Hidden Object Games FTW!

Posted by Lisa Brunette on February 18, 2013 in Game Development -- Share:

We know you increasingly turn to Big Fish looking for story, adventure, and exploration, but the root of the HOPA (Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure) genre is the hidden-object scene (HOS). Spotting games like these hold huge appeal for Big Fish customers and have a rich tradition in U.S. culture, from the “slug bug” you played in the car growing up to “Where’s Waldo?”

When you complain about typos in a game, it’s often due to a misspelled or mislabeled item in an HOS. Don’t worry. We get it. There’s nothing more irritating than seeing the word “clew” in an item list and having to resort to a hint to find they meant the ball of yarn right there in plain view.

But never fear. Behind the scenes, there are whole teams of people working to make sure such typo frustrations don’t yank you out of fun game play. I’m head of a team of narrative designers who edit (and in many cases fully rewrite) the text in your games, and we also work with our Quality Assurance team, which tests the heck out of every HOS.

We know you players are almost without exception former English teachers, or daughters of former English teachers, and that your blood pressure goes up – and the game love goes down – with each “alter” that should be spelled “altar” or every time your eye is distracted by the egregious wrongness of “pinecone” spelled as if it were two separate words.

Please, believe me. ”Pine cone” bothers us, too. It really does.

Here’s what we do. The only way to work on an HOS is with a(n online) dictionary at hand so that we can look up tree house (I have to every time. Yes, every time) or any other word we can’t remember how to spell or whether or not it’s fused (like miniskirt), hyphenated (like X-ray), or two words (such as that durn tree house).

We go by Merriam-Webster’s because it’s what an English teacher would do. But it’s not as easy as just looking up words in a dictionary. We tackle the HOS in a game’s text file, which comes to us as a very, very long Excel spreadsheet or .xml document with long lists of items with code in between them. Our process:

  1. Above all, we make sure the item name is for the right item. If it’s a boot, we don’t call it a shoe.
  2. We check consistency. It’s confusing if the item is called a “brooch” in the HOS list, a “medallion” in the inventory, and a “gem” in the hint.
  3. Sometimes we’ll see “bottle” on the list but several bottles in the HOS. We ask the developer to change it.
  4. We make sure the text in the text hints works in tandem with the HOS list. Examples:
  •  Hint: “I bet I could pop this corn cob over that candle flame.”
  • HOS list: “Popcorn”
  •  Hint: “To get the cheese, I’ll have to break the glass.”
  • HOS list: “Cheese”

Other things we do:

Make sure the names on the list are all capitalized the same way. Like you, we can be kept up all night by lists where the ‘n’ on “Butterfly net” was lowercased, but the ‘u’ on “Cocktail Umbrella” was capitalized. Horrors!

What really vexes us are the mistakes we see all the time. “Cannon ball” as two words really lights our fuses. “Cuckoo clock” spelled any other way makes us insane, and don’t even get us started on “fleur-de-lis.”

We really wish there was only one name for clippers, bolt cutters, secateurs, pliers, pruners, pruning shears, scissors, etc., etc.

But you know what one word is almost always spelled correctly?

Yep. Crowbar.

Written by

Lisa Brunette is the manager of the Narrative Design Team at Big Fish and a novelist in her spare time - when she isn't playing games. Her team works with producers and developers to create awesome game stories, and they write and edit a lot of the game text you read when you play.