Secret Found: A Secret about Secrets

6-25-2012 Posted by: RobotAdventure

or How Many Times Can I Say the Word “Secret” in a Blogpost

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

No, come close, it’s a super secret secret.

No, even closer. I need to whisper it into your ear.

I like secrets!

And don’t tell anyone!


Actually yeah, tell everyone. And then you know what? Tell them again.

I like secrets so much that I literally became giddy when I started playing Almost Human’s Legend of Grimrock. Early on, I found a switch hidden on the wall.  It was in a corner away from the exit. Though the switch looked like any other loose stone, the game had taught me to question such things. And you know what? I pressed it. The wall next to me opened up and the most magical thing happened. It came in two parts:

  1. A series of upbeat chimes played.
  2. “Secret Found” appeared at the bottom of the screen.

I had found a secret and the game let me know it. At this point, I started bouncing with excitement.
Now I, as a designer, appreciate the notion of subtle design, particularly when it comes to player feedback and UI. Text in a player’s HUD can act as a wall for the player’s immersion. In the same vein, misuse of non-diegetic audio can confuse the player. But this shouldn’t prevent games from giving feedback to the player. This seems especially true for secrets. They are completely optional challenges within the game. When a player finds a secret, tell them they found a fricken secret! 

Most games these days still have “secrets”. Perhaps they aren’t as blatant as Legend of Grimrock, but any bonus off the beaten path could be considered a secret. It could be a medpack hidden under the stairs, or an extra journal entry in the last stall of the bathroom where no one would think to look. However, without the actual acknowledgment from the game, something is lost in the secret finding process. I have found these “soft” secrets in games and often assume I am supposed to find them. It is not until I discuss the game with someone else that I realize I had found something special that others have missed. To me, the item seemed like just another med pack or journal. If I never had the opportunity to discuss it with someone else, the accomplishment of finding the secret would be lost to me.

So how do you go about giving the player some super secret feedback?

If the old school doom “secret found” method is not your cup of tea, then there are still plenty of ways of acknowledging to the player they have found something special. The best place to start is with a specific sound effect like in Legend of Grimrock. Another effective but simple use of sound effect are all the dungeon cues in the Legend of Zelda series. When you solve a puzzle in Ocarina of Time, you know when you did something right by a few simple sounds. They are upbeat and pleasent, rewarding the player audibly in addition to the accomplishment itself.

Not every game wants to break the fourth wall and even something as simple as a sound effect could break the feel of many games. This doesn’t mean you should leave the player hanging. Use in game methods such as notes left behind acknowledging the fact that the items were a secret stash. A good example are the rat man dens from the Portal series. Though they are more easter eggs than secrets, they would be excellent location for bonus pick-ups.

Beyond those two examples, innovate!

Now I understand that secrets don’t fit into every game, but if you can, I urge you to consider them. And when the player does find a secret, notify the player and let them cherish their victory for thinking outside the box!

I’ll stop whispering in your ear now. It’s getting kind of weird.


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