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MMObility: Creating a hidden-object mobile MMO


Around the time we left for E3, I discovered some of the hidden-object games published by Big Fish Games. I have enjoyed puzzle games in the past, but these seemed to have a nice, dependable quality to them that I had not seen before. On the way home -- during the last several hours of our trip, when it became hard to settle down -- I pulled out Moonfell Wood, a lovely hidden-object game set in a magical world of fairies and princesses. (I think the target audience was obvious.)

It was just a trial, but it was very relaxing. The music was nice and the puzzles were challenging but not mind-crushing, and my wife would look over my shoulder once in a while to point out one of the objects or to help solve a puzzle. It really got me to thinking: could a hidden-object MMO be created for the mobile market?

I think it could. Click past the cut and let's discuss it.

First, I think I'll explain how these hidden-object games typically work -- at least the ones that I love -- for those who might not have tried one yet. Essentially, these are games that feature hidden-object and other puzzles as a way to drive the story forward. You might come across a cat, for instance, and need the note around his neck. So, off you go exploring to find a toy for the cat to play with, distracting him so that you can grab the note. Or you might find a bird bath with slots in it, and you fill the slots with gems, and solve the puzzle to open a secret box. Each "scene" is like a different location in the story, and you literally walk your way through scenes by clicking on the edge of the screen or something similar. The advantage of this type of design is that each scene can feature nice little animations, music or other stylistic things.

Really, these games play like MUDs without the multitude of people. Add in the people, and you have an MMO -- well, with some more details needed. Before we get too deep into the whats and whys, it's important to note that some sort of persistence is needed, in my opinion, for any type of game to be considered an MMO. Of course, that persistence can come in many forms, but it needs to be there. How you would maintain persistence in a flat world of hidden-object scenes?

Well, you could create town areas, or public areas, complete with a chat box, where players could see a representation of each other. The town areas could even feature actual avatars for the sake of individuality, but it could be done with flat, static images as well. Imagine a tavern -- one of the persistent meeting areas -- that would simply feature different "slots" for players to place themselves in. If you go to the Tavern on Green street, you could pick from one of 20 different slots, like "sitting next to the fire" or "standing in the corner." Your avatar or image would be placed there, until the place filled up. Players could chat, trade secrets or puzzle spoilers, or simply hang out. Developers could also include homes in the game, again using a slotted, static area to customize. If you were to buy a new plant for your room, you could place it in one of the slots. A clever developer could include town squares, parks, or any persistent meeting area.

How would players interact, though? What would be the point of having other players around you? Well, the tech we have today would allow for players to "share" a puzzle at the same time. That way, player A could take a turn finding an object, then player B could go. Player C might find the last part and assemble all of the pieces together. The entire time, they could be real-time chatting or even voice chatting. If a player was solo most of the time, he or she could collect extra puzzle pieces as "loot" and sell them on a market. In fact, entire professions or classes could be built around a player's ability to find objects (a glowing circle could indicate hidden objects) or an ability to assemble things. All of this would only be limited by imagination.

The mobile space is opening up in so many ways for MMOs because stand-alone games are priming the audience for something different. If you take some time and search through Apple's app store (as horrible as its search function is), you can find so many different types of games -- some done well and others done horribly. If developers add in the mulitplayer aspect, as well as a little persistence, we could see an entirely new sub-genre of MMOs open up. Think about it: entire worlds could be crafted around reading books, or solving math problems, playing casual games or even rhythm games. So much could be done!

The puzzle-based MMOs that already exist, like Puzzle Pirates, do a great job of being mobile, easy to run, and fun. This new market of picture-book quality scenery and beautiful music could bring in a whole new dimension. Heck, Puzzle Pirates could move into the space I imagine, allowing players to participate in sea-battles or parlor games while on the go.

If you're curious about some of the different hidden-object games out there, check out Big Fish. They have developed some truly wonderful titles. Look specifically for the titles Treasure Seekers 3 or Moonfell Wood. Give them a chance, and I think you'll see that MMO design and the mobile space have a lot further to go together!

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr.

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