Friday, June 04, 2004

Easter Egg!

Alpha Five version 1 Easter Egg - Use Help -- About, then hold down the [Ctrl]+[Shift]+[Tab] keys with your lefthand, move the About window using the mouse with your right handFor those unfamiliar with the term "Easter Egg" -- as it applies to software -- it means a hidden feature that can only be activated through an intentional set of actions. Usually, Easter Eggs provide scrolling "credits" where the developers get to pay homage to their friends, hobbies or themselves.

One weekend I decided to create an "ultimate" Easter Egg for Alpha Five version 1. We were getting close to release, so I decided to use the "About Box" as the platform. I wanted to credit the developers and others who played key roles in creating the product. So what would you expect me to do? I created an Alpha Software version of Space Invaders with the developers and other key personnel as the "invaders". That way, a user who got ticked off at some (mis)behavior of the software could exorcise his angst by blasting our heads into clouds of bloody gunk.

How did the Easter Egg get activated? For the answer, I've included an Easter Egg on this page. Roll your mouse over the picture and you'll get the instructions. Not that too many folks still have version 1 installed. It might be in version 2 as well, I can't remember. Senility tends to do that.

Funny story: Richard, Selwyn and I went up to Corel for some discussions about licensing the Alpha Five database to them. While Richard and Selwyn went off into hard-core negotiations with their top people, I showed them the product and some source-code. After a few hours, we'd exhausted those topics. The discussion turned to Easter Eggs. I said, "Hey, what's the Easter Egg in Corel-Draw?" They proudly fired up a copy and unveiled their egg. It depicted a balloon, gently floating, with the names of their key personnel floating by. They turned to me.

I fired up our Easter Egg and played a few rounds, scoring a not-so-impressive 2700 points. They were wide-eyed. "You win! Your Egg rules! We don't deserve to be even considered developers, not compared to you guys." I've kind of forgotten the conversation, though, perhaps that's not verbatim. Anyhow, they did like it and sometimes I think it helped seal the technical side of the deal.

At the time, though, this may have been the premier Easter Egg of consumer software. The Excel team later came out with a mini-"Doom" game with 3D graphics. But this came first and was, as far as I know, the initial foray into a full, playable game in a commercial package.

Depicted in the Alpha Five version 1 Easter Egg, from top left:
Doug, Pete, Selwyn, Gerry, Cian,
Dave D, Peter, Norris, Dave M, Nori,
Eleonora, Gregory, Dave T, Richard

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