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i love them when people put them in. i'm not very creative when it comes to making my own though. 
still looking for DopeFish.
I must make a model for it. 
They're a sadly lost art it seems. :( HL2's the most recent FPS I can remember having them and they weren't really very secret tbh! 
yeah, things like secrets tend to be left out as games move more towards efficiency. :(
when a game does have them, they seem even more special. :) 
Are you rustling a big bag of numfuck threads to start? But I'm a hopeless games nerd so.

Secrets are alive and well, they now fall under the umbrella of 'achievements' - because those are worth $$$.

Q1 secrets don't exist anymore, really. Valve is the last company to do those in HL2 and Portal2. Longer play time per level has taken that side out of modern games design I think.

Now secrets are justified before a committee. The best one I ever heard was 'but how will the player know they're there?' 
i liked the secret rooms in rage. no way i would have found them on my own, but wicked stuff. and all the little things in the game, its like they had a lot of fun adding them.

sadly no secret levels though. :( 
I Love Secrets 
I'm not very good at finding them though :/

It's great when a map has a nice balance of secrets of different difficulty levels. Kind of pisses me off when I can see some secret item but can't figure out how to get it at all.

Also, in Quake, if you are going to put in a quad secret, make sure there is a nice quad run directly after it because nothing sucks more than finding the quad after already killing everything. It's also annoying when there is a route choice after a quad and one direction has no enemies along it.

ijed: Do modern games really have longer playtime per level? I don't think I finished many levels in Quake 1 *that* quickly the first time I played them. I suspect even E1M1 took 10 minutes, and some of the more complex levels took closer to 30 or 1hr (probably the first time I played the dismal oubliette).

The main reason for lack of secrets is because it costs money to put them in, and since only some people will find them the developers put the money into other things instead. Making even a nice secret in Quake 1 doesn't ever really take more than an hour for one developer - which is obviously not a substantial cost in development time or money. I think many devs are still quite passionate about slipping in little secrets in the last few months of dev time if they can, but now games cost 10s of millions of dollars to make they can't be so cavalier about it must ask permission.

Also, with Quake 1 you don't have lame "realistic" player movement, so it's easier to have secrets that require jumping around, whilst games like CoD focus more on aiming, shooting and guiding the player through linear levels or between waypoints in more open levels and usually so scripted that having some area the player might wander off to in order to hunt secrets would totally break the immersion.

Achievements seem to have replaced the traditional secret, and are more like little challenges. When I was trying to make a Q2 level I wanted to have achievement like challenges in the level where there would be a bunch of stimpacks or armour plates that you would have to collect, but which involved performing a trick jump to get them all. Never got further than an idea though. 
I Like Secrets 
i used to suck at making them too hard for people.
personally i like secrets that are moderately easy to find, i mean when they're not screaming into your face, but i can notice them w/o pixelhunting.
i like the feeling of epxloration secrets give, they're some additional dimension of freedom on the level.
for me, fps is mainly exploration, so when i find a secret it gives me that warm feeling inside: i can explore more and if i'm lucky i can find proper easter egg! ;) 
There are still 'secret' areas in modern games, just not as pronounced as in Quake and other old games - meaning both acutal secret rooms as well as a counter or message. Usually secret means putting items behind objects, corners, or on top of things so they are not immediately visible, but can be found when looking around more carefully. I like to think this is because modern gamers (trololol console players) don't have the same mindset as back then and focus more on rushing through the level or following stong hints (mission objectives, npcs, you know).

Still, I'm always happy if there's stuff off the main route in new games. Like in Skyrim, there are often items placed in a farily Quakish way for explorative players to find. Sometimes even extra areas that require jumping or staking stuff to reach something high above. I even once found a secret lever that would open a hidden room with a chest.

You could also say that stuff in crates, HL style is a sort of secret, too. Or in Doom 3 where you can sometimes find items or even audio logs when crawling through vents or behind pipes etc. 
Exploration is much harder and a pain in the ass if your FOV is 40 and your movement speed is "realistic".

I prefer secrets that count. I.e. as a game element, not an element of the game world (eg stashes in STALKER). 
Quake Secrets 
A few examples for extraordinary secrets - that enhance the play experience rather than only host items: the metal areas (+corresponding monsters) in Biff's Fort Ratsack, the base part (main mission objective) in Vondur's Adamantine Cruelty, and of course Kell's Red777 with its 18 or so secrets that have some nice interconnectivity going on.

I think, in general, the best secrets are those which you can see from the outside and need to figure out a way to get in. Remember the soul sphere in Doom's E1M3, for example. Or the grenade secret in mappi. Of course the means to get to such secret areas should be reasonable. An obvious puzzle (=not necessarly easy to solve, but easily recognizable as such and as the one to unlock the particular secret), an entrance that requires jumping or climbing, or logical thinking in the sense of "the entrance must be on that wall so I have to search this or that room".

There's also the possiblity of having secrets that open by themselves at some point, or those that are triggered from the other side of the map. I think this should be avoided unless there's a good reason to do it and to explain it. Most players will probably not get the idea. An example for this would be the secret exit in Travail.

While sophisticated secrets are good, ideally a map should have a good balance between easy and hard secrets. Easy secrets being semi-obvious buttons and shootable doors/wall panels with misaligned or different texture, and also items placed outside the players view, behind crates, corners etc. They may not be hard to find, but it's still rewarding.

Which items to put in secrets depends on the context. Usually it's either powerups or weapons that are otherwise unavailable or only appear at a later point. Simple ammo and health secrets seem underused these days.

However, secrets don't have to be restricted to items. It's also possible to have secrets with entirely progressional value. For example, a secret that opens a shortcut to a later area, or allows you to disable a trap in a corridor ahead. Or something that allows the player to approach a fight in a different way, for instance from a higher point (sniper position). Perhaps an area that only serves the purpose of giving some more background information on the story of the map or the environment (like the Ratman's dens in the Portal games).

I also think it's very cool if secrets fit into a map seamlessly and connect areas. Outside areas are often good for this. 
Pure exploration areas is something I really try to push for at work but it's difficult when levels take so much effort to complete and get running on consoles. Extra areas are extra memory and they are generally the easiest thing to cut when push comes to shove because they aren't integral to the story or the scripting. That's the reality, I guess... 
I guess I love game worlds with a bit of 'adventure' thrown in, like Legend of Zelda, Metroid, or the Akrham Asylum/City games, where there are secrets all over the place. Maybe it's just me, but I can't seem to get enough of those games. They're just linear enough that progression is kept to a quick pace so that I don't get lost or bored, but each area is packed with secrets to keep me there for a good amount of time looking for those secrets.

I'm not sure I like just the secrets you can see, but hinting at secrets nearby is great. The Arkham games did this extremely well - 'there's a secret around he somewhere, find it.' 
Exactly, modern games' extra square meter of playable surface cost alot... So developer must invent cheap ways of making some extra area without touching interest of entire pack of people responsible for the content. Hence modern games lack that factor of randomness in exploration. Depends on game/engine of course. But general trend is there's not much deviations from main rails. 
I a ... thing ... is that finding that last secret in a huge map is pretty intimidating. e.g. e2m1rq :-) 
A Modern/consolized Game With A Good Bit Of Exploration And Secrets: 
Secrets are a reward for the player. You think outside the box, you deviate from the linear route, you solve an optional puzzle, you take a risk, you do something different - a secret is the game's way of acknowledging that and giving you a reward for it.

My limited exposure to achievements leads me to believe that they're actually the exact opposite; they're a reward for not doing the things that a secret rewards, but not doing it in style. 
What About Snow Globes/bobble Heads In Fallout New Vegas/3? 
mh: I think it depends. There are some achievements (thinking Steam games here, even though some other games have them, too) that require you to do what you describe for secrets, and one could say they're also flagged with a notification similiar to "You found a secret area". But those are exceptions. The bobbleheads in FO3 reward exploration, but they aren't really hidden. And usually the 'thinking out of the box' aspect is not so much a built-in feature, but more of an afterthought, it seems. 
I wrote down five principles when working on rubicon 2, and tried to use them to evaluate how good my secrets were:

1. a glimpse of something inacessible to taunt the player (encourages players to search the area)

2. access point needs to be something that is discoverable by observation alone (otherwise it's just luck)

3. item needs to be useful based on location

4. part of the reward should be a new space to explore or a new perspective on a known space

5. red herring (e.g. people can't resist shooting grates) 
Another good point that someone mentioned above -- make sure the difficulty varies so most people will at least find one or two of your secrets.

I also think you don't want to unbalance the gameplay too much, giving items that make the player too powerful. One good way to give a meaningful item that doesn't break the challenge too much is to give a weapon early, which the player will get later in normal progression. Another one is to give a weapon that isn't in the level, but keep the ammo very restricted (like the GL in rub2m2 -- you never get any more grenades, so you have to choose when to use the 5 that you start with.) I feel that one of the good ideas in Quoth is that they have items like the Trinity and the Cross of Protection which are less overpowered than the quad and pent, so you don't have to worry as much about using them in a secret area. 
and to elaborate on #3 above, this doesn't just mean making sure the quad is near a bunch of dudes. Also, make sure you give players items they can actually pick up -- like don't put a yellow armor in a level after the player has had access to a red armor, because they might have so much armor left they can't grab the YA. Same for ammo, make sure it's an ammo type they can't be already full on. 
Re: Post 20 
I agree with all of those principles. Most secrets don't follow #1 (ie you can't see the secret before you access it, often it's just a closet), but this principle goes back to doom, with the supersphere (my god I'm forgetting its proper name) in doom e1m3.

I think the idea of giving weapons early is a good reward. Re: #3, I always tried to do Ring of Shadows secrets in a way that lets the player check out the situation and set up ambushes on monsters rather than the other way around (as in Masque). Ring of Shadows is a great item and has tons of potential. 
That's the best post I'v read here. Should put it in the header post instead of that herp-derping. 
I'll herp-derp you, you insolent oik.

This is func_, people here don't need to be spoonfed into a discussion, just a tiny kickstart and hey presto lots of interesting views. 
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