What Makes a Great Casual Hidden Object Adventure Computer Game?
Adventure Games from the Past
I remember a comedian talking about why did authors write a Preface, because no one read them except the author and anyone mentioned in them. If it is information about the book or the or story in the book, then why not just include it in the body of the book?
The answer is partly, that it is information about the book, or in this case about the Hub, but it is not necessary for one to read it in order to understand the book, but it adds a note of insight that might make the book more enjoyable. From the standpoint of a Hub, it comes across as ludicrous, which is precisely why I am including it.
You can pass the preface by, but who know what you will miss? This Preface is about how I came about having the criteria I do for a great casual hidden object adventure computer game. It was in the mid nineteen eighties that I started playing computer adventure games. The first one I played was by Sierra Games, and was “Kings Quest III, To Heir is Human”.
Kings Quest III: To Heir is Human
Later I went back and played KQI and KQII. By then the earlier versions seemed less sophisticated, the stories were much weaker, and the puzzles either simpler or they just didn't quite work right for me. However, I was hooked. I followed the Kings Quest series, Space Quest, Police Quest, and even some of Leisure Suit Larry.
I got lost at KQVIII, or rather this was Sierra's leap over the shark tank.
I am taking a side track here, because I know a number of people do not really recognize that reference, or really do not know from where it came from. It is a reference the TV show “Happy Days”. Fonzie, the motor cycle rebel, water skis onto a ramp that hurls him over a tank with a live shark in it. The producers were trying too hard to keep a show running that had pretty much run its course. The plot lines of the stories had reached the level of absurdity., Happy Days had been a highly successful TV show, but it was time to move on.
The Princeless Bride
Back To Kings Quest
“Kings Quest VII, The Princeless Bride” was an excellent game but apparently Sierra felt the needed to go to the next level, and although I bought KQVIII, I never played it, it was too far outside the genre that I was so fond of.
But what made that genre intriguing for me was that it had progressed to integrating story telling with game play so that as a player I was actively involved in the story while playing the game. They had become melded together that I was playing the character, or mentoring the character through the story as part of the game.
Mystery Case Files
Now we fast forward to the new century and the introduction of casual games into the gaming industry.
Although casual games have been around since the early 1990s, I started getting looking at them for entertainment closer to the 21st century. “Ooooooooo.” I started with jigsaw puzzles because I could complete an online jigsaw in about 15 minutes, which made it a perfect lunchtime diversion. I am not sure when I actually started purchasing casual games, but the first one I purchased was “Mystery Case Files: Huntsville”. I had thought I had purchased it from BigFish Games, but they have no record of the purchase. I have purchased a number of games from BigFish, so the game portal from whom I purchased will continue to be a mystery, for now.
A Hidden Object Scene
The First Hidden Object Game I Played
What makes a great Hidden Object Game for the casual game market, is one that isn't simply a hidden object game. For the most part, “Huntsville” was just a hidden object game, or a series of hidden object games with a loose story line about a crime wave in a small town. As each connected hidden object group was completed, then the player was to have the villain revealed by swapping the scrambled blocks of the image around until the picture has been revealed along with the guilty culprit was. What made “Huntsville” work for me were the quirky characters, the “Mad” esque allusion of the crimes, and the the quality of the artwork. By today's standard, “Huntsville” would only be of modest interest, but there is a funky quality that makes it mentionable. Mystery Case has followed with a franchise of “Mystery s” that have improved with experience, though lacking in some areas, and over extending in others.
Sort Out the Suspect
The Return to Ravenhearst
To date one of the best “Mystery Case Files” is “The Return to Ravenhearst”. Although I was not as enchanted with the first venture to Ravenhearst Manor, in fact I was put off a bit with the story, but the second was much better, from a story standpoint, that I was glad that I didn't let my disappointment with the first dissuade me from getting the second.
The Good, The Bad, and The Haunted
As good as “The Return to Ravenhearst” is, it comes up short of being classic, only because of the hidden object game play. The hidden object scenes are well done and the quality of the items to be found mostly fit within the image genre, and quality of graphics, but it comes up short in relationship of game play with the integrated story. Each hidden object scene provides an inventory item that is needed to solve a puzzle or move the story forward, but it is still locked in a maze of scattered trash that populates the scene. “Return” does better than the average HOG because it tries to maintain the genre of the time with its items, but at times it results to images that don't really fit within the the time motif, and the player also ends up selecting something that one could not really remove, for example a word or number carved into the surface of a post.
When integrating a story line within game play, picking random objects up that are not relevant to progressing the story can and does become tedious. Improving the relationship between the objects sorted out from a scene and using them to solve a puzzle or provide a clue as to what to do next would be a greater improvement to game design then looking for a way to add video that is not necessary for the actual game play.
One of the design elements I found most engaging about “The Return to Ravenhearst” was that the art work was artwork, that the style was consistent throughout the game, and there was an attempt to stay within the “time” of the story. Some animation was photographed, but it was integrated such that it fit within the game design and didn't appear to be added on but was well integrated into the game engine.
A Suttle Way to Integrate HOG
Another game, that is not in the Mystery Case Files franchise, is called “Snark Busters”. The hidden object elements of this game are better integrated into the story game play. Various items are needed to solve immediate needs for the main character in the form of hidden object about the scene. The items are broken into pieces which are scattered about the scene. The pieces are outlined on the picture of the object. Once an object has been recovered, the player has to determine how to use the item to forward the story. Some are used at once to get the character from one scene to the next and others are used to solve more complicated puzzles presented later.
Though the game play is well integrated into the story line, the story itself is a little weak and the final resolution lacks a real climax and conclusion. The ending was more of a “to be continued” in hopes of getting players to buy the next game. “Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst” did this also, but with a real resolution to one story and simply an opening to the next. Neither franchise has yet to truly design a great HOG, but they have come closest to the mark than most.
What A Hidden Object Shouldn't Be
A hidden object game, can no longer be a series of images with a list of items to find. Various developers have worked at providing new twists to the list; having the player find sections of fewer items, they use silhouettes to identify the object, and they use clever clues to describe the items to find, but the basic game remains the same which is fine. The design of the image page should not be a trash heap with a bunch of stuff strewn about, which is often the case in these games. Some designers hide sections in other images, or conceal the object of the search such that it is not findable, or they alter color and shape so that the item is not easily recognizable. Somewhere these designers forgot that the object of the game is for the player to feel successful. Certainly be clever how objects are presented, use clues or descriptions for the player to use, but do not forget that the brief HOG in itself is only a part of a more complicated process. The casual game has gone beyond what it once was. It has become an important part of gaming that initiates newcomers and provides periods of respite for its players.
For a game to be successful, it must be pleasurable. The player must succeed, and feel that the success was valid. The designer is the mentor who in the very design of the game must incorporate that mentoring so that the player wins in the end and feels good about it. That is what will bring players back to franchises.
What A Hidden Object Adventure Game Should Be
So here are the basic requirements for a great Casual Hidden Object Adventure Computer Game. Begin with an intriguing story with interesting characters. Integrate the game play within the story so that the player has a sense on being a part of the story. The game play should be used to forward the story's progress, provide clues to puzzles later within the story and game play. The player should be comfortable with the solution of puzzles and have the option to opt out of puzzles the player doesn't understand, but also should have the opportunity to return to the puzzles to solve them later. All puzzles should be clearly explained, and use simpler examples earlier within the the story and game play so the player can learn the process for the solutions of the puzzles. HOG play should be more integrated into the story and provide the player with what they need to better understand the story. Less garbage and more real items involved within the story. Finally the story and game play should be so integrated that the player is not consciously aware where one leaves off and the other begins. That last part is not readily achievable, but the closer a developer and a designer can get, the better the chances of creating a classic game, that a player will return to even when the player knows the outcome of the story. It is why people reread really good books. It is why gamers will return to a franchise.