Wot I Think: Hidden Folks

Perhaps the most important thing about Hidden Folks [official site] is how it manages to contain so much unabashed happiness. Taking the Where’s Wally concept and making it far more complex, despite being in black and white, these intricate wimmelbilderbuch art drawings (got to use it again!) burst with silly life. Click on anything and something will happen, whether it’s birds squawking and taking off, monkeys falling out of trees, boats sailing further down a river, hay bales rolling across a field, or doors opening to reveal people sitting on the toilet, each is accompanied by a man-made sound effect. Which is both daft and wonderful, which are the two words that best describe Hidden Folks.

I love its capacity to make me laugh out loud. In the second level, a huge (but not nearly as huge as things get) jungle scene, a hen is hidden somewhere with the clue, “This chicken was a bite size dinner”. I spotted a snake in a small clearing, with an enormous bulge near its tail. Clicking on the bulge has it squelch along nearer the snake’s head, until eventually it coughs out the bird. Who proceeds to peck nonchalantly at the ground.

The game doesn’t make a fuss about how it’s meant to be played, which is a rare and stupendous thing. If you want to find all the hidden people, animals and objects by meticulously scrutinising the screen, zooming in to maximum detail, and solving the semi-cryptic hints to their potential locations, then great. If you want to click at random all over the picture to see what happens, stumbling on the targets as you go, then you’re welcome to. I think the ideal way to play is somewhere between the two, making an effort to find your goals, but enjoying the silliness of all the sound effects and animations packed in there with some frenetic clicking.

Oh, and there are so many sound effects! In a preview earlier this year I mentioned how a small disappointment was clicking on something and not hearing a specific sound. Developers Adriaan de Jongh and Sylvain Tegroeg took this to heart and went completely bonkers, adding in hundreds and hundreds more. There are now, apparently, over 960 different mouth-made noises in there, accompanying over 200 different ways to interact with the pictures. That’s quite the thing.

That it doesn’t punish you for this as a hidden object game might (and should) is a very wise choice, and not including anything like a click counter ensures there’s nothing pushing you away from playing with it as a toy, as well as as a game. It seems like a small detail, but it’s one that could have tainted the pleasure, and it was smart decision making not to do it. (Other smart choices include different colour modes, letting you switch from black on white to a less glaring sepia tone, and a night mode with white on black.)

I mentioned last month that I’ve had the rare pleasure of playing the game as its been through various iterations over the last few months, seeing levels put in and taken out, and indeed entire extra concepts like the rather wonky levels where the camera inexorably slid left forcing a time limit on your finding things. That never really came together and doesn’t appear in the released version. The final design is one of mini levels betwixt enormous levels, one sort of introducing the next. You might see a small domestic scene in front of someone’s house, and then be confronted by multiple streets each with a dozen houses, stunning amounts of detail and animation taking place throughout. Exploring these involves opening doors, sliding panels, moving manhole covers, and jiggling satellite dishes. In the jungle it might be shaking trees, digging holes, poking animal nests and tickling monkeys.

Larger levels will have up to 14 different things to find, requiring that you collect a minimum of eight before it moves on. Some of these I wanted to find everything, a couple of them I found less enticing and was happy to move on. (It really was only a couple, that felt more fiddly and less interesting than others.) Which introduces the only real issue here: there are only fifteen levels.

Funny thing is, I happen to know they have more than that, because I’ve played levels in earlier builds that don’t appear here. Whether they decided they didn’t make the cut, or are holding them back for later updates, I’m not sure, but I would have thought the more the better. As it is, you’ll get through everything on offer in just a couple of hours. That’s enough, and I should stress that’s not finding every item in every level. Add another couple of hours on for managing that. At under £6, that’s a perfectly reasonable length, but it does feel a little abrupt.

Still, when you’re only complaint about a game is that you want more of it, it’s pretty good going. This is charming and silly and gentle and fun, ridiculously intricate and lovingly crafted. It’s not hardcore, it’s not going to outfox you, but it doesn’t want to be doing that. This is one of those instances where you wish “casual” hadn’t become a meaningless nonsense term in gaming, because it would nicely capture the feeling of a puzzle book that’s magically come alive, a Where’s Wally where you get to poke and prod the characters. It’s a calm, calming and pleasingly silly game.

Hidden Folks is out for Windows, Mac, and Linux on Steam at £5.39/7,19€/$7.19, which includes a small launch discount.

From this site

28 Comments

  1. Helicopter says:

    That’s all fine and nice, but where the hell is the art appraiser in the big city level?

  2. phanatic62 says:

    Nice, I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. I know what I’ll be playing this weekend!

  3. Magus42 says:

    Wow, I just learned that Where’s Waldo is actually Where’s Wally in its original title. Mind blown. Someone should tell Nicolas Flamel.

  4. sschoener says:

    Is the fact that the obligatory ‘… is out on Steam today’ phrase is missing from the Wot I Think to be understood as a follow-up to the two Steam-related pieces from earlier this week?

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      John Walker says:

      Nope, it’s to be understood as my being an idiot and Graham being on holiday so not pointing out that I’m an idiot : )

      • KingFunk says:

        John – given the recent Steam-related discussions, would it be fair to say that you would prefer Steam’s discovery functions to be more like Hidden Folks…?

  5. haldolium says:

    I want to give the sound guy a prize. This is awesome.

  6. Herzog says:

    This looks nice. Also reminds me of the Quest for the Holy Grail game (Old Woman! Hello!). Wishlisted!

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    Lexx87 says:

    Oooh it’s on the iPad too, lovely stuff. Thanks for brining to my attention John I’d missed it before!

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    particlese says:

    Yay! Glad they went to town on the sounds, as you were hoping. Thanks for keeping on top of this one.

    Question: I often feel bad getting already-inexpensive indie games from the outset when they’re on sale from the bloody outset, but after the recent articles on Steam rankings, I feel like waiting for the sale to end is statistically worse. Would you recommend one choice or the other, or does it depend too much on a game’s or dev’s individual circumstances?

  9. caff says:

    Nice, this looks like the perfect antidote to some of the games I’ve been playing recently. I mean, Resident Evil 7 is fun & impressive, but it doesn’t exactly lift the soul.

  10. robotslave says:

    Whoo, looks like a perfect mobile game for me…

    …aaaaand it’s iOS only.

    I do know the easy money is in targeting Apple users first, but I am so very tired of this crass, greedy explanation from studios who are already doing multi-platform releases.

    • Adriaan says:

      @robotslave Wanted to chime in (as the developer of Hidden Folks) and say that every platform I add to the list adds A LOT more work. It’s absolutely not like going multi-platform means that every extra platform is simply the press of a button. iOS and Android are two very different beasts.

      • robotslave says:

        Adriaan, that explanation would be a lot more convincing if you hadn’t already invested the time and money for a Linux port.

        For heaven’s sake.

        I use desktop Linux every day for work, and love it for that, but it’s just ludicrous to suggest you expect to sell more copies for desktop Linux than you would for an Android port.

        • zergrush says:

          Android is a bit of a pain in the ass to develop and QA for, can’t blame a small studio for deciding that the man-hours spent on that are simply not worth the projected gains. And the effort to make that is not comparable to making a Linux version, which might take little to no work beyond the windows PC version depending on how the game was made.

          • robotslave says:

            @zergrush, I have no idea how true that is in general (though I suspect the platforms that are “a pain in the ass” are usually the ones the developer has the least experience with) but in this particular case, Adriaan has told us that “every platform I add to the list adds A LOT more work”, not “some platforms require a lot of work, but some don’t.”

            I’ll take his word for that, as he’s the one who knows how this particular game was made.

          • Landiss says:

            While I’m guessing that Android version could potentially earn a lot more than Linux, I’m also guessing that it would most likely not even earn for itself. An incredibly huge majority of android apps are forever lost the next day after they were published, with sales practically close to zero. The market is swarmed and the play store is even worse than Steam.

            I’m guessing on Linux is quite the opposite – the market is small, but it’s easier to be noticed and get at least some buyers.

        • Adriaan says:

          zergrush Is actually correct. For a Unity-made game, the jump from Windows or Mac to Linux is waaaaay smaller than the jump from iOS to Android.

          • Robmonster says:

            I love it when people argue with the developers about how hard their programming is to do.

          • Tigris says:

            May I ask why this is the case for you? Or for this game especially.
            I know there are a lot of android devices which can make it a bit annoying, since it might not run on all.
            However, unless you use native plugins, I do not see what would take so much work.
            Especially since developing for android is in general easier, since you do not need a mac to compile and the compilation process is quite a bit faster since no need for xcode/an additional step, which helps when testing things. Also you can just install it on any device, without having to first register it etc.

    • UncleLou says:

      Greedy, because they don’t release a version for the mobile OS you own.

      I am really not sure you’ve thought that through.

    • GeoX says:

      Yeah, I can see why you’d be annoyed if a game isn’t on your preferred platform, but there’s really no way to twist that into “grrr, horrible, greedy developers!” I mean, unless you think they’re somehow honorbound to publish on platforms that they think are too much trouble/wouldn’t be profitable. Either way: pretty bizarre, dude!

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    Aitrus says:

    “That’s quite the thing” is John’s favorite phrase.

  12. April March says:

    That is a lovely game.

    And on the site there is a SHIRT made to look like a level of the game. And it’s wrap-around. And you can buy it on its own, it’s not a preorder bonus nonsense.

    Just marry me already. 😍

  13. Robmonster says:

    I’ve been following this since you previewed it, hugely satisfied with the end result. The whole family were hunkered around the PC hunting for a tiny turtle and someone dressed as Pikachu

  14. Sin Vega says:

    Even just watching the videos is delightful. It’s like someone made a whole game out of the music on Doug.

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    Jekadu says:

    Confession time: I never found Waldo. I really tried, but I could never spot him.