Deathloop mines a vast array of aesthetic sources, from the medieval architecture of Germany’s Northeim district, to Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, to the vibrant fashion of Pierre Cardin. As with all of developer Arkane’s games, it combines divergent inspirations to create a singular universe of its own. And as with all of Arkane’s releases, Deathloop wouldn’t exist were it not for a defunct, and criminally overlooked, game studio from the ’90s. And an Easter egg in its opening moments pays homage to that lineage.
Like the protagonist of (so) many video games, Deathloop’s Colt begins with a case of amnesia. Filling the shoes of this tabula rasa, I wake up on a beach, with an empty bottle of booze by my side, before venturing into the concrete tunnels of the island of Blackreef. I soon arrive at a locked door. There’s a keypad next to it, with space for four numbers.
“You know the code,” an ethereal set of floating letters tells me. “Yeah,” I tell myself, “I’m pretty sure I do.” I enter the digits 0-4-5-1 with a smug grin. The door doesn’t open. “Old habits die hard,” Colt utters aloud to himself. A trophy pops up with the same idiom printed next to its colorful little icon.
Whether knowingly or not, there’s a good chance you’ve entered this same code before. It opens the first door in BioShock, unlocks a supply crate in Firewatch, and even grants access to a VIP’s office in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, among many other examples. (This is the most up-to-date list I could find.)
More than just a knowing wink, this number (or some variation of it) is a direct reference to Looking Glass Studios, a developer that existed from 1990 to 2000 and paved the way for immersive first-person games. Although often thought to allude to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 — and, by extension, the temperature at which book paper autoignites — 0451 is also a reference to the real-life code that opened the door to Looking Glass Studios’ headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Warren Spector, former general manager at Looking Glass and founder of Junction Point Studios, cites the Cambridge code as the original source. Pixar does something similar by hiding A113, the classroom listing of the animation studio at the California Institute of the Arts, in almost all of its movies.
“The 0451 code has become kind of a signature that developers use to align themselves with Looking Glass,” Tim Stellmach, another former Looking Glass employee who went on to work at Vicarious Visions and OtherSide Entertainment, told Polygon in a 2015 cover story. It dates back to the original System Shock in 1994, which, along with the RPGs of Origin Systems, pioneered first-person games that allowed players to complete objectives through a variety of means. They’re often called “immersive sims.” Deathloop, along with the rest of Arkane’s catalog, is very much a part of that legacy.
“I think much of what we take for granted design-wise in games comes directly from the philosophy underpinning all of Looking Glass’ games,” Spector told Polygon in the same cover story. “The influence of that studio can’t be overstated, even if many don’t realize they’re building on the foundation it laid years ago.”
I haven’t finished Deathloop, so I can’t say whether the code actually works later on (I’m still pissed about that first door). But it’s fun to see Arkane signaling to longtime players that it’s both acknowledging and potentially toying with its legacy. It also fits thematically in a game about breaking a recurring, eternal loop. Regardless, I’m going to keep trying the code on every door I find — whether out of curiosity or sheer stubbornness, I don’t know. Old habits die hard, I guess.