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Hidden Object Games - Which is not unduly obvious, as I am about to explain
Hidden Object Games
I occasionally play hidden object games (HOGs). Not as often as I used to, because they become repetitive after a while. I started playing them when I went looking for new point-and-click adventure games, my favourite (but largely neglected) genre. That's when I found the Jayisgames website, which lumps them all together under their adventure tag. About 40% of the games with that tag are HOGs.

In hidden object games you have a quest that you're prevented from completing, because you arbitrarily aren't able to enter new locations until you solve certain puzzles. Most of these puzzles involve a screen filled with junk, and a list of items you need to find within the insane jumble of stuff. There might also be machines to fix or locks to overcome, either by finding the missing pieces or by throwing levers around or sliding blocks or... well, the puzzle variations get old pretty fast.

What ostensibly keeps your attention going are puzzles that are casually challenging but not too challenging. I wonder who the target demographic is. I've found HOG Let's Play videos on YouTube being done by young kids, but I get the feeling the appeal must reach at least as far as single women in their 40s who have good eyesight but suck at crossword puzzles. Most HOGs are produced by or for Big Fish Games, so I'm sure they know who their target audience is.

Generally these games are held together by the thinnest of narratives. If you're lucky, there'll be some kind of back-story you're gradually discovering, which is automatically written into a journal you've got with you. But mostly by the end of the game, what you're left with is something that feels like the idea for a story, rather than a detailed story itself. That's what tends to disappoint me the most about this game genre.

If you play enough hidden object games, the following thoughts will eventually cross your mind:

- It says, "Enter your name". Okay. (types) y-o-u-r-n-a-m-e ...
- Why are so many people such slobs?
- I hate these environmental noises.
- The way this place is laid out is insane.
- I find it hard to believe these machines actually work.
- How the hell was I supposed to find something that you desaturated to the point that it was almost indistinguishable from the background?
- In real life, that object wouldn't actually be able to accomplish that task.
- Ah yes, oil, the magic rust remover.

- Who the hell would store their missing water-tap handles inside a hidden compartment at the base of a garden statue, whose opening mechanism requires missing pieces that were scattered in a child's crib, at the bottom of a well, and inside a bird's nest?
- Screw finding the key; it's a wooden door, and there was an axe in that mess in the living room that you won't let me use!
- Come to think of it, I think I've seen that same axe hidden in at least three rooms so far. I wonder if drawings of common objects are proprietary and require royalties to use in these games, unless you draw your own.
- So... you could afford to draw all these lush rooms full of detailed junk, but only drew one picture of the only character you can interact with, who has all the liveliness of a cardboard cut-out?

- Why would anyone store a pencil along the fold of a curtain? How was this accomplished without glue or anti-gravity?
- Wait, how can I possibly pick up a rock carving, leaving an uncarved surface behind?! I feel like I'm breaking reality with god-like powers. And if I have these powers, why can't I skip to the end?
- When I'm instructed to find a "nut" in the picture, it would help to be more specific.
- What the hell is a "French curve"?
- What's with all these butterflies?
- Hey, that's just the object I needed. What a coincidence. Colour me surprised.
- If your antagonist has supernatural powers and occasionally shows up to break stuff to stop me from progressing further, your writers aren't trying.

Ok, now let's talk about the good HOGs. One of the reasons why I'm less enchanted with the genre is that no HOG has quite measured up to Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst, which came out in 2008. It's a fairly long game, they bothered to use actual human actors, the graphics are excellent, they tried to put some originality into their puzzle designs, and crammed a lot of junk into their rooms!

One surprising HOG that came out in 2010 is Tiger Eye, Part I: Curse of the Riddle Box. Its graphics are lower quality, it's extremely linear, and there are only six locations to visit - but what it does differently is that it's a romance. This is extremely rare for a hidden object game! Finding it it was like a breath of fresh air. Mind you, it's a very cliché urban fantasy romance, but given how most HOG plots are crap to begin with, this was a welcome change. It's based on a book by an author who seems to have a fascination with tattoos. Still, even condensed into game form, there are some inconsistencies. Hari, the tiger shapeshifter trapped in human form, gives three different explanations for why he's lost his shapeshifting powers. Even so, I'll be playing the sequel when it comes out.

Finally, there's the Drawn series of HOGs that came out in 2009-2010: The Painted Tower, Dark Flight, and Trail of Shadows. I'd say these were a little less challenging, but they put a lot more work into giving the games an artistic atmosphere! Also a refreshing change.

Now that it's 2012, I hope some of the game companies really put some Oomph into the genre and raise the bar a little. I'm bored. :)
5 comments or Leave a comment
porsupah From: porsupah Date: March 26th, 2012 08:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I admit, I don't normally go for HOGs, but the Hector: Badge of Carnage series is quite amusing, if entirely unsuitable for polite company. =:) I go more for the puzzle based sorts, of which the two (so far) Puzzle Agent titles are good examples, with well-balanced problems, and a nicely acted backstory, reminiscent of a somewhat more light-hearted Twin Peaks (which is not to say comedic).
niall_ From: niall_ Date: March 27th, 2012 01:40 am (UTC) (Link)
You know, I honestly don't remember what the French Curves are called in French...
aurifer From: aurifer Date: March 27th, 2012 03:49 am (UTC) (Link)
"This is extremely rare for a hidden object game!"

It's like you're in a room full of HOGs, and you have to search through them all for this HOG!
niall_ From: niall_ Date: March 27th, 2012 05:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I suddenly wonder, if you decide to do them again, do they become memory HOGs?

lupine52 From: lupine52 Date: March 28th, 2012 06:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Kildoo played one of those hidden object games called Age of Atlantis or something and the hidden objects were like these tiny fragments, then you put them all together so that some crystal lights up and then the stupid crystal exploded, its like WTF, that sorta defeats the whole point of the game if you have to light these crystals and they go all explodey anyways, friggin dumb.

Anyways he beat the game on its most difficult setting which overall was still very easy.

Me, I don't get into the hidden object games as its tough enough to find items that actually have a purpose. I think I got all burnt out on hidden spots when it took me a week to find the damn Watergate key in Dragon Warrior 2 where the punk was still in his cell just hidden behind some black wall, ugh..

Still sometimes hidden objects can be fun to find like the mech beast Warmech in Final Fantasy one and or the seven sword in Final Fantasy legend 2 for gameboy where you basically had to get a lucky break on an item drop. Getting the weapon was about as likely as winning more than your money back on a lottery ticket as sometimes it took weeks to get that lucky drop, fortunately it was not an item needed to win the game so I was fine with that.

5 comments or Leave a comment