A novel, a crazy contest, DeLoreans, and a book tour – Ernie Cline has a thing or two going on. Last month, the author announced there was a hidden Easter egg in his novel, Ready Player One. That Easter egg is the first in a three part challenge that ends with the winner getting one of Cline’s DeLoreans. Yeah, it is that awesome.
The contest is especially impressive because of the way it ties in with the book’s plot. If you haven’t read it, you should do so as soon as you can. If you have geeky tendencies, you’ll be smiling and nodding constantly throughout the pages. If you’ve never played an Atari game, you’ll still like it because the book takes you on one hell of an adventure. Really, it’s the sort of exhilarating journey we all want to take. The protagonist of the tale, Wade Watts, chases Easter eggs left in a virtual world by one James Halliday. The quest to find Halliday’s eggs is the focus of his life and many others because the prize is tremendous: Halliday’s vast fortune.
Halliday was obsessed with the 80s: video games, John Hughes films, Star Wars, you name it. If you like anything from that decade, you’ll want to pull Ready Player One around you like a security blanket.
I caught up with Cline on his recent stop at Book Soup in West Hollywood. We discussed the research for the novel and how the contest for the DeLorean came about. I also got to admire and touch the infamous car since it’s traveling with him on his book tour.
Read the interview and see more photos of the DeLorean after the break.
Nerd Approved: I read that you didn’t have to do a lot of research for the book because it’s all about the decade you grew up in. You sort of knew everything. What in particular spurred the idea to write this book?
Ernie Cline: The thing that got me excited about this book was that I initially had this idea of a Willy Wonka-esque video game designer that held a golden ticket style contest but inside his video game. I kind of got that idea from old Atari game contests they used to have – like Swordquest where you could solve the puzzles in the games and get a chance to win a real jeweled crown. It was exciting to me when I was a kid; nothing captured my imagination more than the possibility of my useless video game skills having some value. I think it’s the fantasy that everyone has when they play games. What if I could become a hero in real life somehow?
I started thinking about this idea and what kinds of riddles and puzzles this eccentric billionaire would leave behind to choose a worthy successor. I thought about the video game designers I knew, the ones of my generation. Then I thought all the riddles and puzzles could be about his obsessions which mirror my own and then it would be a way for me to celebrate the things I love and write about them.
The research I had to do really didn’t have to do with the pop culture stuff – maybe a Family Ties episode guide reference once in a while – it had to do with climate change and peak oil and virtual reality technology. The pop culture stuff was just me having fun.
NA: At what point in your drafts and writing did you decide to plant the Easter eggs for the DeLorean?
Cline: The idea for the Easter egg, once I knew the book was bought by Random House, well, I thought maybe I could do a contest to promote the book that mirrored the contest in the book. I didn’t have the resources or time to do it before the hardcover came out, but I said maybe we can plant this Easter egg now and then I could do something with it later for the paperback. They said okay, and I described how I wanted to hide it in exactly the same way Halliday in the book hides a clue in Anorak’s Almanac. He uses little notched letters, kind of a typographical Easter egg. They said, we can do that, but we can’t do it in e-books. So it’s only in the print editions. It was in the hardcover for 10 months, and I always thought someone would discover the Easter egg and tell me before the paperback came out. No one ever contacted me, and people didn’t start to find it until I told them there was an Easter egg.
I knew I wanted it [the contest] to have video game challenges, but I didn’t know how I was going to pull that off. The thing that made it possible was the book getting published and all these video game designers from around the country reading it and reacting so strongly to it. I would get emails from people that would tell me about how the book meant so much to them and at the end there would be a “PS: I’m the guy who invented Battlezone.” One of these video game designers, Mike Mika, sent me an email and said. “If you ever want to make a video game…”
He had made an Atari 2600 game for fun so I immediately thought of the game that the protagonist of my book makes [it’s an Atari 2600 game] based on the trailer stacks he lives in and I said I want to make this game. I’ve always wanted to do that, and I remember writing it and thinking how great it would be if it could be an actual Atari game someday. And he asked a childhood friend of his and they made this game for me for free just because they loved the book. As they were making it, I realized that this could be the first video game challenge in this contest. So I asked them to hide another Easter egg in the Atari game so the Easter egg in the book leads to the website where the Atari game is hosted. Then, hidden in the Atari game is an Easter egg that leads to the second video game challenge which launched on July 1. I don’t know if this is helping me sell any books, but at this point I’m having so much fun, I don’t really care.
NA: I can imagine! And the DeLorean is such a fantastic prize.
Cline: It’s the only car I know of that turns everyone into a 14 year old kid. I got pulled over for speeding in Oklahoma, and the cop walked up to the car and had a smile on his face. Then he looked inside and saw the flux capacitor and turned into a kid. And then I had a proton pack from Ghostbusters riding shotgun; he freaked out over that and said. “I’ll be right back.” He ran to his car and came back and in five minutes three other cop cars showed up and all of these cops got out at like 1am on the side of the highway and posed with the car. I park in front of bookstores and crank Huey Lewis and people get in the car and it brings so much joy to people. [Note: I believe Cline received a parking ticket on the DeLorean during the book signing. Apparently nothing makes meter maids happy enough to stop writing a ticket].
It’s the most iconic car of the 80s – it was only made for like three years – and it’s also the only car that’s a time machine. So, it’s an 80s time machine which is kind of what my book is so it’s the perfect emblem of my book and the coolest prize ever.
NA: How long after you announced the contest did it take someone to clear the first gate?
Cline: It took about a week. Every day 20-30 more people find the Easter egg. And it doesn’t became a race until August 1. You have all of July to catch up with everybody, and once I announce the final one then it’s on and it will be a race. And that’s going to be so much fun because the last one will be really hard. I’m excited to see how it all plays out.