So, I’ve been playing Borderlands a lot recently. I mean an utterly stupid amount of Borderlands. Despite some flaws and a growing list of things I wish were in the game, Borderlands is awesome for players like me who love FPSs but think they’re too shallow, and love RPGs but think they’re too boring. Most of the time when I play I don’t even complete that many missions. I just end up wandering around settlements looting random washing machines and lockers – not to mention fallen enemies.

But last night I had a rather unique experience. It was around 11:30, and I was getting ready to call it a night when something caught my eye outside Jaynistown.  Inside the makeshift church I was looting, there was a letter that looked like it had a barcode on it. Not the old prison bar retail barcodes mind you, but the 8-bit Rorschach-style barcodes. It looked like a potential Easter egg…

If I had some kind of fancy pants phone that could read barcodes, deciphering this clue would be simple. In fact, if I had a phone that could take an even halfway decent picture, I’d be in business. Instead I have something one step up from an 80s this-isn’t-a-cinder-block-it’s-my-cell-phone phone, and a standard definition tube television. Getting a clear picture of it would be difficult.

It was already midnight. I knew I should just go to bed so that I wouldn’t be a walking zombie when I got up for work the next morning. But I was already mesmerized by the thought of what could be hiding in that postage stamp-sized block of data. I had to find out.

After twenty minutes of blurry shots of my flickering television screen, I had a picture that looked vaguely barcode-ish. Some searching revealed that it was a QR Code, a type of barcode created in Japan in 1994, for use with their futuristic look-at-me-I’m-flying-to-work-on-my-cell-phone phones. I found an online QR decoder and tried it with the picture I took, but no luck – the image was too degraded to translate.


The elusive QR Code, as seen through the scope of my Urban Masher Revolver.

So I took a patently old school approach the problem. I fired up MS Paint and tried to redraw the picture pixel by pixel. It was a ridiculously dumb plan – even a minor error could completely corrupt the message – but after a little guesswork my barcode looked pretty good. In fact, after magnifying the final product a couple of times I had what appeared to be an exact match:


Stars added for dramatic effect.


I went back to the online reader (here, if you should ever need one), and bingo, the message was decoded! It read:

NICK WILSON

HO OH

WTF Gearbox, WTF? Some more surfing on the web revealed that Nick Wilson is an artist who worked on the game, which makes the Easter egg cool – for Nick Wilson. For me, it was a huge letdown, and evidence that I should’ve trusted my gut and gone to bed instead.

But the Easter egg also brought up some interesting ideas. What if it had been a code to unlock extra content, similar to those used in pre-order bonuses? What if it was the password for an in-game security panel that unlocked a secret cache of weapons, or a string of digits that could reprogram a Claptrap to lead you to more treasure? What if it gave directions to a chest full of valuable loot buried somewhere out in the desert, where no normal player would ever think to look? The amount of things it could’ve been briefly outweighed the disappointment of what it ended up being. I hope more developers use creative means like this for Easter eggs in the future, crafting more cross-media experiences, and taking advantage of the internet’s astonishing ability to crack even the most obscure riddles. I just hope they also make the payoffs more rewarding – I want my kickass weapons pack, Nick Wilson!