Going HOG Wild!
I learned I have an addictive personality many years ago when I visited my friend and fellow magician R. J. Lewis in Atlantic City. He was performing at Resorts International, the first casino to open in New Jersey. Arriving early, I passed the time playing the slots – only to find out that I couldn’t make myself stop. Only when the time came to meet my friend did I reluctantly leave the gaming room, but as I did, I swore never to go into a casino again.
So far as gambling is concerned, I’ve been faithful to my resolve. But for the past few months, I’ve been seized by a new passion that I am powerless to resist – hidden object games, popularly abbreviated HOGs.
For those unfamiliar with the term, HOGs are games where you view a jumbled group of objects and are provided with a list of items to find in the pictured group. A mouse-click on each thing on the list clears it from the screen. When one finds everything, the view changes and the player proceeds to the next section of the game.
This is the basic scenario, but HOGs are generally intermixed with other sorts of puzzles as well: jigsaws, mazes, etc. Most marketed games feature a story of one kind or another. Many are fantasy/SF-themed, which is part of the reason I got hooked on them.
My obsession began soon after I took my computer downtown to be reinitialized. I used to be able to do this myself, but the one I’m working with was supposed to have Windows XP installed. What I got, instead, was an early version of Vista totally incompatible with most of my programs. Now this computer can be converted to XP, but it won’t do it for me, I have to farm out the job to a computer expert named Al, recently retired from Ramco Computer Corp. on Mercer Street, Manhattan. (Al is a dear chap recommended to me by Carole Buggé. “The only thing I can’t fix,” he says, “is a broken heart.”)
When I got my reinitialized computer back, I discovered that in the process I’d lost my version of mahjongg, so I went to Staples and bought a replacement, but the software I purchased also contained eight other games, and the one that intrigued me the most was The Magician’s Handbook – Cursed Valley. I installed it and lo, I had my first HOG!
I enjoyed the “Cursed Valley” game, and liked its sequel, The Magician’s Handbook II – Blacklore, even more, but I have since acquired many other HOGS that are even better. But before discussing them, let us mention some common aspects of HOGs.
Graphics: These vary in degree and style from “flat” comic book panels to dimensionally-detailed scenery, which is often stunningly original.
Music: This also runs the gamut from merely serviceable to hauntingly appropriate. I liked much of what I heard, and dismissed the lesser efforts by playing them with the volume muted. But one warning I offer regarding music. When you first install a HOG, you are usually shown an opening screen with Options as one of the choices. However, you cannot access this button until you have entered the name you will use when playing. While you are doing this, the opening music is invariably WAY too loud! To salvage your eardrums, turn off sound at the desktop level, install the game, enter your name, and finally adjust the game’s music and other auditory choices via the Options button.
Storyline: Some HOGs, such as The Magician’s Handbook – Cursed Valley, relate a
story through screens of text that you read before tackling the next level of gameplay. But other games feature a protagonist or a team of “heroes” who move, or at least are depicted as progressing through various settings. The player either is assigned a persona, or becomes the invisible helper/solver. The problems faced often involve witchcraft and other forms of magic.
One aspect of HOGs requires more extended discussion. Many of these games are quite difficult, and a player may become quite stuck. I have found four types of help available, though not all are available for every game:
1. Hints: The chief use of the Hint button is to find items in a hidden-object screen. Some games allow you to select at the opening screen whether to play in Casual mode, which means you can take as much time as you need for every puzzle. In Expert or Advanced mode, you play against a time limit, and using the Hint button may involve a penalty. But even in Casual mode, after you use the Hint button, there is generally a waiting period during which it “recharges.”
2. Walkthroughs: The better, more complex the storyline, the likelier it is that at some time one will get stuck. For instance, early in the second Dream Chronicles, the heroine finds herself trapped in a deep open-air hole with rock walls. There does not seem to be any way to free her. With a bit of experimenting, the player locates a tool that might help smash through the walls of her prison … but when this is tried, the player is informed that it would take endless years to get out that way. When I was playing this game, I managed to figure out how to advance to the next level, but I was close to giving up. If I had, I would have consulted an online “Walkthrough.” This is just what it sounds like: a detailed step-by-step guide to negotiating every trick and trial of a HOG. Type the name of the game you want help with into your search engine (I use Yahoo) and a list will appear. Unfortunately, some games do not have walkthroughs, but many do, and I find the best ones to consult are from bigfishgames.com or gamezebo.com. The Big Fish walkthroughs have the advantage of a table of contents at the beginning, so that you can see where you are in the game’s plot. When there is a HOG screen or a minipuzzle to solve, Big Fish offers good, clear visuals of the screen(s), with various legends and icons to show what to look for, or/and how to solve the problem. The walkthroughs from gamezebo.com do not include an up-front table of contents, but when the visual screens appear, they can be clicked on to enlarge them and see the screen in greater detail. Thus, each of these sites has something to recommend it.
But one warning – not every problem can be solved via walkthroughs. Why not? Because minigame solutions and hidden-object lists are sometimes randomized, and therefore they are different in each game played.
3. Strategy Guides: A few HOGs offer a condensed walkthrough as part of the software itself. The ones I’ve encountered are called strategy guides, and do not penalize the player for using the guide. This, plus the fact that you don’t have to exit out of the game and log onto an online walkthrough to access help, makes strategy guides very appealing. Some HOGs may be purchased in a special Collector’s Edition (CE), which, of course, costs a little more, but is generally worth it, partly because CE’s often include a strategy guide. They also tend to include additional scenes/puzzles/problems. So far, the ones I’ve played only allow access to the extra material after the basic game has been played.
4. Online Forums: Once in a while, the walkthrough or strategy guide author forgets to include some vital step, or just plain errs. This seldom happens, but it does. The court of last resort is to log onto an online forum in which other users complain when they’re stuck, and when they can, help other players negotiate whatever problem they’re dealing with. For instance, at the end of the first Magician’s Handbook game, the player is given a fairly short time to locate four runestones that may be anywhere in the many locales in the “Cursed Valley.” Because these are randomized, they are quite tricky to locate, but a list of the more likely places to find the runestones can be found on an online forum.
My Favorite Hogs (so far)
No need to rank my favorite games in order of preference or quality. Each has its own strengths and charms, so as of this writing, I will simply list them in alphabetical order.
Dream Chronicles – This is a double trilogy of games, though the second set lacks its final chapter. In order, they consist of Dream Chronicles; DC 2 – The Eternal Maze; DC 3 – The Chosen Child; DC 4 – The Book of Air; DC 5 – The Book of Water.
The plot of the initial game involves a young woman, Faye, who wakes up to learn that Lilith, the fairy queen, has kidnapped her husband and daughter. The game involves Faye’s journey to rescue them. Along the way she encounters many obstacles, some natural, some magical in nature; the solutions are sometimes easy, others more challenging, and involve both problem-solving and puzzles to be worked out. There are indeed hidden objects to find, but they do not occur as a screen of jumbled items with a list to find. Instead, they are scattered throughout the various settings where Faye finds herself. This, being the first of a trilogy, ends with a cliffhanger, and it takes the second game, “The Eternal Maze,” to rescue her husband, who turns out to be a fairy who had been promised in marriage to the mighty Lilith. Part three, “The Chosen Child,” ends, of course, with her daughter finally reunited with her parents . . . but not for long. In the second intended-to-be trilogy, Lyra, Faye’s daughter, sets off on her own series of adventures in “The Book of Air,” which continues without pause (except to change disks) to part four, “The Book of Water.” And then the story dangles, unfinished. Obviously, there was supposed to be a fifth installment called “The Book of Fire,” but apparently issues came up between the companies that devised the earlier games, and the project was put on pause, or perhaps altogether scrapped. This is indeed unfortunate, for even though other gamers’s comments repeatedly state that the second part of the series is not as good as the first three games, no one enjoys a story that’s been left unfinished. Personally, I did not find so great a difference in the quality level of the later games; I enjoyed them all: the puzzles and obstacles, but also the graphics.
Lost in Time – The Clockwork Tower – The plot of this story plays havoc with Time. I suppose one might classify it as science fictional, though I used to regard time travel and ditto paradoxes as pure fantasy – but in a world transfigured by Einstein, Hawking, quantum physics and the zero point field, I am no longer quite so sure about that. Lost in Time offers a good plot and many and varied puzzles and challenges. A young, adventurous woman named Eliza decides to explore an interesting old building in her town; there she encounters strange machinery and meets an elderly “Clocksmith.” Well, she does not so much meet him as startle him, and vice versa. In their moment of shock, his watch slips and falls, and suddenly the entire town is rocked by a time-quake that threatens to wipe out everything, the people and the buildings. The Clocksmith himself has disappeared, but in his place Eliza finds a talking watch who guides her (and the player) through the game, along the way flirting with her and occasionally punning. As the story develops, the player is sometimes confronted with a classic HOG screen with a list of items to locate. When these screens are solved (in this and other HOGs), one of the objects that has been found is placed in the player’s inventory, which is displayed in various fashions, depending on the game: in a row at the bottom of the screen, or in a circle of compartments on the lower left, etc. The item is then available when the player needs to solve some upcoming problem, such as (in Lost in Time) repairing a wooden bridge, or extinguishing a fire. But HOG screens do not dominate Lost in Time. Hidden items more often are scattered in the various locales that Eliza goes to: a toy shop, a grocery, a train station, a museum, etc. Thus, it is always a good idea for the gamester to inspect every new location the game opens up.
Magic Encyclopedia – Here is another engaging trilogy of games in which the protagonist is a young woman who is the most promising student at an academy devoted to teaching magic. The three games, in order, areFirst Story, Moonlight, and Illusion, and in my opinion, each builds upon and betters its predecessor. With the help of messages sent by a mostly offscreen brother, the heroine travels from country to country to find clues, jewelry, miscellaneous items and weapons to combat dragons and bad wizards. Instead of HOG screens with word lists, each new setting shows several objects in a row at the bottom of the screen. But each item has been scattered throughout the setting in pieces. One must seek the fragments, and as each is found, it flies down to the lower row and blacks out a portion of the object’s picture. When the last piece is found, the complete item is added to the player’s inventory (which, in this game, is on the upper right). After you finish the chores in a particular place, you are returned to a world map and a new place is chosen for your next adventure. One of the interesting challenges, however, is that sometimes two locales are selected at the same time, and while an icon depicts where to go first, there comes a time when you can’t find some of the necessary fragments. That’s when you go to the second location; the missing items are there, and objects in the new place will have fragments left behind in the first spot you visited. How do you know when to move forward or back? You don’t. That’s part of the fun. The third game of this series adds an excellent additional twist. Every setting you visit has both illusory and “real” aspects, and you must switch from one to the other. When you do, you see objects that were otherwise invisible, and sometimes people turn out to be demons.
Another thing I liked about Magic Encyclopedia is that hints are potentially unlimited. Instead of a single Hint button that, when used, needs time to be refreshed, one is given a certain number of hints in every locale. Hint icons are scattered through each scene, mixed with the object fragments you are looking for. If you find a certain number of hint icons, your total number of hints increases. But if you’d like more, there’s a button that may be clicked; when you do, you are taken to a number of alternating settings that have hidden hint icons scattered about. Find ten of them and you earn two hints.
Pahelika – This is a pair of sequential games (with a hint at the end that there will be more). In order, they areSecret Legends and Revelations. The first game is reasonably challenging, but the second one is quite difficult; I recommend playing it in the Casual Mode; you’ll need help, and probably a walkthrough, at least for Revelations. This is no simple HOG game; in fact, neither game offers any screens with jumbled items and word lists at all. Instead, one must search for items in “actual” settings, and figure out how to use them. Some items must be combined with others in inventory to create new objects. Along the way, there are many puzzles to solve: sliders, rows of buttons or arrows to put in the correct order, jigsaw-type puzzles, questions to be answered.
Pahelika is a powerful book of magic that we learn, in the second game, can talk. In Secret Legends, the hero hears about the book and discovers that it is hidden by monks and can only be found by someone virtuous and pure of spirit who must face six challenges. He finds a “contraption” that teleports him from one place to another as he confronts these challenges. Each one begins with a problem of how to gain entry to the new place. Once inside, various things must be accomplished, and usually progress means finding keys or other access items, which generally means a puzzle must be solved. At the close of each
challenge, the hero finds another transporter, which does not work until he figures out how to make it functional. Once he meets all challenges, he gains possession of Pahelika . . . but that’s not such a good idea, as he finds out in the second game!
Phantasma – This game’s storyline is especially eerie; it has ghosts, murders, and a trio of strange characters. It begins with you – in the person of a never-named protagonist – finding yourself behind the windshield of a car driving through a storm at night on a lonely road. The car swerves off the road, sails through the air and crashes in a muddy forest. There’s a trail leading into the woods, but you can’t take it yet because a power-line is strewn across the deep puddle you’d need to cross. So your first problem is to shut off the power. Once into the woods, you meet a young woman who urges you to turn back. But when she learns that your car is wrecked, she directs you to follow the trail to a hotel on a cliff near the sea. You go there and meet a quietly-menacing manager and, later, across the hall from the room you’re assigned, a chatty old woman, the hotel’s only other tenant. She and the woman you met in the woods assist you in exploring the situation, but each of them says unsettling things from time to time. And no wonder – the hotel, the nearby town, the church and its graveyard yield up gruesome secrets.
Most of the tasks, problems and puzzles to be solved in Phantasma are tied in with the developing plot, but there are also, from time to time, traditional HOG screens and word lists. However, Phantasma offers an alternative: instead of finding items, one may opt, instead, to play a “match-three” game, the kind made popular by such products as Bejeweled or the various Jewel Quest games. In these games, one sees a grid filled with various items: coins, flowers, skulls, etc. One must click the mouse on one such item and draw a line through at least three and perhaps more such items that are directly contiguous. When the mouse button is released, the selected items disappear and the playing grid shows the progress, usually by changing the color of the affected squares to gold. More items fall down from the top to fill the vacant places you created. When every space in the grid has changed color, the game is won.
I played the CE of Phantasma and discovered an alternate ending, or rather continuation of the plotline that, though it slightly contradicts the end of the game just played, adds a suspenseful fillip to one of the best HOG games I’ve played to date.