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Hidden Object Games

As part of my “vacation” I’ve been playing a bunch of computer games, mostly hidden object games from Big Fish Games.  I love being able to try the game for an hour and decide if I want to buy it or not.  It’s usually pretty obvious within the first few minutes of a game if it’s “for me” or not.

Sounds familiar, I bet.  Agents/editors know within a page or two if the project is right for them.

There are tons of hidden object games out there, but there’s only a handful that I’m going to be willing to buy.  It’s taken me awhile to discover what kind of game I really enjoy — what kind of game is going to compel me to buy it past the one-hour trial.

First, the game has to have really good graphics.  I love the haunted castles with spooky hidden nooks, or the ancient civilization sites where I really have to check behind every stone.  But good graphics alone are far from enough.

(Good, even beautiful writing, isn’t enough to make an agent/editor/reader pick up your book.)

The overlying story has to be appealing to me, too.  Usually I’m on some quest:  free the ghosts, stop the lord of the mirrors, find my father, mentor, children, etc.  But even a “find my children” game — which sounds very compelling — can fail to snag my attention.

(Have a compelling hook or premise to drive the story from the very beginning.)

The lead character of the story driving the game has to be interesting to me.  I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman, and I obviously don’t get as much internal thoughts, etc. as a reguar book, but a well-written hidden object game makes me forget that I’m not really in this fictional world.  I’ve passed on several hidden object games where I just didn’t care for the main character.

(The protagonist must be compelling in some way, even though flawed and hopeless at the beginning.)

If I like the graphics, the story, and the main character, I can still end up bailing on a game.  There’s one I can’t remember the name of off the top of my head, but it had gorgeous graphics and a cool story, but I was absolutely lost.  I didn’t know how to get to the other rooms.  I didn’t know what to do.  I stood in the front “room” of the game clicking, confused, and frustrated, until I finally closed the game and deleted the files without purchasing.

I like to be led through a game.  Yes, I know it’s lame but I like the sparkly hints that tell me where to investigate.  I’m playing this game for fun and I don’t want it to be too hard — but I also want it to last much longer than an hour (to justify buying the game).  I want to know and trust that the journey is going to be clear for me.  I’m not going to get down in some basement dungeon and quit out of frustration because I have no idea what to do next.

Now BFG does have blog walkthroughs for many of their games, which helps, but if I have to refer to the blog walkthrough every single time I enter a room just to figure out what to do, I’m sorry.  I’m not buying.

(Make a promise to the reader in the opening scene of the story and carry that promise through all the way to the end on a journey they won’t want to forget.  The reader trusts you never to take them down the wrong path and leave them.)

So now I have good graphics, a storyline that intrigues me, and a lead character to guide me.  The game can still fall part between the hidden object games and the puzzles.  The games I love the most are the ones where I keep items from each hidden-object portion of the game, even if I have no idea what they’re used for.  e.g. In the opening section of the game, a key is one of the 10 items to find.  Then the key is what opens the rusty iron gate.  In another section, I find a glove.  Later, I have to use the glove to reach through thorns.

I don’t like hidden-objects just for the search.  e.g. a bunch of items that have nothing to do with the story, and it’s not crucial that I find a particular item.  I want those objects to all be tied to the story in some way.  The game I played last night was so danged creepy — one of the hidden object scenes involved row after row of old dolls, some clothed, some not, some with holes in their heads, missing eyes, some with huge creepy eyes that kept looking at me.  It was hilarious — I could hardly stand to look for the objects!  Which made that game so very very cool (Return to Ravenhearst if you’re interested).

It’s sort of like reading a mystery and finding a bunch of red herrings.  I love that aspect of a hidden object game.  Great, now I have a can of bug spray in my inventory.  Where in the heck am I going to use that?  It makes me anticipate and plan — which I love.

(Drop elements into the story that tie to the theme, enhance the atmosphere and tone of the story, and drive the plot.)

What I don’t love is when I find a bunch of stuff in my inventory at the end of the game….that I never used.  I can’t stand it!  Did I miss a section of a the game where I was supposed to use the shovel?  Ack!  How did I finish the game?  Should I go back?  But no, I finished… 

(Always tie up as many loose ends as possible even when the climax of the story and the main characters are resolved.  Careful readers make note of every little detail and will feel betrayed if they don’t mean something!)

Lastly, we have the puzzles themselves.  They’re sort of like plot or turning points of the story.  They’re “gatekeepers” to moving on to the next room.  I don’t want the puzzle to be so hard that I have no idea how to even start — or I’ll simply look up the solution in the blog walkthrough and move on.  Yes, I cheat on occasion! 

(I also read ahead to the next chapter — or even the end — to make sure the book isn’t going to fail me.)

The puzzles are more interesting if I’ve had to gather items throughout the game to beat it.  e.g. there are three marbles that I’ve found all over the mansion and now I have to use them to beat the next level.  The puzzle itself should tie to the game and the story it’s leading me through.  The elements should mean something to the game.  e.g. in one ancient civilization game, I had to stack golden skulls on a scale to balance it.  Why use regular old weights when you can use skulls?  How cool! 

I don’t care for puzzles that have absolutely nothing to do with the story itself.  e.g. a jigsaw puzzle and the final image is a contemporary-looking photograph, while the game is a creepy gothic.  The image is an underwater ship — cool — but not if it has absolutely nothing to do with the story of the game.  Don’t show me an underwater ship just because it’s cool.

(Elements of the plot should reflect the theme over and over, every element tied back to the premise, driving the story toward the climax in a logical way.)

I know it’s a great game when I immediately hope there’s a sequel in the same world.  My wish for BFG is that they’d have a way to search by the creator of a particular game.  e.g. if I know team A creates the kind of game I like with the graphics, etc. then I want to buy more by team A.  Right now, I’m relying on “look and feel” to tell me when I might want to buy.

(Branding is important.  Make sure readers can find you!)

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Easter Miscellany

It’s already been a crazy weekend. 

Papa from Mexico (my Dad) called to say he’d like to come down tomorrow, which is always a treat, so we decided to do some kind of Easter “dinner.”  I’m still sick of ham–overdosed from Christmas–so we decided to do prime rib.  Now That Man does a mighty mean prime rib, and once news got out, our guest list grew.  We always love to have company, but the house was a pit and those rib roasts aren’t exactly cheap.  We cleaned Friday night and headed out for loads of food shopping today.

Finally, after months of checking, I found a Wii-Fit at our local Wal-Mart.  I haven’t tried it yet, but Princess Monster is loving it.  (So if I never even step on it, I’ll still count it a victory.)  I stocked up on everything for Potato Salad and Spinach Salad, as well as some veggies I think I’ll roast.  I also bought a huge tub of strawberries so I’m not so tempted by whatever dessert Aunt BB brings.

We’d just got home from numerous stops all over town to hear that Grandma K in the Hospital (the monsters’ Great Grandmother, who’s been in the nursing home pretty much all of Littlest Monster’s life, so that’s what she calls her) is doing very poorly.  Hospice doesn’t think she’ll make it through the weekend.  So That Man decided to make a quick trip over “just in case” and Middle Monster wanted to go with him.  The other two monsters and I stayed home (we didn’t think all of us needed to cram in there if she’s truly not doing that well, and we did see her just a week or two ago).  They cleaned the pit of their room while I started some basic preparations for tomorrow.

We still have Easter eggs to dye, potatoes to peel, etc. but we’ll take care of all that tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the monsters are frantically looking for their Easter baskets.  When Princess Monster was born, we lived in MN and since I worked in the home office, I was exposed to all sorts of parties, everything from Pampered Chef to Tupperware to Longaberger baskets, and yes, I bought a special basket for her first Easter.  Of course, I had to do the same for the other two monsters.  So they have these fantastic, extremely expensive baskets that they get out once a year…..and they can’t find them.  We moved last summer and I have no idea where they are.

[Updated:  the baskets have been found!  Whew]

As for writing, I’ve been wracking (haha, inside story joke) my brain, trying to come up with a really peppy hook for the Maya fantasy.  I have the general concept of the world/series down to two words — but the actual story, heroine, etc. is causing me a huge headache.  I also started reading Clockwork Heart, no verdict yet, and I played a bunch of computer games, everything from Farm Craft to Curse of the Pharaoh.  My biggest complaint lately has been not enough worlds/levels — they’re over too fast!

Oh, and remember when Deena challenged me ages ago to write a zombie romance?  I’ve got a near-finished copy of the freakishly awesome anthology in my hot little hands–BUMP IN THE NIGHT from Drollerie Press.  My short story, “Broken Angel:  A Zombie Love Story” is included.  Watch for it to release next week!

So what are your plans for Easter?

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*hangs head in shame*

I’ve been a slacker all weekend.  I opened my file (Tara_009) several times, but I just can’t get through this scene.  I’ve played a ton of computer games.  Even though we didn’t take the roadtrip to That Man’s parents’ house, I still didn’t get much of anything accomplished, other than beating several levels of Diner Dash Through Time.  This game was seriously kicking my ass.  After the first couple “easy” levels, I got seriously stuck in each new “time.”  I could not figure out the secret to the game.

Cooking Dash, which I also have on this computer, was a piece of cake compared to this one.  I love that game.  It made sense.  Serve the customers as quickly as possible, keep them happy, and don’t lose any of them.  Diner Dash had a different flavor though.  I didn’t have to rush to various prep stations — all I had to do was grab the food from Grandma and deliver it to the tables.  So why was I struggling so much?

There were a few tricks to the game that I didn’t figure out until yesterday.  I didn’t know how to use the podium, for one, which if I let Flo stand there and talk to the waiting customers long enough, they didn’t leave as quickly.  But even when I didn’t lose a single customer, I still couldn’t clear some of the levels.

It finally dawned on me last night around 10 pm.  I was being too efficient.  I was seating and cleaning tables too quickly.  Only by taking my time, deliberately letting guests stand and wait, while I let only 3-4 tables in at a time, did I finally start winning every stage.  The trick was to match up the colors in the seats as often as possible, doubling, tripling, etc. my points.

I had to make people wait in order to win.

Suddenly, I wasn’t as stressed.  (Yes, I know it’s a only a game, but I get very obsessed about such things.)  I took my time and took really good care of much fewer tables at a time and then went over and chatted with customers in the down time to keep them happy. 

At one point, I looked up and it was almost 1 AM.  *dies*  I’m in the last “time” world — the futuristic one — so I almost beat the game.  Once I do, the obsession will end.  I hope.  Now that I know the tricks to winning the game, I’m sure I’ll want to go back and win each level at the expert level.

So what does all this have to do with writing?  Sometimes it’s okay to let stories wait at the podium awhile.  Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to stand and chat with them awhile before sitting them down and writing.  I can certainly do a better job with fewer stories at their seats. 

And once this game is licked, I have a feeling I’ll be obsessed with finishing Revision Xibalba, because the end is in sight.  If only I can finish this current scene…