Video game developers have been known to hide little secrets in the programming of their games. Whether it’s a secret level, a hidden character or dark and disturbing secret messages, some games have more to them then the casual player will ever discover. This has a tendency to spawn myths and urban legends among gamers that spread until no one knows what’s true and what’s false.
The internet especially has caused a rise in these video game urban legends, and even when developers dismiss rumors, some people swear up and down that they’ve seen it with their own eyes. What dark secrets and hilarious easter eggs are hiding in obscure lines of code in our favorite video games? CBR takes a look at 15 crazy video game urban legends that will freak you out!
15. THE COW DIMENSION (DIABLO)
The original “Diablo” was a relatively simple game compared to what followed. It took place in a small town called “Tristam” with a few buildings, an old church that ended up being a multi-level dungeon which led straight into Hell itself and, because Blizzard loves to include little details, lots of cows. When the player clicked on the cows of Tristam, they would moo, and as you kept clicking, the moos would become more and more agitated.
It was a simpler time, when little things like this in games were endlessly entertaining. Somehow, this led to a widespread rumor that if certain cows were clicked the right way, you would be transported to a secret cow dimension populated entirely by axe-wielding cows. The myth became so big that Blizzard entertainment started referencing it in other games with “There is no cow level” being both a cheat code in “Starcraft” and a loading screen tip in “World of Warcraft.” They would eventually even go so far as to include secret cow levels in “Diablo II” and “Diablo III.”
14. SHENG LONG, THE SECRET CHARACTER (STREET FIGHTER II)
Some video game urban legends are impossible to trace the origins of, some are based on in-jokes from the developers, but sometimes they come from something as simple as a translating error. They mythical secret character, Sheng Long, was once thought to appear somewhere in “Street Fighter II,” due to a mistranslation of Ryu’s infamous “Shoryuken” attack. In one of Ryu’s early victory quotes, he says, “You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance.”
That alone would be enough to make gamers think Sheng Long was some kind of secret character, but the hoax really took off when “Electronic Gaming Monthly” published an article explaining how to unlock the secret character as part of an April Fool’s Day prank. It took on new life when other various gaming magazine’s and websites started republishing “EGM’s” instructions as fact, but it didn’t even end there. When “Street Fighter II” was ported to SNES in the Summer of ’92, the instruction manual cited Sheng Long as Ryu and Ken’s martial arts teacher. Even 25 years after “EGM” published an article declaring the whole thing a hoax, the Legend of Sheng Long lives on.
13. THE RUSSIAN GAME THAT ERASES ITSELF (KILLSWITCH)
“Killswitch” is a very strange entry in the history of video game urban legends because, despite no one being able to verify that it ever existed, there are highly detailed accounts of everything from gameplay to plot, to specific puzzles, graphics style, soundtrack and everything in between. Supposedly, “Killswitch” is the story of a woman who wakes up mysteriously injured at the bottom of a coal mine who must fight her way through demons, specters, undead miners and possessed machinery to make it out alive.
“Killswitch” gave you the choice to play as Porto, the girl, or Ghast, an invisible demon whose gameplay was nearly impossible due to most of the challenges requiring you to be able to see where your character was. The reason that it’s impossible to verify that the game ever existed (other than it probably never existing) is that upon completion of the game, it would supposedly erase itself from the user’s computer, leaving no trace behind. The game could not be copied, and reportedly only around 5,000 copies were ever created.
12. THE MINECRAFT GHOST (MINECRAFT)
“Herobrine,” the ghost in Minecraft began as a post on the Minecraft forums in 2010 accompanied by a foggy screenshot of a distant figure standing just on the edge of the fog. The post stated that the player had seen a copy of the default player character with no eyes, but any time he tried to get closer, the figure would turn a corner or walk into the fog and disappear. It also reported seeing man-made structures randomly appearing in his world, and that he had been contacted by other players who had also seen the figure.
After his first post, he reported being contacted by a user called “Herobrine,” who simply said, “STOP.” Notch, the game’s creator, has said that Herobrine does not exist and has never been a part of the game in any capacity. However, the plot thickened with the Minecraft Beta 1.6.6 update, when included in the list of patch notes was an item reading “-removed Herobrine.” This is most likely just a joke by Notch to poke fun at the hoax, but with lots of reports of Herobrine sightings, it does make one wonder.
11. HELL VALLEY SHADOW PEOPLE (SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2)
“Super Mario Galaxy 2” is, for the most part, a light-hearted colorful adventure just like every other game in the “Mario” franchise, but when the player gets to the Shiverburn Galaxy, something is ever so slightly off. No matter where you go in Shiverburn galaxy, you can look up to the top of the massive walls that block off the level and see three black silhouette figures watching you from afar. The strange thing is that they’re almost impossible to see unless you mod the game to zoom in further and get up close, but they’re always there.
Nintendo has yet to make any kind of official statement on what the figures are, but when the core game files were accessed by some players, it was discovered that the map beyond the playable area is titled “Beyond Hell Valley,” and the figures themselves are called “Hell Valley Sky Trees,” despite looking nothing like trees. No character in the game mentions their existence, nor the existence of Hell Valley itself, but when the player goes into first person mode, they are always there. Watching.
10. DEMON CHILDREN OF GOLDSHIRE (WORLD OF WARCRAFT)
“World of Warcraft” is one of the most popular MMORPG games even 13 years after its debut in 2004. With such a massive world, it’s not a surprise that there are little hidden secrets and odd moments throughout, but one of the weirdest and creepiest of these moments are the demon children of Goldshire. Goldshire is the first town you encounter in the game and at the edge of the lake in town is a normally empty house. At 7:00 a.m. though, you can usually catch six little kids who enter the room and stand in a pentagram formation for up to an hour at a time.
Players have reported that when they stand in the center, they hear strange noises such as banshee screams, growling, crying or a deep voice saying “You will die,” followed by an old woman laughing maniacally. Perhaps the strangest thing though, is when you enter the room, a creepy music track starts to play that isn’t found anywhere else in the game, which suggests the music department had to be involved in the creation. However, Blizzard has never issued an official statement on the children.
9. HALL OF TORTURED SOULS (MICROSOFT EXCEL 95)
If you were a multi-billionaire CEO of the biggest tech company in the world (and also secretly the Devil, as some internet urban legends suggest), where would you hide evidence of the damned souls that you collect and torture? Spreadsheet software, right? Well, we don’t know about Bill Gates being the lord of the underworld, but there is a pretty creepy easter egg hidden in Excel ’95 that probably doesn’t help put the rumor to rest.
If you go down to the 95th row, select the whole row, tab over column B, go to Help/About, hold ctrl-alt-shift and click the tech support button, a mini-game window appears called “Hall of Tortured Souls.” It consists of a room with glowing green pools and another with red names dripping down the wall, but if you type “EXCELKFA” while facing a certain direction, a wall disappears and you can cross a narrow bridge leading to a room with pictures of the developers. Obviously, it’s just a joke poking fun at the monotony of writing spreadsheet software, but you have to know a weirdly specific set of button presses to get there, so how did they expect anyone to find it?
8. LARA CROFT NUDE CODE (TOMB RAIDER)
What kind of rumor would you expect from a generation of prepubescent boy gamers who have just purchased their first video game with a female protagonist? A secret cheat code that makes the girl take all her clothes off, of course. “Tomb Raider” hit the scene in 1996 to an explosion of popularity, and even though the main character resembled a hastily designed department store mannequin made of large pixelly cubes more than an actual human woman, it didn’t stop young gamers from scouring the internet and gaming magazines for the infamous “Lara Croft nude code.”
As you can already guess without anyone having to tell you, no Lara Croft nude code has ever existed as part of any “Tomb Raider” game. With the infamous backlash of the “hot coffee” mod for “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” which wasn’t even developed by Rockstar Games, you can be sure that if any code existed, it would be a media frenzy.
7. NUCLEAR PLAYSTATIONS (PLAYSTATION 2)
Back in the year 2000, when the Playstation 2 was the world’s hottest item, reports emerged that former president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, had bought up roughly 4,000 Playstation 2 consoles, and was stockpiling them for their 32-bit CPU chips, which according to reports, could be bundled together into a sort of supercomputer that could be used as a missile guidance system. The story was completely fictitious, but sensationalist news outlets ran with it because a fearmongering story that combines the terrors of the Middle East with the evil of video games is always guaranteed to sell ad space.
The one grain of truth to the story was that it was actually cheaper to harvest the CPU chip from a Playstation 2 than to purchase it outright, but it would take a lot more than those minor components to create any sort of weapons system, and if PS2 processor could be used to create a missile guidance system, imagine what kind of weapons of mass destruction are hiding inside our gaming consoles now.
6. THE RATMAN (GRAND THEFT AUTO IV)
The “Grand Theft Auto” series has spawned hundreds of myths and legends due to taking place in huge open worlds that tend to be jam-packed full of actual easter eggs. Along with the Bigfoot that’s lurking somewhere in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” or the UFO that supposedly appears in “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,” one of the most popular myths is the Ratman of “Grand Theft Auto IV.” Like many video games, it began with a blurry picture poster on the internet, but hundreds of other users quickly joined the conversation to describe their experiences with the Ratman of the subway tunnels.
There are a lot of little pieces of evidence that lend validity to the legend, including an angry voice that you can sometimes hear in the subway shouting, “Get out,” and sound clips from pedestrians and radio shows that mention a rat problem in the subways and mutations caused by a chemical leak at an abandoned factory. Believers swear by it, but no sufficient proof has ever come out to prove for certain whether the Ratman exists or not.
5. FALLOUT 3 PREDICTS THE FUTURE (FALLOUT 3)
While a lot of legends in video games are creepy just because of the content, things start to get really terrifying when they actually seem to affect the world around us. Throughout “Fallout 3” the player picks up transmissions from a radio station which, if the right conditions are met, will occasionally read out numbers followed by morse code. The story goes that among the transmissions was “1-2-5-5-2-8-2-0-1-0, what you talkin’ bout? You will be missed.” The catchphrase “What you talkin’ bout?” was made famous by Gary Coleman, who died at 12:05 p.m. on May 28th, 2010, corresponding with the numbers. Another message was “9-4-5-4-2-0-2-0-1-0. Accident in Gulf, several dead. Oil spill apparently averted,” which corresponds to the BP explosion and the erroneous Day One assessment that the well was not leaking.
What’s even more terrifying are the implications if it turns out that “Fallout 3” actually is predicting the future. For one thing, the radio station also mentions that Britney Spears wins an academy award in 2023, but let’s not forget that the whole game takes place in a post-nuclear wasteland populated by feral mutants. We’re not sure which is scarier.
4. SQUALL DIES HALFWAY THROUGH THE GAME (FINAL FANTASY VIII)
After the whirlwind success of “Final Fantasy VII,” the next installment had a tough act to follow, and it left a lot of players kind of underwhelmed. It starts off with a bang, and indeed everything on the first disc is a fantastic game, but the entire second half is full of odd character motivations, coincidences that don’t make sense and silly fantastical creatures. All this makes a lot more sense when you realize the second half is all just a deathbed fever dream.
At the end of the first disc, your character Squall is impaled through the chest with an ice spike. When the second disc starts, your wound is healed and no explanation is ever given as to how you survived. Previously complex characters become simple archetypes and the hero quickly wins the affection of the girl, despite her not really liking you for the whole first half. It gets even weirder after the final battle when Squall has a long hallucination where the love interest’s face is always a blur and in the one glimpse of Squall’s face, it’s just an empty black hole. Creepy.
3. POKEMON ARE THE RESULT OF A MASSIVE GLOBAL WAR (POKEMON)
Ever notice how some Pokemon look like adorable versions of real life animals and some are just hideous amorphous blobs? Also, why is society in the “Pokemon” universe made up of super-advanced technology, but populated by fishermen and bug catchers? The theory is that it all takes place after a global-scale chemical war that mutated the animals into superpowered freaks, and killed off most of the adult men in the world. It’s not just speculation either. The first time you encounter Lt. Surge in the game, he mentions that electric Pokemon saved him during the war, so we know that some kind of war happened.
This is why Ash (and indeed every character) seems to not have a father, and every adult male in the games has a career in the military, organized crime or are very old. It also explains why you encounter mostly children throughout the game, and why your mother seems to have no problem letting a 10-year-old travel the world alone to hunt dangerous animals; it’s because she has no way to provide for you in this post-war wasteland.
2. LUIGI IS DEAD (LUIGI’S MANSION)
The “Mario” franchise is generally a bright, colorful, light-hearted adventure series that occasionally touches on deeper subjects like go-kart racing and… suicide? “Luigi’s Mansion” was an entry in the franchise that focused on Mario’s brother, Luigi, as he made his way through a haunted mansion catching ghosts. It’s still quite light-hearted and cartoony, but it’s pretty creepy by Nintendo standards. Rumors have circulated since before it released that a much darker version was initially planned, but certain aspects were dialed back at the last minute.
The theory that Luigi is dead comes from something that may have been left over from that darker version. At one point in the game, Luigi enters a room to answer a phone, and lightning flashes on the wall to reveal Luigi’s shadow hanging above the ground with his arms at his sides. Shadows are rendered very realistically at every other point in the game, but this one sticks out. Some have suggested it’s just a glitch in the lighting, but in a game about ghosts that was rumored before its release to be one of the darkest stories of the Mario franchise, it makes you wonder if more, less subtle references were removed.
1. POLYBIUS WAS MADE BY SECRET GOVERNMENT AGENTS (POLYBIUS)
The story goes that in 1981 an arcade cabinet was delivered to several arcades in Portland, Oregon called “Polybius.” It quickly became one of the most popular cabinets at the arcades with people sometimes spending hours dropping quarters into the machine. However, users reported nausea, headaches, a sense of time speeding up or slowing down and sometimes seizures. According to arcade owners, every day, men in black suits would show up to these arcades to download the records from the machine. It surged in popularity for a few months, but then promptly disappeared.
While only anecdotal evidence exists to support its existence, researchers of the theory have pointed out that there are records of two young men collapsing into seizures on the same day at the same arcade in Portland, Oregon. They also note that in mid-1981 there are records of the U.S. military contacting Atari to develop a game to train people for combat. Dozens of reports from unrelated people that allegedly played or saw the “Polybius” machine have popped up over the years, including a man claiming to have programmed it, but there’s no way to verify any of those claims, so the mystery remains unsolved.
Are there any other video game urban legends we forgot to include on this list? Let us know in the comments!