks, Snake will come to find him dead of old age. I guess in the end, nothing really matters.
8 Pay No Attention To The Dog Behind The Curtain
When people think of horrifying survival-horror games, most immediately lean towards Dead Space, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, or even the Silent Hill collaboration between Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro. But many don’t realize that perhaps the most disturbing survival-horror game is in fact Silent Hill 2.
Protagonist James Sunderland, in his horror discovers the true nightmare behind his recurring reality–a Shiba Inu named Mira. But, many gamers haven’t even realized this subliminal message hiding behind the curtain, operating all the nightmare-fuel machinery like the famed Wizard of Oz. In fact, in order to unlock this secret ending, certain pre-requisites must be made–completing the game three times on three different levels and finding the Dog Key. This manipulation, the off-kilter madness displays the elaborate lunacy within the Silent Hill franchise. Plus who doesn’t love a dog as the main antagonist?
7 Drake’s Deception
In between Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, beloved game developer Naughty Dog released The Last of Us, garnering several awards including Game of the Year and Studio of the Year.
But before Naughty Dog even revealed their next video game series, they hinted at its premise, hiding a spoiler within Uncharted 3. After the action sequence in Harris Brewery, walk around the pub and in the corner of the bar is a newspaper that mentions a fungus outbreak. In fact, the full article title reads “Scientists are still struggling to understand deadly fungus.” Of course, for those who have played The Last of Us, the premise of the video game is in fact a fungus outbreak that has led to the world’s post-apocalyptic landscape.
6 In The Beginning Was The End
Making his first appearance in a Batman video game in Batman: Arkham City, Calendar Man, Batman’s fearsome villain who had timely knowledge about dates was full of surprises. Most players soon figured out that when the player would visit him on certain dates, Calendar Man would impart you with some interesting tidbits.
But, much like Arkham Asylum hinting at the exist of its sequel, Arkham City, Arkham City also hid a subliminal message regarding the end of the series, Arkham Knight. While it took gamers nearly a year to discover the secret room within the Warden’s Office, the hidden Arkham Knight clue took three years to discover. And it was only found because game developer Rocksteady hinted at it themselves. To find the message, set your console date to December 13th, 2004, which incidentally (or not), is the day that Rocksteady was founded. Visit Calendar Man for a rather cryptic message.
5 Pilgrim’s Turkey
Assassin’s Creed 3 was a departure from its predecessors. Not only did it shift the focus of its historical themes away from continental Europe towards the American Colonies, but it also introduced fans of the franchise to naval combat gameplay, which was further enhanced in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.
But while previous Assassin’s Creed games already introduced the concept of Assassin recruits, Assassin’s Creed 3 took it to the next level. To recruit a rather peculiar assassin, go to your Davenport Homestead, only available after Sequence 6, and take cover on the back wall near the porch and whistle. If you do it right, an unassuming turkey appears. But rather than killing it for Thanksgiving dinner, input the Konami Code and it should turn into a turkey assassin, complete with an assassin’s hood. Though it probably isn’t very proficient in killing considering the bird has no hands...
4 Leap Of Death
Speaking of Assassin’s Creed, one of the core concepts of the series has always been the protagonist’s ability to take leaps of faith and land perfectly harmlessly into a well-placed bale of hay. Despite the historical timeline, a perfectly located bale of hay can be found, complete with its physics-defying sturdiness.
Well, The Witcher franchise decided to poke fun at this physics defying concept and subtly hid a fallen Assassin within the aptly named sequel, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. If you make your way to the Bastille gate, explore the area and you’ll discover the Assassin, who has obviously fallen to his death atop a bale of hale. Perhaps jumping off really tall buildings do have consequences in real-life. Well, as long as it doesn’t exist within the Assassin’s Creed universe.
3 Half-Life’s Rosetta Stone
When Half-Life 2 was released in 2004, everyone was too busy trying to survive and avoid Ravenholm at all costs to notice the subtle nuances of certain creatures, particularly the headcrab zombies. Eventually, people discovered that this rather bulbous and grotesque creature was not a zombie, but rather, a person horrifically transformed into the headcrab zombie you’ve been bludgeoning throughout the entire series.
If that wasn’t enough nightmare fuel, these menacing walking tragedies emitted rather guttural noises as they lumbered towards you. These muffled screams remained as nonsensical noise until someone discovered that when you played the screams backwards, these zombies were crying out for help. In fact, years later Half-Life developer Valve would confirm that these human hosts were in fact still alive and even worse, potentially conscious.
2 Solving This Subliminal Puzzle
The Portal franchise brought gamers everything they love about puzzle games. Futuristic puzzles, weird secrets, and a downright creepy antagonist. But while many gamers view the Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, or GlaDOS, for short, as mere artificial intelligence, she is so much more than that.
While she is in possession of feminine programming, at one time, GlaDOS, was in fact, flesh and blood. In many of Cave Johnson’s recordings, the relationship between the founder of Aperture and his assistant are subtle, yet evident. In fact, in one of the recordings, Johnson mentioned that the personality core of GlaDOS should be based on Caroline. This lends credence to the popular online theory that GlaDOS is Caroline, stripped of her autonomy and humanity and forced to serve as a psychotic AI resembling a woman in bondage.
1 Destiny Awaits
When Bungie left Microsoft and the Halo franchise to focus on the massive online multiplayer first-person shooter Destiny, many gamers may not have realized that Bungie had already hinted at Halo’s successor, Destiny.
Found in the second campaign level Mombasa Streets in Halo 3: ODST, players can explore the map and find a poster consisting of an image of Earth with the words “DESTINY AWAITS.” What’s more, the poster hints at the Traveler hovering above Earth. But, this particular subliminal message now only lives in memory as the remastered edition of Halo 3: ODST removes any reference of the Destiny series. Instead of “DESTINY AWAITS” gamers now will only find a “FOR HER” message, a possible reference to Cortana. And in the place of the Traveler, sits Earth’s moon.