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The Internet Killed Secrets in Games

What's the 'secret' of the secret cow level in Diablo II?

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After finishing Sacred and planning to replay other nostalgic hack & slash games, I am currently working my way through 2002’s Dungeon Siege for the second time. Somewhere deep in the crystal caves, there’s a semi-hidden treasure chest that contains Fury’s Eye - and I have no idea what to do with it.

Or rather, I had no idea. Until I clicked on this link that meticulously explains every single nook and cranny in the Dungeon Siege Kingdom. It turns out that Fury’s Eye is part of a three-item requirement to transfer your party to a hidden location in the game, a homage to Diablo II’s classic and very secret cow (I’m sorry, Hell Bovines) level, that requires players to combine a Tome of Town Portal and a bloody leg using a device called the Horadric Cube. Still with me?

A case against the availability of information

The gist is this: I came across an item that uncovers a secret, and instead of trying to do uncover it myself (and probably miserably failing), I simply “googled” it. This subconscious instant gratification move completely bypasses both frustration and fun I could have extracted out of the experimentation with Fury’s Eye. Why is it so easy to go to GameFAQs.com? I love digesting details on character builds, strategies and tips before and during a play through - in fact, I have my own website Jefklak’s Retro Gaming Codex dedicated to things like that.

Fury's Eye - what was I supposed to do with this again?

And yet, I’m angry at myself for so easily falling back to the knowledge of the masses, before giving it a go myself. Dungeon Siege is definitely not the kind of game that deserves that kind of devoted attention, mind you. However, Diablo II does. But who tries to jam together a leg found in Tristram with a Town Portal Tome? Who does that? There are about a million other possible (wrong) item combinations to be made. Because you think that’s the most efficient way to portal the leg out of here?

Without external help, chances are very slim of discovering angry axe-wielding cows (sorry, Hell Bonvi-what was it again?) in Diablo II yourself. Before the Internet, there were game magazines. I fondly remember reading up on Nintendo Power how to discover hidden stuff in Kirby’s Dreamland. As a kid, I did not have the needed perseverance nor knowledge to find out about these things by myself. But the fact that one has to rely on others - by means of interrogating Game Boy owning friends - is/was a very good thing.

In Gobliins 2, a point & click adventure game from 1992, you can consult the hint system if you’re stuck - only a couple of times per game. They call these “jokers”: once you’ve used them all up, it’s up to you to figure out the puzzle yourself. That meant frenetically writing down the English text, asking someone to translate it for me (I was 7), and still scratching your head because the hints were mostly cryptic. I loved the limitedness of these jokers. Every adventure players knows this dilemma if they’re stuck: to look up a walkthrough or not? The fact that it’s become easier means having to exercise more cognitive demanding willpower not do to it. After all, it’s only two clicks away.

Moo-mo-momo-mooh! Src: Diablo Wikia

When she was little, my wife played the game Lucky Luke on the Super Nintendo, a tough run-and-gun 2D game that employs a common strategy to prolong the play time of older games: it’s hard and you get limited continues. When she was stuck on a certain part, only with one continue left, she paused the game and had her father call a support line. In the early nineties, it was actually possible to telephone an anonymous expert and yell “Help, only one continue left, should I go left or right in that mine tunnel?” Of course, you’d only do that if (1) you were really, really stuck, and (2) you had the money to pay the expensive telephone bill.

Information has always been available: whether in game magazines, through support lines, or on the internet. The fact that it has become as easy as grabbing your smartphone and typing a few keywords inevitably means guides and walkthroughs will be consulted much more often1. And that will make or break that gaming experience…

A case in favor of availability of information

Without guides, I probably would not have enjoyed games as much as I do. As a kid, I printed out maps and class guides of Might and Magic VIII, a first person RPG released in 2000 by New World Computing. Without this information, the game would become a slog quite quickly, as you need to travel to masters of certain skills to hone your own, and these are scattered throughout the world and sometimes very hard to track down. Furthermore, if you created a character that specializes in certain skills, only to discover halfway through that these skills you invested in totally sucked, you’d probably never make it to the finish line. Thank you, Flamestryke’s MM8 Wiki.

Of course the internet - and the instant availability of information - made our lives as a gamer easier. Yet, there’s a thin line between easier and too easy, and lately, I have the feeling that I’m unconsciously leaning towards the latter.

In the end, there’s always the retromags.com and Internet Archive Game Magazine databases to dig through, but that’s beside the point. The point is that instant gratification has become the norm, not the exception, and I’m typing this to point a finger to someone in particular: me.


  1. This also frequently happens when having a conversation or watching television, and encountering something you don’t know yet, or want to brag about (especially that). Whip out that smartphone and prove them wrong! One of the consequences of this is an “I’m sorry, what was it that you said?" conversation. ↩︎