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Good hidden object art is noticeable

Can you imagine that just one art alone can lay a foundation for an entire genre? With hidden object art it is exactly the case. Let’s discover how hidden object games have evolved from simple puzzles for kids to fully-fledged interactive stories played by millions of people.

Genre-defining hidden object art

The games in the hidden objects genre started appearing in the early 90s and were oriented toward casual gamers. Although the genre's evolution seems to be subdued in the niche, which is mostly dominated by three-in-a-row titles today, hidden object games (HOGs) are still a decent option for entering the market. The masses love complex time-killers that can offer something more than the insipid "match three" mechanic. Join Argentics' designers today to discover the history, principles, and tips for creating hidden object art for games that diversify the playing experience in style.

What are hidden object games?

It is a puzzle game sub-genre where players need to find special hidden objects from the list to progress. Those objects are sitting there in plain sight on the screen. However, the masters of hidden object art know how to mask anything in any imaginable environment. Every level, zone, and landscape is filled with tons of stuff, and the things you need are drawn in a super creative way to make your job harder.
Sometimes game designers give you small tips or even direct hints if you are stuck, so don't be ashamed to ask for help. For example, some allow players to take a look at the object's silhouette or even its full model – this should be enough to know what you are looking for. In some titles, you may receive a list of items to collect with their descriptions or names.

Most hidden object games are free-to-play, which makes them a great choice to relax or do some brain gymnastics. Every free game from the app store comes with in-game purchases allowing players to buy extra energy, hints, maps, etc. They are not necessary at all, but if you really like the game, then you can speed up the exploration with the boost from the shop. Unlike first detective games that were super casual and minimalistic, modern titles can boast thrilling stories, exciting mechanics, and truly mesmerizing hidden object art.

The true evolution of the genre started with the popularization of simple "spot the difference" projects, where you have two identical images with minor, barely noticeable differences. Your task in such games is to find all objects one of the pictures lacks. Such simple rules are not for demanding players who love challenges, so game designers had to improvise and invent something more complex. This is how modern hidden object games came to be.

You can't help but notice that such a narrow niche is also very limited mechanic-wise. It is true, but thanks to independent developers, we still get memorable projects that shake the foundations of the genre. Sure, they still integrate the hidden object mechanics in their games but do that in such creative ways that the audience quickly forgets what type of game they are playing.

A puzzle game called Hidden Folks perfectly illustrates the previous statement. In it, your task is to find certain people or objects in a huge hand-drawn environment. Some locations contain more than a thousand (!) pieces of unique hidden object art. Most elements are interactive and animated.

Hidden object games: features and principles

The gameplay of such detective games brings a tremendous amount of joy and satisfaction after finding things you need. The process of searching is also filled with the excitement and thrill of the hunt. Even though you are hunting for pixels, not wild animals. Hidden object games provide a laid-back gaming experience that lets people slow down and just relax. Clever game designers understand that atmosphere also plays a major role in the exploration process. That is why masterful 2D/3D artists are a must to reach success.

A good HOG must have a decent storyline that gives purpose and justifies all that snooping around to keep players immersed in the events. The objects in scenes must look organic and believable – from the cloth characters are wearing and the tools they are using to the representatives of local flora and fauna. Sci-fi stories can be less demanding in this case because the setting completely justifies adding weird stuff into the game. Storywriters and game designers may suggest whatever they want and just explain crazy things with "science fiction."

Each level must have exposition – why the protagonist(s) came here and what they will be doing now. It would be smart to give some context in a cutscene before entering the location. The "what" question is even simpler – just stick somewhere on the screen a big list of hidden things. Alternatively, you can give players silhouettes of the required items. Also, you may write in a few riddles that drop hints to where objects are hidden.
For extra difficulty, some titles use interactive objects – for example, a locked box that can be opened with a hammer that also lies nearby. Others go even further by asking players to venture on a quest between different locations and look for specific items that make progress possible. Don't you love piecing together ancient medallions broken into multiple pieces, eh?..

After drawing and placing those lovely pieces of art in numerous locations, you might have a question. How to prevent mindless screen tapping that enables lazy players to beat your carefully designed levels? Add a penalty of some sort, of course! Too many wrong clicks – say bye-bye to a heavy chunk of the energy (which is also depleted after picking up an item in most games). Or punish lousy clicks by lowering the final score, for example.

How to create a hidden object game?

‍Every genre in the game industry has its unique features that must be taken into account before and during game development. HOGs are not an exception to the rule. Your planning should start with drafting and approving a game design document. All key mechanics, features, and gameplay principles must be in it. Don't forget to include levels, illustrations, art concepts, and plot details.

With all basic plans on your hands, you should choose an art style for the game and its theme. The narrative will revolve around those two things. We recommend determining your closest competitors to find their strong and weak points at this stage. Additionally, you may notice a bunch of things that are worth copying. Try to keep your style original and abstain from simple remakes of the elements you see in other games. It is ok to take and adapt cool mechanics but know your limits. Your game design must have clear art style guidelines for artists. It will help with producing consistent artwork.
Don't ignore the narrative side of the game. Players need a purpose for their search, the motivation to carry on, and a mystery to solve. That is why many games in the genre tend to focus on detective stories with multiple characters and unexpected twists. Start with one or two levels to test what your unfinished game feels like. It would be better to give the demo version to an audience that loves hidden object games but is not familiar with your product. Feedback from third-party individuals is vital as it helps with gathering insights for further improvement.

During the development and testing phases, allow your team to experiment. Don't be afraid to cut off the content that does not fit in or just not working.

Designing hidden object art right

As you remember, the three main pillars of the genre are story, mechanics, and environment. The last one must be particularly memorable to enhance the gaming experience and support the narrative at any given moment.

Environment design in HOGs must be esthetically pleasing but simple at the same time. Most scenes (levels) should be regular places like hotels, warehouses, restaurants, etc. One big area can be split into multiple zones. For example, a fancy hotel will surely have at least a few floors, a kitchen, cellar, garden, pool, and so on. Any of these can be turned into a playground for digital detectives.

When designing such environments, keep in mind that all zones must be logically connected and easy to navigate through. If you run out of fresh ideas for levels, you may justify backtracking to the previously explored locations for "a more thorough examination" or "missed clues." This way, you will be able to reuse already created scenes but task players to find new objects. Game mysteries and their story can easily justify this technique, just don’t overdo it.

Some hidden object games use cartoonish graphics, but titles with realistic designs are equally popular. Whatever art style you choose for your project, stick with ordinary hidden objects that are familiar to a casual audience — pens, rugs, sunglasses, guns, plates, etc. You may add something more exotic to the mix from time to time, but abstain from flooding scenes with items only knowledgeable people will recognize (sextants, religious symbols, etc.).

Finding the right balance between hard and easy-to-find difficulties is the key to success. Obvious puzzles don't bring any joy, while hardcore elements can be frustrating. When working on visuals, ask your artists to keep their work within the limits of the chosen art style at all times.

Notable hidden object games

Since there are tons of such games across all platforms, we decided to mention just a few titles we tried personally and really liked.

Murder in the Alps

Go back in time to 1930 with Anna Mayers, a clever, resourceful journalist from Zurich whose holiday in a mountain resort turns into a thriller. The story starts casually introducing a variety of hotel residents but quickly takes a gruesome turn as people start disappearing. Everyone is a suspect around here, and the help won't come because of the heavy blizzard…

During this adventure, you will be exploring creepy crime scenes, looking for clues, items, and answers that will point to the main villain of the story. The developers did a good job diversifying point-and-click mechanics with many traditional puzzles integrated into the narrative. In addition, all characters have voices with authentic accents, and you will enjoy speaking with them. By the way, the game has several story arcs set in different locations and periods, so there is no shortage of content.

June's Journey

Join June Parker on her Journey to discover the haunting secrets of her family. Apart from finding hidden items, the game gives you a personal, customizable island that adds another layer of complexity to a seemingly simple time-killer.

The further you progress, the harder it gets, so keep your mind sharp. Some mysteries will require you to solve not-so-casual puzzles. In the end, you will receive all the answers you seek and understand what has happened before the game's events.

Ravenhill: Hidden mystery

What makes Ravenhill stand out from other HOGs is the opportunity to create and customize your character. This trick keeps you immersed more than anything else does because you become the hero of the story. Prepare to discover what went wrong in a once prosperous city that has suddenly turned into a ghost town.

You will be visiting various locations in search of items that can explain why everyone disappeared without a trace. Each level has a time limit, and you need to find everything before the timer hits zero. It is oddly refreshing in comparison with other more casual games. If you run out of time, you can literally buy it in the in-game store.


The best thing about hidden object games is that anyone can play them no matter the age. They are perfect for killing time and for serious brain flex as well. Hidden object art for such games does not require any special demands except for following general guidelines, which makes it easy to produce. Argentics' designers have immense experience with game environments, so making any world you need won't be a problem. We can make immersive and adaptive worlds with captivating stories. As for additional mechanics – there are no limits. Have something on your mind already? Hit us up, and let's experiment together!
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