Discover the Easter eggs in your everyday apps

Secrets hidden in supposedly serious software

Easter egg on their faces

Not every Easter egg is as successful as the Excel 97 flight simulator. Some end up costing programmers their jobs, while others cost software companies large sums of money. Even the Excel flight simulator gave Microsoft enough bad customer feedback to ensure that you won't see any eggs in Office today.

Rockstar Games suffered from arguably the most controversial Easter egg in history, even though it was an accident. Instead of removing the Hot Coffee mini-game from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas entirely, Rockstar merely cut it off from the rest of the game – leaving the assets on the disc. It proved a simple matter for hackers to get their hands on the mini-game, and the more explicit sexual content caused Rockstar a lot of problems.

Despite showing nothing more than fully clothed bumping and grinding between consenting adults, the whole game had to be withdrawn and reclassified. The end result was millions of dollars of revenue lost and several class action lawsuits. Rockstar cheekily renamed the more moderate romance achievement in GTA IV after the incident; a polite cut-away to a building roof now throws up the message 'Achievement Unlocked: Warm Coffee'.

Another classic example is the game SimCopter, which was released in 1996. One of the programmers, Jacques Servin, added an Easter egg that occasionally replaced the usual fireworks and bikini-clad girl 'mission complete' animation with kissing men in swimming trunks. This amused more than it offended, but ended Servin's career at Maxis.

For many companies, this was the point at which a blind eye was no longer cast towards such frolics. There are still Easter eggs in modern games and applications, but they're typically approved examples that the company is aware of.

That hasn't stopped everybody, though. You'll have to try out many varied combinations of keystrokes, commands and mouse clicks to find all the eggs hidden on your PC.

Easter eggs elsewhere

You can find Easter eggs in lots of places – not just software.

Fire up a DVD and you'll probably find that there's an Easter egg somewhere in the menus. You might have to press a few strange button combinations, but once you get there you'll find a hidden snippet of film, or even a game.

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films contain plenty of eggs. One on The Fellowship of the Ring DVD pulls up a spoof filmed for MTV, where Jack Black has the ring somewhere not safe for work. There's a casino implosion hidden in Ocean's 11, too. Have a look through your DVD collection and see how many you can find.

Easter eggs in films don't have to be a piece of software – they can be little snippets of dialogue or images that resonate with the audience. John Landis regularly drops in references to See You Next Wednesday, his first (and so far unfilmed) script. Then there are cameo appearances by creators. Douglas Adams appears in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy TV series, while Hitchcock's cameos are well known to film buffs.

There are also Easter eggs in electronic hardware, with messages in the screen printing and copper tracks of printed circuits becoming a modern version of the scratched messages in the centre of vinyl LPs.

The messages are often extremely small. If you've got an electron microscope, you can zoom into the etching on microchips to see the silicon artwork left behind by various chip designers.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

First published in PC Plus, Issue 276

Get the lastest from TechRadar on your Vista desktop - download the TechRadar Windows Vista Sidebar gadget