We’re Going on a Pixel Hunt…

You know that phrase “Like looking for a needle in a haystack”? It implies that you’re looking for something very small in a very large area that is filled with lots of similar looking objects to the one you’re trying to find. In video games, particularly old Point and Click adventure games, this is known as “Pixel Hunting.” And it’s frellin’ annoying.

See, the primary gameplay mechanic in Point n Click games is that you point at something on the screen, click on it, and your character interacts with it. This only works, however, if you click on something the game designers deemed “interact-able” when making the game. A further wrinkle to this formula is when that “interactable” object is only a few pixels in size (compare to your computer monitor which is several hundred or thousand pixels in size, or even just its width) and/or the same color as the environment around it, thus the “Needle in a haystack” comparison.

king's quest

Let’s look at an example. In one of the Indiana Jones computer games, there’s a screen in the library with a massive bookcase that nearly fills the screen. On this bookcase if a plethora of multicolored books of varying sizes. Here’s the catch: you actually need one of those books, it’s the one that looks like every other book on the shelf but says “book” instead of “books” when you hover your mouse cursor over it. Here’s the other catch, each book is the same size or smaller than your tiny little mouse cursor. So in order to find this elusive “book” you have veeerrryyy sssllloooowwwlllyyy drag your mouse cursor along every pixel of the bookshelves until it says “book” instead of “books.” This, children, is what we call “Pixel Hunting” and I FUNKING HATE IT. In this situation, you are basically unable to proceed or will be unable to later, often after the “Point of No Return” section of the game (Hello every Sierra game ever). And you know what makes this even worse? WHEN THE FUNKIN GAME DOESN’T TELL YOU THAT YOU ACTUALLY NEED THAT FRELLING TWO-PIXEL-WIDE OBJECT! (Frell you, every Sierra game ever)


There is a solution to this madness, however. First, make the object you need larger than freakin two pixels by three pixels so its presence will register longer on our mouse cursor and not be so dang hard to actually click on since not all gamers have surgeon-steady hands. Second, use the “Scooby-Doo Effect” on your objects; aka, make them a different color or size or other visually distinguishing feature that sets it apart from the rest of the environment. Now this doesn’t mean all your objects need to be fifty feet wide and have giant glowing signs flashing “PUZZLE OBJECT HERE!” (though that’s certainly an option) they just need to be visually distinguishable from the game’s environment without digging out a microscope. Sock-pianoing “faux” difficulty like Pixel-Hunting into a game is annoying, frustrating, aggravating, antagonizing, and just not fun.